Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Chicagoans Wake-Up to Lake Michigan Pollution

Good news! More than 45,000 people have signed petitions, including the Save the Lake Petition, to stop the BP oil refinery from dumping more ammonia and sludge into Lake Michigan. And thank goodness, this issue has been featured in today's New York Times, so if you have a moment, I encourage you to read it. I first heard about this issue in May; I was astonished to discover that BP wants to dump 1,584 pounds of ammonia and up to 4,925 pounds of sludge everyday. What effects does this dumping have on plants and animals in Lake Michigan? And what effects does this dumping have on children and adults swimming in the lake?

And here's another question: What are the implications for stopping an increase in dumping pollutants into Lake Michigan? I'm guessing that the cost of gasoline will be affected if this permit is not granted. If this permit doesn't get passed, then maybe we'll have to pay even more money for gas. Imagine this: Would you be willing to pay $5/gallon for gasoline?

If I had to pay $5/gallon for gas, then it would alter my driving habits considerably. I already bike to work; well, my biking behavior would definitely increase. I would also think twice before hopping into car...I would ask myself if I really needed to drive to that destination and I would consider alternatives to driving to those locations. Maybe I would take the train to Chicago, as opposed to riding the bus. I would certainly drive less than I do now...no going to Saugatuck, which I'm driving to tomorrow!

Sure, I'm entertaining these questions now, but these questions would carry much more weight if the cost of gas were substantially raised. The gas issue also reminds me of Europeans, who are already accustomed to paying more for gas. So maybe it's about time we address how these issues (and implications) will affect our lifestyle behaviors.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wildwood vs. Silk?

I've continued to reflect upon my conversation with Allen@Wildwood of Wildwood Foods. Allen told me that they only sell what consumers will buy. And what customers want to buy is convenience. For Wildwood Foods, this means offering customers plastic fitments on their soymilk containers. So what'll happen if Wildwood Foods eliminates those plastic fitments from their containers? Will customers abandon this company in favor of their competitor, Silk, because it's more convenient to have a plastic fitment on soymilk containers?

Maybe, but not necessarily. It's all a matter of framing (and some creativity).

Here's an idea: What if Wildwood Foods got rid of those plastic fitments and redesigned their containers to be eco-friendly? They could even add an eco-friendly logo on their containers to promote this redesign. Better yet, Wildwood Foods could have a cute slogan telling customers how they're helping to save the environment by eliminating unnecessary waste in their packaging.

Ok, so let's say Wildwood redesigned their product to be 100% eco-friendly. And suppose you were at the supermarket wanting to buy soymilk. Would you buy the Wildwood brand that no longer has the plastic fitment, but endorses the protection of our oceans and planet with this eco-friendly container, OR would you go with Silk, the competitor brand that offers the convenience of having a plastic fitment on their containers?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Our Plastic Oceans

Beth from fakeplasticfish.com recently asked me to write a letter to Wildwood, which is a company that sells organic goods. The purpose of writing this letter was to encourage Wildwood to stop using plastic fitments on their soymilk containers (you know, that plastic thingy that keeps milk fresh).

So I wrote this letter. To his credit, the President of Wildwood sent me a very courteous response on the same day. In his reply, he said that Wildwood has addressed the issue of waste on a broader level. For instance, Wildwood doesn't purchase soybeans from China, thus reducing their dependency on fuel.

Yet, based on his response, it was clear to me that this fitment issue was considered too trivial for Wildwood to address.

So I started asking myself, is this really a puny issue or is there something more? And that's when Beth told me about her concern regarding the effects of plastic waste on marine life. Wanting to know more about this issue, I've spent the last few days reading about the amount of plastic found in the Pacific Ocean. I learned, for instance, that there's six times more plastic than plankton in the Pacific, which is quite a disturbing statistic.

