Thursday, April 30, 2009

Where will “going green” get us? - - Your online Northern Arizona news source

First guest spot goes to my daughter, Lisa Bivens, student at Northern Arizona University. She wrote the linked article for her school paper, The Lumberjack.

Tell 'em, girl!

Where will “going green” get us? - - Your online Northern Arizona news source


Green sites are constantly admonishing me to unplug my appliances. Apparently even when we're not using them, the toaster, the laptop, the printer, the fax, the shredder, the microwave, the camera, the video player, the stereo, etc etc are still draining electrical power. These, we are being told, should be unplugged when not in use.

Ok, I'm slow to jump on this one. It's a small inconvenience to pull the microwave out from the wall and plug it in each time I make tea - which, through the course of a chilly Kansas day might be as many as six or seven times! Less (duh) in Arizona. The problem is remembering to unplug the darn thing post-brew. I don't think it's going to happen. At least not consistently.

So memory (or lack thereof) is human attribute that inhibits certain green behavior. (Lack of memory is part of my story too frequently - like when I forget to take my green bags into the grocery store.)

A second problem is that my cell phone, when unplugged from the wall, runs out of juice too quickly. Nothing is more annoying than being out-and-about and having my cell go out right in the middle of a call. To make sure they have the longest possible charge, I like to keep them plugged in for a couple of hours at a time.

So inconvenience (or perceived inconvenience) is the second issue for me. My distaste for inconvenience is simply an attitude problem. I'm spoiled. But that I recognize myself for the shallow human-being I am doesn't change the fact that I want what I want when I want it -including the ability to chat on my cell phone to anyone about anything without having to worry about dead batteries.

So I've been looking for a fix for these human character flaws. Here are two related ideas that should take care of both:

For most of my kitchen appliances and for the equipment attached to the pile of wires beneath my office desk, etc, power strips that automatically turn off my equipment when I'm not using it seems like the answer. No memory required. If, like me, you keep a lot of things plugged in near your computer - fax machine, printer, camera - or a lot of appliances - juicer, can opener, blender - a power strip with a use sensor is the perfect answer. I found three. The Wattstopper is the pricier one ($90 from the manufacturer's site), I could find no reviews anywhere, so buyer beware.

The Smart Strip is a lot less money ($32-$42, depending on the model), but the reviews on it are mixed. If you have a complicated entertainment set-up, I'd read the reviews carefully before opting for this. Both of these gizmos serve as surge protectors too.

The last one, the Intermatic Power Strip with Digital Timer, seemed to have pretty much what the other two had, but for $19!! Do you think the "na na na" at the end of the URL address is the rough equivilent of sticking out your tongue at the higher priced products...?

For my cell phone, I want one of those timers, the kind you would use to turn the lights on and off at preset times when you're vacationing. This plugs into an outlet, and then usually you plug a lamp into the timer. But I'm advocating for plugging my cell phone charger into the timer. That way I can set the timer for as many hours as my phone needs for a full charge, and then turn the charger off.

The main issue here is that I have to lay out money for these. But check around. Ebay,, Radio Shack, Look for a bargain.

And one more thing. Here is a link to a very thorough but readable article about changes you can make to the SETTINGS on your cell (because you only need make the change once) to save your cell phone battery, And here's a great one on how to improve the life of any piece of electronic equipment that uses batteries, These will save you money, as well as greening your electric usage.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I’m not lazy. I’m busy. And as much as the last political season proved to be the season of activism, I still believe in the efficient use of my time. So if I’m going to be activist, I want to get a real bang for my buck. Which leads me to bucks. Frankly, despite the economy, despite the ascendancy of Obama and the cries for change, some things don't seem to change. America still walks with wallet in hand.

