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16 posts from April 2014

April 29, 2014

Poems to Inspire Outdoor Adventures

National Poetry Month Environmental PoemsWe often lose sight of the environment in seeking to conquer it. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in better gear, tougher trails and higher climbs, and forget what got you out there in the first place. Humans do not seek suffering solely for glory, there has to be some reward to keep us coming back. The same applies to great writing. What makes us reread a sentence? Come back to a poem? We may read hundreds of pages of drivel to discover one nugget of truth; we may hike days in the rain for one hour of sunlight. The great moments are the ones that keep our boots on, our chins up and our spirits high.

What if you could get that feeling by reading a poem? These poems were written in a bygone era and yet they still drive us out of the house. Even now, their words inspire action and ask us to consider our environment. They ask us to take responsibility for and enjoy the Earth. These poets embody the Sierra Club’s motto to “Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet.”

In honor of the conclusion of National Poetry Month here are some poems that will light a fire in the belly of anyone who’s ever been outside. 


William Wordsworth’s 1798 poem quickens the heart with frantic pleas. He urges us to quit our books, shut down our laptops and get “Up! Up!”

The Tables Turned

William Wordsworth

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun, above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your Teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.


As a Sierra Club charter member, Charles Keeler worked to preserve the Berkeley Hills and went on to direct San Francisco's Natural History Museum at the California Academy of Sciences. Keeler bemoans man’s victory over nature and suggests one last conquest. 


Man the Conqueror

Charles Keeler

One by one hast thou conquered the elements, masterful man,
Taming the stream and electrical spark to thy will,
To speed thee o’er land and o’er sea at thy beck and thy nod;
Boring like mole through the mountains and under the rivers,
Diving like penguin beneath the wild waters and rising
To ride on the waves unconcerned by thy triumphs surpassing.
Now thou hast mastered the air, and thy ships go careering
Skyward to vie with the eagle, by danger undaunted.

What is there left for thy conquest, unsatisfied monarch?
What but thyself, Cosmic Caesar, who owns none for master!
Of old it was said, “Know thyself,” but I say to thee and further,
“Go, conquer thyself” – that will make thee commander-in-chief,
With armies of passions rebellious subdued and submissive,
A monarch ‘twill make thee, with hopes and with fears for thy subjects;
Nay, ‘twill make thee a god, and the world will be thine where thou walkest.


What are your favorite poems?  Who inspires you to get outside?


-- top image courtesy of iStock/mothy20

-- Images courtesy of Sierra Club Archives

Caitlin Kauffman is an editorial intern for Sierra. She is a sea kayak and hiking guide in the Bay Area and the Greater Yellowstone area. She enjoys good eye contact and elk burgers.


Read More:

History: Sierra Club Timeline

Work Less to Live More

Women of the Sierra Club

April 28, 2014

May Night Skies

May 2014 Jupiter and MercuryApril was the month to observe Mars, but May is for Mercury and Saturn. Mercury is appearing in the west in the early evening, trying to shine through the colors of the sunset. This is the best month of the year to see Mercury, with the end of May giving you your greatest chance to spot it. Mercury is brightest when it is closest to the sun, but it will be hard to see Mercury until after it has risen a bit higher in the sky and dimmed from its peak of brightness. On May 8, both Mercury and Mars shine at magnitude -1.0. Both planets get dimmer after this date, but Mercury dims more quickly. However, it also climbs farther away from the sunset’s glow, which actually makes it easier to see.

Each evening as Mercury has been climbing higher in the sky, Jupiter has been sliding down to meet it. But Mercury starts sinking back toward the horizon on May 25, which means their meeting will be left for another day. On May 30 Mercury shines at magnitude 1.2 and should be easy to spot beside a crescent moon.

Jupiter spends May in Gemini, and the moon passes through its vicinity on May 3 and 4, and then again on May 31, when the moon is a 10-percent-lit crescent. Mars and Saturn are trailing behind Jupiter on the ecliptic. Saturn reaches opposition on May 10 on the same evening that the moon nears Mars, and three days later the moon reaches Saturn just a little shy of full phase. The Full Moon is on May 14 at 12:15 p.m. PDT.

Last month before sunrise it was Neptune that came within two degrees of Venus, but in May it’s Uranus’s turn. On May 15 you can find Uranus less than two degrees to the upper left of Venus. If you want to see Venus and Uranus together in the evening, you’ll have to wait until March 4, 2015, when they will be less than a degree apart.

