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50 posts from September 2011

September 30, 2011

Brain Tumor Survivor: ''World Was in Technicolor''

IndieleeIndie Lee loved working in her garden. That is, until the rheumatoid arthritis set in. In her thirties and health-conscious, Lee couldn't believe the diagnosis. "It's impossible!" she recalls telling her doctor in disbelief.

But the New York native was in for an even bigger shock: her doctors discovered a brain tumor pushing on her frontal lobe and optic nerve.

"Everything in my world changed at that moment," she said.

Because Indie was a conscientious consumer — she ate homegrown organic food from a greenhouse she built in her backyard — she was more than a little startled when her doctors told her the tumor was probably caused by environmental toxins.

"We’re so uber-aware of this organic movement when it comes to food, but we don’t really take the time to recognize what we put on our skin — and it's our largest organ," she said.

After surgery to remove the tumor, Indie's mission became crystal clear: "When I woke up, the world was in Technicolor," she said. Since the operation, she has dedicated her life to educating the community about the dangers of cosmetic products — and has started her own product line.

Continue reading "Brain Tumor Survivor: ''World Was in Technicolor''" »

September 29, 2011

Greener Cleaners: Smelly, Dirty Shoes

shoes Household cleaning products can be dangerous for you and for nature. This week's tips are about how to get things sparkling using better options that you make yourself.

Tip #4: Deodorize and shine your shoes.

To make the surface of your shoes gleam, use a combination of olive oil and lemon juice. If your sneakers emit an offensive smell, Livestrong suggests using arrow root starch, potato starch, or corn starch and baking soda. Other sites suggest spraying your shoes with strong black tea so that tannin — a compound known for its leather-making and odor-busting properties — can suck up the odors. Just make sure you have dark shoes or don't mind staining the insides of them.

Tell us: How do you keep your shoes clean?

September 28, 2011

Feeding the Hungry, Not the Landfill

Food waste Though dumpster divers may not be especially happy about the news, there’s a push by the food industry to reduce the amount of food that ends up in the trash. While many divers rely on people dumping grub in the garbage, there are likely some who will be glad to see less food go to waste.

In addition to trying to reduce waste, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food, beverage, and consumer products companies, is making a concerted effort, along with the Food Marketing Institute, to see that more of its products make their way to food banks.

But don’t expect major changes anytime soon. This three-year initiative, officially called “Food Waste Opportunities and Challenges,” will first conduct surveys, look at successful public-policy programs, and finally try to find technological solutions (whatever that means) to the industry’s two main goals. For some ideas, the leadership of this initiative may want to look at what San Francisco is doing to reduce food waste.

Thanks in part to perhaps the toughest composting and recycling law in the country, in San Francisco more than 600,000 tons of compost is diverted from the landfill and sent to its composting facility. And yet, according to the city’s environment department, “compostable food and paper products still make up more than 36 percent of the material that San Francisco sends to landfill.” The city has the admirable, albeit ambitious, goal of having zero waste by the year 2020.

Continue reading "Feeding the Hungry, Not the Landfill" »

UPDATE: The Girl Scout Cookie Saga Continues

Stack of cookies When those oh-so-tempting boxes of Thin Mints, Tagalongs, and Samoas hit the streets in 2012, they'll be a little bit greener, thanks to the work of two eco-activist Girl Scouts.

In March, we introduced Green Life readers to Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen, two Girl Scouts on a mission to get palm oil out of their organization's famous cookies. After learning that the palm oil industry is responsible for rainforest destruction, Vorva and Tomtishen started an awareness campaign, targeting Kellogg's, Cargill, and Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA). 

In May, we reported that the girls had teamed up with and Rainforest Action Network for a social-media day of action when the controversy became heated — GSUSA removed critical posts from their Facebook wall, inciting charges of censorship. Now, it seems, GSUSA may be ready to listen to the activists.

In a blog post published today, GSUSA pledged to "move to a segregated, certified palm oil source by 2015, based on market availability." In the meantime, GSUSA will purchase GreenPalm certificates, which provide monetary incentives for sustainable palm-oil producers.

Continue reading "UPDATE: The Girl Scout Cookie Saga Continues" »

Greener Cleaners: Silverware Polish

Forks Household cleaning products can be dangerous for you and for nature. This week's tips are about how to get things sparkling using better options that you make yourself.

Tip #3: Use DIY metal and furniture cleaners.

Ever thought about using ketchup to shine your metal? It might just work for polishing your brass, according to The Ecology Center. A mixture of baking soda, water, salt, and aluminum foil makes a cleansing bath for silver. The center has many more recipes for ingenious, eco-friendly solutions to make everything from your silverware to your wood furniture shine.

Tell us: How do you shine your stuff?

September 27, 2011

Inspired by the Landscape: The Natural History Museum of Utah

Natural History Museum of Utah

Sky. Native Voices. Life. Land. First Peoples. Lake. Past Worlds. Our Backyard. Utah's Futures. On Nov. 18, these nine exhibits will be in place at their new home. The Natural History Museum of Utah reopens this winter with a facility that aims to blend in rather than stand out.