So, with this in mind, I want to discuss the "organic versus local" produce debate. However, I'm not going to tell you that buying regionally grown produce is better than buying organic, nor that buying organic is preferable to buying local. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not undecided. I’m very decided. If we have to make the choice between regional and organic, we all lose. What you’re going to hear from me is that we need to buy regionally grown organic produce. Local AND organic. Period. And if it isn’t available, we’re going to have to use our wallets and a little ingenuity to make it happen.

So, what's the debate about, then? The normal arguments, I am going to tell you upfront, turn out to be too simplistic. They go like this:

Buy local: Buy regionally grown produce because supporting local agriculture means that farms can find more buyers locally, and therefore won’t have to ship their produce to far-off places. Shorter transport translates into lower transportation costs (and by extension, lower prices for the consumer), reduced carbon emissions attributable to lengthy transport distances - supposedly an average of 1500 miles for most produce - and fresher food. And, of course, produce grown locally tastes better because it didn't have to be picked before it ripened in order to survive the lengthy journey without spoiling. Finally, buying local supports the local economy, one component necessary for economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Buy organic: Organic food is pesticide-free, grown with sound ecological and biodiversity practices. It is therefore healthier for both you and the earth, because proper care of soil, critters and the ecosystem promotes the overall ecological well-being of the planet. And, because it is true that we are what we eat, e.g. our bodies are constantly regenerating and the raw materials for regeneration are the foods we put into our bodies, eating pesticide-free food is ultimately healthier. There is plenty of research to back that claim up. Oh, and organic produce also tastes better, because it lacks trace fertilizer and pesticide by-products.

That was the abridged version of the debate. If you’re insatiable, look here, ; here,; and a couple of particularly controversial editorials here,, and here, to list a few.

SO LOOK. To me the debate between organic and local is like asking, should I sacrifice my health for the good of the ecosystem (by buying local)? or should I sacrifice the ecosystem in favor of my health (by buying organic)? In fact, Grist writer Samuel Fromartz (article linked above) suggested that it’s actually a false choice anyway - that the economics of agricultural profit-making drive even local organic farmers to export their produce outside their regions in order to survive. However, he says it's not important which decision you make, so long as you're aware of the impacts of your decision.

I disagree. I say it IS important.

I want to eat organic. I do not want to intake pesticides, even in minute amounts (over the course of a lifetime, I visualize us taking in 5 lb bags of fertilizer and pesticide - why not just put it in a salt shaker and add it that way?). And I do not want produce that is farmed using questionable practices, and by questionable I mean practices that do not lead to sustainable agriculture or that do lead to degradation of the ecosystem. At the same time, I want to help reduce the strain on the world’s food and economic systems by buying more locally, but I want it to be organic. And I want more people to buy organic - more demand means more local farms respond by switching to organic practices, leading to more supply, and more supply means lower prices for organic, which means even more people will buy it - cycle continues! A win-win all around.

So what do I do? I have devised a system to vote with my wallet. The system that works best in America, apparently, and a system I hope will influence the less-than-perfect choices I now have at the store.

1. Favor produce that is marked both “locally grown” and “organic.” Be flexible enough to take whatever local/organic produce is available when I shop, instead of going to the store with preconceived notions about what to buy.

2. If there is no produce labeled both organic and local, I buy organic. My thinking is that the higher the demand for organic, the more local farms are likely to respond to it. This way I feel good that I am both putting healthier food in my system, and using my wallet to influence the system to provide more organic.

3. If there is no organic produce, by local produce. And TELL the store manager that you want organic AND local produce.

Returning back to my original statement on activism, here is my efficient activist suggestion. You know those bulletin boards at every grocery store? Where realtors and insurance agents tack up cards, and babysitters post contact information, and churches and Alcoholic Anonymous and local venues post information about the next event? Well, my idea is to put up one of those hand-made advertisements with the little pull-off tabs at the bottom (usually with a phone number to call) that people can tear off and hand to the store management. Below is an ad you can print off and post on the bulletin board at your grocer that hopefully will leverage your opinion. Put it with your green grocery bag so you don't forget to take it in with you!

