The Holidays are rapidly approaching us. Parents are scrambling to buy the latest toys for their kids. But did you know that green toys are actually a huge hit this year?
In the recent past, it has been difficult to get a hold of toys that are made of environmentally friendly products and/or made in the US. More and more toy makers are embracing the idea of “green toys” this year. It’s not just a push by consumers, it’s actually demand has risen for them. With so many toys being made without regulation and using dangerous products, it’s really no surprise.
Since the products are made with more sustainable products and are usually not made in China, there comes a price, literally. The cost on these products is usually higher than the cheap plastic toys you would normally find. Usually they are wood toys or those made from recycled or sustainable products. They may be more expensive, but people are still buying these toys. Why might you ask?
Well, the obvious answer is that they are better for the environment ans safer for their kids. Another answer that I have heard from those who buy these toys is that they are much more durable. They are made with higher quality and usually the products they are made from (i.e. wood) are much stronger. So in the end, you could actually be saving some money since you don’t need to replace toys that break easy.
So what exactly is the future of “green toys”. If the trend continues like it has this year, we will see a good portion of the toys being sold made with environmentally friendly products. It will be hard to take over the toys we find on the market today. Many still like the fact that they are cheaper and kids will still be wanting the latest cheap toy of their favorite TV or movie character. If the prices of “green toys” can come down some as they already have and if recalls continue to happen, we may see them take a larger share of the market.
Ahhh, the renewable resource conundrum. How do you really deter
mine the renewability of a resource? By rate or regeneration? Availability? Potential to re-grow? Monetary investments to ‘renew’ it? Natural balance?
Palm Oil, the latest explosion on the renewables market came under scrutiny for being a root cause of severe deforestation. Greenpeace and other environmental groups internationally protested specific companies that were harvested palm oil in unsustainable methods. In a twofold act, there was a push to make palm oil sustainable to help secure the growing market for palm oil as well as to provide a viable long-term product. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) formed to help provide guidelines based on a scientific understanding of the natural thresholds and best practices for harvesting palm oil.
The buzz? The Netherlands has publicly committed itself to be the first Country to use only sustainable palm oil by the year 2015. Companies have in turn been dropping Sinar Mas as a palm oil supplier after Greenpeace’s attacks on its questionable practices that may have led to severe deforestation. Among those companies Nestle, Cadbury, and Kraft were quick to drop the company. More progressive companies are themselves committing to responsible palm oil sourcing including Seventh Generation and General Mills.
Photo Credits 1 and Greenpeace.
With the Autobahn in Germany and the US’s extensive highway system who would have thought that Italy was actually the first country in the world to build motorways? Completed in 1926, the road from Milan to Lake Como, or the A8 was the first true motorway. Well, the Italians are at it again with the advent of the World’s first 100% solar-powered motorway!
What is a solar-powered motorway?
Good question! I did quite a bit of digging to truly understand the concept, and it is quite revolutionary. Focused on a reduced environmental impact for the long-haul for both the ecological system and the human system, the roadway will boast the newest innovations in energy, safety, and construction. This motorway, the Catania-Siracusa, is the first large-scale integration of major infrastructure and distributed power generation. It will feature 80,000 PV panels along the road that will power the lights, tunnel fans, road signs, emergency telephones, and all the services and street furniture. The PV cells are hoisted in 3 artificial tunnels on the road and are estimated to produce 12 million kWh on an annual basis. This will reduce an approximate 31,000 tons of oil and 10,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually. WHOA!
The additional ecological efforts included “the planting of thousands of trees and plants, improving existing tree lines and hedges, and increasing the extension of local woods.”
How far along are they?
The construction portion is complete and is scheduled to open to the public in January 2011. 1/4 of all solar panels were installed and operational at the end of September, and their steady progress has continued. To date they are expected to finish on time. Although the Italians have a little bit of experience in this sector having built out solar panels along the A20, Messina-Palermo motorway, totalling 368 kWp to provide electricity for all of the building located along the 183km motorway. They have also done a similar project near the Alps.
These are quite impressive numbers and efforts made for long-term sustainability through out Italy. Now if only we can learn from their efforts and do the same when our “season of Road Construction” starts up in the US after the winter months.
To learn more about solar-powered roadways, check out the Matter Network’s article.
Where do you think we should build solar-powered roads in the US? Have you heard of the Idaho man who suggests building roads WITH solar panels in place of asphalt? Now that is turning roads into truly productive and usable spaces.
