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“Naturally Melt Ice Away”

This past weekend the Northeast was hit by a snowstorm, making travel and transportation near impossible. Though the roads and sidewalks have since been cleared (mostly) travel is still dicey because of the risk of falling and sliding on ice. Luckily citizens and municipalities have a “natural” tool to protect us from accidents. But is road salt healthy for the environment?

Granulated sodium chloride was first used in New Hampshire as an experimental deicing agent in 1938. By World War II salt use had spread to highways nationwide. Now, 22 million tons of salt are used for de-icing a year and road salt equals 65% of salt sales in the country.

Many people assume that because road salt is natural (it is the same salt as you find on your dining room table) that it is healthy for the environment, but the addition of any outside substance to the environment can be unhealthy.

Pets and wildlife can get sick from accidentally ingesting high quantities of salt. Salt attracts deer to roadways, increasing the risk of accidents. Salt can also irritate animals paws, making them prone to infection.

Another issue caused by the mass use of salt is the gradually increasing salt concentrations in our waterways and groundwater. The EPA suggests that 20 mg/l is a safe level for sodium in drinking water but salt in water runoff puts these levels at risk. Higher concentrations of salt are more likely to occur in shallow wells in proximity to highly salted roads or storage facilities.

Chloride ions can dehydrate plants, kill small wildlife, and reduce water circulation in lakes, reducing aeration. The substance potassium acetate can melt ice without introducing chloride into the environment but unfortunately it is much more expensive than salt.

For now the best way to address the salt problem is to improve the effectiveness of road salting programs. Road design that reduces runoff is helpful.  Other strategies to keep the salt from finding its way into the environment include spraying wet salt, which keeps the salt from slipping off the road, and pre spraying before a storm.

Municipalities (and individuals) also need to be conscious of how much salt they use. This will not only save money but it will also reduce the salt that’s introduced into nature. The use of GPS, thermal mapping, and sensitized salt distribution can help municipalities accurately spread salt.

Salt may be natural (sodium is the 6th most common element), but we need to be more conscious of how we use it because even natural substances can shift the environment and get us (and animals) sick.

Salt piles via Shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Using Shrooms to Solve the Packaging Problem

The holidays have just ended and I’m sure most people can confess to shipping a package padded with Styrofoam. This Styrofoam is destined for the landfill, where it will stay for eternity, because Styrofoam doesn’t decompose. There’s got to be a better way to safely ship valuables without using a product that is so wasteful.

In fact, there is.

The company Ecovative has developed a sustainable Styrofoam alternative (short for ecology and innovative), which they’ve named aptly named “Mushroom Materials”. As the name suggests, “Mushroom Materials” is made from agricultural waste bound together by fungus’s mycelium, which is the vegetative growth stage in fungus. Instead of being thrown in the trash,  used “Mushroom Materials” can be thrown to decompose in the garden.

Though they do not make packing peanuts, they do come in a variety of shapes and can be customizable for businesses. Ecovative is hoping to expand the uses of this innovative product, and are working on a range of other experimental projects besides packaging. Some of these projects include insulation materials, a house (see below video) and surfboards. According to their website “Mushroom Materials” are cost competitive with plastic foams when bought in volume.

Ecovative has received grants from the National Sciences Foundation, the EPA, and the USDA to name a few.  Hopefully Ecovative will continue to receive funding to experiment with the power of mushrooms.

Mushrooms via Shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Fast and Frugal Tips for Greener Living This Winter

By: Emily Harper, Guest Contributor

Compared to winter, it is easier to live green during any other time of the year. With all the extra need for heat, winter becomes a period when more energy is required by each household. Heaters alone require tremendous amount of energy. To add to this are the festive lights that adorn houses just in time for Christmas. And since it’s the season for holidays, a surplus in food consumption can also be observed during wintry weather. It may seem hard to live green during winter, but it is not impossible. The ways by which you can continue living green during winter may surprise you since they are mostly simple steps that aim to prevent waste of important energy before they even happen.

