Happy Holidays

Yesterday was Christmas. Yesterday it snowed. My family had a lovely day and last weekend we saw my mom’s side of the family, which was great. Since I’ve started this journey, I’ve gotten nothing but support from my family. I’ve learned so much over the past year about the environment and about appreciating my family. All of them, make me want to do better. Be more creative, to work harder to do things even though they’re less convenient and to just generally carry on even though I don’t think it makes much difference, which is the hardest thing for me to do.

This weekend was full of upcycling and crafting while keeping the environment in mind.

We made reindeer ornaments out of corks.


And bottle cap ornaments…out of bottle caps, which we had to cram seven people into a bottle cap size circle to go into the bottom bottle cap. We haven’t exactly finished that.

Everyone, even the guys, were totally on board with these crafts, which is interesting because when my aunt and I try to get them to do stuff at home it doesn’t work out quite as well. But there they were like Martin Stuarts!

I got a solder from my grandma and an awesome upcycling books book from my aunt.

My great aunt made me a lamp from a glass coke bottle that she found in the lake and popcorn bucket from the theater (I don’t think it was used).

028 And she made adorable bird feeders for my mom and aunt made from terracotta and old license plates.

My mom got me cruise control added to my car, which is a gift that keeps on giving and a ‘keep it green’ shirt  and more love than one could ever hope for.

I appreciate all the effort my family goes into caring about the things that I care about.


Waste-free holiday

I hate to be so bahumbug about one of my and most people’s favorite holiday, but it’s a fact. Christmas is the most wasteful holiday.

According to recycleworks.org, from thanksgiving to new years’, our household waste increases by more than 25 percent. With everything from added food waste, to wrapping, packaging, it adds up to over 1 million tons a week going into a landfill.

Half the paper used in America is used to wrap products. And the 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold in America (so this doesn’t include the cards not sold that are thrown away) could fill a football field for up to 10 stories.

If everyone reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, it would add up to enough to tie a bow around the planet. How’s that for a Christmas present to us and the Earth?

Food waste is also one of the biggest waste contributors. Food waste makes up to a quarter of the garbage thrown away during Thanksgiving and New Year’s. A household of four could save an average $100-$125 by reducing food waste.

The good news is that both of these problems have solutions.

To address our overconsumption of paper:

  1. Save wrapping paper this year to use for next year. It takes a bit of effort and patience from everyone involved because everyone has to wait while you carefully unwrap your presents.
  2. Use recycled paper products. Recycled cards, wrapping paper, bags, etc. And you could always send an e-card, instead of paper. If everyone sent one less card we could save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.
  3. Use alternatives to the conventional wrapping paper. Newspapers, reusable bags (which is a gift in itself and it keeps on giving), use bags or used boxes, paper bags from the store, fabric, (fabric is harder to rip to shred, which makes it easier to reuse) jars or cans (mixes are adorable in jars), I will also tell you, unashamedly, that part of my parents gifts were wrapped in Pringle’s cans. Let your creativity run wild and feel no shame.
  4. Upcycle your paper. Most of these things are super easy. Gifts bags made from newspaper or wrapping paper, bows made from any kind of paper, paper confetti (we used brown packing paper and some used wrapping paper that wasn’t in such good shape and shredded with a paper shredder).
    Step 8

    Bows made from wrapping paper.

    Paper shred/confetti

    Packing confetti made from shipping paper and old wrapping paper

And for our waste of food? Mostly it has to do with planning ahead. Planning portion sizes, what people tend to eat more or less of, how you plan to store it, etc.

  1. This site, love food, hate waste, is site teaching about food waste and how to cut down. The statistics are based from the UK, but the principles can be applied anywhere. It helps with planning portion, storing and recipes so you can use the same ingredients in a different recipe.
  2. You can also donate it. I feel a little iffy about this sometimes, but if you can find a homeless shelter who will take unpackaged food then why not?
  3. Have a potluck. Everyone bring a dish and take home the leftovers.
  4. Embrace the leftovers. I’m not a big fan of leftovers, but some things like pie can never be eaten too many times. I try to just think of everything as leftover pie.
  5. Compost your plain, raw fruits and veggies.

The main thing is to be aware of the waste and take it into a count when planning your holiday festivities. Feel free to leave a comment on how you plan to cut down waste during the holiday season.

