Sunday, November 21, 2010

For Lead-free Shopping Bags, choose organic or recycled cloth, not plastic.

Shopping with reusable bags, and not taking disposable bags, is one of the greenest little things you can do, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But last week, reusable bags were dealt a p.r. blow when brain-damaging lead was found in plastic models sold by some CVS, Winn-Dixie and Publix stores. Tests of the shopping bags found the neurotoxic heavy metal to be present "potentially unsafe levels," The New York Times reported . Note: When it comes to children's health, there is no safe level of lead, which collects in the body and causes irreversible developmental harm.

The Tampa Tribune, which paid for some of the tests, warned that the lead content could qualify the bags as hazardous waste Wegman's recalled its own reusable bags due to lead in September of this year.

The recycled-plastic bags are made in China, which also produces lead-contaminated toys , millions, but not all, of which are recalled every year. Because so much lead in paint, ink and plastic goes undetected in consumer products, it's a good idea to treat any plastic bag--reusable or disposable--with caution, especially if it's worn and crumbling, and/or ink is flaking off.

An easy solution: Choose totes made from certified organic or recycled fiber, like these organic cotton bags from Mimi the Sardine. Both from Oliveand .

Do try to avoid vinyl (PVC #3) lunch boxes, bags, toys, shower curtains, raincoats, lunch pails and other products, because PVC plastic is often made with lead and toxic phthalates.

Top 10 Green Holiday Gift and Decorating Ideas

Simplify the Holidays: Less Waste, Less Stress, Fewer Things, More Time

1. Make the season bright--and energy efficient--with Light Efficient Diode (LED) lights, like these holiday LED strings by Martha Stewart at Home Depot. Give LED lightbulbs, too, for year-round use: They're 25x more efficient than incandescent bulbs, mercury-free, and last 10x longer than compact fluorescents (CFLs).

2. Make D.I.Y. ornaments by reusing and recycling materials like shredded paper and these bottle caps, which aren't recycled by municipalities although the containers, if made of #1, #2 or #5, are. Photo by Natalie McKinney, Kokua Hawaii Foundation.

3. Give locally grown and/or organic, heirloom food. Baskets of fresh farmers' market produce or dried fruit and nuts, cheese platters, gift boxes of dried pasta, bottled pesto and olive oil, homebaked treats, you name it, won't go to waste! Top it off with organic, fairly traded chocolate.

You can send organic whole foods and prepared meals from Diamond Organics ( A great source of tasty organic meat is, or you can find a local purveyor of organic or grass-fed meats by typing in your zip code at Indulge in hand-crafted American artisanal cheeses made from the milk of grass-fed cows, sheep and goats, from, and more.

The holidays, when we observe traditions, are an ideal time to sample heirloom foods that keep gene pools diverse and healthy. Treat your family to the unique taste of a free-Range heritage turkey or pampered pig; see for a state-by-state listing of farmers who raise native breeds of fowl, as well as special regional vegetables, fruits and meats.

Get a sustainable taste of the wild-- Alaska salmon, that is--free of toxins and not overfished. It’s not in season fresh right now, so buy it smoked from or

Organic coffee is being produced from Sumatra to Colombia to Hawaii, USA. When it’s also shade-grown, beneath a forest canopy that provides a home to migratory songbirds, and is produced by farmer cooperatives under fair trade standards, coffee is one of the most well-rounded green choices you can find. Meeting all three standards are Batdorf & Bronson ( and Grounds for Change (

4. Give time and togetherness.
Among its top 12 ways to simplify the holidays, Kokua Hawaii Foundation
suggests giving redeemable "service certificates" for tasks you or a child can perform, such as: good for one car wash, one homemade meal. We might add an hour's worth working in the garden, helping with shopping and carrying groceries, sweeping the front steps.

5. Buy a live local tree, and plant it after the holidays in your yard, city park or botanical garden. You'll find a place!

6. Give a plastics and (mostly) paper-free party. My friend Sarah rents wineglasses, for example. It’s so nice having real glass instead of plastic, which affects the taste of the wine. I just bought a lot of vintage wine glasses from a neighbor's yard sale where I ran into Cristal. Use lightweight, renewablebamboo plates and bowls, or Recycline’s colorful dinnerware made of recycled milk jugs. Organic cotton and hemp or secondhand cloth napkins and dishcloths /can work even in large parties, but for best, post-consumer recycled paper goods, click here..

7. Choose gifts that are minimally packaged, or not at all. Culture’s the ticket: No matter where you live, you can give tickets to theatre, concerts, art exhibits, aquariums and natural history museumsl or services, such as yoga or dance classes, piano, drawing or pottery lessons, in your recipient’s locale. No shipping, no fuel miles.

