The Green Life:

« October 2011 | Main | December 2011 »

44 posts from November 2011

November 30, 2011

How to Turn Your Old Bike Into a Reindeer

Reindeer bicycleSpread holiday cheer (and cut down on plastic kitsch) by decorating your yard with a red-nosed two-wheeler.

People get attached to their bicycles — and not just because they use clip-in pedals. That's one reason why bikes gather dust in the garage long after we've replaced them with newer, shinier models (Americans buy 20 million new bicycles a year). The frame may be bent, the chain rusted, the paint chipped — but we just can't let go.

This project will help you finally put your two-wheeled friend out to pasture, at least for a few weeks each year. Using simple bike tools, we turned an ancient one-speeder into a decorative reindeer for the yard during the holiday season.

When December has come and gone, you can stash your reindeer until next year or turn it back into a bike. Or, if you won't be using the thing again, you can donate it to one of the many organizations, like Pedals for Progress, that refurbish old bikes and give them to the needy.


 ° A bike
° Allen wrench, vise-grip pliers, screwdriver, and other hand tools for disassembling your bike 
° A chain-removal tool
° Crank puller (a crank extractor) and a crank bolt wrench (typically an 8-mm hex wrench)
° Liquid Wrench, WD-40, or a similar type of solvent to loosen rusted bolts
° 2 pieces of scrap wood (one about 3½ by 9 inches; the other about 4½ by 12 inches)
° 4 wood screws
° A power drill 
° Large zip ties (optional)

The most complicated part of this project is stripping the bike down to its frame. Basic instructions are provided here, but bikes come in many varieties, so if you need help, go to Atomic Zombie's guide for detailed diagrams and other useful information. If removing a particular part stumps you, you can probably find a video showing how to do it on YouTube.

For step-by-step instructions about how to turn your old bicycle into a reindeer, click below:

--Wendy Becktold / photo: Lori Eanes / based on an instructables.com project by Randy Lamb

Green Your Feet: Don't Let Pests Hitch a Ride

Muddy shoesTo go green, you've got to start from the bottom and work your way up. This week's tips, then, are about how to take steps to minimize your literal footprint.

Tip # 3: Ward off invasives.

Compared to your friends’ Saturday-night debauchery, a weekend hiking trip may seem like innocent fun. But your feet could be guilty of their own sinfulness: Invasive plants love to hitch rides on shoes. To avoid carrying nonnative plants from the city to the country — or vice versa — make sure your shoes are clean as new before heading out or going home. Use soap (biodegradable brands include Dr. Bronner's and Nikwax) and dry with a towel. You can also carry a boot brush and wear gaiters to protect your socks. Be especially vigilant about caked mud, which can be packed with seeds and spores.

Tell us: How do you keep your shoes clean?

November 29, 2011

Hey Mr. Green, What Do I Do With Dog Doo?

Bob Schildgen is Mr GreenHey Mr. Green,

What's the eco-friendliest way to dispose of dog waste? Should it be put in municipal compost bins, thrown in the trash, or flushed down the toilet? I know it’s a hazard to human health and the natural world if left in a glob outside, but I'm never clear on the best alternative. Help?

Betty in Berkeley, California

Good question: Collectively, America's 78.2 million dogs generate 10.7 million tons of waste, an amount that exceeds 6% of the staggering 165 million tons of waste that end up in U.S. landfills each year.

Let's start with what you should not do: Don't put dog poop in municipal compost bins. Why? Temperatures might not get high enough in compost facilities to kill pathogens, including salmonella, campylobacter, and toxocara.

Unless your city explicitly forbids or discourages either practice, dog waste should be put in a plastic bag and placed in the regular trash, or flushed down the toilet to be processed in the municipal sewage system. Though note: Dog waste should not be flushed into septic-tank systems unless installers and manufacturers verify that the system can handle it.

I hasten to add, however, that different areas favor different approaches, apparently dictated by local conditions and available technology. For example, your town recommends putting dog excrement in the trash (bagged, of course), whereas Snohomish County, Washington, and Columbus, Ohio, are OK with either strategy. Thurston County, Washington, on the other hand, explicitly condemns flushing.

Of the two options, though, flushing may be preferable. This is partly because you can just deploy a reusable scooper to pick up each canine deposit instead of one-time-use plastic bags. Also, more sewage plants now digest sewage to produce methane that's then burned to create electric power or produce sewage sludge that's used as fertilizer.

Continue reading "Hey Mr. Green, What Do I Do With Dog Doo?" »

Green Your Feet: Compost Your Clippings

Toenail clippingTo go green, you've got to start from the bottom and work your way up. This week's tips, then, are about how to take steps to minimize your literal footprint.

Tip # 2: Clip responsibly.