Anyway, if you have a moment, I hope you watch this 10 minute video that raises awareness on the amount of plastic waste found in our oceans.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Searching for Minimal Packaging

Fellow blogger Closet Environmentalist shared a great tip about requesting minimal packaging for online purchases. I thought this was such a brilliant and practical suggestion; I simply feel compelled to share this tip with you!

Usually, an online store will include a special note (or comment) section in the order. If you see this option, you can leave a note like this one:

“Please use minimal and recycled packaging. Kindly do not include any catalogs, inserts, fliers, shrink-wrap, bubble wrap, packing confetti, plastic “pillows,” or Styrofoam peanuts. (You can use crumpled up newspaper if padding is necessary.) Please do not include me in any mailing lists or exchange lists you may have. Thank you!"

With this tip in mind, I went online to purchase an organic t-shirt from Mountains of the Moon. I was eagerly searching for that "special note" section on their online form, but you know what? They don't have one! Sheesh, just my luck. Well, hopefully I'll receive my shirt without frivolous packaging--they're an environmentally-conscious business after all! :0)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Help Save the Lake!

Julie left a comment about her recent experience visiting the Indiana Dunes. Reading her comment inspired me to get an update about BP's efforts to dump ammonia and sludge into Lake Michigan.

On Saturday, there was a press conference in Whiting, IN, where one of BP's oil refineries is located. Both Senator Dick Durbin and House Representative Rahm Emanuel have joined the campaign to protest against dumping more wastewater into Lake Michigan.

I'm so glad to hear this news; we need to have this level of support against a giant company like BP.

In addition, the Chicago Park District is asking folks to sign the "Save the Lake" petition. Wanting to sign this petition, but noticing there's not an online method to do so, I called Janis Taylor of the Chicago Park District. Janis told me it's ok to print the pdf file, sign my name, and fax it over to her. If you feel compelled to keep Lake Michigan clean, I encourage you to sign and fax this petition, too.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Meet the Poo Monsters: Jack & Willy

I love my pups. Aren't they adorable? That's Willy (my bichon frise) on the left and Jack (my miniature schnauzer) on the right. Since this project began, I'm frequently asked how I deal with pet waste. Believe it or not, this is a hot topic among dog owners; many dog owners reuse their plastic bags for cleaning-up their pet's waste.

But not me. I don't want to use non-renewable resources for handling pet waste. (Remember, plastic bags are made from polyethylene, which is originally made from crude oil and natural gas.) If we're going to use these non-renewable resources, shouldn't we use it for something more important than dog poo?

As an alternative, I use these Pooch Pick-Up bags instead. These poo bags are great because they're smaller than a plastic bag, making it less cumbersome to deal with. And most important, they're made from cornstarch, so the bags are biodegradable.

But here's the catch: At a recent compost seminar, I was advised not to compost my pet waste with my food scraps. So now what am I supposed to do? The solution is to create a compost pocket. This so-called "compost pocket" is basically a small hole for composting pet waste. I like this idea, but I'll have to ask my landlord if it's okay to dig a hole in her backyard for this purpose.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Look *Hot* While Shopping at Whole Foods

Starting yesterday, 15 Whole Foods stores in New York City began selling 20,000 ultra-chic canvas bags that say,"I'm not a plastic bag." It wouldn't surprise me if these bags are sold-out by now. Each bag costs $15, which is an absolute bargain considering that folks were paying up to $1500 for the very same bag.

So New Yorkers are going to look hot while shopping at Whole Foods. According to Anya Hindmarch, the designer of these bags, it's all about supply and demand. If people think there's a limited edition, they're going to want those bags even more.

What a savvy approach to raising awareness about this bag issue! I guess if a person doesn't care about the environmental and/or economic issues regarding the consumption of plastic bags, they may still change their old ways all in the name of fashion!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Can We Recycle on the Go?

