Sustainable Donations


April 8th, 2014

Environmentalists are generous by nature, desiring to share our good fortune with others. Like me, most of you probably make monetary contributions to a number of causes. I suspect that, like me, your mailbox (at your door or post office) is probably overflowing with requests. Sadly, they come monthly or more and with lots of letters, explanations, envelopes that fill up our trash.

Here are 3 possible solutions:

MY  solution,  is in this letter which your are welcome to copy and send to your favorite organizations. If  many of us do this, perhaps these well-meaning organizations will move in the right direction:

Dear ________,

I am prepared to stop donating to XXX  if  by December of 2014 if the frequency of your requests have not decreased to quarterly.  I feel absolutely livid to face a mailbox of multiple ‘begging letters’ each and every day. I have no time to read them and, as most contributors, have limited financial resources to meet endless requests.

It is only the beginning of April and so far I have received ___ requests from you. I have been donating to ____for  ___ years and contributed an average of $_____ each year.  I would like to continue to do so but I will discontinue if the requests are not reduced.

You see, as a generous person, your organization is not the only one to which I contribute and, yes, many of them are receiving this same letter.

I am a busy person, heavily involved in my family, work and community. At some point in my life I decided that your organization was worthwhile and effective in using my funds wisely. I have continued to contribute without reading any of your subsequent nicely-crafted letters since.

I do not have the time to read your letters (or go to your web pages), much less those from the 25 other organizations to which I regularly contribute.  Two times a year I pull out an envelope and payment form and toss the rest of the contents. The others go directly to the recycling, what a horrible misuse of time, postage, trees and energy.

This is the computer age. You DO have the ability to track which of your contributors donate and how frequently – if you truly value them, you will care about their contribution patterns, ask them how frequently and in what form (paper or electronic) they would like to receive communications and respond appropriately.  Yes, a few old ladies have endless hours to read every piece of mail but I, and most others like me, am not one of them.

 I DO NOT respond to year-end Christmas guilt requests. God asks me to plan wisely, and I do. I expect that the organizations to which I donate do the same. You must likewise trust that your thoughtful contributors will not give less because they are asked less frequently. Many of us are donating electronically on a monthly basis so that your budgets (and ours) are less lumpy.

(USE WHEN APPROPRIATE) ( You may not split your organization into two parts to collect twice as much. I am not gullible just because I have a heart.  I give to the original organization, not the offshoot.)

This is not a negotiable request.  In addition to the 15 regular requestors, I receive twice as many unanswered requests; they get recycled with little thought, but, they may go into reconsideration. Please respect me, my time and my trash bill – if I am lost in a morass of paper requests I do not have the time to give back to my community.

Sincerely,

Someone who thinks highly of your cause


Charity Watch has a simpler notice:

FUNDRAISING REDUCTION NOTICE

I am sending this note to reduce the waste and invasion of privacy caused by unwanted mail solicitations and telemarketing calls. If you would like me to consider contributing to your organization in the future, please agree to the following checked items:

___ Remove my name and address from your mailing list.

___ Do not sell, rent, exchange, or give my name or contribution history to any other organization or business without first receiving my approval.

___ Do not send me direct mail solicitations more than ___ times a year.

___ Do not telephone me to ask for money, or…

___ Phone me no more than ___ times a year, and only on the following day(s) and times:

Name and address labels from your solicitation(s) to me are enclosed.
Thank you for respecting a donor’s wishes.


Sandra Block at USA Today  suggests intent giving sites such as Network for Good and Just Give which allow you to donate anonymously (there is a 3-4.75% processing fees so your charity doesn’t get the full amount) but that won’t get existing requests to stop.

Poop in Your Food? The circle of life


March 12th, 2014

Recently an email came through decrying that produce was grown in human poop and that Chinese suspend chicken wire crates over the fish ponds and the fish with their shit. While this sounds sensational, in truth, human manure was a standard farming nutrient prior to the flush toilet.

I am not overly concerned about chicken poop or people poop – where do people think dirt comes from? it’s worm & bug poop (also known as castings).  The “Circle of Life” is not just a cute song from the Lion King – creatures eat predominantly other creatures – bones, stomachs, poop and all.  Cows & horses poop on the land that grows the grass that they soon graze on.  Human poop starts as food and is simply food that has been burned as fuel or excess nutrients that cannot be fully absorbed at the time.  Allan Savory in his TED presentation establishes how new deserts have been re-established as verdant grasslands by re-introducing traditional cattle herding whereby the droppings both enrich the soil and contain the grass seeds for reseeding.