Click HERE for a full size, printable version of the above image.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Green Printer Choice - Multifunction LEXMARK x7675 - $119!

I'm a gypsy right now - living back and forth between Phoenix and Kansas City. Each city has its charms. In Kansas City I own a lovely, fully-outfitted home, while in Phoenix I am camping out in my friend Jean's airy, high wood-beamed ceiling'd, citrus tree'd, brick patio'd, trailing vine'd, picket-fenced, perfectly fen shui'd but totally empty home. No furniture. Not a stick. Because I'm an unemployed student, and because it seems silly to waste a dollar when I have an entire home's worth of furniture in KC, I have contented myself to bring in the following: One blow-up bed. One very old refrigerator. One el cheapo office chair for the kitchen desk. Two plates, two bowls, a few pieces of silverware. A pot. A pan. My laptop. Two dogs and some dog toys. That's it. And it seems to be enough. With one exception.

I need a printer.

I planned to draft my dissertation on my laptop, but it turns out that I cannot get my head around editing without having a hard copy and a real pencil in my hand. Like I cannot get my head around reading fiction on a Kindle.

There are a million printers out there, and online techie reviewers galore. So I will limit myself to telling you about the printer I selected and why. I am a Google-Queen. I decide on the features I want, and then read, read, read until I satisfy myself that I am getting the most (and greenest) printer for my money.

I chose the Lexmark x7675 Pro multifunctional inkjet printer (CNET review video below). Here's why (the green features are in green type):

1. Automatic two-sided printing saves paper, trees and money

2. Planned longevity and a transferable 5-year warranty if you sell the printer!

3. Economy print cycles - 32 pages/minute for black and 27 for color - save ink and electricity

4. "Closed loop" ink cartridge recycling program for EVERY returned cartridge

5. High yield print cartridges print twice the pages per cartridge (less raw materials, packaging, refills, and transportation costs)

6. Buy 5 cartridges, get 1 free AND return 5 cartridges, get 1 free

7. Wireless (I can work from any room in the house)

8. 4-in-1 includes handy fax, scan and copy functions will make Felicia at FINRA happy too.

9. Flat bed scanner allows me to scan directly from text books

10. Dirt cheap - all the bells and whistles were $119 at OfficeMax

By the way, the Lexmark X7675 Pro won CNET's coveted excellence rating!

As an aside, if you've been wondering whether to go laser or inkjet, here are some interesting comparisons. Inkjets traditionally use up to 90 percent less electricity than laser printers. On the other hand, the standard laser printer generally handles 3x more printing over its lifetime than the average inkjet (that's what makes the Lexmark's 5 year warranty so remarkable!).

I'm very excited about my new, green, $119 Lexmark printer! Did I say $119?

Check out Lexmark's corporate sustainability report here:

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pour Me Another Glass of Biodynamic Syrah, Please

Yesterday evening I rewarded myself for a day well-spent (crossed everything off my to do list except a trip to Home Depot for something I didn't really need anyway) by opening a bottle of one of my favorite wines of all times, a Montemaggiore Syrah.

Most likely you've never heard of this winery. It's a tiny little hillside vinyard in Sonoma County, run by husband/wife team Vince and Lise Ciolino. He runs the vinyard. She's the wine-maker. I stumbled upon the Ciolinos' delectable wine during a 2005 trip to Celadon, a swank little Napa restaurant, where a waiter recommended it. I haven't been without a bottle or three in my wine rack since.

I love a good syrah. But Montemaggiore's syrah is more. Full of jammy flavor, yet Montemaggiore is smooth, deep and lingering as a dark chocolate truffle. I attribute it to biodynamic farming, which is something like turbo-charged organic farming. Without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or other practices that leave a noticible trace on the flavor of traditionally-crafted wines, Montemaggiore is the pure essence of a well-crafted syrah and not more.

