Micro-Forests: New Growth in Environmental Trends

Micro-Forests are a new trend that has been popping up around urban areas. I was walking to a local shop a few weeks ago when I noticed a group of people working on a patch of land. They were planting a variety of wild, native plants in a small public space. The area wasn’t used for anything in particular and it was small. About half the size of a plot of land you could build half a city house on. It use to have a sign from a local business and a tree populating it. Other than that it’s sandwiched between two busy streets and not ideal for recreational use.

So planting a micro-forest seems a perfect fit for the town and it’s lowering emissions goals. Moreover, it seems a good fit for most towns and cities. So what exactly are micro-forests? And what effects do they have on our environment? It took a little digging, but here’s what I’ve come up with.

What are Micro-Forests?

In its most fundamental form, a micro forest is a densely planted area, of native trees, shrubs and other local fauna, so as to replicate what a forest would look like in the local, wild environment. This is also a solution to a lot of issues surrounding climate change.

From what I’m able to tell, the concept originated from Japan with a system known as the Miyawaki Method. This method uses local plant varieties to cultivate a densely populated forest in a relatively small space. Hence the term, micro-forest.

The method may have started in Japan, but its tenants are practiced world wide. One article I read said that micro-forests were being planted in countries such as France and India. Other articles have showcased these forests being planted in Australia as well as the United Kingdom. It seems that where ever you go, you’re bound to run into one.

Benefits of a Micro-Forest

Some of the benefits of these mini-forests are impressive for their size. This method plants about 30x the amount of trees than conventional methods yield. And a mature tree can sequester up to 45 pounds of Co2 annually. And with all these extra trees, they retain 30x the amount of Co2, compared with conventional forests. That’s a lot of Co2. There is loads of bio diversity in these small patches of land as well.

One micro-forest can contain a minimum of 300% the diversity, as opposed to conventional reforesting techniques. The root systems from the trees are able to clean and manage storm water run off as well. This helps to stop soil erosion.

And on top of all that, the forest is maintenance free after the first three years. In the start, the micro forest needs some attention. Weeding of invasive species, watering and pulling the material that didn’t survive the initial transplant. But after these first few years, the forest becomes completely independent. It creates its own nutrients without having to rely on chemical fertilizers. And it also lowers the over all ambient temperature of the local environment. Which could be helpful for cities that have these oasis in their midst.

Bio-Diversity

Another benefit of these forests is the diversity in which they collect. Not only the variety of plants and trees that are planted there, but from small mammals, insects and pollinators as well. As new animals that may not have been able to thrive in urban centers find their ways to the forest oasis, nature is in essence being reintroduced to the developed areas of our landscape.

These are all very compelling reasons to start planting more micro-forests, wherever we can fit them. So what’s stopping us? Nothing, as far as I can tell.

Starting Your Own Little Forest

I would later read an article, about the patch I walked by on my way to the shop I spoke about in the beginning of this piece and how it was started by a local resident. She wanted to get involved so she got in touch with the city to find a suitable piece of land for her project. The city helped her find one through the “adopt an island” program and she was off and planting.

The project was totally funded by the city and provided some of the labor as well. There were a total of 15 volunteers who helped plant the nearly 600 seedlings. These cost the town a total of about $700 and were purchased locally. The town’s DPW helped turn the soil, uprooting the grass, and the forest was ready to be placed in the earth. The entire process took about a weeks time for the volunteers with little after care. The town agreed to water the patch for the three years before it becomes self sustained. After that, it should need no maintenance.

Where Are the Places in Your Community That Could Use a Micro-Forest?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m excited that the micro-forest was planted in my town. But the fact is, it’s planted next to a stretch of woodlands. Also, the town I live in is fairly affluent. So, yes, it can definitely use more green space, but the neighboring city which is much more urban, could probably use it a little more.

The city I live next to is decidedly less affluent, has more concrete per square mile and is in need of a little TLC. So it’s with this in mind that I will be looking to replicate this idea where it’s most needed.

I’ll start by talking to the person who planted the one that sparked my interest and see how to replicate it in my near by, neighboring city. Hopefully enlisting the help of some friends along the way. While also hopefully sparking an interest in the community about a sustainable future. Win win.

