Come on, Compost!

“For 200 years we’ve been conquering Nature. Now we’re beating it to death”Tom McMillan

If your lawn or garden has suffered from the summer heat and could use a boost of nutrients, a good way to get some vitality back is to throw some fruits and vegetables, hair, and wood chips on it. But not just any combination of those seemingly random ingredients will do. Instead, a properly maintained compost pile, which can break down those materials and many others, will help replenish plenty of nourishment.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains that compost is “organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or as a medium to grow plants.” Natural composting has occurred for hundreds of centuries, as leaves and fruits have fallen from trees and began to biologically decompose. The decay has provided nutrients to plants and other organisms, and it only makes sense to take a lesson from nature and begin composting on our own.

Unlike expensive chemical- and pesticide-laden bags of soil, compost is a much less expensive, yet environmentally friendly option to bring the life back into your lawn or garden. It’s not hard to start composting, and there are several different compost methods you can experiment with.

Sheet Composting

Sheet composting is as close to Earth’s own practice as it gets. While this type of composting takes time to show results, it’s not labor-intensive nor does it require much experience.

To compost this way, you have a couple options: You can trim the plants around the natural borders of your garden and simply leave them to decompose, or you can cover your clippings with corrugated cardboard (or newspaper) and manure. Additionally, you can add vegetable peelings and scraps directly to your soil, as long as you’re careful to keep them at a few feet away from garden plants during growing season.

Compost Bins

Should you decide to opt for a more controlled form of composting, compost bins are a good choice. According to, these bins are “structures built to house compost and are designed so as to facilitate the decomposition of organic matter through proper aeration and moisture retention.” Compost bins are made for both indoor and outdoor use, depending on which you feel more comfortable tackling.

Indoor bins can cost as little as $60, or you could spend $400 if you want more amenities. Bins hold varying amounts of food waste, but they all work best if the scraps are in small pieces. Be sure to keep dairy products out (egg shells are fine) to avoid unpleasant odors and flies.

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Vermicomposting, or composting with earthworms, is very similar to using a compost bin, though this method requires a bit more work and maintenance.

To compost with worms, you will need a wooden box drilled with air holes on the sides and top. You must include bedding for the worms, which can be made easily by tearing up strips of newspaper and soaking them in water. Finally, you will need the worms themselves; depending on the size of your family, between one and three pounds of earth/redworms are required to help decompose your materials. The Franklin County Solid Waste Management District web page offers more details if you’re interested in giving vermicomposting a try.

With a little patience and even less money, composting is an easy way to turn your kitchen scraps and other organic waste into a reusable substance that will benefit your lawn and garden. Mother Nature herself would recommend trying this natural method of recycling.


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Wake up and Smell the Coffee

The truly healthy environment is not merely safe but stimulating.” — William H. Stewart

It’s 6 a.m. The alarm goes off. You get up, get dressed, and go to the office.

At about 8:03 a.m. you’re ready for  your first (or second or third…) cup of coffee. As you wipe those little crusties out of your eyes, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is how your pick-me-up will affect the environment. Luckily, with a few simple changes, your daily “cup of Joe” can be yet another environmentally friendly endeavor.

Choosing your brew

The first step to more eco-friendly coffee is the coffee itself. There are several options available that all make a difference in their own ways. From promoting animal habitats, to maintaining healthy watersheds, to supporting good farming practices, drinking the right coffee can be a great way to do your part for the environment.

When selecting your brew, look for terms such as shade grown, organic, or fair trade”. These are signals that the coffee you’re thinking about purchasing is more helpful than hindering to the environment. You can also check to see that your chosen brew has been certified, which means it was made with a renewable mindset. Unfortunately, certification isn’t always a guarantee: While it can be expensive and in some cases next to impossible for some coffee growers to get their products certified, and other times a product labeled “certified” has only partial organic makings, a certified product is still typically a better bet than one that is not.

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Preparing your brew

Once you’ve chosen your environmentally conscious coffee, you can continue help the environment by brewing it in a green appliance. Although coffee makers don’t top the list of big energy-wasting machines, they do have an impact, and models that use paper filters impose additional problems. To reduce these negative effects, consider replacing your coffee maker with one that provides filter-less brewing or reusable unbleached cotton or gold plated, stainless steel filters, such as Hamilton Beach’s BrewStation®.