I finally made it home from my trip to Puerto Rico. And though I had a wonderful time visiting my family and viewing the sights, there were moments throughout my trip that got me thinking about trash, particularly trash that's generated at airports. To my knowledge, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport doesn't have a recycling program. At least, I didn't see a single recycling bin, neither did this man who threw away his newspaper into the trash bin. What a shame, I thought. Can we recycle on the go?

Surely, there are airports that offer recycling. And I do remember seeing recycling bins at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Wouldn't this be a boon to the recycling industry if they expanded their businesses at airports? And how about recycling those aluminum cans and water bottles on airplanes? Although it's perhaps difficult to conceive of a "green" airline, it would be a step in the right direction if airline companies recycled their cans, bottles, and newspapers. I actually thought Delta offered recycling, but I was disappointed when the flight attendant threw away my empty water bottle in the trash. Yep, that's right: I forgot to bring my SIGG travel bottle with me. Ah, my personal guilt trip continues....

Anyway, I did a quick search online and discovered a few airports that offer recycling:
  • San Diego International Airport
  • Salt Lake City Department of Airports

  • Fort Lauderdale International Airport

  • Portland International Airport

  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport

  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

The EPA also provides a comprehensive overview on how to initiate a recycling program at "your" airport. Though I commend the EPA for providing this information, how reasonable is it to think an individual could really implement this program on their own? For starters, you would need "senior management support," a "recycling coordinator", a team of "green employees," and a host of materials and supplies. Might this information be better suited for recycling programs that wish to expand their business practices?

In the meantime, I've challenged myself to reduce my garbage footprint when traveling. Based on my recent experience, I suspect this will be a greater challenge than I had initially anticipated.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

What Does "Treated Wastewater" Really Mean?

In a recent comment about dumping more garbage into Lake Michigan, Anonymous posted a link to a document published by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). I started reading this 52-page document tonight; I'm struck by the level of detail that's contained in this document. For example, I read that it's permissible to discharge up to 2,600 lbs of oil and grease into Lake Michigan everyday. And the list includes the discharge rates of other chemicals and metals, including mercury, ammonia, chromium, chlorine, and phosphorus.

I'm a psychologist, clearly not a chemist, ecologist, nor a biologist, so perhaps these are silly questions to ask, but what does "treated wastewater" really mean?? How is this waste neutralized and how rigorous are these tests that measure treated wastewater? How often does IDEM evaluate the content of treated wastewater? Does treated wastewater have any deleterious effects on plants and animals?

I'm definitely going to read this document carefully; hopefully, I'll gain greater insight into this wastewater issue. If you have a moment to peruse this document, please feel free to share your thoughts on the matter. Oh, and any information you're able to send my way concerning what the heck "treated wastewater" really means is much appreciated. And thanks, Anonymous, for posting this document on the blog!! :0)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Feeling the Curse of Knowledge in Puerto Rico

Don Luis was right: Although it's easy to eat local foods in Puerto Rico, it's not easy being green in other respects. For instance, I couldn't help but notice all the trash strewn along the beach when we went to El Bañario del Isla Verde. I actually tried to ignore viewing the ugly sight, but my little brother Joel made a comment about seeing the trash. *sigh*

I've also been feeling guilt recently. I know my carbon footprint has grown with all this traveling (i.e., driving, flying) and increased usage of disposable products (i.e., water bottles). But don't get me wrong; it hasn't been all doom & gloom....I've been using my resuable bags in Puerto Rico. And to be sure, I've received my fair share of weird looks for using these bags!! :0)

Anyway, this is a tough post to write. Who wants to consider these environmental issues while on vacation? And who wants to write about seeing eyesores while visiting a beautiful island? Not me. But there's no turning back now. I feel guilt because I see the world in an environmentally-conscious way. And though feeling this guilt is not fun, I wouldn't return to my former state of ignorance.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

El Yunque y Mofongo

Today we went to El Yunque, which is Puerto Rico's national rain forest. What a LUSH, verdant experience!! Unfortunately, I have to keep this post short (I don't have much time for myself), so I hope for the time being, you will enjoy these photos. (I've got to give a full report to Meghan, after all!!)