We need those excess excreted nutrients over and over again each day and they need to return to the food stream through the soil, though a diet entirely of poop is probably not very well balanced and should be mixed with veggie matter for a full-bodied compost.  Composting and percolation through the ground to underground aquifers  (except those exposed to fracking or other underground toxins) exposes excrement to the pro-biotic bacteria necessary to cleanse it for eventual safe reabsorption into plants. The Rich Earth Institute in Vermont does just that with collected urine (rich in nitrogen, phosphorous & potassium) in a [rpcess they  call “peecycling” which is used after it is pasteurized !

That being said,  excrement of sick humans and animals should be contained and kept out of the food stream.

No less an authority than our founding father, George Washington, considered people and horse casting to be more valuable than gold. Though he was many things to our nation, he considered himself, first and foremost a farmer. He studied it, saved seeds, used crop rotations, fertilizers, was intimately knowledgeable about the micro-climates of Mt. Vernon & the 8,000 acres he maintained for his wife’s family around Virginia.  He built lovely “necessaries”, outhouses, throughout his estate from which the proceeds were harvested regularly and encouraged everyone to use them. The farms were extraordinarily prolific and provided all the food for the family and 300 workers.

 

Amish have been recycling their refuse regularly though some municipalities are now requiring them to put in leach beds. 

Columbus GA will soon be selling human waste biosolids to farmers.

 

Natural Pesticides & Detergents


March 11th, 2014

If you are reading this you probably don’t need to be convinced that natural pesticides are preferable to toxic ones. Herewith are a variety of solutions:

Ants:

Homemade boric acid ant stations.  The formula is 1/4 tsp boric acid and 1 tbs sugar to 3 tbs

hot water.  You need to leave this stuff out in jar lids, etc along their trails (but away from  pets).  This will draw them in for awhile, so it will seem worse, but in about 5 days the workers will have taken it home and destroyed the colony.

Wikipedia  cautions that it’s important to avoid spraying them, because that can stimulate increased egg production in the colony, or worse, can cause the production of secondary colonies in your walls, etc..

 

Weeds:

1     Gal Vinegar
2    C Epsom Salt
1/4 C Dish Soap(Original blue Dawn, recommended)

Mix in your sprayer (add dish detergent last to avoid bubble-over)
Write the recipe on the sprayer or on paper and cover with clear mailing so anyone know the ingredients. It will kill any plant you spray it on so use carefully.

Spray in the morning after dew has evaporated.

Dishwasher Detergent:

1 1/2 cups food grade  powdered citric acid (available in bulk online or at restaurant supply , home brewing & some natural food stores)
1 1/2 cup washing soda
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup sea salt (but kosher salt works fine)

Combine and mix in a large air right jar (quart Mason-type jar works well)

Use 1 tablespoon per dishwasher load.

 

 

 

Sew and Sew: Where to Buy Ethically Made Fabrics


February 14th, 2014

As a sewer, quilter and fabric consumer I’ve always paid close attention to waste and using up scraps is part of why I like quilting. Lately I’ve been choosing many organic fabrics because of the many toxic chemicals that go into the farming and production of cotton that affect not only the consumer but the farmers and manufacturers. Likewise, reading about the slavelike conditions & wages in many low wage overseas factories, I’m reluctant to buy a lot of new fabric and am paying attention to where they are made.

Though, not generally a JoAnns fabric shopper, I happily learned that they have just introduced a new MadeInAmerica fabric line from FabricTraditions. Online chatter indicates they have always carried some Made in USA fabrics but you have had to search for them.

Most of Liberty of London fabric is still woven in England as seen in this video.

By my research Japanese prints are indeed made in Japan, they are even milling high quality denim!

FabricWorm carries a large selection of organics and I just discovered Organic Cotton Plus.

Of course there is always repurposing fabric, buying at thrift shops & yard sales and, of course fabric swaps!

Fabric Softeners Toxic Secrets


January 24th, 2014

You’ve probably all read the memes and emails on wonderful things you can use fabric softener sheets for. What the manufacturers would rather you not know are how the ingredients affect our bodies and our central nervous system .