✓ INSULATE THE HOUSE

Heat is vital during winter. And though there is a need to conserve energy that produces heat at home, it doesn’t mean that you should just endure the cold, cold winter. There are ways to achieve costless heat or the heat that can be generated through optimizing the heat sources of your home.

Insulate, caulk and basically seal any crevice, nook, gap, crack or shaft that may allow cold to enter your home. For a warmer home, you need not to produce too much heat. The first step you can take is to keep the cold outside and to keep the heat inside the home. Insulate entrances to your home to ensure that heat does not escape and the cold does not get in. The same purpose is behind the need to seal leaks and to put door snakes on doors. The best part is the heat maintained through this simple step does not require excess energy. It’s basically free heat.

✓ CUT NOT THE USE BUT THE EXCESS

Maximize the use of other appliances at home that do not necessarily contribute to heating the house. Dryers and washing machines, for example, take up a huge deal of energy, so wash and dry the most number of clothes in one load. Televisions and computers that are left plugged continually taking electricity despite being unused, so unplug them when they are not used. Switch light bulbs to ones that consume less energy, CFL or Led bulbs are better compared to incandescent. You need all the energy you can conserve to power heat-producing appliances at home, such as your heater. To conserve, you should then limit the consumption done by other appliances. Compensate for the excess you might incur for heating.

✓ CLEAN WHAT NEEDS TO BE CLEAN

Make sure that your heat-producing appliances are efficient and working properly. Energy is wasted when some of it is used to overcome faulty parts or unclean filters. Cleaning the filters in your furnace or heater for example, saves a lot of energy since the heater works much more efficiently when its filters are clean. Generally, the need to conserve energy can be attained through maximizing those appliances that produce heat. This is to ensure that heat is produced at the cost of the least amount of energy possible. You can also try using the furnace for real. The idea of it never gets old.

✓ KEEP YOUR HOME GREEN

If keeping a green yard is no longer possible, keep your home green, literally. Indoor plants may help lighten up the home and make it cozier. Since the presence of greeneries is limited in the outdoors during winter, you can make up for it inside your home. You can try container gardening and plant trees that are suitable for cold weather. Plants are extremely beneficial; they are essentially a costless source of unlimited clean energy. With just that, it’s easy to see their necessity inside the home.

✓ RECYCLE AND PLAN WELL

Since the holidays are approaching, you can conserve not only energy, but also other resources. Holidays are festive and common practices during this time are compounded with excess use of plastic bags and gift wrappers and a glorious feast of sumptuous food. For plastic bags and gift wraps, recycling is necessary. Use recyclable cloth bags or baskets when shopping instead of plastic ones. When shopping, make sure that all the items you need are written on a list. This is to prevent instances where you may forget something and thereby need to go back to stores. Limit your trips to the store to limit the amount of energy used in transportation.

To live green during winter, inexpensive energy solutions are important. The governing principle is that since more energy is consumed in producing heat, other energy-consuming activities or appliances should be limited. Though the outside is white and cold, keep your house green and warm this winter with this fast and frugal checklist.

Image credit: Bill Barber via Flickr.

About the Author: Emily Harper is a green advocate, one of the many brave people aiming to color the world back in green.

by Editor

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Dec/13
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The Benefits of Smog

Last week China made headlines when the country’s Media tried to put a positive spin on China’s smog problem (For those of you of haven’t read the story you can catch up at  Time or Reuters). It is only human nature to try and put a positive spin on an unnatural phenomenon that can put lives and the environmental at risk, remember all people trying to put a positive spin on global warming?

Personally, I was surprised that the Chinese State Media only included 5 reasons (See the First 5 Listed Below), so I decided to brainstorm some additional benefits to China’s Smog Problem.

Enjoy!