8. Good green drinks. Give and toast with certified organic wine,
gin, vodka and rum from,and beers, including several varieties from Non-alcoholic options include R.W. Knudsen’s organic grape (choose red for resveratrol), apple and orange carrot juice from

9. Treat a hard-cooking loved one to a truly special night out at a restaurant that uses locally produced and organic foods. Search at Chefs Collaborative.

10. Buy local whenever possible. It's the strongest and most rewarding connection you can make. Search for sustainably produced goods made and sold in your vicinity in the Organic Consumers Association Buying Guide, and Green America's(formerly Co-op America) National Green Pages.

During the holidays and beyond: Visit loved ones. You don’t have to entertain them, just be yourself and listen. Even if you have to fly a long distance and pay to offset your carbon emissions and assuage your conscience, it’s totally worth it.

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See more tips, and make a pledge to simplify your holidays at Kanu Hawaii(they have a cool calculating widget to show how many trees and how much carbon you've saved) and Center for a New American Dream, whose 2009 holiday tips pamphlet is on their website now.

Gifts that Give Back to the Earth

Contribute directly, or as a gift on behalf of a caring person on your list, to non-profits that work to save our planet and, therefore, ourselves.

Waste for Life teams design and engineering students and professionals with members of poor communities worldwide, from Argentina to Lesotho,in projects that make sustainable building materials out of trash. These 5 reasons to donate to Waste for Life can apply to most green and fair trade non-profit organizations. Be as generous as you can this year!

After this summer's tragic oil spill in the Gulf, the ocean and its threatened species need a lot of loving care. Adopt the Gulf or arctic seas, and denizens from porpoises to polar bears, with a gift to Oceana. Adopt 4 animals and get sea creature cookie cutters (I can't resist)! Contribute to the Blue Frontier Campaign. Support the work of Environmental Defense Fund, which works out ways to sustain natural resources, such as fisheries, in partnership with local industries such as small fishermen. Become a member of, and donate to, your local aquarium, or, if you haven't got one nearby, to one of the active ocean/estuary conservation organizations such as San Francisco's Aquarium of the Pacific .

Sponsor a specific national park or wilderness area through Sierra Club. Even Yosemite, Yellowstone and Sequoia need help! You can do so paper-free for $20 and up.If your recipient is a child, $25 will garner a stuffed animal (cougar, wolf) of a species that lives in that place, plus pictures and info.
And do check out Sierra columnist Avital Binschtock's generous roundup of fun, fresh, appealing fair trade and environmental gift ideas at Sierra Club's The Green Life blog .

Some green organizations offer some ungreen swag as membership premiums, such as petroleum-based plastic backpacks and the lot. That's why I'm stoked by Surfrider Foundation's organic cotton cap and tote in their membership package. Giving a membership supports annual state of the beach events, protection of ocean water quality, coastal open space and beach environments, marine life and habitat, and most of all, our waves!

Kokua Hawaii Foundation, which seeks to eliminate plastic waste and supports green education in public schools and community agriculture, gives an organic cotton bag to new members. In their store, you can buy prganic cotton onesies for babies and clean wave graphics on organic tshirts for grownups.

For other ethical giving opportunities, click here.

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Green holiday wrap, cards, and shipping: buy local, d.i.y., order early

During the holidays, Americans toss out 25% more waste. Two words that make the season green: Waste Not! Saving paper and packaging for reuse saves trees, and sending gifts by ground rate, not by 2-day-air or overnight, saves fuel. Both reduce carbon emissions.

*Tree-free Gift Wrap
Try not to buy readymade gift wrap, or any paper made from virgin trees rather than post-consumer-recycled paper.

Last week, when I was Terri Trespicio's guest on Martha Stewart's Whole Living Sirius Radio show , listeners called in with some creative ideas for reused, reusable gifts, wraps and cards. One woman, who grew up in India,continues the Diwali festival tradition of giving gifts of food in stainless steel containers wrapped in fabric and embellished with fresh flowers.

Another listener has her kids "shop" their basement for gifts, like forgotten but tools and art supplies. A seamstress sews fabric gift bags that her recipients can reuse. Another collects old Christmas cards from friends that don't want them and repurposes them into new cards and gift tags.

My friend Cristal wraps all her Xmas gifts in old scarves found at yard sales.My friend Lexy saves all her daughter’s drawings on butcher paper and wraps gifts in them, although how she parts with these artworks I do not know.

You can reuse any kind of paper or fabric, including newspaper, old maps, magazine & comic pages. Organic cotton dishtowels, handkerchiefs and napkins are doubly green because they're part of the gift. If every family wrapped just 3 gifts this way, it would save enough paper to cover 45 football fields, according to Sierra Club.