Black Friday

Here it comes. The worst day of the year. Black Friday.

I wasn’t always anti- capitalism, corporations, money, greed, commercialism type. I was to some extent, but it was more because I was compassionate and wanted to help others and I could see that when I was focused on getting more stuff, I wasn’t as focused on giving as I wanted to be. But then I started working at K-mart. That’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that I had two training days when nobody, I repeat nobody, was even there, so I really didn’t learn much or get that much experience, but then my first official day was…Black Friday. It was horrendous. And I thought I was going to die. I obviously made it, but not without learning a valuable life lesson. People yelled at me all day long. Was it my fault that the stuff wasn’t ringing up the price it was supposed to? I didn’t think so, but I suppose that it was my fault for not going fast enough. I cried that day. I had not a foggy clue what I was doing, but I kept going.

On that Black Friday I saw a darkness of people’s souls that I had never seen and am crushed to see year after year. And not just because they yelled at me, but it just brought out the worst in people. And I don’t even know why. I’m all for saving money, but what do they need so bad that they need to pepper spray people and even kill people? The list of injuries and deaths go on and on and most of the stories say the people just kept going even though people were getting trampled on.

And here’s something rich, when a Wal-Mart employee died from asphyxiation, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) fined them $7,000 for inadequate crowd management. That’s it. SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS for WAL-MART and they didn’t even want to pay it. Wal-Mart, a multi-billion dollar company wouldn’t even pay a few measly dollars when its ridiculous sale got someone killed.

Instead, it set up a fund for the victims and paid some money to non-profits and agreed to do better on crowd management. Ridiculous.

And it’s getting worse. Stores are starting their sales on Thanksgiving. The one time of the year that people will think about what they are thankful for instead of what they ‘need’ is being ruined by greed. People are being pulled away from their families for this reason. It has been ruining the Christmas spirit for years. It just isn’t right.

Christmas is about the greatest gift of all, when God sent his son to Earth, so that he could grow up and give his life, so that we could be forgiven for our sins. It’s not about that any more. It’s great that people want to go out and get their friends, families, whoever, the best present, but if I were one the people I keep hearing about were worried so much about then I would say, ‘please, don’t even bother. I will be fine.’ Some people may be shopping for themselves. And that’s even worse.

I don’t even want to think about the damage this holiday ritual does to the Earth with the extra gas used to get in and out of the parking lot to everything that is thrown away that doesn’t need to be.

So let us protest this great movement of selfishness by:

  1. Hand-making a gift- I’m doing this and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I’m taking things out of the trash instead of putting them in. I’m putting a lot more effort into these gifts than I would have if I had just went to the store and bought it. I’ll end up buying a few things a few things. The internet is your oyster when it comes to upcycling and you can find practically anything in the trash. If you find a run of the mill craft think of different materials that you can find in the trash or from what you already have.
  2. Gift a service you can do yourself- car wash, babysitting, yard work or a massage. What better way to show someone you care than to give up some of your time to do something that you hate or don’t like to do for someone else.
  3. Gift services at locally-owned business- car tune-up, house cleaning, salon visit
  4. Gift a class together- If you have someone is your life that you need to spend more time with, why not give them a class membership to an art class, exercise class, cooking class or some other type of thing that the person or both of you like to do.
  5. Gift a membership- local nonprofit, gym, charity group
  6. Donate in someone’s name- charities, fundraisers, causes
  7. Gift a meal at a locally-owned restaurant
  8. Buy gifts from a locally-owned business- If you’re going to buy something, why not spend keep the money local. Out of every $100 spent at local businesses, $45 stays in the local economy. Out of every $100 spent at chain stores, everything but $14 leaves the local economy. They usually say to shop at small businesses on Saturday, but why not just take a look around a small shop and see what kind of deals they’re having?
  9. Buy used from thrift shops or used music and book stores- I found my favorite book at a used book store and it was pretty much the best day ever. It didn’t have any marks on it or anything and I got for half the price. Paperbackswap.com is a book trading site. As you trade your books you get credits and then you use the credits to get a different book. The person shipping the book has to pay shipping, but otherwise it’s free. The site also has a place to swap CDs and DVDs. Amazon also has a selection of used merchandise, but I would suggest looking at your local thrift stores before resorting to that. You can find some real treasures there.
  10. Use cash, not credit to avoid contributing to bank profits.
  11. Boycott stores with striking workers and support picketers- Wal-mart workers are finally starting to get tired working for no respect from their bosses or from consumers. As mindful consumers, we should give them our respect and help if we can.