Green, green, everywhere:

Me and my little brother, Joel, posing with the chupacabra:

One of several waterfalls in El Yunque:



Another waterfall:


Me making mofongo for the very first time:


And yes, the mofongo was mmm, mmm, GOOD!!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Eating Locally: Puerto-Rican Style

Tomorrow I leave for Puerto Rico (PR). I have mixed feelings about going to PR. On the one hand, I look forward to visiting my family whom I haven't seen in two years. On the other hand, I'm confronted with two challenges: speaking Spanish with an American accent and finding local foods to eat. Talk about a Crunchy Challenge, Puerto-Rican Style!

All kidding aside, I'm actually quite optimistic about eating local foods in Puerto Rico. My grandmother Celia has chickens in her backyard (mmm...she makes the best egg sandwiches) and several trees that yield mangoes, avocados, and limes. There's also vendors on just about every street corner who sell quenepa (a fruit I've only had in PR), coconuts, papas rellenos, and other tasty treats. Really, the more I think about eating locally-produced, Puerto-Rican food, the more upbeat I am about meeting this Crunchy Challenge. If only I didn't sound like a gringa when I speak Spanish!!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Dreaming of Philly

I'm home, back from a festive trip to Philadelphia. And it's good to be home again--I missed my pups. But I must admit that I'm already dreaming of Philly. Philly's an interesting place: There are plenty of sights to see, plenty of good foods to eat, and plenty of ways to live a green lifestyle.

For instance, my friend Sean and I walked everywhere because Philly's such a pedestrian-friendly city. And walking around Philly was like eye-candy. We saw murals by Isaiah Zagar, statues by Robert Indiana, and dozens of community gardens.



And of course, there were several farmers' markets to frequent and restaurants that promoted locally-produced, organic foods on their menus.

Oh dear, what's not to love about Philly?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Our First Local Meal

After shopping for locally-grown organic food at the farmers' market two days ago, Sean and I prepared our first dinner together. In short, we had a fantastic meal! To kick-off this dinner, we snacked on these yummy rainier cherries:

Afterwards, we got down to business by first consulting The Redbook Cookbook, last published in 1971. The instructions to make Baked Chicken with Herb Gravy were straight-forward, thank goodness. We also sauteed the zucchini, squash, and swiss chard. Oh my goodness, just recalling our dinner makes me salivate!

Eating locally-grown, organic food tastes so, SO good!!

Bloggers for Positive Global Change

CyberCelt from Endangered Spaces surprised me by nominating our blog for the Bloggers for Positive Global Change Award. This award is given to bloggers who help build awareness in order to create a more sustainable future.

To pass this good cheer forward, I would also like to nominate the following blogs for raising public awareness about sustainability in the blogosphere:

Crunchy Chicken: "I'm a mother of two trying to reduce my impact on the environment. But mostly I'm just clucking around."

Leadership Class: "I am a 15-year-old living in Taihape, New Zealand. My intrests include playing sport, hanging out with friends and listening to music. My favourite subjects are English and Social Studies. If you have any suggestions or ideas or would like to share similar experiences with my class and I, it would be greatly appreciated if you left a comment, Thanks!"

Confessions of a Closet Environmentalist: "A couple of environmental minded students setting out to live sustainably on a student budget. This is a record of the struggle, the successes and the failures. Along the way, the attempt to fight the negative stereotypes of being an 'environmentalist'."

Monday, July 02, 2007

Hi everyone, how are you all doing

I would like to tell everyone that I have been editing my new online store. It is open for all to see and check it it out. www.jensgalleryandgifts.com I would love to hear any comments. And for you Michelle I think a have created everything that I have wanted to out of plastic bags. Thanks for all you out there that I got a chance to meet you all really made me happy to do something that is so good.

Jennifer