Micro-Forests, Closer to Home

The question you may be asking yourself is, “how do I get involved”? I don’t have a great answer for this except, maybe search for someone doing it in your community. It seems that most of the micro-forests I researched have been built in the past few years. So the best action maybe to start your own. Talk to your local city council, see if there is something like our, adopt an island program, you could use as a starting out point. Who knows where a few well placed questions could lead.

Also, maybe your town or city has a farmer’s market or community garden. Asking around that community may yield some results as well. The point is, get involved if you feel so inclined. After all, the environmental mess we’ve gotten into won’t fix itself. We made it, we need to be active members in its solution.

That’s it for this week. I’ll be posting updates with more of what I find on this micro movement the more I learn. If you’re interested in more sustainable tips check out these articles to help keep your world a little greener. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

A More Sustainable Home

Black Friday : ( Green Friday : )

Environmental Self-Audit

Image Credits: “Micro Forest” by Dis da fi we is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Trees: Nature’s Cure-All

I recently went for a hike with a friend of mine in woods local to where I live. We like to get out and among the trees once and a while. We got lost, sort of, which was quite a feat since the woods are only about three square miles. The trails are fairly well maintained, though the map I was using on All Trails, was a little off. But regardless of our fumbling around the swampy woods, I was still in a fairly upbeat mood.

Trees, They’re Important

This is normally a situation that would lead to frustration. But the weather was pleasant, the company was good, and I was enjoying the outdoors. I’ve been doing some reading on how trees and forests affect our moods, and it may not only have been the company and quality of the weather that was altering my mood.

There have been many studies that suggest that spending time in and around forests and trees are excellent for our physical and mental wellbeing. The flora in our cities and neighborhoods is equally as important as well, for filtering the pollutants that are being emitted by the buildings and vehicles we use daily.

In the following, I’ll be going over some of the benefits that trees provide us with and why they are so important to maintaining a sustainable future for generations to come. Most of the information from this article was taken from four articles, which I will be posting links to at the end of this piece. So let’s start with our mental health and general mood.

Trees & Our Mental Health

There has been mounting research that suggests that walking in nature, specifically around trees, may improve our moods by lowering levels of anxiety, depression and overall stress. Trees have also been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD in children as well. This is quite the feat for these gentle giants.

The reason for these benefit still isn’t entirely clear to scientists. But the results continue to point towards spending time in nature leads to overall healthier mental wellbeing. And it doesn’t take long for the effects to settle in. All the more reason to take a hike in some local woods or go to a local park to enjoy the greenery.

Physical Health

Being surrounded by trees also heightens our physical well being as well as emotional. The leaves from trees filter out pollution particles that affect our lungs and breathing. Mostly, they filter the particles that are emitted from vehicles emissions, or the burning of fossil fuels.

Breathing

This is especially important in cities. Not only is this where a fair amount of the concentration of vehicles are located, but also the trees best scrub the air that is within 100 feet of where they stand. Trees that scrub our air, work by way of the leaves, needles and the thousands of tiny pores on each. These pores take in the pollutants that would otherwise affect our lungs and breathing, holding them harmlessly in their body and leaves.

So the more trees that are located in neighborhoods where more vulnerable populations live, the greater the health benefits could be. Unfortunately, neighborhoods in a lower socioeconomic status are most devoid of the much needed greenery while being most tightly packed together. A catch 22 for sure.

Heart Health

Walking around trees has also shown to improve heart health. In this article by Greater Good, They talk about how walking in nature, specifically around trees as opposed to walking in cities, lowers cortisol levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lowers the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. According to the article, all of these are markers of greater cardiovascular health. And an overall healthier heart.

And All the Things

It isn’t clear as to why time spent around trees helps to improve health, but the data all points to spending time with trees makes a difference for the positive. There is also evidence that shows that being around trees also leads to better birth outcomes and a reduced risk of diabetes. The health benefits seem to be all encompassing. All the more reason to spend some more time in your favorite park or forest.

The health benefits of being in forests has made such an impact, that countries such as Japan and Korea have been championing forest bathing therapy. This practice is much as it sounds. The person will mindfully spend time in the forest, taking in the sensory experiences that the forest has to offer and receiving all the health benefits as well.

And if all of these benefits weren’t enough, taking in the company of trees also has been shown to improve immune system function as well as prolong life expectancy. And again, the reasons for this aren’t quite clear. There’s a theory that it may be related to aromatic compounds that trees release, but further research still needs to be done to provide an answer with some certainty.