Let’s make Black Friday the new Green Friday by working together to consume less junk.

History of Earth Day

Happy Earth Day, everyone! I struggled with the question of what to write on Earth Day. I haven’t been doing or studying these things for very long, so I’m not really sure what is expected of me on this special occasion. What do a write about to help celebrate the Earth when I try to do that almost every day? I only could only think of one thing that might be appropriate and that was to give homage to the history of Earth Day and its founding fathers and mothers.

It may be hard to imagine that before 1970, a factory could spew black clouds of toxic into the air or dump tons of toxic waste into a nearby stream, and that was perfectly legal. They could not be taken to court to stop it.

The EPA had not been born then, there was no Clean Air Act, no Clean Water Act, and no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment.

The idea of Earth Day can largely be contributed to Gaylord Nelson.  As a senator, Nelson contributed to important liberal reforms but struggled for years to interest his colleagues in environmental protections. So he turned instead to the people, proposing April 22, 1970 as a day for Americans to speak out about the environmental crises they faced.

“I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda. It was a big gamble, but worth a try,” said Senator Gaylord Nelson

“Finally, in November 1962, an idea occurred to me that was, I thought, a virtual cinch to put the environment into the political “limelight” once and for all. The idea was to persuade President Kennedy to give visibility to this issue by going on a national conservation tour. I flew to Washington to discuss the proposal with Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who liked the idea. So did the President. The President began his five-day, eleven-state conservation tour in September 1963. For many reasons the tour did not succeed in putting the issue onto the national political agenda. However, it was the germ of the idea that ultimately flowered into Earth Day,” said Senator Nelson.

For the past few years, college students had been staging teach-ins to educate their campuses about the war in Vietnam. What if, Nelson wondered, students used the same forum to raise environmental awareness, and what if they coordinate their events to fall on the same day, grabbing headlines and sending a strong environmental message to the Capitol? His proposal was met immediately with overwhelming support. The national media widely broadcast the plans for this so-called “Earth Day” and Nelson’s office was flooded by enthusiastic letters.

For the first time, the Earth Day stage gathered together the diverse constituents of the modern environmental movement: youthful idealists, liberal Democrats, middle-class women, scientists, professionals, and representatives of conservation groups, labor unions, and churches. They all gathered, young, old, to confront the ecological troubles in their cities, states, nation, and planet—and to demand action from themselves and their elected officials.

“Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself,” said Nelson.

Addressing the Earth Day 1970 audience in Denver, Nelson proclaimed, “Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human being and all living creatures.”

Disinterest on Capitol Hill had long stifled ecological concerns. But after April 1970 a growing environmental awareness nurtured ten years of groundbreaking legislation, which became the bulwark of modern environmental law.

The first Earth Day was effective at raising awareness about environmental issues and transforming public attitudes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Public opinion polls indicate that a permanent change in national priorities followed Earth Day 1970. When polled in May 1971, 25 percent of the U.S. public declared protecting the environment to be an important goal, a 2,500 percent increase over 1969.” Earth Day kicked off the “Environmental decade with a bang,” as Senator Nelson later put it. During the 1970s, a number of important pieces of environmental legislation were passed, among them the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Another key development was the establishment in December 1970 of the Environmental Protection Agency, which was tasked with protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment—air, water and land.

The Clean Air Act included Nelson’s amendment setting a deadline by which cars must include emissions-reducing technologies. The Clean Water Act of 1972 incorporated Nelson’s proposals to offer businesses low-interest loans to install pollution controls and $25 billion in grants to municipalities to build sewage treatment plants. In the same year, Nelson oversaw the passage of a ban on dumping in the oceans and Great Lakes.