Photo Credits: Reverberi Italy
The EPA has stepped up its game over the past few years, regulating substances and incidences that it could only dream of doing in the past (not because it wasn’t legal, but due to lack of support). So the new lawsuit against them over their alleged leniency toward lead in hunting and fishing equipment is quite a blow to their large steps of progress. The lawsuit came as an early Thanksgiving present to the Federal agency, delivered by conservation and hunting groups along with organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity.
Why are these groups suing the EPA?
The case is over whether the EPA has adequately regulated lead, specifically related to hunting equipment. Lead is a well-known toxin that most of us have removed from our homes (lead paint anyone?) and the majority of our products. What we have not yet regulated are the products ejected into our natural environment including fishing tackle and hunting ammunition. The lead contaminants in these pieces of equipment have been tied to poisoning none other than the Eagle and a wariety of other wilflife, mainly birds and fish, that are most susceptible to lead poisoning and lead intake due to diets and habitat. Now if you aren’t a big animal lover, this still impacts your health. This hunting equipment it typically the reason you are eating the meat in the first place, so your food may have trace contaminants of lead. Pescitarians be ware.
Is the EPA responsible?
Now this is where the true debate lays for this lawsuit. Not in companies being responsible for their products, or hunter and fisher men and women using the equipment. Does the EPA have the power to regulate this, and if so, why haven’t they? The details will require quite a bit of legal sorting. As is true for many Federal agencies, responsibilities can overlap or be divided in odd ways (the FDA regulates food…but not dairy products, that is the USDA for example). It is unclear at this point whether the EPA has the authority to act on the issue. They attempted to regulate this issue in 1994 unsuccessfully. The Toxic Substances Control Act is the main piece of legislation under scrutiny to determine accountability in this case.
Did the groups go too far by suing, in place of working with, the EPA?
The debate is already emotionally charged since it is not a new issue. Since we are still in the beginning stages of the actual legal debate, it is difficult to say. It is commendable that the hunting and conservation groups took it upon themselves to help shed light and now regulation upon an unsustainable practice. Reading the statements from leaders from the hunting groups, it is encouraging to learn that they take personal responsibility, but would like the support and authority that the EPA can lend to help solidify more ethical and healthy practices. At present, it is unclear whether the EPA has the authority to regulate this, although the majority of signs point to yes. One major sign is the EPA’s own website outlining their efforts to reduce lead, lead poisoning, and lead in homes. So why not wildlife?
You can read more about this issue through the Center for Biological Diversity’s “Get the Lead Out” campaign here. If you would like to learn about lead-free hunting, check out Project Gutpile’s efforts started by and working for hunters. To read what the EPA has already helped regulate regarding Lead, check out their website.
So what do you think? Too early to tell? Cheers to effective regulation? Or down with over-regulation of industries?
Get the Lead Out
So there has been a buzz for quite some time about the green thing called “Cloud Computing” yet all of the literature is pretty cloudy (excuse the bad pun) for the average non-techie geek. Here is a basic and brief overview of this mysterious cloud computing (please note that its simplification may leave out some things that are beloved and important to techies, but this is for us non-techie types just trying to “get it” as best we can).
So typically your computer has a home base (server) that store your information and keeps you up and running. Sometimes you need a lot of energy and memory (kind of) to run your website and sometimes, you don’t. So what is up with all of this wasted time where the full capacity of your home base isn’t being used?
This is where cloud computing steps in to help out. It is kind of like sharing all of that extra energy. There are these common places for the servers to all sit and play nicely with one another. Then you and your website neighbors all store and put your information into these shared areas. So when you don’t need extra energy, your neighbor might, and vice versa. This helps use the potential of these home bases more efficiently.
Think of a shared basketball. Sometimes you and the neighbors all play together at the Recreation Center, and sometimes you just go in to shoot some hoops. But either way, having a shared basketball instead of one for every person helps get the best use out of that one basketball.
So who uses this kind of stuff? Well major cloud computing “providers” like your phone-provider are: Salesforce, Google, and Amazon among others. Microsoft, HP, Dell, IBM, and other large computing companies are very actively involved with cloud computing.
So what’s with all of this chit chat about it being “green”? Well as you can imagine, this can make the process a lot more efficient. There has been a lot of concern over companies going “paperless” which would in turn result in more electronic waste (a very toxic alternative to the highly recyclable paper) through the need of more servers. When we have paper waste, we can see it, we can feel in infringe on our space, and we feel the urge to clean it up or get rid of it. Since the same information can also be stored electronically, we often forget about it and electronic file build-up requires a great deal of energy and electronics to keep it stored and accessible. This is an ongoing debate, so keeping your inbox cleaned up and your computer free from unnecessary files. That said the emissions cut by investing in cloud computing as opposed to older versions on dedicated servers can reduce emissions and energy usage quite a bit.