The Eta Aquarid Meteors peak on May 6 when we pass through an old stream of dust left behind by Halley’s Comet. These fast-moving meteors with long trains are best in the early morning hours of May 6 and may produce up to 70 meteors an hour.

Before sunrise on Saturday May 24, Earth will pass through a debris trail left behind by comet P/ 209 LINEAR, giving us the chance for an outburst of meteors. With a possibility of 400 meteors an hour, it’s worth a peek.

May Observing Highlights: Mercury and Saturn

(Photo: Jupiter and Mercury as seen in 2011. Credit: John Chumack)


KellyKizerWhittKelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomymagazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

April 25, 2014

China Chips Away At Its Pollution Problems

Boy in beijing smogHere’s some good news, China-style. Reports Vice: “Animal carcasses in its waterways, heavy particles in its air, toxic metals in its soil and food supply — these are a few of the things that led China to make waves on Earth Day by submitting proposals to its national legislature that would amend the country’s environmental protection law for the first time in 25 years.” If the proposals are approved by the National People’s Congress, China would increase its Ministry of Environmental Protection’s ability to enforce regulations, polluting companies could be closed, whistleblowers could gain legal protections, and industrial development could be restricted in certain areas. It all follows a declaration in March by Premier Li Keqiang, the second-ranked political leader and head of economic policy, of a “war on pollution” in the world’s biggest carbon-emitting nation.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace has issued a (moderately) optimistic report, “The End of China’s Coal Boom,” which focuses on coal policies announced by the government last fall and the coal pledges by 12 of China’s 34 provinces that have resulted from them. Coal consumption in China has increased at no more than 3 percent per year since 2012, which has a “How is this news?” aspect to it until you consider that 2003 and 2004’s rates were 19.2% and 17.5%, respectively. If China’s new coal programs are fully implemented, Greenpeace says, the slowdown in coal consumption “opens up a window of opportunity for peaking global CO2 emissions. Implementing the coal control measures could put China’s emissions almost in line with a 2-degrees trajectory.” (At the 2010 Copenhagen Accords, world leaders recognized the need to keep the increase in global temperature to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.)

That would be good news for all of us. “China’s coal consumption has become the single most significant determinant for the future of the world’s climate,” reports Greenpeace. “Between 2002 and 2012, CO2 emissions from coal burning in China increased by 4.5 billion [metric tons]. This is equivalent to the European Union’s entire emissions in 2011.”

If so much (tentatively) rosy news makes you a glutton for environmental punishment, you can follow the U.S. Embassy’s hourly Beijing air alerts. Spoiler: They seem to vary between “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy.”

Image of boy in Beijing smog by iStock/Hung_Chung_Chih

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

April 24, 2014

New Fridge? Does Efficiency Outweigh Energy to Make It?

MrGreenPhotoHey Mr. Green,

I read your article on the amount of energy consumed by manufacturing a car with great interest. We hear constantly that we should scrap our old refrigerator, our old car, our old dishwasher, in favor of more efficient models. So, let's say I save 100 kilowatt hours (kWh) a year with my new fridge. How many years would it take to pay off the environmental debt of MAKING that new appliance?  Is there a place I can go to look up the environmental cost of making certain products? —Susan, Lakewood, New Jersey

Thanks for your kind words about reading “with interest.”

Manufacturing a refrigerator doesn’t demand as much from our dear old battered environment as you might think. A new fridge that saves you just 100 kWh a year will offset the energy used to procure its raw materials, manufacture it, ship it, and send it off to the afterlife in five years or so. One reason for this is that old fridges do have an afterlife: most of them get recycled.   

But the main reason for savings is the tremendous advance in efficiency mandated by the federal government, though you can be sure there are some philosophical wizards on the right wing who argue that this forced efficiency is an  intolerable violation of their sacred constitutional right to warm the globe to the boiling point.

Now if your old refrigerator was made before 2001, you can save a lot more than 100 kWh a year, because those ancient clunkers use almost twice as much power as the new Energy Star models. To find out just how much difference there is between antiquated models and new ones, check out the EPA’s calculator. You’ll find that some of the biggest of those ancient beasts were burning through more than 1,000 kWh a year,   which would cost you more than $150 annually at your present utility rate.   And by by next year, new Energy Star standards will improve efficiency by another 10 percent. 