If you’re looking for a total coffee makeover, Hourglass Coffee provides an interesting option: cold brew. This coffee maker boasts “no electricity to brew,” “no paper filters,” and “no coffee waste,” among other qualities, to help improve not only the environment but also your health. The company says coffee brewed in its coffee maker is less acidic, making it coffee much more stomach-friendly.

Sipping your brew

When you’re ready to enjoy your cup of environmentally conscious, eco-friendly coffee, don’t set back all the good you’ve done by pouring it into a plastic, paper, or styrofoam cup. Instead, opt for biodegradable cups or ones used from renewable resources. Of course, filling up your trusty mug is always a good decision because it’s reusable time and time again, and despite some rather unfriendly environmental effects, a ceramic mug is still a smart choice.

Let’s face it: That daily cup(s) of coffee makes life more bearable. So why not make life more bearable for the environmental by tweaking your brewing habits?

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Green Your Halloween

“Think outside the conventional candy box.”Corey Colwell-Lipson

That magical, festive celebration is upon us. Halloween is full of ghost and goblins, but you don’t want to leave any skeletons in your closet when it comes to staying green this Halloween. Like many holidays, Halloween often becomes a consumer-driven day, fueled by creative costumes and candy cravings. But it’s important to remember that all the holiday hoopla can take a toll on the environment. Below are 3 simple tips for keeping the environment in mind during this holiday, and they might even save a you a buck or two, too.

1. Bag it

While those little orange pumpkin buckets are certainly cute, they’re also made out of plastic. According to the Environmental Literacy Council, plastic is “essentially a byproduct of petroleum refining” that “account(s) for 25 percent of all waste in landfills when buried.” Improper disposal of plastic is harmful to the environment because plastic does not biodegrade easily, meaning it sticks around for a long time and disrupts healthy ecosystems and oceans.

Instead of the buckets, use the old-fashioned pillowcase method for collecting goodies, or tote around a reusable grocery bag; the bags come in all kinds of colors, so you can certainly find one to match to your costume.

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2. Dare to re-wear

It’s always fun to go all-out and wear the funniest, scariest, or most elaborate costume. Unfortunately, extravagance comes at a price, and that price it typically the environment. Environmental Health Perspectives states that making clothes can make a mess of the natural world: “Conventionally grown cotton, one of the most popular clothing fibers, is also one of the most water- and pesticide-dependent crops.” So the more new clothing consumers purchase, the more potential hazards to the environment. But, there are other options.

Remember that costume from three years ago that you shoved to the back of your closet? Well, not many other people probably do, so drag it out and wear it again. If you can’t fight off the urge for something new, visit local second-hand or thrift stores for “new” costume pieces. A European study showed that for every 100 t-shirts that made it to thrift stores, 14 percent of the “environmental burden of the [t-shirts’]  life cycle is decreased for global warming.”

3. Let there be (more natural) light

Whether you need to light the driveway for trick-or-treaters or the path your own trick-or-treating may follow, you probably aren’t thinking about where that light is coming from. According to a community blog, strands of traditional lights use about “1 amp, which is roughly the same as a 100 watt light bulb.” Not only is this creating electrical pollution, but disposed traditional compact fluorescent light bulbs create 30,000 pounds of mercury each year when they sit in landfills. That’s a lot of potential ground, air, and water pollution.

This Halloween, consider switching to LED lights. MSNBC states that they “use 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and 75 percent less than the mini-lights used for holiday decorations.” Even if you don’t plan to decorate with lights, you may still need some shine to get you from the door-to-door, trick-or-treat candy excursion. For this, use battery-free flashlights that power up by shaking. No dead batteries to leak acid in landfills, plus it’s kind of fun to shake them up.

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For more tips about greening your Halloween, visit The Daily Green or Green Halloween Web sites.

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ThINK green

“Modern technology owes ecology an apology.”Alan M. Eddison

Living in a technological age comes with a lot of benefits: We have more access to more information, we can communicate quickly, and we are able to keep permanent records, online and off, of just about anything. But as technology continues to develop and grow, our environment continues to take a hit.

Printers, especially smaller-scale ones used for personal purposes, are often a God-send for getting work completed and handed in on time. The ink cartridges that fuel those printers, however, are posing an environmental challenge. Approximately 70 percent of all ink cartridges aren’t recycled, and millions — about 375 million, to be exact — of empty cartridges fill up our landfills. According to, that breaks down to about 11 empty cartridges being tossed into the trash every second; “If you put all these cartridges end to end they would cover a distance encircling the earth over three times,” the site states.