1. It unifies the Chinese people.

2. It makes China more equal.

3. It raises citizen awareness of the cost of China’s economic development.

4. It makes people funnier.

5. It makes people more knowledgeable (of things like meteorology and the English word haze).

6. Smog provides an excuse for wearing fluorescent clothing.

7. Improves imagination by turning China into a fantasy smog land.

8. Introduces China to a new range of tastes and smells.

9. Smog provides added shelter for animals of prey (and predators).

10. Smog improves the beauty of sunrises and sunsets.

Pollution Sunset via Shutterstock

 

 

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Go Green with Fiber Optic Christmas Trees

By Guest Contributor: Ariel Nagel

There are few seasons in the course of the year that are so closely tied to feelings of both joy and dread. Each holiday season, we anticipate time spent with loved ones, great food, and perhaps a present or two. Any fears we experience are likely concerned with the balance of our checking accounts on December 26th, or perhaps with the expense associated with lighting that Christmas tree for several weeks or heating all that hot water for our in-laws’ baths.

We can’t help you with the in-laws, but there’s good news where your Christmas tree is concerned. Fiber optic Christmas trees have become a welcome alternative to traditional Christmas tree lights, and offer a solution that’s kind to your pocketbook as well as to the planet.

Why Fiber Optics?

When most people think of fiber optics, they likely associate the term with high-speed Internet, thanks to tech companies like Verizon and Google, who have brought fiber optic Internet mainstream attention. The truth is, there are a number of unexpected applications for fiber optic Internet, and one of them can make its way into your living room this holiday season.

The leading providers of fiber optic Christmas trees claim that the average household could save a great deal on their holiday energy bills: fiber optic trees can boast up to ten times the savings as traditional incandescent Christmas tree lights.

A Ready-Made Holiday Solution

Fiber optic Christmas trees offer a host of other benefits as compared to traditional trees: to begin with, they’re not as messy. Most fiber optic trees are artificial, and come with the lights already strung. What this means is that you won’t be picking pine needles out of your socks until next April. Artificial trees help to slow down our consumption of trees during the holiday season, and save you some of the headaches you’ve come to associate with post-Holiday cleanup.

Best of all, these trees offer just as much variety as traditional Christmas trees, with a multitude of colors and adjustable lighting levels available. In other words, personalizing your family’s tree will be easier than ever.

During a season where we’re already expecting to face a great many expenses, doesn’t it make sense to save where we can? If you’re looking for a way to keep a little extra cash in your wallet, while at the same time doing something good for our planet, then a fiber optic Christmas tree might be just what you’ve been looking for.

Christmas tree image via Shutterstock.

Arielle Nagel is a freelance writer with a focus on environmental sustainability. She can be found hugging trees while typing away on her laptop in Cleveland, OH. Arielle welcomes your feedback via email

 

by Editor

SCA: Young and In Love With Conservation

“Photo Courtesy of Student Conservation Association. All Rights Reserved.”

Are you or do you know a young adult who is interested in the environment and conservation, but doesn’t know how to get involved? If you do I would suggest you check out the Student Conservation Association, better known as “America’s Conservation Corps” or SCA. SCA has programs in all 50 states for high school students, college students, and recent graduates, interested in conservation and the environment.

I first heard of SCA a few years ago, when one of my close friends moved up to a National Park in New Hampshire, to work with High School Students on trail maintenance. When I would get the chance to talk to her while she was working there, I was always impressed (and jealous) of her experience. I finally visited her and I was blown away by all the work her and her crew mates had completed. Before, I had taken for granted the uptake required for keeping America’s National parks useable, now I know that it’s our country’s youth that keep are parks running smoothly.

SCA is a pioneer on all fronts. It was one of the first modern service corps, founded even before Peace Corps and Americorps.  SCA was also founded before the EPA and the enactment of the Wilderness Act.