It’s also important to note that SIZE MATTERS. You may have read my latest rant against the giantism of today’s new homes, which have bloated from an average of 980 square feet in 1950 to more than 2,400, despite the fact that families are smaller. We suffer from a similar megalophilia (love of the gigantic) with refrigerators. The proportion of bigger models has risen sharply, with the share of small ones down correspondingly, which maybe explains our obesity epidemic: The bigger the fridge, the more junk food it’ll harbor.   Like cars with low mileage, this trend eats away some of our total energy savings. For example, a 17.5 cubic foot Energy Star refrigerator-freezer takes about 380 kWh a year, while his behemoth 25-cubic-foot brothers are up around 580 kWh.   So if you do consider a new fridge, ask yourself if you really need a Goliath armed with all those gee-whiz automatic devices that you don’t really need. And keep in mind that side-by-side models are less efficient than those with the freezer at the bottom and that those with the freezer on top are the most efficient.

As for your question about where to find the environmental cost of a given product, your best bet is to search for “life + cycle + name of product.” If you really want to geek out on the topic, visit the International Standards Organization  and take a look at its body of life-cycle research.

Oh yeah, almost forgot: regarding the crazy notion of keeping the old fridge growling away in the garage just to chill beer for man-cave events or parties, take the damn thing off life support and send it to the recycler. You can greatly supplement your beverage supply with the money you’ll save. - Bob Schildgen


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April 23, 2014

Arbor Day: More Trees, Please

ArborDayTreeGuideTrees, you guys, trees are awesome. Earth Day may get a lot of press because it’s the “sexy” environmental holiday, but Arbor Day isn’t just for gardening grandmothers. Like bears, trees can lie dormant for most of the winter, but unlike bears, they won’t want to eat you when they wake up. Just three days after Earth Day, Arbor Day honors our lanky limbed friends who don’t shrivel and die at the first nip of frost.

Trees have substantial societal and monetary value. Planting a tree near your home or office can increase your property value, reduce your energy bill, strain local storm water and cache clean groundwater, suck carbon from the atmosphere and improve your air quality. Quantify the benefits of future trees or ones you already have with this benefits calculator. What would Earth Day be without the trees?

Now that you’re sold on planting a tree, how do you choose? Generally, the EPA suggests avoiding trees that are “hard to establish,” “susceptible to disease” and/or “need frequent attention.” When in doubt Master Arborist, Josh Morin recommends, “Go native and diversify.” Native species will be better adapted to the climate and require less maintenance and water. It’s also important to plant a wide variety of trees to avoid contagion among monocultures. To all of you sharpening your earth-moving tools, here’s a list of trees to plant that may do well in your region.


Pacific Northwest: Pinkdogwood

Pink Dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Rubra’): This tree loves sinking its roots into moist earth. It will stand out amongst the evergreens in your backyard with its brilliant pink flowers. Year-round fruit production makes this tree a popular karaoke bar for songbirds.





WhitefirRocky Mountains:

Concolor Fir (Abies concolor): Also known as the “White Fir” this is beautiful evergreen’s silvery needles and whitish bark make it the ideal holiday tree. It’s also drought resistant and native to the western slope of the Rockies. Forget about the hassle of permits and postholing in your National Forest and grow your Christmas tree in the backyard!







Southwest: Honeylocust

Thornless Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis): This drought-resistant tree produces delicious smelling flowers, can tolerate all types of soil and loves basking in the sun. Bees can also feast on flowering honeylocusts, so if your bee-farm hasn’t quite taken off, planting one of these will be like building an In-N-Out Burger in your yard.







Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica): The ash is a tough, fast-growing tree that can withstand just about any climate the Midwest dishes out. However, it’s currently suffering from an outbreak of emerald ash borers and ash trees are dropping like leaves in October. Be a part of the solution and plant ash in your community!  







Northeast: Redmaple

Red Maple (Acer rubrum): Rhode Island has already claimed this beauty as its state tree, but that doesn’t mean the rest of you can’t enjoy the year-round color show.  It will flourish in humid Northeastern summers and offer bright pops of red during long winter months.




American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua): You could be sipping sweet-tea underneath your sweetgum in a few summers if you plant this beautiful shade tree. The sweetgum turns striking shades of red and yellow in the fall and is very popular among finches, doves, sparrows and turkeys.  







Before you plant, it’s a good idea to call a certified arborist in your area and get all the information you need regarding placement, maintenance and species. They’re like a veterinarian for your tree, on call and immensely knowledgeable about your pet.