Give at least one gift that doesn’t require wrapping, like a colorful bag or box (preferably made of Forest Stewardship Council certified PCR paper) of rainforest-friendly coffee, tea or chocolate.

Holiday Cards.

According to the Greeting Card Association, more than 2.6 billion holiday cards are sent each year. Terri and I discussed whether e-cards are a satisfactory replacement, and concluded that, while certainly sustainably tree-free, they're also rather soulless. We're also old-fashioned enough to treasure real signatures, by hand, over virtual or printed ink.

If you’re sending out traditional holiday cards, look for those with the greatest percentage of post-consumer recycled (PCR) paper or paper that's certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as PCR or coming from well-managed forests. National Envelope and sell holiday cards that are certified by the Rainforest Alliance to FSC standards. All of the cards sold by come from FSC certified, responsibly managed forestsPaporganics offers wrapping paper made with 90 percent post consumer recycled with 10 percent hemp, a tree-free fiber, as well organic cotton holiday gift card packs. Or send electronic invitations and cards from or Or spare forests with tree-free fibers, such as hemp, kenaf, banana-stalk or bamboo, or even recycled blue jeans, dollar bills or green tea leaves. *For greetings, Green Field ( sells "Peace" cards made from 100% recycled junk mail; Dolphin Blue ( sells card stock that's 50 percent PCW recycled and 50 percent recovered cotton. Decorate it with your own photos or potato or linoleum cut-out print.

*Shipping News

Order and send gifts early, ideally at least three weeks in advance. Rush air shipping releases more carbon dioxide than standard ground delivery.

Buy from companies that use recycled and recyclable packaging (ask sales reps, or check shipping policies on company websites), for instances, packages items in boxes composed of 25- to 30-percent post-consumer recycled material.

When you shop and buy local, carpool and combine errands to save fuel and emissions.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Do One Green Thing for Your Holiday Travel

Transportation is responsible for 28 percent of U.S. annual carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Every gallon of gasoline burned releases 24-28 pounds of CO2. It's about the same for jet fuel, according to the Tufts University Office of Sustainability. With a national average fuel inefficiency of 19.1 miles per gallon, each car is responsible for releasing 2,750 lbs. of C02 annually. Per seat, on average, every airplane passenger is responsible for burning about 77 gallons of fuel in a 2500 mile cross-country flight, according to this roundup of air travel studies by . That's about 1,555 pounds of CO2!

But hey, it's the holidays. It's all about family togetherness, and families are far-flung. How can we prevent hurt feelings without wounding the planet? Here are some tips from the transportation chapter of my book, Do One Green Thing.

If you can do just one green thing to green your transportation, take the train.

Riding the train cross-country reduces your carbon footprint for the trip in half compared with flying, to 775 pounds of CO2. For commuting and shopping, taking light rail instead of driving reduces your annual transportation greenhouse gases by 1,366 pounds. No light rail in your locale? Take the bus. Commuting by city bus cuts 804 pounds of carbon per annum.

If you've got to drive, it's merrier, greener and cheaper not to go alone. Car pooling spreads expenses and carbon emissions among riders.

*Zipcar car sharing services can now be found in more than 50 cities and 100 universities.

*Car rental companies, which have been offering hybrids for a while, are now branching out into electric vehicles.

No matter what you drive, here are some tips that will increase your fuel efficiency when you drive.

*Drop the road rage. According to the Department of Energy’s fuel economy guide, aggressive driving, such as speeding, rapid acceleration and braking to get around that jerk on the bike, lowers gas mileage by 33% at highway speeds and 5% at city speeds. Also, Big Green Purse reports that most cars hit their optimal fuel economy at 60 miles per hour (mph), so every additional 5 mph after that costs you an extra $0.l0 in gas.

*Keep your car in tune, tires correctly inflated, and change the oil regularly. The Department of Energy states that certain types of serious engine maintenance, such as replacing a busted oxygen sensor, can increase your fuel efficiency by as much as 40%. Keeping tires properly inflated will increase efficiency by 3.3% and regularly cleaning your air filter can improve efficiency by as much as 10%. Guess Granddad was greener than he realized.

