Christmas Is Over – What To Do With That Tree?

The holidays and you have to get back to “life as normal”, which means packing away all of those Christmas decorations and cleaning up including getting rid of that dried up old Christmas tree. Don’t want to throw your Christmas tree and have it end up in a landfill? The best thing to do is recycle that tree! Many villages offer free recycling services where you can take your tree to be turned into the mulch and they’ll give the mulch back to you so you can use it for compost, or you can just donate the mulch. If you’re unsure about these services contact your city hall for this information.

But, if you’re looking for some more unusual uses for that old tree, here are some suggestions:

  1. Planters – trunks and larger branches of Christmas trees should support large planters or possibly be the base for a compost pile.
  2. Bird feeder – spread small branches with margarine or peanut butter and dip it in bird seed. If you already have a bird feeder it may take a few days for the birds to find this xmastreefeeder so don’t fret!
  3. Winter Season Garden Cover – pine boughs are an excellent, natural garden cover for those cold, harsh winter months.
  4. Wildlife habitat – Even if you live on a small property, place your old Christmas tree at the edge of your yard, which makes a great, small winter wildlife habitat for squirrels, rabbits and birds. Some may even build nests in the tree.
  5. Sachet – if you’re feeling crafty and love that fresh Christmas tree scent all year long make a sachet using the tree’s pine needles. Best places throughout the home for these scented treats are bathrooms and the kitchen.

 

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Chicago Ban on Plastic Bags – August 2015

We see them strewn on the sides of streets, in parks, in forest preserves and just about everywhere else — plastic bags! They’ve become more of an annoyance instead of a convenience.

After last month’s statewide ban of single-use plastic bags in California, Chicago is set to join California and other major US cities Seattle and Austin in this cause in August 2015. Chain stores which are defined as a group of three or more stores that have the same owner or franchise stores of more than 10,000 square feet, will no longer be allowed to offer plastic bags.

The proposal, which was supported by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, was passed in April 2014 by a vote of 36-10.  Those retailers not compliant to the new law will face fines between $300-$500.

According to a April 30, 2014 Chicago Tribune article, “Environmental advocates said the ban would reduce the number of reusable-bagbags littering parkways, fluttering in trees, bloating landfills and clogging drains. But store owners and plastic bag manufacturers said the paper bags likely to replace plastic pose cause their own share of environmental woes and, because they cost more, will lead to higher prices at city stores.”

Some not-so-fun facts about plastic bags from reusit.com:

  • Over 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide. Consider China, a country of 1.3 billion, which consumes 3 billion plastic bags daily, according to China Trade News.
  •  About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
  • A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
  • The U.S. goes through 100 billion single-use plastic bags. This costs retailers about $4 billion a year.
  • Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts (2008)
  • Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
  • It is estimated that worldwide plastic bag consumption falls between 500 billion and 1 trillion bags annually. That breaks down to almost 1 million every minute.
  •  In good circumstances, high-density polyethylene will take more than 20 years to degrade. In less ideal circumstances (land fills or as general refuse), a bag will take more than 1,000 years to degrade.
  • Every square mile of the ocean has about 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in it. (UN, 2006)
  • Ten percent of the plastic produced every year worldwide winds up in the ocean. 70% of which finds its way to the ocean floor, where it will likely never degrade. (UN, 2006)

Of course, not everyone is for this citywide ban, citing economic reasons.

Tanya Triche, vice president and general counsel of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said in a statement reported by ABC Chicago. “Driving up expenses for retailers and forcing customers to pay more at the store while not helping the environment flies in the face of the city’s goal to make Chicago one of the nation’s greenest cities and support companies that have invested significantly in Chicago’s neighborhoods.”

Will this ban help one of the greenest cities in the nation be even greener? We still have about 10 months to see what will happen, but Chicagoans can start getting into greener habits in preparation for this ban. Many major chain stores offer reusable bags for sale for as low as 99 cents. There are many Web sites out there for reusable bags and, sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can get these bags for free. In my opinion, reusable bags are better than plastic and even paper too because many times these bags are made from recycled material, they hold more items and can be easily cleaned and reused.