SCA was founded in 1957 by Liz Putnam, while a student at Vassar College. Putnam modeled SCA after the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a public work relief program from the 1930’s and 1940’s, as part of the New Deal. Unlike the CCC, which recruited unemployed and unmarried men to service parks , SCA relies on  students.

Since its founding in 1957, more than 70,000 young adults have done work with SCA, providing over 28 million hours of service. In 1994 SCA became partners with Americorps and are their largest conservation partner. In 2010 Liz Putnam received a Presidential Citizens Medal from Barack Obama for her work with SCA on conservation.

SCA provides a range of programs to fit the schedules and interests of members including a Alternative Spring BreakHigh School Summer Program,  Saturday ConServevation programs  in New York City, and internships and national and community crews to name a few. Program length varies and some programs last up to 12 months. Depending on the location, service projects range from trail maintenance to wildlife management and nature interpretation. Many of the projects require crews to do work off-the beaten-path, requiring members to camp out.

SCA is a great option for anyone who loves the great outdoors. It provides a way for students and young adults to fight back against the daily degradation that happens to nature and the environment. By working in small teams, SCA volunteers learn leadership skills and get the opportunity to make long lasting friendships with a diverse group of people who share similar values toward the environment.

 

“Photo Courtesy of Student Conservation Association. All Rights Reserved.”

 

 

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Start Them Early: Seven Fun Ways to Teach Kids The Importance of Recycling

By Guest Contributor: Tim Brown

Recycling is extremely important. Not only does recycling help the planet, but it can even earn you some money in the process, as well. It is fairly well known that when kids learn a habit early on in life, they are more likely to continue that habit throughout their lives. Teaching your kids about recycling early on, then, can encourage environmental responsibility for life. But how do you go about teaching your child about which rubbish is which? Incorporating games and activities that teach them about recycling is a fun and easy way to teach your children how to protect the environment through recycling; a few ideas are below.

Read a Book 

It seems rather simple, but books can help teach your children the “why” behind recycling. When the characters in a book learn why recycling is a good idea, your child learns, as well. Finding books that include characters with whom your child will relate is key to encouraging them to learn from their behaviour.

Go to the Zoo or Museum 

Most kids love animals, and since recycling can actually help protect animals, taking your kids to the zoo or an animal or natural history museum can help them see these beautiful creatures. Explain that animals can get sick if rubbish isn’t disposed of correctly, and ask them to explain what they learned. Asking a child to repeat back what they’ve learned helps them cement it in their minds, and it also helps you ensure they’ve got the right message.

Rubbish Games 

Colour-coded trash cans, like the kind you can find at ImRubbish, can help you set up a game where certain items of rubbish must be sorted into the correct container. For instance, you can set a pile of different types of rubbish on the ground in front of three cans. Have one can colour be for paper recycling, one for cans and bottles, one for general rubbish, and so on. Have your child sort the rubbish properly against the clock, and reward them for what they accomplish correctly.

Word Search 

A word search is a relaxed but effective way of teaching children about recycling, as well. Several sites have such activities available to be printed straight off the computer, and you and your child can search for the words together. Casually ask your child to explain to you the different things he or she has learned about recycling as certain words come up. Alternatively, you can ask your child for definitions of the words that are to be found. This rhetoric helps to ingrain the principles and verbiage associated with recycling in your child’s mind so they learn it at a deeper level than if they just read it once in a book.

Field Trip 

Taking a field trip to the local recycling centre is another great way to involve your child in recycling, and teach them about recycling, as well. Most kids are really interested in how things work, and they’ll think it’s really great to have an opportunity to tour the recycling centre. However, they walk away with a hands-on learning experience and a deeper understanding of what can be recycled, why recycling is important, and what types of things can be made from recycled material.

Save Rubbish to Save Money 

There’s nothing like some monetary incentive to encourage your child to participate in the family recycling efforts. Since most recycling centres will pay you for your recyclable rubbish, pick up a few coloured bins that are just for your children and tell them to sort the rubbish they create into the appropriate bins. Whatever they collect they get to keep the money from, but only if they come with you to deposit the recyclables. Not only do they learn about recycling, but they’ll learn about hard work and earning money, as well.