Learn more about emissions cutting through cloud computing from this study.
In the US we have a deep love for our blue jeans (and purple, teal, bright blue, and black jeans as well). What we may not love so much is the extensive list of chemicals and inputs needed to make our beloved pants.
Now, there have been a great many “eco jeans” that have entered the market over the past 5 years. From organic cotton to fair trade to ‘greener colors’, retailers have been trying to unlock the sustainable jeans market. Bono from U2 has his own sustainable clothing line that features fair trade and organic cotton jeans. Even major designers have organic lines. But did you know that dark jeans are better than light jeans? Why you ask? Because of the chemicals used. Light jeans require more harsh chemicals to lighten or “weather” them. That simple switch can save a few gallons of chemicals from entering the waste stream! But do your jeans literally need and use less water? Well, do they?
Levi’s Green Jeans…Water<Less
Levi’s has been on a mission to promote more sustainable practices with their customers. From their extensive line-drying campaign to their 501 jeans, they have been leading the way as a large clothing manufacturer. Their new Water<less jeans focus on the manufacturing process. Their jeans now use 28 – 96% less water to manufacture. Why do jeans need water in the first place? Water is used during the finishing process, an average of 42 liters per pair of jeans. Yikes! This “finishing” process washes jeans 3-10 times to provide unique and comfortable jeans. How did they do it? Instead of using multiple wet cycles, they condensed it into a single wet process. Not too bad for efficiency’s sake!
Of course Levi’s is not new to these types of efficiencies. They have already undertaken steps to remove almost all water from its finishing process a few years ago. They are on track to be the top producer of jeans made from the least amount of water.
How do I get my Hands on these Water<Less Jeans?
Well you will have to do some post-Holiday shopping. The first collection is set to hit stores in January 2011 and include over a dozen classic Levi jeans and jackets. And come Spring time, if you are in the market for new jeans, they will have 1.5 million pairs that were manufactured using this method just waiting for you. How much water will you have helped save? 16 MILLION Liters of water. Come Fall of 2011, they hope to expand their reduced water use techniques to several other factories and plants.
Levi’s is really doing their part in this regard to fight peak water as it continues to loom on the horizon for developed nations and already plagues some developing nations. These steps are quite advanced given that there has been no regulation nor extreme instances of negative press surrounding these issues. This progressive movement is one indicator that Levi’s is making progress out of their own volition to create sustainable products that last.
Interested in these jeans? I am going to check them out come January to see if there is a noticeable difference in the jeans from their ‘water hog’ counterparts
A great Halloween tradition is carving pumpkins, but what to do with all of the un-jack-o-lantern by products? Here are a few ways to make sure that your pumpkin is looking just as good as its post-Halloween waste cycle.
1. Pumpkin Seeds
Need I say more? They are a delicious treat and if you save a few, you can even plant some pumpkins in your yard for next year. A quick How-To get those pumpkin seeds tasting delicious: First remove pumpkin seeds from your beloved, then rinse them thoroughly getting all of that pumpkin gunk off. Let them dry (or pat dry them if you are in a rush). Some people let them dry for days, others only a half hour. Then heat up your oven to around 300 degrees F/150 degrees C. Spread the pumpkin seeds out on a cookie sheet. Then sprinkle them with a little bit of olive oil or butter and top it with salt (sea salt is especially good). Toss the cookie sheet in the oven and give it a good stir every 10-15 minute or so. Typically, they cook for 30 – 45 minutes but just look for a few of them to start to brown on the outside. Then let them cool and Viola! Delicious pumpkin seeds.
2. Compost the ‘Innards’
If you have a home compost system, throw this nutrient-rich plant in there! This part is easy because there isn’t any wax residue to pick out prior to composting (unless it is beeswax, then you can leave it in). Some Cities are offering citywide composting, like San Francisco, and others have seasonal composting, so check with your local government and wast facilities to see if there is a composting center near you.
3. Recycle (compost) your Pumpkin at a Pumpkin Drive
Now that your fantastic Halloween costumes have been carefully stored and the candy nearly devoured, what to do with that Jack O Lantern out front? A growing number of churches, high schools, and other organizations have started ‘Pumpkin Drives’. Just load up your pumpkins and bring it on down, they have either a large dumpster-like bin or other facilities. You can also check with your City’s composting units, as with the innards, to see what their policy is for composting pumpkins. So keep your eyes open for Pumpkin Drive signs to keep that pumpkin out of the landfill, so we can give it and its nutrients back to good old Mother Earth.
Happy Pumpkin Composting!
Photo Credit: Natural Home Magazine