I'm not going to give you the low-down on biodynamic farming. You can read about it here if you want to:

And I want to share this wonderful list of wineries whose wine is biodynamically produced. I guess I'll have to plan yet another trip to wine country to check some of these out.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


I was remarking in the last post about "greenstreaming" - when mainstream brands like Clorox, Colgate-Palmolive and others jump on the green bandwagon. I just returned from Walmart, where I found several green products prominently displayed and priced competitively:

Reynolds Wrap foil from 100% recycled aluminum ($2.67)

Ziplock Evolve food storage bags ($2.50), 25% less plastic and made with wind energy

and lastly... Georgia-Pacific Recycled Copy Paper ($3.52/500 sheets), with 30% post-consumer recycled fiber (with a statement that says "fiber used to produce this paper meets the sourcing requirements of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative," Granted, the G-P paper with its 30% post-consumer product doesn't hold a candle to Echo's 100% post consumer product paper, but on the other hand, Echo's paper is $7/500 sheets.,
If enough of us let Walmart know they are moving in the right direction - and to keep on movin' - maybe we'll see larger and larger recycle content.
Hey, if you didn't know - Walmart hired Adam Werbach, past president of Sierra Club, to help them green up, and I'm not spitting at that! Read about Adam's conversion of the bohemoth retailer here: I need to look into these products further, to make sure they are what they claim to be, but I'm really, really happy to see Walmart making the leap into the GreenStream too!

Can you be both Clean AND Green?

It's kinda weird to say "harsh chemicals" and "clean" in the same breath. But harsh chemicals are traditionally what household cleaners use to get our living spaces clean. Get this: "The average American uses about 40 pounds of toxic household cleaning products each year. These cleaning products contain dangerous ingredients, including neurotoxins, carcinogens, allergens, central nervous system depressants, heavy metals, and other agents that cause or contribute to cancer, respiratory problems, reproductive abnormalities, allergic reactions, and behavioral problems, among other issues."

That's depressing. I've run across a lot of articles discussing home-made cleaning supplies from common, safe ingredients I probably have around the house. But I don't have time for concocting my own products. Do you? And how much faith do you have in those products to do the job? I mean, if baking soda and vinegar worked, wouldn't we all still be using them? Or are we just brainwashed to think that we need turbo-charged cleaning and disinfecting power?

I'm not a lab, and I dunno, really. But lately I've been buying green alternatives. I've got some Seventh Generation products in my pantry, and even mainstream cleaning supply companies like Clorox and Colgate-Palmolive are getting into the act with green products. I admit it's hard to think "Clorox," which has always been synonomous to me with bleach, and "green" in the same breath, but read this feel better. Mainstream is becoming Greenstream!

Still, these products don't always do as good a job as the old, harsher brands. I'm still playing around with these products and will let you know when I come across something stellar. Right now I'm really liking these three products:
1. Clorox's "Green Works" Natural Glass & Surface Cleaner for my kitchen countertop surfaces

2. Safeway's reasonably-priced house brand, Bright Green, "Floor Care," which did a superb job of cleaning the vast expanse of white tile in my kitchen
3. Seventh Generation's Natural 2x Concentrate Laundry Liquid (concentrating the liquid saves on both packaging and shipping)

Here are the links for these product lines:

Here's a website for allergy sufferers on allergen-free cleaning,

And the Department of Interior even has an opinion!

Ok, ok. If anyone really does want to try their hand at making their own products, here's a page for you, too, Suzy Homemaker!

Please, please - let me know which green cleaning products you like, and we'll keep testing and posting

Saturday, April 25, 2009

HP Innovates "Closed Loop" Inkjet Cartridge Recycling Program

HP Innovates "Closed Loop" Inkjet Cartridge Recycling Program This article (linked), dated Oct. 2008, seems to contradict information I offered yesterday about HP's recycling program. Hard to know what to believe. I read the article with some skepticism, including the very bottom line, which says, "Customers can be confident in HP’s environmental management because cartridges returned through Planet Partners are never refilled, resold or sent to a landfill." Do they mean that no "whole cartridges" are ever sent to a landfill, but some of the dismantled parts may be? Do they mean that all returned cartridges are processed through HP's Planet Partners program, or are only some cartridges processed through that specific program? HP has such a large market share. This is important. I'll keep watching.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Trouble with Tribbles.... er... Inkjet Cartridges!