Recycling Drive 

Another great way to involve your family, and even your entire community, in recycling is to join or create a recycling drive. Gather your family and get the community involved, and see how much recyclable rubbish your community can gather. You can add some fun elements to this activity, as well, like using the funds to pay for an auction item that can be raffled, or simply spreading the wealth among the members.

Letting your kids experience recycling is the best way for them to learn about why things should be recycled, how they’re recycled, and how it helps the environment. Show them the types of things that can be recycled, and how it can turn into a brand new item. Reward them with positive reinforcement when they demonstrate that they have learned what you have taught them. And remember, you have to set a good example for your children to follow, so be sure to keep up with your own recyclable rubbish, as well.

 

Tim Brown is a primary school teacher with a passion for the environment. He enjoys blogging about ways to engage children in caring for the earth in a responsible way.

 

Children recycling image and children reading image via Shutterstock.

by Editor

It’s Time to Talk Turkey

Gobble gobble goo

and Gobble gobble gickel

I wish turkey

Only cost a nickel

– Adam Sandler (Thanksgiving Song)

Most people know that Benjamin Franklin had wanted the Turkey to the Official Bird of the United States. We are instead represented by the Bald Eagle, a bird that is less intelligent and lacks the “moral character” held by the turkey. Wild turkeys hold themselves with an awkward dignity that most people only get a chance to admire during Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, domesticated turkeys don’t get to live with such dignity

In order to create the “best” food product domesticated turkeys have been “engineered” in ways that diminish the quality of their lives. Domesticated turkeys weigh an average of 10 pounds more than a wild turkey (Check out this graphic at the Huffington Post).  Because of this excess weight, domesticated turkeys cannot fly like their wild counterparts, which can fly short distances at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. Domesticated turkeys also develop swollen joints and crippled feet.

Domesticated turkeys are breed to have white feathers instead of brown feathers which wild turkeys have. White feathers have finer shafts making the shafts less visible once the feathers are plucked. Though these white feathers make a more appetizing plucked turkey (no nasty ingrowns), they do not have the beautiful rainbow sheen that the brown feathers of a wild turkey have.

99% of turkeys raised for Thanksgiving will be “broad breasted whites” and most will be produced in industrialized farming. Industrialized farming is bad for the birds (besides being debilitated from being overweight their beaks are also clipped beaks so they can not hurt each other). It is also risky to the industry and humans.  Most Industrially raised turkeys are raised using high levels of antibiotics which can lead to antibiotic resistance in humans.

Instead of picking out an industrially farmed turkey from your local supermarket try a Heritage Breed Turkey from a independent poultry farmer.

Heritage Breeds are usually raised on small farms and have longer “growing periods” than their commercially raised brethren. Longer growth periods result in a bird with more flavor. Unfortunately this longer growing period also means that Heritage Breeds are also more expensive, costing upwards of $5 per pound.

To find your nearest Heritage Turkey Breeds visit Local Harvest or Slow Foods USA, websites dedicated to helping people find local sustainable food.

For more Thanksgiving tips from the ENN Blog Click Here

*Fun fact: Only male turkeys (aka toms) gobble, female hens make a clicking noise.

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Energy Department Makes Big Investment in Carbon Reduction Projects

By Guest Contributor: Brittany Williams

As part of Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the U.S. Department of Energy announced Nov. 7 that it would invest $84 million in projects that help innovate carbon capture technologies and drive down the cost of these procedures for coal-fired power plants. The funds will be divvied up among 18 different projects across the United States.