Carbon Sequestering

It’s no surprise that trees help to sequester CO2, one of the major greenhouse gasses leading to the current climate crisis, but the rate at which they do is compelling. First, how they sequester carbon is worth understanding, so we understand why destroying trees, or even why only planting new trees without conserving the ones we have is dangerous.

Trees work to sequester carbon by taking it in from the atmosphere and using sunlight and water to turn it into wood. It’s here where the carbon is sequestered for the life of the tree. When the tree dies, is cut, burned or decomposes, the carbon is released back into the environment. This is why planting new trees isn’t the only solution to our Co2 problem.

It takes decades for a young tree to meet the carbon sequestering power of older trees. One tree mentioned in an article by WBUR 90.9 Boston, says that it has sequestered 22,049 pounds of CO2. That’s equivalent to 1,100 gallons of gasoline. This is something that modern science is still having issues reproducing and why preserving the trees we already have is so important.

Getting Involved & How to Help

So with all these health benefits that trees provide for us, the question remains, what can we be doing to help save the forests and trees that are so healing? There are plenty of organizations that are out there doing good work in this area. Volunteering time or donating money to these organizations are a few ways to help. Below I’ll be listing a few of the organizations. Hopefully you’ll find something that matches your lifestyle and personality.

The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is an organization that advocates for not only our environment, but also social justice movements. One of their initiatives is to conserve 30% of public lands in the United states by 2030. Currently, only 12% of public lands are protected from being developed. By drilling for oil or monocultures like soy or wheat.

Conserving these lands will help to keep the old growth forests that have already done so much in sequestering tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Developing these lands would most definitely be a major blow to climate change for the worse.

And on a positive note, if these lands are protected, then there’s a chance that these public lands could be transformed into public parks. To be enjoyed by generations of people and woodland animals to come. Sequestering C02 and building new places to enjoy the outdoors seems like a win win. The Sierra Club has a lot of projects that they are working on. So if this one sparks your interest, head on over to their site and check out what they are working on.

The Nature Conservancy

This organization is dedicated to protecting our lands and waters from being developed as well. One of the ways they are doing this is by carbon markets. Essentially, carbon markets work by paying a landowner who may have had plans to clear cut a section of their land for a use that would be detrimental to the environment, to keep the trees on the land intact. This way, the land is protected against being developed and the carbon remains sequestered.

They are also engaged in helping to keep the biodiversity of our planet from collapsing by way of species extinction. By protecting the habitats that these species live in, they are working towards keeping the safety of them ensured. So saving the land and habitats of plants and animals will help to ensure their survival and hopefully they will thrive far into the future.

Rainforest Action Network

This organization also helps to conserve land but by focusing on the companies that are profiting off of the destruction of the environment. One of their initiatives is to call for a stop to burning the rainforests to grow food crops to be sold at market.

Farmers in the Amazonian Rainforest have been burning large parcels of land to produce foods for the Agricultural industry for a long time. The downside to this, asides from the carbon being released into the atmosphere, is that the land is not very fertile, and the destruction of the forest is taking away what has been called the lungs of the planet, from scrubbing the air we breathe. If companies like this aren’t stopped, the consequences could be dire.

It’s Not too Late

You can still get involved and help to do your part. These organizations have places on their sites where you can lend a hand. Maybe donating money is more your speed. Or maybe you want to march in the next protest that aligns with your worldview. Whatever your motivation or preferred method, make sure you get out there and make a difference. There’s a lot of work to be done. And there’s no better time like the present to help. The planet needs us. Be the change you want to see in the world. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Greater Good Magazine

US News

WBUR

The Nature Conservancy

Healing Forest

Other reading to consider: Sustainable Clothing

Image Credits: “Forest” by CECAR – Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation R is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 11/6/22

Environmental Self-Audit: Assessing How Green Your Habits are

I’ve been posting a lot about emotional topics lately, so I thought that I’d make this one a little less heavy. I’ve been wanting to do a home audit to see how green my habits are. Something that’s been in that back of my mind for a while. So I thought I’d check out some methods, do some research and let you guys know what I came up with. Here’s what I’ve found.

First Thing’s First, This is Not an Energy Audit

The first thing I found was, there are not a lot of people in this field, doing this work. My first search yielded results mostly from Canada. And one company from Illinois. This makes me a little sad, knowing that there aren’t more people doing this type of work. With environmental concerns only getting more acute, it seems as though there should be a glut of these types of companies and services, doing this type of work.