The next time you trim your toenails, look beyond the waste basket or the sink. Clippings may be scraggly and gross, but they’re rich in calcium, which makes them nutritious for plants. That means you can toss 'em in the compost pile or use them for mulch in your garden. Just be sure to trash fake or treated nails, as these can harm the environment.

Tell us: What weird stuff do you put in your compost?

November 28, 2011

The Shark-Fin Soup Ban Extends to Asia's Oldest Hotel Brand

Soup from AsiaI ate shark-fin soup once. Dining from a prix-fixe menu a lifetime ago on a trip to Asia, I had no idea what it was or that sharks had been maimed for that day’s “delicacy.” The taste simply didn’t translate. I might have managed the broth if not for the bland-tasting intruder. As I hesitantly chewed on a rubbery bit, its slimy coating slid disconcertingly around my mouth. To humor my host, who paid a lot for the meal, I chewed maybe two more bites . . . but that was too much. I’ve eaten odd foods before and since. None has made such an impression on me as shark-fin soup did.

So when California and Toronto recently passed bans, I was among those who did not shed a tear. I ate it out of ignorance before the issue had gained so much attention. But many people around the world buy and sell the soup's key ingredient with full knowledge of the cruelty and controversy involved. Because of its popularity at weddings and business banquets, hotel chains typically offer shark-fin soup on event menus. But as the practice of shark-finning came under increasing scrutiny several years ago, a few hotels responded by offering other soup options, often in a footnote on the menu. But shark-fin soup still sits prominently on many menus, even at a number of Western chains.

Leave it to Asia’s oldest hotel company to remove it from the menu completely. The parent company of the prestigious Peninsula Hotels announced its decision a few days ago. Clement K.M. Kwok, the CEO of Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, said, “By removing shark fin from our menus, we hope [to help preserve] the marine ecosystem for the world’s future generations . . . [and] inspire other hospitality companies to do the same . . . Our industry will play a role in helping to preserve the biodiversity of our oceans.”

At the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Hong Kong, Silvy Pun works to protect sharks. She explained: "The Peninsula hotel chain is setting an example for other hotels and restaurants to follow. The decision also suggests that consumers have become more eco-conscious and market demand is changing. Shark-fin soup is no longer a must-have item."

Continue reading "The Shark-Fin Soup Ban Extends to Asia's Oldest Hotel Brand" »

Green Your Feet: Friendly Footwear

Boot plantTo go green, you've got to start from the bottom and work your way up. This week's tips, then, are about how to take steps to minimize your literal footprint.

Tip #1: Invest in earthy shoes.

You probably know about Toms' buy-one-give-one model. Other shoemakers are following that company's lead, so when it’s time for new footwear, choose an eco-brand. OAT shoes, for example, biodegrade to 90% in six months if they're in ideal soil (don’t worry: they need microbes to do so, so they won’t disintegrate on your feet). Simple Shoes are made from hemp, recycled paper, cork, bamboo, old tires, and other stuff that was once landfill-bound. For designer kicks, look to Beyond Skin, whose vegan high heels use faux leather. For more eco-shoe ideas, click here.

Tip #2: Compost your clippings.

Tip #3: Don't pick up hitchhikers.

Tip #4: Buy the right socks.

Tell us: What's earthy about your feet?

November 25, 2011

Nature-Inspired Robots Fly, Swim, and Run

Robot futureMother Nature picked up a few nifty tricks over the billions of years of life's evolution on Earth — and today's scientists are trying to re-create that trial and error (albeit at a somewhat faster pace) to help robots run, swim, and fly. Engineers at UC Berkeley recently found that adding wings improved the stability and balance of DASH, a buglike six-legged robot. It's a discovery that could shed light on the biological adaptation of flight.

Using similar principles of biomimicry, another group of scientists gave greater mobility to Robojelly, an underwater surveillance robot originally created for the U.S. Office of Naval Research to monitor chemical spills, fish migrations, and naturally, the whereabouts of enemy ships. Engineers at VirginiaTech improved the silicone spy's performance by tweaking its design in ways that model the anatomy of a moon jellyfish. Other marine creatures inspire mechanical counterparts too: Robotic fish detect oil spills and algal blooms.

Anyone paranoid about a Terminator-style future of robot domination should be scared of the Nano Hummingbird, a tiny, remote-controlled, camera-wielding flying craft that hovers and maneuvers just like — yup — a hummingbird. Rather than stalking flowers for nectar, the robot-bird would likely be used for military and law-enforcement operations. (Pair the dainty Nano Hummingbird with the still-theoretical FastRunner, an ostrich-inspired speed machine, and Team Robot is looking pretty fierce.)

Other species, including butterflies and bats, are in engineers' sights. And of course, there's the classic model for the robot future: It's people.