If you belong to the yardless masses, worry not. You too can get involved in Arbor Day. Engage in a little “Urban Forestry,” recommends Rick Tagtow, Executive Director of the Midwestern International Society of Arborists (ISA). Schools, public parks, golf courses and streets all benefit from tree-planting.  Contact local community groups like Rotary clubs, 4H, or the Parks Department to join in a team effort. What better way to channel your cabin fever than fervent digging and shoveling? It’s also a great way to learn about your local ecosystem and get outside with friends and family. New members of the Arbor Day Foundation can receive 10 free trees or choose to have 10 trees planted in our National Forests. 


-- Images from istock photo contributors (top to bottom) dianne555, don51, 3pix, Zandebasenjis, sakakawea7, Hailshadow, and maljalen.

Caitlin Kauffman is an editorial intern for Sierra. She is a sea kayak and hiking guide in the Bay Area and the Greater Yellowstone area. She enjoys good eye contact and elk burgers.


Read More:

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April 22, 2014

Watermark: Diving into Water Use

WatermarkFilmPosterThe opening scene of Watermark, a new film from Edward Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal, creates a disorienting effect that leaves the viewer feeling tiny against the pure force of water. The film takes features 20 stories across 10 countries in what director Baichwal, Manufactured Landscapes and Payback, calls a “river-like rhythm.” Inspired by Burtynsky's images, the numerous stories create an overarching narrative around the ways we use, control and pollute water.

After working with Butynsky on Manufactured Landscapes (2006), Baichwal wanted to team up with the photographer again. His work had been the focus of her previous film about industrial manufacturing. When she saw the images he had been working on for a National Geographic essay about water in California, she knew it was the next film.

She felt that the dire tone of other environmental docs failed. Instead Watermark presents a visually compelling story that combines aerial vantages, macros shots and time lapses to present a holistic and artistic perspective. Baichwal said they wanted to capture the full reach of human interaction with water, resulting in a 90 minute film edited from 200 hours of footage.

Watermark moves between the expansive industrial projects around water, like China's Xiluodu Dam, which is six times the size of the Hoover Dam, and the individual human interactions with water, such as the water guard pacing the rice paddies of Yunnan, making sure no one diverts his family's supply. The lone guard’s patrol of trickling waterways contrasts with the Maha Kumbh Mela, a ritual gathering of 30 million people who bathe in a sacred river. Baichwal said the Maha Kumbh Mela served as the "spiritual connection to the water."

“We had broad and respectful ways of filming these stories,” Baichwal said. “Instead of having experts talking about it, we had the people living it.”

Another story focuses on the Dhaka, Bangledesh, leather tanneries that pump chemicals into the local water supply, highlighting the interconnectedness of different water usages. The same water used to process hides is later used for washing people and their clothes. In another scene the parched Colorado River Delta serves as a distinct contrast to the pools of Discovery Bay, a community built right onto the California Delta, built mere feet away from a body of water. California agriculture needs the scarce resource to produce the substantial amounts of produce it supplies the rest of the country, while the abalone farms near China’s Fujian coast are built into the water itself. There are parallels and divergences in how water is used by people around the world, but the recurring theme is that it is necessary for existence.

"It’s interesting living in Canada, which has about twenty percent of world’s fresh water supply. It’s very easy to take advantage of it," Baichwal said. "When you see the devastating effects of water pollution it’s impossible to take it for granted."

She wanted to create a greater awareness of and respect for water, but wanted to approach it different from other environmental documentaries. Instead of inundating viewers with interviews from experts, she chose a more philosophical approach. “We wanted to create a river - we wanted to immerse viewers in it,” Baichwal explained.

“I’m much more interested in understanding the complexity. Acknowledging complexity means not making quick judgements,” she said. “We worked hard on this film. Wanted to open up a space and move people. The power of film is that it can move you. The goal of the film is to do that and create an awareness, or expand our awareness, of this incredible natural force.”

Burtynsky’s studio is featured frequently as he makes edits to his book, Burtynsky-Water, which spans five years of work. The photographs were also part of a traveling exhibition in 2013, making this project a multi-platform experience.

The film, which won Best Documentary at the Canadian Screen Awards and Best Canadian Film from the Toronto Film Critics Association, is playing around the USA in limited release.

-- image reprinted with permission from filmmakers


BIANCA HERNANDEZ is the Acting Web Editor at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.