 

 

 

 

Grainger’s New Data Center First LEED Certified Center

Lake Forest, Ill.-based Grainger, the broad line supplier of maintenance, repair and operating systems, recently announced that its new data center located in Lake Forest, “…is certified as the world’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] facility of this type,” as stated in a recent Grainger press release.

The new data cenGraingerter features an advanced cooling system where the energy used for cooling the facility is controlled by closely monitoring the air flow using outside air to cool the facility. Due to this feature, Grainger expects the new facility to consume up to 50 percent less energy for cooling compared to similar data centers.

According to the press release, “Data centers usually run nonstop, which means these facilities can consume up to 200 times more electricity than typical office spaces. Most of this energy is used to cool the building as temperatures from IT equipment housed in a data center can reach more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This Grainger data center’s air cooling design is anticipated to have a best-in-class PUE rating of 1.2 at full capacity; the industry average is 2.0.”

“Our goal is always to build the most sustainable facility possible,” said Gail Edgar, vice president of Grainger Real Estate and Facilities Services. “One of the most important components of the project was to realize significant energy savings by maintaining a low Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), which measures the energy used beyond the IT load.”

According to Grainger’s Web site, the company is committed to building more buildings up to LEED standards. Grainger became the first industrial distributor to have a LEED-certified facility in 2008. Presently, the company operates 16 LEED-certified buildings in the U.S., Canada and Mexico and construction is underway for its newest facility in Toronto.

The Web site states, “By sharing best practices across facilities, almost all Grainger buildings have adapted some components of LEED certification requirements in areas such as recycling, waste disposal, lighting and cleaning. For example, the company has retrofitted 168 facilities in Canada and the United States with energy efficient lighting, decreasing annual energy consumption by an average of 15 percent per facility.”

The United States Green Building Council’s LEED program “… is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. To receive LEED certification, building projects satisfy prerequisites and earn points to achieve different levels of certification. Prerequisites and credits differ for each rating system, and teams choose the best fit for their project.”

Green Alternatives For Autumn Yard Work

September already! It seems as though we were just peeling off our parkas for the warm summer sun and now we’re digging through our closets searching for those hoodies, jeans and other fall clothes we were so eager to get rid of back in the spring.

For some of us fall also means preparing our yards for the nasty, and sometimes just plain brutal winters, which we leavesexperienced last winter in many parts of the U.S. including the Midwest. But, gardening nowadays means a lot of noise and pollution.In fact, according to an article posted on EarthShare’s Web site, “…one gas-powered leaf blower can emit as much pollution as 80 cars!”  What can modern gardeners do to adequately prepare their gardens for the winter while treating the Earth better?

The number one tip is to choose hand-powered tools over gas-powered tools. Sure, it may take you longer and it may be a bit more strenuous, but think of it as a built-in workout.  Some suggestions include:

  • Choose rakes over leafblowers. Rakes are just as effective. If you really need a leafblower for a difficult spot to reach, choose an electric leafblower, which are quieter, more energy-efficient and do just as good of a job than a gas-powered leafblower.
  • Try electric trimmers instead of energy-intensive garden trimmers.
  • Most lawns are small enough for hand lawn mowers instead of power mowers. If you decide you need a power mower, conduct some research on electric mowers, which make less noise and have less environmental impact.
  • Hire the neighborhood kids to help! Don’t have the time to take care of your lawn or garden?! Hire the neighborhood kids – it’s more affordable and ecological – plus it teaches the kids responsibility.
  • Compost as much as possible. Spread a thin layer of screened compost about a quarter of an inch to a half of an inch thick on the top of your lawn.
  • Final mowing – for the final mow of the season, cut the grass a little shorter than usual to prevent matted grass and snow mold.
  • When fertilizing your lawn try organic alternatives. Start by leaving the grass clippings on your lawn. Plant clover, which is rich in nitrogen. And then you can also leave compost on your lawn once a year.

These are just a few alternatives to prepare your lawn and garden during the fall for the winter months. These gardening tips have been around a lot longer than chemicals and gas-powered machines and work just as well, or even better. Many times, these alternatives may also be less expensive as well.