Inspired by the rock, soil, minerals, and vegetation of the Rocky Mountain foothills, the new structure mimics its steep backdrop. The architecture sweeps across the terraces of a 17-acre site in the Wasatch Mountain Range. Christened the Rio Tinto Center, its copper skin references the area's geological and mineralogical history.

The museum prides itself on being a model for environmentally responsible development. It seeks LEED Gold certification for its sustainable design of “recycled materials, local resources, photovoltaic energy, radiant cooling, and . . . an extensive stormwater catchment and management system.”

Continue reading "Inspired by the Landscape: The Natural History Museum of Utah" »

Floating Islands Give Hope to Flooding Community

Floating island Ernest Dardar lives on Isle de Jean Charles, a drowning spit in Louisiana. It has never been a true island, but that might change: The sea is gulping down land in the Mississippi delta, and what used to be a maze of green and blue is looking more like an open ocean dotted with grassy life rafts. Mr. Dardar, whose Native American community rooted down there in the 19th century, has already moved once because he couldn’t commute to work during high tide. If the water keeps coming, a full-on transplant may be unavoidable. Now, an endeavor to deploy mats of foam and recycled plastic might bring some of the Isle back to the surface.

On September 23, more than 300 volunteers convened on Isle de Jean Charles to launch 1,500 feet of floating islands. A coalition that includes America’s Wetland Foundation and Shell is behind the project, which aims to restore a significant portion of vanished land and protect what’s still there.

The islands, which look like brown mattresses growing sea grass, are made from four strips of recycled plastic bottles layered with buoyant marine foam. The manufacturers cut wicking channels through two of the four layers, install grass plugs, and pack them with peat. As the grass grows, it bores through the porous bottom layers into the water, where its roots trap sediment and provide habitats for microbial colonies and fish.

If all goes well, the islands should produce new land that'll equal 300% of their surface area. They are staggered into rows that resemble long docks separated from each other by about five feet of water, which creates a terracing effect. Similar islands were installed at Louisiana's Bayou Savage National Wildlife Refuge in 2009, and that grass jumped off within a year.

Martin Ecosystems manufactures the islands, and CEO Ted Martin is optimistic about the project: “It’s a win-win when you can use recycled plastic to promote the ecosystem.” Each island contains about 576 reconstituted plastic bottles. If your lunchtime beverage lives a noble life, it might end up in this soda-bottle heaven.

-- Jake Abrahamson / photo courtesy of Martin Ecosystems

Greener Cleaners: Natural Stain Removers

Coffee stain Household cleaning products can be dangerous for you and for nature. This week's tips are about how to get things sparkling using better options that you make yourself.

Tip #2: Natural stain removers

No one likes the smell (or health or environmental effects) of bleach. Use lemon juice to whiten fabrics instead, and a mixture of lemon juice and salt to remove individual stains. Adding half a cup of baking soda to your wash could also get rid of tough stains without the scrubbing. Spilled red wine? Try putting some white wine over it. Glycerin, dishwashing soap, and water can also work wonders.  If it's oil you're trying to get out, use baby powder to soak it up: It's a beauty secret for hair that works on clothes and upholstery too.

Tell us: What are your stain-removing secrets?

September 26, 2011

If You Build It, They Will Come

Southern masked weaver bird and nests When we recently examined the beautifully complex nests of eight different bird species, we wondered how these small, feathered creatures could weave masterpieces without any training or instruction. Well, new research suggests that the old adage "practice makes perfect" may also apply to our avian friends.

A study of male Southern Masked Weaver birds in Botswana found that nest-building isn't some kind of instinctive zombie walk. The birds, who build several grass nests during their breeding season, varied and improved on their technique with each new nest. They also learned to be more efficient over time — experienced birds dropped fewer blades of grass than novices.

Much like wannabe rock stars practicing guitar riffs in their basements, male members of this polygamous species have a powerful incentive to hone their skills: female birds choose the males with the most impressive nests.

Studies of another nest-design expert, the Satin Bowerbird, found that smarter males are more successful in the mating game. Or maybe they just practice harder.

--Della Watson / photo by iStock/hipokrat

Greener Cleaners: DIY Wiper Fluid

Dirty windshield Household cleaning products can be dangerous for you and for nature. This week's tips are about how to get things sparkling using better options that you make yourself.

Tip #1: Make your own wiper fluid.

Next time you run out of windshield-wiper fluid, think twice before running to the store. Traditional wiper fluid, due to the main ingredient, methyl alcohol, is extremely toxic when ingested — a danger for kids and pets. Instead, use vinegar and water to clean your windshield in the summer months or in warmer climes (the mixture can freeze if it's too cold). Another option is a mixture of water, isopropyl alcohol, and dishwashing soap. If you're in an experimenting mood, try mixing a green cleaner you already have at home with water to see how well it works.

Tip #2: Natural stain removers.

Tip #3: Use DIY metal and furniture cleaners..

Tip #4: Deodorize and shine your shoes.

Tell us: What are your favorite DIY cleaning solutions?

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