April 21, 2014

Sea For Yourself

NOAA gulf of mexicoThis month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research ship Okeanos Explorer is roaming the Gulf of Mexico, and its remotely operated vehicle (ROV) is livestreaming video that any landlubber can enjoy. So far the expedition’s findings include tubeworms, crustaceans, chiton, brittle stars, urchins, small amphipods, and some corals. The very cool sea-bottom image at left is described by researchers as “chemosynthetic mussels and a few sea urchins residing next to a natural oil seep. Here you can see three active oil streams and several oil droplets caught in mucus of the mussels or a neighboring organism.”

The need to understand the Gulf should resonate this month, because the four-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion was Sunday, April 20. You can read about its legacy of damage to dolphins, tuna, and coastal marshes, as well as safety policies that languish and ongoing drilling plans here and here.

Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Gulf of Mexico 2014 Expedition.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

April 18, 2014

The Rebels who Saved the Golden Gate

The Marin Headlands could have been home to MarincelloThe city of Marincello was to be built in the virtually untouched Marin Headlands. The area's natural beauty and proximity to San Francisco made it a no-brainer for suburban developers of the time, who had hoped to establish a planned community of 30,000 people. The project city had everything going for it — the rise of suburbia, big corporate sponsorships, and immense natural beauty — that is until it ran up against a nascent environmental movement that would stop the project in its tracks, saving the Headlands forever from development.

Rebels with a Cause tells the story of how a group of conservationists, politicians, ranchers, farmers, and volunteers spearheaded a campaign to block development projects like Marincello. Today, the planned city lies within the boundaries of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of the most popular in the entire National Park Service.  The recreation area's existence is a direct result of the tireless work chronicled in Rebels with a Cause. Thanks to the efforts of those depicted in the film,  the only real remnant of Marincello is a mountain biking trail that follows what would have been the potential town's main boulevard.

"They were working against some behemoths, the biggest of which was Gulf Oil," said Kenji Yamamoto, the film's editor and co-producer. Formerly owned by the US military, Gulf Oil helped purchase a vast swath of land in the Headlands for the development. They weren't expecting a relentless effort to protect the land's natural beauty. "The campaigners always knew that it seemed impossible to battle against [Gulf Oil], but they kept on plugging away."

One of the most influential people in the fight against Marincello was Dr. Edgar Wayburn, a five-term president of the Sierra Club who was instrumental in the creation of Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore just to the north. Aside from the influence of Dr. Wayburn, the film also stresses the importance of local government in the fight against Marincello.

"With local government you can accomplish so much more of the groundwork," said Yamamoto. "Local support is key to winning any battle. It could be against a Wal-Mart or any company that wants to come into your community."

Yamamoto believes that the legacy of Golden Gate Recreation Area and the rebels' fight has been felt far beyond the San Francisco Bay Area. The film received an especially warm reception recently at a screening in Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Created in 2000 and just 20 minutes from Cleveland, the park has a similar urban proximity, and Yamamoto believes its creation was directly inspired by the fight for Golden Gate Recreation Area.

And Yamamoto hopes that Rebels has a similarly enduring legacy. The film has received a grant from Marin County that gives every school in the county a copy of the film and an accompanying readers' guide.

The film will be broadcast by American Public Television in tandem with Earth Week and Earth Month celebrations. Visit rebelsdocumentary.org for more info on the film.

--Image courtesy of iStockphoto/carterdayne

Callum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. He recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.



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April 16, 2014

DIY Waste Audit

DIY Waste AuditThink of landfills as acne on the face of our planet: The more junk we bury, the worse the breakout is. An average person generates 4.5 lbs of waste a day, and the EPA says 75% of that could be recycled. On top of that, it's estimated that 21.5 million tons of food waste goes to landfills each year.

Unlike puberty, this problem won't go away with time unless we become conscious about waste. This Earth Day get down and dirty in your dumpsters and perform a waste audit. It's an easy and effective way to measure what you're producing. When it's completed you'll have a better understanding of the waste you create and how to reduce it.

Assess your options
Before diving in, you need to see what options are available for waste diversion in your area. You may already have a curbside bin for recycling and compost, just make sure you know what materials are appropriate for each. Many county websites offer information about local services and resources. Pay attention to the plastic numbers that are accepted in your area because they differ by region.