Those pesky empty inkjet cartridges multiply on my desk like tribbles.. I know better than to toss them into the trash, but I'm not completely sure of the alternatives. By the way, if you're too young to remember the Star Trek episode "The Trouble With Tribbles," you can watch it all Isn't William Shatner a baby-face in that picture??

So first, let's get something off the table. Do not even suggest that I learn to refill inkjet cartridges myself. I don't care how much I can save. Going to the office supply store, searching for refill ink, struggling through poorly-written directions, balancing pouring aparatus and cartridges. NOT happening. Mess, mess, mess. This blog is about feel-good alternatives, not stress-inducers.
Last year, I bought a new multi-function HP printer, and was thrilled to discover that HP inkjet cartridges came with postage-paid recycle envelopes. And, if you need more envelopes, you can go order them free from the HP website. Then, I learned that "recycle" can be a fudge word for "disposes of" and doesn't necessarily mean reuse or recycle. Webzine writer Niall Roche had the low-down on ill fated old cartridges returned to the printer manufacturer. Though I had imagined steady-fingered HP refillers wrestling with old cartridges, according to Roche, HP actually disassembles the cartridges, uses some parts to make new products, while "other components are used to generate energy or are disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner."

What about other printers? Epson incinerates returned cartridges. Canon collects cartridges but has no recycling program in place, according to Roche. Of the printers Roche investigated, only Lexmark has a program in place to make sure every collected cartridge is remanufactured or recycled! What gives with using the word "recycle" if they really mean "disposal"??

Does it matter whether Epson incinerates cartridges or HP disposes of them otherwise, if they do it in an environmentally responsible manner?

WELL YES. Because for every destroyed cartridge, a new one must replace it. Cartridge World, a company that bills itself as the "world's largest printer cartridge refiller and remanufacturer," commissioned a study a couple of years ago to compare carbon emissions associated with overseas cartridge manufacture and transport to stateside refill/remanufacture operations. The study, performed by Brown & Wilmanns Environmental, LLC, looked at CO2 numbers associated with transporting three makes of cartridge from their countries of origin to three U.S. cities, and the transport impact of similar Cartridge World products to the same three cities. The results suggest that local refill and remanufacture can emit less than half the carbon dioxide than that associated with new cartridges, and over 70% for toners. I couldn't find the original study. The press release is here:

So what's a tribble to do? Well, check the small print on your printer manufacturer's "recycle" program carefully to make sure it really is one. If so, use online ordering option to have recycle containers shipped directly to your home.

If not, consider using a company like Cartridge World. Store locator here:

OR, if you're lucky enough to live in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles or San Diego, the US Postal Service has a 1500 store pilot recycling program going. You can pick up, fill and mail recycle envelopes, no postage required! PDAs, Blackberries, digital cameras, iPods and MP3 players can also be recycled this way. Find out what happens to these items here:

Unfortunately for lazy recyclers like myself, Cartridge World and the Post Office are both walk-in services. There are a host of erstwhile services on the web that will let you mail your cartridges in, but be sure to read the fine print, because these, too, seem to fudge on the word "recycle." If you see fine print that says something like "proper disposal," just move on. Here is a list of online recycle providers that I found on the City of Alexandria, VA's website:

and my favorite, Recycle for Breast Cancer:
Here's some other factoids from Cartridge World about the enviro impacts of cartridge production:

• It takes about a gallon of oil to make one new laser cartridge.
• Almost 8 cartridges are thrown away per second in the United States alone!
• In North America alone, over 350 million cartridges per year are discarded in our landfills, and that number increases by 12 percent annually!
• A laser cartridge thrown into landfill can take up to 450 years to decompose. Some components made of industrial grade plastics will take over a thousand years to decompose.
• Every remanufactured cartridge saves nearly 3 and 1/2 pounds of solid waste from being deposited in landfills.
• 70 percent of used printer cartridges throughout the world are currently being thrown out.
• In one year, if the world’s discarded cartridges were stacked end-to-end, they would circle the earth over three times.