Back to School….Green

So, it’s just about that time again – school back in session! I’m sure these words are music to many parents’ ears, but kids, on the other hand, are dreading waking up and sitting inside for eight hours once again.

What are some things we can do to instill green habits in the next generation of stewards of the Earth?

  • Not every piece of clothing needs to be new. Sure, you want to wear a brand new outfit on that first day of school, but there are many “fashion conscious” thrift stores popping up where kids can find something “new” to wear without breaking the  school_45bff72d1bbank and being better to Mother Earth too.
  • If possible, pack lunches in reusable containers and lunch bags
  • Buy products with minimal packaging
  • Walk, cycle or bus to school
  • Buy Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified paper products – the FSC is  an organization that certifies wood and paper products grown in forests that are responsibly managed.
  • Reuse school supplies that are in good condition — save money and resources by purchasing what’s really needed! If you can’t reuse the supplies, donate them to your local school, daycare or another place that may use them, such as a library.

Outside of the basics, keep kids in touch with nature. Take the kids out for a fun evening walk – catch fireflies, view the constellations.  Instead of sitting in front of the computer or TV for hours after school, get out and stretch your legs and imagination. Weather permitting, schedule some fun outdoor events on the weekend – go for a family bike ride or visit a local nature center.

Oak Park Aims to be Destination for Midwest’s Green Film Festival

Oak Park, Ill. has always been known as a fairly progressive, liberal and creative town. Located next door to Chicago, Oak Park boasts the childhood home of Ernest Hemingway and a plethora of other cultural attractions, Oak Park has added “green community” to their list of community positives.

In 2011 the Oak Park/River Forest (suburb next door to Oak Park) area developed PlanItGreen, “[t]he Environmental filmfest-logo-2014-large-303x360Sustainability Plan for Oak Park and River Forest…[it] is a project designed to develop and implement an environmental sustainability plan” which will be discussed in a future blog.

In addition to setting benchmarks and goals to reduce energy and water consumption and just have greener communities, Oak Park has gone one step further and established the well-known green film festival, One Earth Film Festival, which has grown in just three years.

According to the One Earth Film Festival Web site, “[it] is a Chicago area film festival that creates opportunities for understanding climate change, sustainability and the power of human involvement through sustainability-themed films and facilitated discussions…[to] stimulate, energize and activate communities…maximizing citizen reach and expanding the movement.”

“The festival offers a broad coverage of topics – from films about energy, waste and water, but has evolved to cover more metaphysical and philosophical topics as well and how this affects our environment,” states Ana Garcia Doyle, One Earth Film Festival Founder and Team Lead.

Some films the festival has presented in the past include Musicwood, which chronicles three of the world’s most famous guitar makers as they travel to the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, where Spruce trees are being logged at an alarmingly high rate. Sitka Spruce trees are used to make acoustic guitar soundboards. Another film, Comfort Zone explores “an in-depth look at what happens when global climate climate issues come to our backyards.”

In addition to screening 30-40 films, Doyle emphasizes involvement through getting speakers to discuss the featured films and panel discussions after the film has been filmed which then turn the question back to the audience “what can you do?”.

The 4th Annual One Earth Film Festival is March 6-8, 2015. Check the festival’s Web site for further information.

 

 

Have Fun in the Sun….And Learn Something Too With Sierra Club Group Outings

The summer and fall months are perfect for meeting new people while exploring the great outdoors and learning about the preservation of the environment and the Sierra Club provides all of this.

“Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet” is the Sierra Club’s motto and members and nonmembers can explore the outdoors with the Club’s many outings. There are three parts to the Club’s outings: local, national and international. Another outings offshoot are the Inner City Outings in which the Sierra Club visits urban areas giving these residents the opForested dunes hikeportunity to explore the outdoors – many urban residents never have the chance to visit rural areas. The Sierra Club Northwest Cook County Group, which serves Park Ridge to the Cook County section of Barrington and south to Schaumburg and Elk Grove Village offers a variety of outings for all skill levels – from easy to more strenuous hikes to canoe trips to cross country skiing during the winter.