His long fight against pesticides propelled forward when the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) forbade all nonessential uses of DDT and agreed to Nelson’s requests to ban aldrin and dieldrin and curb the use of the herbicide Agent Orange. Nelson led Congress to provide funding for alternative pest control methods and helped establish the precautionary principle with the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

Nelson continued to pursue an ambitious conservation agenda as well. Having already secured the “wild and scenic” designation for Wisconsin’s Saint Croix, Namekagon, and Wolf Rivers as well as the federal preservation of the Appalachian Trail, in 1970 Nelson was able to realize his dream of bringing the Apostle Islands into the national parks system. Nelson, long opposed to the ecological damage wrought by the Army Corps of Engineers, played a role in the first defeat of a Corps project—damming the Kickapoo River—on environmental grounds. And, to the wildlife conservation assured by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, Nelson added legal protections for predators and marine mammals.

Five years after the first Earth Day and just months after Nixon’s resignation, President Gerald Ford made a proclamation declaring March 21 as Earth Day.

For environmentalist John McConnell, it was vindication for what he considers to be his hijacked holiday. McConnell actually coined the term Earth Day and launched his own event in San Francisco on the 1970 equinox, a full month before Nelson’s took place.

The two events share the same basic message but McConnell’s is recognized as the official global Earth Day by the United Nations. The U.N. refers to the April 22 event as “International Mother Earth Day.”

The Environmental Decade came to an abrupt end with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Nelson, like several of his liberal colleagues, lost his seat. In his final weeks in office, he pushed through the preservation of 100 million acres in Alaska and, in his last legislative act, added 1,000 acres to the Saint Croix Scenic Riverway. He drastically cut the EPA’s budget and even had Jimmy’s solar panels taken off the roof of the White House. Some believe Attorney General Edwin Meese told him that solar panels didn’t project the image of a super power. On the upside, Reagan is credited with helping save the ozone layer. According to my environmental science teacher, Reagan was known as the environmental rapist. Wouldn’t be a nice way to go down in history?

At the 28th celebration of Earth Day, Clinton laid out an ambitious environmental agenda. His plan was to protect the Redwoods, keep mining out of Yosemite and finally put the entirety of the Appalachian Trail under public control. As far as the funding was concerned, Clinton’s response was very ’90s: “The money is there, the economy is in good shape, the budget is going to be balanced.”

President Carter became the first president to speak at an Earth Day rally. He also appointed Denis Hayes, coordinator of the first Earth Day, as head of the Federal Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI).

Eleven years Carter’s Earth Day proclaimed April 22, Earth Day, and 5 years after that President Ford took a swing at it. Congress passed Joint Resolution 119, establishing Earth Day as April 22. This time it was George H. W. Bush’s chance to proclaim in the name of Mother Earth.

Why all the date change? Around March 21, is when the spring equinox falls, so some believe it was changed to avoid connecting the event to the equinox, often considered a pagan holiday.

Since 1970, Earth Day celebrations have grown. In 1990, Earth Day went global, with 200 million people in over 140 nations participating, according to the Earth Day Network (EDN), a nonprofit organization that coordinates Earth Day activities. In 2000, Earth Day focused on clean energy and involved hundreds of millions of people in 184 countries and 5,000 environmental groups, according to EDN. Activities ranged from a traveling, talking drum chain in Gabon, Africa, to a gathering of hundreds of thousands of people at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Today, the Earth Day Network collaborates with more than 17,000 partners and organizations in 174 countries. According to EDN, more than 1 billion people are involved in Earth Day activities, making it “the largest secular civic event in the world.”

Nelson remained a national figure in environmental politics as Counselor of the Wilderness Society until his death in 2005. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor for civilians, in 1995. In the speech he gave that year to mark the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, he kept his gaze on the horizon:

“The opportunity for a gradual but complete break with our destructive environmental history and a new beginning is at hand…. We can measure up to the challenge if we have the will to do so—that is the only question. I am optimistic that this generation will have the foresight and the will to begin the task of forging a sustainable society.”

On Earth Day 2009, President Obama declared that America had to make a choice. It could either continue to be the leading importer of oil, or become the leading exporter of clean energy.

So there we have it, the history of Earth Day. The good, bad and ugly things it wentthrough. I hope everyone has a fabulous day.





How to Celebrate Earth Day

As you probably know, Earth Day is April 22. It’s right around the corner. I try to celebrate the Earth every day, so I’m not really sure what I’ll do to make April 22 extra special, maybe dumpster diving or maybe throw myself out of my comfort zone and make a recycling convert. Since I don’t go very many places on Sunday, I may have to settle for doing that on Friday. I don’t know yet, but I’ll let you know.