Check out our other seasonal tips at

For a one-stop, well-organized green living guide full of tips, product info and shopping lists in every category, from food and drink to cleaning, appliances, lighting, electronics, recycling, clothing and more on transportation, see my book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How to Find Heritage Turkeys and Other Green Thanksgiving Tips

Just caved and ordered a fresh antiobiotic-free, family-farmed Diestel turkey from my local Whole Foods, which also sells Mary's heirloom and organic birds. I was going to order a frozen organic from my food co-op, Kokua Natural Foods, but given my pre-holiday work deadlines, I couldn't trust myself to defrost safely in time. I confess, I view this choice as a lesser evil, because although Diestel's is not a huge industrial factory farm, I can't rely on "free range" or "humane" claims unless they're backed up with third-party-verified seals such as Certified Humane, which forbid cruel practices such as debeaking. When Whole Foods rolls out its long-anticipated Global Animal Partnership ratings for animal welfare later this year, we'll see how they rate the companies whose products they sell.

I compromised, because stress does not make for a holiday! I personally know two women who literally broke their backs while taking 20-lb. Thanksgiving turkeys from the oven. That’s not sustainable! Although I like to eat turkey, as a child I was disturbed by the mass seasonal slaughter and the deadening conformity of nearly every household’s cooking and eating the same thing on the same day.

Now I realize that what I actually oppose are industrial factory farms, and thecommodification of what was originally a local and spiritual feast of thanks for good fellowship and food.

Below are a few ideas for sustaining yourself, your community and the planet.

* Give to the hungry. Donate dollars to non-profit organizations in your community that serve free meals to the needy. For where to take food, locate your local food bank, participating supermarkets and other distribution channels through Feeding America.

* Eat out if you like. While cooking whole foods at home most days is better for the budget and health, it’s a holiday! Don’t break your back.

To find a green restaurant near you that serves local and sustainably produced food, type in your zip code at Eat Well Guide. Within 20 miles of my Honolulu home I found 12 restaurants ranging from gourmet Alan Wong’s to health food bars.

Eat conformity-free. “My brother and I decided to eat out and only eat desserts. We'll skip the turkey, dressing and side dishes,” writes my friend Julio Vega, a creative director and book designer in New York City. I feel lighter already!

* Find local produce and animal products, farmers’ markets and farm stands at Local Harvest

*Vegetables can make the meal, and not just for vegans.

Thanks to Paul Rauber, senior editor at Sierra Magazine, for sharing “my fabulous brussel sprout side dish that even brussel sprout haters like. Trim ends off sprouts, slice thinly. Saute in brown butter (or just butter) until they begin to brown. Add stock to not even cover, plus roasted walnuts or pecans. Cook maybe 5 minutes, squeeze on a spritz of lemon, and there you go. It's from Alice Waters' Vegetables. Have a great day!”

And why not stuff a squash instead of a bird? My Aunt Claire makes a succulent roast pumpkin filled with apples, cranberries, raisins, nuts and grains. Check out these recipes at .

Food for thought: “Animal, Vegetable, Miserable,” by vegan philosopher Gary Steiner, in the Sunday New York Times.

* Turkey shopping? Choose heritage, organic and/or certified humane. Call your local natural and health food supermarkets.

Heritage birds are registered breeds such as the Narragansett, the first domesticized turkey in the U.S. Buying them helps preserve a diverse gene pool. Plus, they’re able to breed naturally, unlike the industrial Broad-Breasted Bronzes or Whites, whose bodies are too heavy and legs too short for sport. Your bird might also be a Bourbon Red, White Holland, Royal Palm, or Standard Bronze. We got a Bourbon Red from Mary’s Turkeys. We could tell because it’s, ahem, flat-chested, lacking the “high, raised keel bone” that characterizes a Naragansett, according to Mary.

Thinking ahead to December, you can order heritage poultry, meat, wine, and artisanal cheeses through Heritage Foods USA, the retail arm of Slow Foods USA.

Organic turkeys have to be raised without antibiotics and eat organic, vegetarian feed free of GMOs and pesticides. Make sure it displays the USDA Certified Organic label. certified organic ranch; guaranteed no GMOs, no pesticides.

Is there a dif from a taste point of view? “Organic has a larger breast, heritage has larger thighs,” says Mary of Mary’s turkeys.

Philosophically, we favor humane animal welfare labels that guarantee the creature had had freedom to move about, clean quarters, fresh air, a vegetarian diet, and was slaughtered with minimal suffering. The most reliable labels are certified humane, food alliance and animal welfare approved.
Need a turkey recipe? We like Maria Rodale’s.

*Pumpkin Pie? Buy fresh farmers’ market kabocha/acorn squash or canned organic pumpkin. While there’s a reported shortage of conventional canned pumpkin, shelves at natural food stores are well-stocked with organic in cans. Find regular and vegan (dairy free) recipes here.

*Prepare for Psychic Survival with Sierra Club’s Thanksgiving how-to-cope guide. Provides witty, fact-based ripostes to environment-bashing table talk.