If you don’t have a municipal recycling or compost hauler then you’ll have to research alternatives. There are a multitude of redemption centers and independent recycling services to choose from. Make sure to take note of exactly what materials each place does take, because not every type of plastic or food waste is accepted. Some local farms may take your compostables, or you could start your own compost pile or bin at home if you have the space.

Understand your habits
Designate a week for the audit and make sure everyone sharing your home understands the process. Make a log for yourself that includes the following categories: item, material, amount and stream. (Stream refers to where the item would be sorted; Either landfill, recycling or compost.)

Place the log by the waste bins and record each item as it goes in. Be as specific as possible about the materials and measures. A cereal box, for example, is made up of a plastic bag (landfill), cereal (compostable) and the box itself (recyclable). In that case you would note that each item was sorted into a different bin and estimate the amount of cereal. Make a distinction between pre-consumer (ends of veggies) and post-consumer (uneaten carrots) food waste.

Clean up your act
When you've finished recording you'll have an idea of what's passing through your household. Use your results to adjust your consumption habits.

Are you using a lot of molded plastics that can’t be recycled in your area? Maybe you should buy a reusable cup that can be brought to your favorite coffee shop instead of needing a new one for each visit (many places do not compost the paper cups that are coated with plastic). Few places recycle the types of cups used for iced beverages, but even if you can recycle it, the relatively common practice of shipping the waste to Asia is not very green.

Did no one eat that huge pot of white bean soup or the three bunches of kale from the market? Consider cutting down, or cutting out altogether, the food items you see that are not being touched. Sure, we’d all like to eat healthier, but if no one is actually making beet smoothies then that’s just a weekly waste.

Food packaging often makes up a large part of household waste. This is where a steady relationship with local farmers and vendors can come in handy. Farmers markets allow you to bring reusable bags to pack up produce, rather than buying it prepackaged in plastic, or worse, Styrofoam. Farmers that do use packaging -- those little green plastic baskets that are often used for berries, for example -- may be open to taking it back once you are finished with it. If markets are not easily accessible then consider buying in bulk.

Seek out options that work for you and remember that a zero waste lifestyle doesn't develop overnight. Small changes to your habits can have a huge impact over time.

--Cover image courtesy of iStock/moshimochi

Bianca Hernandez is an editorial intern at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.


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April 15, 2014

5 Homemade Musical Instruments

Egyptian wooden sistrumMusical instruments can cost an arm and a leg. Good thing you can make them yourself from cheap materials like nails, tin cans, and dry pasta. Homemade instrument specialist Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou, who recently released an e-book and accompanying CD, shared some of her DIY projects, which we've included along with others found online. 

Daria currently has an e-book available featuring 10 instruments to celebrate Earth Day. These homemade music instruments are perfect crafts to make with kids and the young at heart. Relying on common household items, they’re inexpensive and allow recycled items to shine in a new way!

Balloon bongo: Kate from the blog Mini Eco created an amazing 3-in-1 instrument using just a few common household items. Fetch those tin cans out of the recycling bin and you’ll soon find yourself with a balloon bongo drum, a rice shaker, and a güiro (a Latin American instrument made from a gourd). Mix it up with different colored rubber bands and balloons.

Sistrum: Sistrums were commonly used by musicians in ancient Egyptian temples, but it’s not too hard to come up with your own modern version (pictured above). All you need are a Y-shaped tree branch or old hanger and a few bottle caps and washers to go in the middle.

Fancy egg shakers DIYEgg shakers: Mama Smiles blogger MaryAnne crafted up an entertaining rainy day activity with these fancy egg shakers (pictured to the right). Simply add uncooked rice, quinoa, or beans to leftover plastic Easter eggs..

Rainstick: This rainstick tutorial from Anna of The Imagination Tree is a little bit more labor-intensive, but the final product will be worth the extra trouble. Small, dry pasta or beans trickle like a rain shower down the nail-ridden tube. Decorate the exterior to add a personal touch.

Australian clapstickAustralian clapstick. Clapsticks, or bilma, have been used by aboriginal tribes in Australia to keep rhythm during chants. You can make your own version by, well, banging two sticks together. The fun part is engraving and painting them.



--First and third images courtesy of Daria, second image courtesy of Mama Smiles

Jessica ZischkeJessica Zischke is a former editorial intern at Sierra. She is currently studying environmental studies at Dartmouth College. On campus she works as an editor of Dartbeat, the blog of the student-run newspaper The Dartmouth, and as the Sustainability Chair for her sorority, Alpha Xi Delta.


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