1.      Plant a tree in your back yard: Besides being a fun activity for your family, planting trees help to lower greenhouse gas emissions, and they provide a habitat for a variety of other plants and animals. Go to your local nursery, and pick out the perfect native tree for your yard. Lifetime trailers make it easy to haul the tree home. More trees in your yard can actually lower your cooling bill by providing shade over your house. Everybody wins when they plant trees.

2. Make pine cone birdfeeders- Bring birds right to your yard and watch them as they enjoy a healthy snack. Making pine cone bird feeders is a fun and easy activity for children. click here for instructions. Keep in mind, birds from different areas need different nutrients, so do your research before buying bird feed. Also, try not to hang the bird feeder in front of a window.

3. Visit a nearby recycling facility- Recycling processes are fascinating and fun to watch.  By visiting a recycling center, you can see how super, duper easy it is. Just give it that chance. If you save up recyclable materials to drop off during the visit, you’ll earn some extra change you can use to pick up ice cream cones afterward (our city’s recycling center doesn’t pay, but some do. We take our cans to a metal recycling center and we get paid for that.)

4. Sit with the family and set specific goals to recycle and save energy- It’s often as easy as changing your light bulbs, adjusting the setting on your fridge, or making a routine trip to a nearby recycling bin.

5. Plant or renew your vegetable garden- April is the perfect time to plan your garden. Section off an area of your yard or use a Raised Garden Bed, and decide what you’d like to grow this year. If you don’t have a yard, window boxes and large pots work just as well. Home grown vegetables are pesticide-free and help you save money. You can also nourish them with recycled kitchen scraps and grass clippings, using a composter. Let the children choose new types of fruits or vegetables to try out each year, and give them responsibilities in the garden.

6. Plant flowers at a local non-profit organization, church or community gardens- Contact the organization prior to planting. Most are thrilled when someone offers to beautify their grounds.

  1. Go on a nature hike- Nature hikes are a great way to appreciate the details of our beautiful earth. Pick a park or nearby trail, or visit a new place every year on Earth Day.
  2. Ride a bike or walk- Take some extra time out of your day and ride or walk to work or whatever activities you’re doing this Sunday. It’ll help you get energized, feel accomplished, get you ready to take on the day while helping the environment.
  3. Clean up litter at a local park- Parks provide places for everyone in the community to enjoy nature. Unfortunately, litter detracts from their beauty, and can be dangerous to people and animals. Bring some large bags and gather up trash to revive your park. Use sticks to pick up the litter you don’t want to touch.
  4. Attend an Earth Day event- Earth Day events are held across the nation, and are full of fun activities for both you and the kids. Pick a place close to you, events can be seen at http://act.earthday.org/ .
  5. Cook a special Earth Day meal using all non-processed foods- Invite the friends and family over to share a healthy, home-cooked meal. Get creative and decorate in an ‘earth day’ theme using leaves or potted plants, and let each guest take a plant home to add to their garden.  Here are some good websites for ideas on how to throw an eco-friendly dinner party: http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500171_162-4946088.html



12. And last, but not least, contact corporations, your local representative in congress, anybody who practices something that you would like them not to. Green4u has information on how to contact your representative in Congress. As a celebration of Earth Day, they also have posted companies that use Styofoam and ways to contact them and ask them to stop.

I contacted Chic-fil-a and Jumba Juice. I didn’t just ask them to stop, but why they should. With additional details, basically I said Styrofoam is just a bunch of chemicals, they give cancer, other health risks like death and they’re terrible for the environment. Some stores have a recycling bin the styofoam, so they at least care somewhat about the  environment, but they’re reasoning for keeping the styofoam cup is that people are constantly praising their insulating abilities and until they find a cup that does that just as well, they’re not changing anything. It’s nice to know that people and companies have their priorities straight. You can’t put a price on a ice cold beverage. Actually, you can, it’s called cancer, death and a destroyed environment. I have still yet to contact anybody from congress. To be honest, it’s just the fact that I don’t know what to say. They make me so that if I started then everything would just be a rant  and that’s not what I want. So, I’m mulling it over.

Earth Day reminds us we all share the same planet. Sharing Earth means taking responsibility for what we use and how we use it. It is a day to think of the environmental challenges we face and how to solve them. Protecting Earth is every person’s and every country’s responsibility.