Composting Doesn't Have to be Stinky Anymore!

Composting doesn't have to be stinky, messy or time-consuming anymore! For those of you who don't know what composting is, it's the act of treating your food waste, paper trash and/or yard clippings so that they "return to the earth" in the form of decayed organic matter. Composting has at least two benefits. First is that it allows you to recycle and reuse your own organic trash, thus reducing your contribution to the waste stream. Second, it provides you with an incredibly rich source of nutrients for your garden and house plants.

The problem with composting has always been that it's messy, smelly, inconvenient and a lot of work. You used to have to traipse outdoors with your food scraps to put them in either a covered pile or an outside composting drum of some sort. You used to have to aerate or turn your pile to help it "cook evenly." I once followed some home-made composting recipe, where you put everything into a black plastic bag and shook and turned it periodically, only to find the bag full of maggots when I finally opened it. As my friend Gail would say, "eeeewwwe!"

No more! I've been using SCD's Happy Farmer Kitchen Composter for six months now, right in my kitchen, no odor, no mess, no manipulation. It's a little bucket and a lid with a good seal that fits under my kitchen counter, into which I throw all manner of food scraps. The secret is the companion product, "bokashi," a fermented wheat bran and molassis product that acts as a compost starter, and completely eliminates the odor of decay when sprinkled atop food wastes in the compost bucket. According to the SCD website, "when added, Bokashi will begin a fermentation process that will neutralize odors, increase the mineral content and prepare food waste to become high quality compost." And it happens very quickly!

The other really cool thing about my kitchen composter is that the bucket has a perforated floor about three inches from its bottom, through which all the moisture from the composting material flows. There is a spigot at this level that allows you to draw off this rich, organic liquid for fertilizing house plants or whatever. I warn you, the liquid does smell, and you would be wise to draw off about a quarter a cup of the liquid into a full two-quart container of water to dilute it sufficiently before watering your house plants, or you will be smelling it for days! Trust me, your plants will love it in its diluted form, and you won't love it "straight up."

If you've been thinking about composting, or have had very bad experiences with composting in the past. This is definitely the product for you.

By the way, here's some information on what kinds of organic matter you may add to your compost bin,, and what you should not add to your bin,

If you have a different (but great) composter, I'd love to hear about it.

Paper Bags Are Better Than Plastic, Right?

Paper Bags Are Better Than Plastic, Right? For years, I had this odd logic about plastic vs paper. I thought we should use up the petroleum resources used in the creation of plastic in order to force ourselves toward petroleum substitutes. Then I began reading about how plastics impacted wildlife,, and I switched to paper. Now, incredibly, a search of several websites leaves me convinced that neither paper nor plastic bags is a good choice. The best option: reusable bags. Sure, sure. You have three or four sitting in the trunk of your car, and forget to take them in to the store with you. Maybe this article will help you (and me) remember to grab our green bags. By the way, the plastic bag above is totally biodegradable and compostable, and available from

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Second Life for Test-Tube Earth

Second Life for Test-Tube Earth

Coincidentally, my friend (and fellow facebooker and mediator extraodinaire Kate Otting) posted pics and a story from the Biosphere 2 in Tucson, where chaperoned a group of boys. The Biosphere 2 is considered a "failed experiment." The authors of this article are suggesting the experiment be reinstituted, using what we've learned in the interim years. We have so much to learn.

Kelley Blue Book Announces 2009 Top Green Cars | Hybrid Cars