The chemicals go from our clothes to our skin, our largest organ, and are absorbed through our bodies.  Children, pregnant and nursing women are at increased risk.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists only 8 Fabric Softeners that meet their Designed for the Environment criteria and none of them are the better known brands.

The most common chemicals found in  name brand Fabric Softeners and their health risks are listed below:

Alpha-Terpineol – central nervous system disorders, highly irritating to lungs; pneumonitis, fatal edema, ataxia (loss of muscle coordination), headaches, respiratory depression

Benzyl Acetate – pancreatic cancer, irritating to eyes and lungs, respiratory coughs and lung irritation

Benzyl Alcohol – headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drop in blood pressure, upper respiratory tract problems, central nervous system, depression, and death in severe respiratory responses

Camphor – central nervous system disorders, irritates eyes, nose & throat, dizziness, confusion, nausea, twitching muscles & convulsions

Chloroform – headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, irritation of respiratory tract, loss of consciousness, kidney disorders, liver disorders, skin disorders, inhalation can be fatal

Ethyl Acetate – headache, stupor, anemia, leukocytosis, liver damage, kidney damage, irritating to eyes and respiratory tract

Limonene – human carcinogen

Linalool – respiratory disturbances, depression, CNS disorders

Pentane – headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation of respiratory tract, loss of consciousness depression, dermatitis, CNS disorders.

Nature’s Clothes Dryer


January 24th, 2014

Unlike dishwashers that are more energy efficient than hand washing when used full, until recently there is no such thing as an EnergyStar clothes dryer and the ratings agency is not really enthusiastic about them. Electric clothes dryers account for 10-15% of our home energy usage. If you have sunny weather, outdoors is the place; in dry climates dry time can be as short as 1/2 hour.  In less dry and warm places, be creative around your house, the drying clothes can actually put some moisture back into a home being heated with forced air heating.

Americans seem much more enamored of the electric dryers than Europeans who often don’t use them due to space constraints. Those that do use them do so sparingly because of higher energy costs.

While you can find many fine clothes drying rack choices at Ikea, Target, Lowes’s, Ace Hardware you’ll have many more uniques choices if you go online. Do a search on “clothes drying rack” (aka clothes horse) and click on the images for an amazing array of choices, especially those space efficient models that those around the globe have developed over the years.

Here are some that I found intriguing at  Bright Green Ideas

While I won’t be giving up my dryer, there certain categories of laundry that I air dry regularly with a combination of hangers (shirts) and racks. Since time is a constraint I am blessed that I usually don’t need to bother with pins (pegs) and that my drying areas (racks on upper balcony, hangers in nearby bathroom, wire shelving near washer/dryer for lingerie). Like all parts of our homes, I am constantly tweaking for a more efficient combination of lines, racks and spaces for our home.

ASK WALMART TO INCREASE THE PAY FOR EMPLOYEES THAT ARE COLLECTING SNAP BENEFITS.


November 2nd, 2013


Friends,

 
Many Walmart part-time and low-wage employees are eligible for SNAP food benefits are losing, on average $36/month beginning this month (November 2013) because of SNAP benefit cuts by Congress. By raising their wages to the equivalent of $40/month these employees will have approximately the same amount of spendable income. $40 less $3.10 Social Security, $.72 Medicare Taxes, $.50 SDI is approximately $36.

I just added the petition: “Ask Walmart to increase the pay for employees that are collecting SNAP benefits.”

It would mean a lot to me if you took a moment to add your name because:
Many Walmart part-time and low-wage employees are eligible for SNAP food benefits are losing, on average $36/month beginning this month (November 2013) because of SNAP benefit cuts by Congress. By raising their wages to the equivalent of $40/month these employees will have approximately the same amount of spendable income.  $40 less $3.10 Social Security, $.72 Medicare Taxes, $.50 SDI is approximately $36.

The businesses in communities that sell to the employees are directly affected by the decrease in disposable income, as well. By not paying it’s employees enough, WalMart is undercutting it’s own customer base. SNAP food subsidy cut are coming at the cruelest time of year as low wage employees try to celebrate both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

To sign this petition go to:
http://www.credomobilize.com/petitions/ask-walmart-to-increase-the-pay-for-employees-that-are-collecting-snap-benefits

Real change happens when everyday people like you and me come together and stand up for what we believe in.  Together, we can reach tons of people and help create change around this important issue.