Rick Szafarz, Outings Chair of the Northwest Chapter explains, “When people participate in these outings they generally have an overall love to get outdoors and explore. The Sierra Club’s outings range from hiking to camping, biking, backpacking and paddling and many other activities. We usually offer between a dozen and two dozen outings per year.”

For more information about outings, including pricing information (most outings are only $3) check out both the Northwest Chapter’s and the Illinois Sierra Club’s pages. You don’t need to be a member of the Sierra Club to attend the outings and, even if you live in the Northwest Cook County region you can still attend outings throughout the state or the country as well.

Some upcoming outings presented by various groups throughout the state include the Wilderness Act Celebration at Lusk Creek (Shawnee National Forest) on Saturday, August 9; Cycling the Oak Savannah and Prairie on Sunday, August 10; Adopt a Trail Work Day – Illinois Prairie Path in Glen Ellyn on Saturday, August 23; Sand State Forest Exploratory Backpack on Sunday, September 7 and South Kettle Moraine Beginner’s Backpack Friday, September 19-Sunday, September 21.

And, if you have more of an interest in the environment and conservation and would like to be surrounded by other like-minded individuals, the Northwest Cook County Group has monthly program meetings the second Thursday of every month at 7:30 pm with a time to socialize beforehand at 7 pm. Light refreshments will be served. Currently the meetings are held at the Spring Valley Nature Center, 111 E. Schaumburg Rd. in Schaumburg. Meetings are free and open to the public. Be sure to check the Group’s Web site for the meeting’s topic.

Say Goodbye to Bug Bites…Naturally

So, here it is July – the middle of the summer, which means for many of us, including myself, bug bites! Bugs, especially mosquitoes, love, love the taste of my blood – I don’t get it – I break out in terrible painful welts, but I hate using harsh chemicals to protect myself from these nasty bites. Thankfully there are some natural alternatives to regular bug sprays, especially any containing N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, or, more commonly known as DEET.

What is DEET?

A common ingredient in many over-the-counter insect repellents, DEET is a colorless yellow oil which works as a true repellent to mosquitoes. Even though DEET is a miracle ingredient for those of us who serve as a buffet to mosquitoes and other biting mosquitoinsects, it has been found that DEET has been found to inhibit the activity of a central nervous system ensyme acetylocholinesterase, which in essence, plays a role in the function of the neurons which control muscles. DEET has also been known to have effects on the environment including. It has been found have a slight toxicity for coldwater fish such as rainbow trout and tilapia and it also has been shown to be toxic for some species of freshwater zooplankton.

What Can I Do?

So, you’re wondering what can I use instead of a chemical-based insect repellent? I don’t want to use chemicals or expose others or the environment to DEET or other chemicals. There has to be an alternative. There are! You can find natural alternatives on the shelves of such stores as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, or even just the common grocery store or big box store. Natural and chemical-free is becoming more the norm nowadays. Personally, I’ve had luck with Burt’s Bee’s All Natural Outdoor Herbal Insect Repellent, which contains such key ingredients as peppermint oil, cedar and lemon eucalyptus. If you want to try your hand and making your own easy, inexpensive bug sprays or creams you can find many recipes online, including this recipe: http://tinyurl.com/mmbuv2c.

The Natural Resources Defense Council also suggests if you want to use a chemical-based repellent containing Picaridin. the NRDC states  “[Picaridin is] structurally based on chemicals in peppers…appears to interfere with the mosquito’s ability to smell it’s prey. …may be less effective than DEET. A 20% Picaridin formulation has been shown to repel mosquitoes for 8-10 hours.”

The NRC continues, saying ” Picaridin is much less irritating to the skin than DEET. It has very low toxicity and does not appear to cause adverse neurological or reproductive effects. Nor does it cause cancer in animals.”

Other Things Of Note

Of course, ridding your area of any standing water helps prevent mosquitoes – standing water is just a breeding ground for these pests. Also, check the mosquito forecast – if it’s high then stay indoors or at least in a screened-in area. And, proper clothing is key – wearing clothing that covers your arms and legs minimizes your chances of being bitten by mosquitoes or other biting insects.