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These cartridges are made up of non-biodegradable products, and the ink inside them contains many chemicals harmful to the environment. So while ink cartridges just sit, piling up in landfills, any traces of the chemical-containing ink begin to seep into the soil. Eventually the chemicals can make their way into our groundwater and into our bodies.

Fortunately, there are ways to stop ink cartridges from slowly ruining our environment. The best and easiest way is to recycle empty cartridges. Many printer manufacturers, such as Canon, Dell, and Samsung, offer cartridge recycling programs. While many of these programs are non-cash rewarding, others do offer compensation for returned cartridges. Programs such as Toner Buyer give $.50 to $1 for cartridges. Other programs that offer cash in exchange for cartridges pay even more; Advantage Cartridge and Sunset Recycling will pay around $5 for inkjet cartridges. In addition to these programs, many schools and other organizations have started ink cartridge recycling programs. By holding drives and putting out collection boxes, those involved are able to give local residents a central drop-off spot for their old cartridges.

While a new cartridge containing a built-in environmental protection control is currently under patent, most cartridges are still the landfill-polluting kind. The next time you run out of ink, send your cartridge to a recycling program. Not only can you make a couple bucks, but you can help to stop overfilling landfills.

For a brief clip about the cartridge recycling process, check out this video:

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The cat’s out of the bag

“Remember when atmospheric contaminants were romantically called stardust?”Lane Olinghouse

Most people don’t sit around pondering where their toilet paper comes from. Certainly cats don’t stress about their litter. While it’s not a cat’s job to think about his bathroom business, an owner should to know where that litter came from. And chances are, it didn’t come from somewhere good.

According to a Green living tips article, “The most common cat litter in use today is made from a natural clay, also known as ‘diatomaceous earth,’ or sodium bentonite.” You might think that because clay is a natural material, no harm is being done. Well, you might be wrong. The article states that as it turns out, the clay used in popular litter is targeted by strip mining. As its name implies, strip mining consists of digging and drudging away the land’s surface, typically to access and extract coal, but also clay. It’s a practice that is no stranger to environmental concern; in fact, as far back as 1971, Time magazine spoke against the perils of strip mining and painted this ugly, but true, picture:

The bleakest landscape in the U.S. can be found where miners have torn away the earth’s surface to get at coal deposits. Huge piles of gray debris, aptly called “orphan soil banks,” stand like gravestones over land so scarred and acidic that only rodents can live there. The sight is not rare. Using dynamite, bulldozers, great augers and earth movers, working on the surface rather than below ground … After such mining, the land is usually abandoned.

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Strike one against litter: It’s ripping up and destroying our earth.

Strike two: This litter is also destroying our feline friends. Marina Michaels, writing for, says that “clumping clay kitty litters may be related to a wide variety of seemingly unrelated cat health problems, included diarrhea, mega-bowel or mega-colon syndrome, unexplained lethargy, unexplained vomiting (especially frothy yellow vomit), irritable bowel syndrome, kidney diseases, respiratory problems, eye problems, general failure to thrive, anemia, and even death.”

You don’t have to be a cat lover to find that distressing. So what can you do if you own a furry friend? Try a different litter. Litter made from recycled newspaper or reclaimed wood makes a great alternative to the clay-based, trouble-causing traditional litter. Treehugger recommends Swheat Scoop, which is made from natural wheat, and can actually be licked or digested without serious consequences. There’s also Feline Pine, a brand that uses all natural pine instead of chemicals.

Even if you don’t have a furry friend, you may find yourself using cat litter for other purposes, such as cleaning liquid spills, adding traction on ice, and getting rid of foul-smelling entities. Whatever reason you use it, unless it’s an eco-friendly version, the litter is simply doing more harm than help. Next time you clean up a mess, or a box, clean up the environment, too.

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Blown Away

“Don’t blow it – good planets are hard to find.”Unknown

There’s no denying it: Fall is approaching quickly, and with that cool, crisp change in the air, leaves begin to high-tail it off tree branches.

While the red, orange and golden leaves do make a beautiful sight, they also clutter yards. For most people, firing up their leaf-blowers is the easiest, most efficient way to pile their leaves and make their lawns a bit less messy. Unfortunately, using leaf-blowers means sacrificing a healthy environment for a quick fix.