After you’ve signed the petition please also take a moment to share it with others.  It’s super easy – all you need to do is forward this email.

Thank you!

Cool, Clear Water Not So Simple


April 8th, 2013

 

The cold, deep, fast running water is the healthiest as it harbors the fewest bad bugs and bacteria.

Hello Eco- Mom!
Please explain to me why leaving water running is bad! Fresh water is a limited resource; how does running it and using it end up ruining the fresh water?!
Love, Your Daughter

Hello Wonderful, Curious Daughter,
In order for water to get to your faucet it must first:

  1. Be pumped from  sewers, storm drains, resevoirs to a water treatment plant. Pumping takes lots of electricity
  2. That water must be filtered, stirred (again more electricity) and treated (lots of not so nice chemicals)
  3. Bad stuff from filtering must be lifted out, transported somewhere (more electricity and gasoline to transport to waste disposal site)
  4. Good treated water must again be pumped from the plant all around the city through the water mains (again more electricity)
  5. If you’ve used hot water, there is also the natural gas or electricity used to heat that water that is just going down the drain to no good purpose


20% of energy in the US is used just to pump, clean and filter water. Even if you pour clean water back into the drain it gets mixed up with the dirty stuff and has to be re-pumped and re-cleaned endlessly.

Love,
Eco-Mom

PS. Here’s a wonderful design concept to clean your water at home.

 

Our Clothing Addiction Leads to Cycle of Poverty in Developing World


April 8th, 2013

Clothing contributes to poverty in two ways.

  • First, new clothing is sewn predominantly in sweatshops around the world, often by women that are permanently enslaved to pay off a “debt” for the “privilege” of a “well paying” job – NOT.
  • Second, the used clothing business has effectively destroyed native garment industries in much of Africa and other developing countries. American cotton is so highly subsidized that our used clothing can be purchased more cheaply by them than those made with native fabrics and sewn by native seamstresses.

 

“T-Shirt Travels”is a documentary that should make us think twice about the easy fix. If you don’t have time to read the entire article or want to explain it easily to students here is a quick visual. Over time many of the links are disappearing; here is one for the book The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy” The movie Life and Debt tells of the Free Trade Zone in Jamaica where workers who sew for American corporations to earn the legal minimum wage of $30 U.S./week. Sweatshops, with the approval of their governments, offer incentives to foreign clothing designers which are allowed to bring in shiploads of material tax-free and are immediately transported out after sewing. Over 10,000 women currently work under sub-standard work conditions. In order to ensure the employment offered, Jamaica agreed to the stipulation that no unionization is permitted in the Free Trade Zones. When the women attempt to organize they are fired and blacklisted to prevent them from working again. The jobs move on to next developing country desperate for work.

 

A new book Fugitive Denim: a Human and Sensible Approach of Global Textile Trade by Rachel Louise Snyder tells part of the complex story of the textile trade, now & historically, acquired by traveling around the world and talking to workers and professionals in the trade. United Students Against Sweatshops at 25 universities are now boycotting or severing ties with Russell Athletics/Jerzees until the company re-opens the Jerzees de Honduras facility at full capacity, re-hires all union workers and complete the collective bargaining process. Also, individual initiatives such as Ethix Merch attempt to link small manufacturers with buyers.

 

Americans consider ourselves to be generous people as we assuage our guilt about buying new clothing by giving away our slightly worn or out of date cast offs to charity but the net effect is a global economy turned upside down. What to do?

  • Worn thin? Goodwill or Salvation Army will turn into rags.
  • Stained? Sew or iron a patch, applique. Tie die the garment – stains get lost in the patterns. Missing buttons, open seams, broken zippers? Fix yourself, or take it to your dry cleaners or find a local seamstress/tailor. Keeps Americans employed at decent wages. If you’re crafty, here are ideas for recycling old Tees .
  • Gained/lost weight? Style dated?  A good tailor can take in or let out seams and can even re-fashion professional clothing to reflect current fashion trends
  • Just itching for a change or something different? Look for clothing swaps online or plan an event with friends

If you must buy new, search out  items made of organic or sustainably harvested fabrics by fairly paid and treated workers.  This 2013FairTradeDirectory has links to many online ethically traded clothing items. Be willing to pay more for both American /union/Fair Trade made goods.