 

 

 

Summertime Conservation Tips

energy-efficiencyIt’s summertime – get outside and play! Take advantage of the extra hours of sunlight, warm summer breezes and just the pure happiness that summer brings. If you live just about anywhere in the three-quarters of the United States that experienced the “Polar Vortex” and the winter from
hell – 2014, you’re happy it’s winter and not going to complain even when it gets to 100 degrees and humidity!

But, with summer comes wastefulness of energy and water. Sometimes we think about just flicking a switch or using extra water to cool ourselves down.

The United States Department of Energy has compiled some energy saving tips for consumers to still enjoy their summer, save money and save energy. Some of these tips include:

  • If  you live in a climate where it cools off in the evening, turn off the air conditioning and open the windows while you are sleeping. In the morning shut the windows and close the blinds to capture the cool air.
  • Install window coverings to prevent heat gain.
  • Set the thermostat as high as comfortably possible — the smaller the difference between the indoor temperature and outdoor temperature, the lower your cooling bill.
  • Use fans and ventilation strategies to cool your home and don’t forget to turn off the fans when you leave the room.
  • Don’t heat your home with appliances and lighting — on hot days cook on the stove or grill outside….or just eat cold foods!
  • Wash only full loads of laundry.
  • Take showers instead of baths.

Not only do we waste energy, we waste water too. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates “Depending upon the region homeowners use 30-60% of their water outdoors. Fifty percent of that is wasted, in part, due to overwatering.”

Sure, we like our lawn and garden to look perfect, but there is a proper way to water our grass, flowers and produce.  One thing we can do is water in the early morning and at dusk — this prevents wasteful evaporation of water in the hot summer sun.

The EPA also suggests:

  • Step on the lawn – if the grass springs back, it doesn’t need water.
  • Leave it long – longer grass promotes a more drought-resistant lawn, reduced evaporation and fewer weeds
  • Take a sprinkler break – grass really isn’t meant to be bright green in the summer.
  • Look for the WaterSense label if you’re shopping for a new timer – this can reduce water usage by 15 percent, saving nearly 8,800 gallons of water per year.

 

These are just a few summertime conservation tips — when it comes to saving water and energy and water it boils down to common sense and your specific needs.

 

Chicago Shows Signs of Green Hope

About a month ago I attended the Building Green Chicago Conference & Expo, sponsored by Sustainable Chicago magazine and was happy to be among other agreeing individuals representing many professions from the building industry, city employees and students – a sign of the future.

Deborah Stone, Cook County’s first Sustainability Officer and Director of the Cook County Department of Environmental Control was this year’s keynote speaker.

DSC00057According to Stone, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) by 80 percent by 2050. The June 5, 2013 Report of the Cook County Advisory Council reported that in 2012, 150 structures consumed 247 million kwhs of energy and 13 million therms of natural gas. County government buildings use consume 90 percent of the city’s energy. The top three structures of focus are:

  • Department of Corrections – 35%
  • Stroger Hospital Campus – 26%
  • Various remaining buildings – 11%

Stone also noted that Preckwinkle’s vision is for Chicago to be the most sustainable county it can be.

The Sustainability Advisory Report, which was released in June 3013 states “Building energy is the largest source of GHG emissions, accounting for 67 percent of the emissions in the County.”

During her presentation, Stone explained that the County is ahead of its reduction of emissions target. The reduction of GHGs is not seen as a project, but is a driving force. GHGs impact five million residents and 130 muncipalities; these emissions cause  climate change in various ways including extreme weather and different health impacts. According to the June 2013 Report, the environmental benefits of reducing GHGs include environmental benefits from efficiencies in the conservation of water, land and other natural resources; reduction of particulates, toxic metals and other pollutants.

Please note – I am always looking for new ideas about green efforts and the environment to blog about – both local (Chicago area), general and global. I’m also very interested in expanding upon these ideas and writing more research-driven articles for publications.  Also, I apologize for the delay on this blog – there was a lot going on and I just could not find the time to write the article until now.  Please contact me if you like – lrjwriteedit@gmail.com.

 

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