Gas-powered leaf-blowers pollute the air, just as any gas-powered invention does. According to a Reuters blog, “in one year, the average blower used by a professional gardener emits as much smog-forming pollution as 80 new cars, each driven 12,500 miles.” But the pollution doesn’t stop there.  Not only do these blowers produce foul chemical emissions, but they also stir up mold and other allergens that were trapped in the decomposing leaves. Several California communities have even placed bans on gas-powered blowers, as well as offered an exchange program to get those polluters off the yards.

But there is good news: This blower debacle is nothing that a little old-fashioned exercise can’t fix. In a study examining particulate emission (the fine liquid or solid particles discharged with exhaust gases) rates from leaf-blowers, researchers found that raking leaves did not generate significant amounts of the nasty debris. Horticulture agent Maggie Shao says,Raking leaves is generally a good practice of sanitation, that is cleaning up possibly diseased leaves or preventing a dark, warm environment for diseases and pests to develop and create problems in the spring for new tender growth.” So, as you’re keeping your yard healthy, you’re also keeping the air healthy.

And that’s not the only health benefit: Raking leaves will help to get your heart rate pumping and to tone your body. According to, “A 135-pound person could burn about 240 calories raking leaves for an hour.” That’s quite a few calories for just tidying up your yard, and all you need is a rake. Good rakes are made with high-carbon steel. The type of rake you need will depend on the type of clean-up job you have to do. Adjustable rakes are great for big-yard cleanups, but they can also work well for digging leaves out of shrubbery. The “Cleanup Rake” is also versatile and can be used for picking up both wet and dry leaves.

Whatever style you choose, the important thing to keep in mind is that by raking, you’re taking one step toward cleaning up not only your yard, but also the environment. That is something you should really fall in love with.

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The sunscreen scare

“Understanding the laws of nature does not mean that we are immune to their operations.” David Gerrold

We all know that too much UV exposure from the sun can cause wrinkles, skin damage and possibly lead to cancer. So, to combat this potential hazard we apply sunscreen; yet, according to a recent report, slathering on the wrong sunscreen can bring hazards of its own.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization using public information to protect public health and the environment, released the report that states in an EWG analysis of 1,614 name-brand sunscreens on the market in this summer, three out of five sunscreen products offer inadequate protection from the sun or contain ingredients with significant safety concerns.

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Among these ingredients are micronized and nano-scale zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, both of which provide strong UVA protection but can also have toxic qualities if absorbed through the skin or inhaled into the lungs. Another possible threat are those sunscreen ingredients that supposedly absorb into the blood; these are said to release skin-damaging free radicals in sunlight, to disrupt hormone systems, to cause allergic reactions and to build up in the body or the environment.

The report did offer some good news, though: 70 percent of sunscreens this year contain strong UVA filters, compared to just 29 percent last year. Also, 19 percent fewer sunscreens contain oxybenzone, an active ingredient that disrupts the hormone system.

But before you panic, it’s important to know there is always another side to every story. In a New York Times article, some serious holes were poked in the EWG study. According to the article, “dermatologists who reviewed the group’s research say the biggest problem is that it lacks scientific rigor. In particular, they are critical of a sunscreen rating system that they say is arbitrary and without basis in any accepted scientific standard.”

The article also states the research on oxybenzone is limited. Dr. Darrell S. Rigel, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University (who is also a skin cancer researcher), is quoted as saying, “Nobody’s seen any problems from years of these agents being used. To call it dangerous is misleading.”

So what do you do with all the potentially scary hype about sunscreen the report has created? Dr. Sandra Read, a Washington, D.C., dermatologist and member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Dermatology, says she finds the report discouraging but says she hopes it will raise awareness of the need for sunscreen.

That seems like the right approach. There will always be new controversies arising over safety issues of ingredients and new research being conducted to try to answer what may be unanswerable questions. However, as of now, sunscreen is one effective way of protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful radiation.

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If you’re concerned about potential health hazards caused by sunscreen, stick to natural sunscreens that limit or eliminate the suspected problem-causing ingredients. The EWG offers a list of the best sunscreens to use. Among the contenders are Soleo Organics, Lavera Neutral and Purple Prairie Botanicals.

Of course, there are other ways to protect yourself from the sun. Wearing hats and sunglasses, staying in the shade, wearing lightweight clothing and avoiding being in contact with UV rays at peak hours are all important factors in keeping your skin — and the environment (think sunscreen chemicals mixing in water supplies from swimming) — healthy and happy.

For more information about sun protection, check out this video, which features advice from Dr. Sandra Read.

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