The fashion industry itself is just discovering Zero Waste and trying to apply it to the cutting room floor. Parsons New School for design will offer a course in zero waste.

Ethical doesn’t have to mean giving up style. Ethical In Style will send you the latest trends daily via FB or Twitter.

Sustaining our Food Chain & Our Sanity


January 8th, 2013

A furtive meandering email forward about Chinese vegetables, Pacific Rim seafood, poop as nutrients & American jobs going overseas  got me to doing  a lot of research on food chains, food safety, sustainability & food ethics. A lot of territory, and this does not presume to be complete, but here goes.

It’s a lot of work but basically, caveat emptor, read the labels on every food product you buy, their sourcing may change from month to month. Consider writing  an email to companies when you decide not to buy a product because the the origin or production values of the product. Buy foods in season. Off season foods come from far away places. Maybe you should  be eating pomegranetes not strawberries in December.  Processed foods are always a sourcing, and disclosure, nightmare, an example:

In the NutriGrain bar, the list of sources and ingredients is as follows:
•    USA: high fructose corn syrup, sugar, wheat flour (produced and milled), whole grain oats, sunflower oil, strawberry puree, cellulose, red dye #40;
•    China: vitamin and mineral supplements (B1, B2, iron, folic acid), honey;
•    Philippines: carrageenan;
•    India: guar gum;
•    Europe: citric acid;
•    Denmark: lecithin (soy);
•    Italy: malic acid; and
•    Scotland: sodium alginate.

 “The 2002 Farm Bill and the 2008 Farm Bill amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require that retailers inform consumers of the country of origin of all perishable agricultural commodities beginning September 30, 2008…” per this excellent full article.

What this really means is re-thinking your budget putting a priority on paying for organic, sustainably raised foods and making as much of your food from scratch as possible. They are better for both your body and the planet’s health.  Are you willing to buy fewer clothes (or movie tickets, or tech gadgets) to have more quality & control in your foods?

When choosing imported foods consider the carbon impact from shipping. East Coasters are actually using less carbon when you choose European (wine, olive oil, fruits, seafood ) over California grown because sea shipping is more energy efficient than trucking) , Mexico (even we Californians now get most of our tomatoes from Mexico, the big farms are pretty attuned to US standards), Canada.  West Coast folks cause less transportation CO2 by buying from the Pacific Rim countries if we can’t get it from Mexico or western Canada. Though I enjoy the European and South American Wines, I generally buy California wines. If I’m traveling I always look for local fare & wines.

Just as we cannot categorize all US food as good or bad, we must make the same distinctions within other countries. There are honest and unethical people around the world. QVD Aqualculture out of Bellevue WA provides farmed fish from the US, Vietnam & Singapore and you will be impressed by their standards & certifications  .

FDA  has a lot of seafood inspections but can’t possibly inspect everything. China is the only entire county on their seafood watchlist.

A great seafood guide from the Monterey Bay Aquarium includes guides for different regions of the US see:   Print a copy and keep it in your purse or with your coupons.

There is a HUGE difference between Chinese veggies for the US/Canada frozen market & Chinese seafood, meat & products grown for their internal markets.

“ Farmland is communally owned, so a foreign business, often working with a Chinese agent, will approach a village council and propose a farming arrangement. After a community vote, the entire village contracts with the company to supply the agricultural product. The farmers agree to use the seeds and other inputs the foreign company provides… export crops are part of a separate food system. .. vegetables headed abroad are monitored along the food chain: farmers grow the organic vegetables on plots of land that are often less than an acre, then bring the harvest, usually by hand-pulled cart, to a company processing plant, where it is inspected. Plant employees.. wash and prepare the vegetables—all by hand. Before leaving the factory, the vegetables are put through a double metal detector. …“The Chinese are super careful,” echoed Rozelle. The vegetables destined for foreign supermarkets are inspected by government employees before they leave the country. “They know if they get to the port and find residues, it will be rejected.”   

Overseas trade is a huge balancing act. Depending on US markets for the wellbeing of the Chinese population certainly keeps them from extreme military measures; slowly their population is becoming consumers who will begin to be their own best customers.