“In the past four years we’ve more than doubled renewable energy generation from wind and solar power. However, coal and other fossil fuels still provide 80 percent of our energy, 70 percent of our electricity, and will be a major part of our energy future for decades,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in a DOE press release. “That’s why any serious effort to protect future generations from the worst effects of climate change must also include developing, demonstrating and deploying the technologies to use our abundant fossil fuel resources as cleanly as possible.”

This announcement came less than two months after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a new set of rules limiting the amount of carbon emissions allowed from new coal-fired power plants. The agency also announced that it would be proposing rules for existing power plants in 2014. Many experts believe that these new standards are so stringent it will cause the closure of power plants, hinder the development of new facilities and have a negative impact on the supply and demand of energy in the United States.

Under these regulations power plants larger than 850 megawatts have to limit emissions to 1,100 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour. But most existing power plants average around 1,600 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour. The solution to the problem is to use carbon capture storage (CCS), which allows power plants to capture carbon emissions and store it, typically in containers underground. But this process is expensive and largely unproven at a large scale.

Hopefully, the DOE funding can help make this technology readily available and cheaper for power plants. To date, the Obama administration has invested more than $6 billion in clean coal technologies. And the projects funded by the DOE’s $84 million investment as well as cost-sharing from industry, research institutions and universities, will focus on researching and testing cleaner technologies for two types of power plants.

Research for combustion-based power plants, which burn coal or oil to generate energy, will center on carbon capture technology. Ideally, these projects will find more cost effective ways to capture carbon emission after the combustion process.

The second type of power plant, though less common, is a gasification-based electric plant. These plants use an energy generation process that eliminates the combustion step. Instead, gasification breaks coal into its basic chemical components. Three DOE-backed projects will focus on creating cheaper and more efficient pre-combustion carbon capture technologies. According to the DOE, gasification plants could reach 70 to 80 percent fuel use efficiency with the development of new processes, which would produce fewer carbon emissions and slash the cost of electricity for consumers.

Power plant image via Shutterstock.

Brittany Williams is a Copywriter for SaveOnEnergy.com. In her role, she covers controversial topics, explores renewable energy options and shares her knowledge to help others minimize their electricity bills, and in turn their carbon footprints.

by Editor

Ready, Set, Grow

Sandwiched between ghoulish October, and festive December, the month of November is traditionally known for the holiday Thanksgiving. A typical November usually includes turkey, mashed potatoes, family, and mustaches.

That’s right; you’ve read correctly. I wrote Mustaches. The month of November has been endearingly renamed Movember for mustaches and men’s health. During Movember, men are encouraged to go the full month without shaving, in order to raise funds and awareness of men’s health issues, such as prostate and testicular cancer, and mental health.

History

The first “Mustache Awareness” event took place in 1999 in Adelaide, Australia, when 80 men grew mustaches for charity. In 2004, a separate group in Australia, the Movember Foundation was formed and the month of “Movember” officially began. Since then, Movember has grown globally with 1,127,152 “Mo Bros” and “Mo Sistas” (that’s what participants are called). Making only $40,000 in 2004, Movember is steadily raising more and more money, raising $147 million dollars last year alone. Right now 21 countries participate, with funds being implemented on a country- by-country basis.

An Important Cause

Funds raised at Movember parties and fundraising events go towards Awareness and Prevention programs relating to Men’s Health. On average men die significantly earlier then women, though there is no clear biological reason why. Men are less likely to be open discussing their mental and physical health, making awareness especially important. For the Facts Click Here.

How to Participate

Though the initial ‘last shave’ event took place November 1, potential “Mo Bros” and “Mo Sistas” can attend a local event, or can host their own event and donate the funds to the Movember Foundation. It is not too late to sign up at Movember.com or to take a strike from shaving for the rest of the month.

Whether you’re a hipster looking for an excuse to grow out your mutton chops, or you just want to reflect your awareness of testicular and prostate cancers, Movember is a great time to work on your Fu Man Chu.

PS. Check out these hilarious music videos made for Movembers past!

girl with mustache via shutterstock

Movember Man via Movember

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

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