--Della Watson

Click below to watch videos of the nature-inspired robots: 

Continue reading "Nature-Inspired Robots Fly, Swim, and Run" »

Movie Review Friday: Planeat

Planeat, another film about why meat is bad for us and the planet, delivers a message that by now seems age-old: If you go vegan, you and Earth will feel a lot better. This film, however, is more encouraging than its peers. There's no vendetta-stirring against factory farms, no sense that tiny individuals are lost in the shadow of the agriculture lobby. Instead, we leave the film rapacious to explore the bright-colored world of vegan cooking.

Indeed, Planeat makes us crave vegan food without making us hate meat. Think sandwiches of hummus, sliced lemon, and steamed kale on crisp bread; a cashew-based ice-cream sundae with candied nuts and agave syrup; or hearty squash soup, all without the cattle prods and lobbyists out to feed us toxic gunk. Our appetite is sparked, not squashed.

There is an anti-meat thread in Planeat, but it’s woven with a deft, light hand. The calm scientists do all the talking; Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s testimonies are especially convincing (he's famous for getting Bill Clinton to go vegan). During a 12-year study, he prescribed a vegan diet to 18 heart-disease patients, and 17 convalesced (the person who didn't get better had strayed from the vegan plan). We see before-and-after X-rays of clogged arteries that got cleared, and the good doctor’s wife teaches us a thing or two about vegan cooking.

If Planeat lacks anything, it’s narrative structure: The film is more like a collage than a story. But it still works. We are thankful for — and energized by — its concise 68 minutes. The extra time might be just enough for us to learn a new recipe before dinner.

There are no scheduled screenings in the U.S. but you can organize one or, for $6, watch Planeat online. For group screenings and educational use, contact Bullfrog Films.

--Jake Abrahamson

November 24, 2011

Green Your Thanksgiving: How to Manage Leftovers

Turkey panini meltToday is Thanksgiving! This week’s tips have been about how to stay green during your mad rush to prepare.

Tip #4: Prevent food waste. 

We Americans toss out an extra 5 million tons of household waste during the holidays — a number that can be slashed by following a few simple tips. To start with, if you’re the one cooking, use a party-prep calculator to make sure you’re not overdoing it. Another waste-reducing strategy is to tell guests to bring Tupperware so that you can conquer excess by dividing it. If you do find yourself with mounds of extra food, look up creative recipes for Thanksgiving leftovers. You can carve turkey (or Tofurky) into melty sandwiches, or fry up mashed potatoes for a hearty breakfast. If you’re feeling generous, a quick search should lead you to nearby homeless shelters or senior-citizen programs that accept donations of leftover food.

Tell us: What do you do with your leftover food?

November 23, 2011

A New App to Decode Eco-Labels

Consumer Reports eco-labels appEver wondered what those vague eco-terms on product labels actually mean? Thanks to Consumer Reports, there's now an app for that. From “natural” to “organic” to “hypoallergenic,” even smart consumers have to spend hours researching to decode claims and figure out which products live up to the hype.

Besides, many companies engage in greenwashing by exaggerating or falsely representing their products' green qualities. Unable to first investigate product claims, even those shoppers committed to eco purchasing might be deterred from impulse buys of a new brand or product. And an ingredient list (if it's even there) only takes you so far.

The Eco-Label app aims to solve these problems, listing information about food, personal-care items, and cleaning products. For the 99 cents it costs to have this database at your fingertips, you can search alphabetically or by product category and access a label "report card" which will tell you which certification claims are trustworthy.

Consumer Reports eco-labels appThe information comes from a reliable source: Consumer Reports and its website GreenerChoices.org investigate green claims and provide an Eco-Label search tool. The data is based on expert, independent analysis.

Dr. Urvashi Rangan, the director of consumer safety and sustainability at Consumer Reports, said: "As the popularity of green products continues to grow, it's important to know which marketing claims you can trust and which ones you can't." Rangan should know her sustainable stuff since she earned a doctoral degree in environmental health sciences from Johns Hopkins University and earns her living decoding eco-labels and advocating for credible labeling and responsible products.

Rangan is also a project director for GreenerChoices.org, which explains what to look for in eco-labeling. The best labels, the site says, include the seal or logo of a third-party certifier. And the new app may help us unravel the codes to live an easier eco-life.

--Carolyn Cotney / screenshots: Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

User comments or postings reflect the opinions of the responsible contributor only, and do not reflect the viewpoint of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club does not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of any posting. The Sierra Club accepts no obligation to review every posting, but reserves the right (but not the obligation) to delete postings that may be considered offensive, illegal or inappropriate.

Up to Top

Sierra Club® and "Explore, enjoy and protect the planet"® are registered trademarks of the Sierra Club. © 2009 Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club Seal is a registered copyright, service mark, and trademark of the Sierra Club.