Sadly, this isn’t the case. The sites I found mostly focused on the energy that is being used in the “house envelope”. This basically means any system that is working in your house, plumbing, electrical, HVAC systems to name a few, that are all working in conjunction with one another and in a closed space, i.e. the home. Like an envelope. So an audit basically adds up to an assessment of how efficiently these closed systems are working.

I’m not sure how well a self audit would work for assessing the workings of more technical systems in your home, such as HVAC for example, but for habits you keep in your day to day household upkeep and routines, you can easily see if things could use a change for the greener. So in the rest of this post I’ll be looking at some ways to make our life style, a little greener.

Green Habits

When it comes to thinking and acting a little greener in our homes, there are quite a few areas we can focus on. Anything from routines in the home to habits we maintain that we can shift to a more green version. Let’s take a look at some of the habits I’ve been keeping to help inspire you to keep your home and daily routine as green as possible : )

Composting

Composting is a great way to help keep food waste out of landfills or incinerators and keep the food cycle green. And don’t worry, even if you don’t have a garden, composting is still an option. Even if you’re living in a city, or a place without green space.

The first way, if you have the space and a garden, is to use a bin composting system. With this system, you can purchase a bin, or convert a container such as an old plastic garbage bin, into a composter. For this system to work there needs to be air circulation (punch holes in your bin), water and an absence of light. This is the ideal environment for bacteria growth that converts food waste into useable soil. You can also use a three bin system, where you place the beginnings of your compost in the first bin and move it to the second halfway, to promote quicker bacteria growth. Finally the third bin is for the finished compost. The green way to deal with plant-based food waste.

And if you don’t have land or use for compost, there are companies picking up people’s food waste to compost it for commercial uses. The company that’s local to my area is Black Earth Composting. They provide you with a small container and pick up your food waste in the same ways the town picks up your trash and recycling once a week. You can then get a voucher for compost from a local nursery, or donate it to one of the projects they are working with. Less waste, more delicious foods. Win, win.

Where’s the Meat?

Another way to produce less waste and be more green is, go vegan. Or maybe eat less meat if you’re not wanting to make the switch. This graph from “Climate Central” shows not only how many more resources are used by the production of livestock for consumption, but also the amount of greenhouse gasses that are produced in the process.

If you’re not ready to make the plunge into going completely meatless, think about eating less meat during the course of your week as a green alternative. Try adding a meatless Monday to your week. Every little bit helps. If you need some inspiration, head over to my Community page where you’ll find a link to “The Minimalist Baker’s” website. There, Dana has loads of tasty, mostly meat free recipes where you will surely find something suited to your taste. Start by typing in your favorite ingredient and see what comes up.

Be a Man by Challenging Tradition

In this article, “The Good Trade” explains the link between our traditional views of what it means to be a man and how they run counter to the ideas of what it means to be an activist for the planet. They explain how certain types of socially created norms can seem unrelated to the current climate crisis, but may share a connection. This is called intersectional environmentalism, and one of the examples is toxic masculinity.

It basically says, that caring for the environment is seen as feminine. And therefore rejected by those who value the tenets of toxic masculinity. Among these tenets are dominance and competitiveness. Caring for the environment and “environmental stewardship is nurturing and cooperative. It’s inherently at odds with internalized, problematic perceptions of masculinity and feminine” writes Zach Thomas of “The Good Trade”.

This makes a lot of sense to me, as a product of the 80’s. My young mind was molded to the shape of thinking that “real men” take what they want, use violence to get it, and anything that was seen as feminine in a man was considered “gay”. It took me a long time to come to terms with these harmful lessons. And it wasn’t all my caregivers fault. They were trapped in the same type of narrow thinking that had been perpetuated by society.

And though I recognize that it wasn’t their faults entirely, they could have come to terms with how they were teaching this type of violence and therefore perpetuating it. They could have formed their own ideas and opinions based on the information they were receiving. But it takes strength to break from social norms.

It takes a lot of willpower, to break the bindings to what we’ve been taught. The lessons that are harmful to ourselves, others and our environment. But it’s possible. Never give up hope, and be persistent in questioning if what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling, may have been shaped by those unhealthy lessons growing up.

Carry a Water Bottle

This one is especially pointed. I’m not sure where the need to keep bottled water on hand came from. This article from “The World Counts”, suggests that it comes from a fear of drinking contaminated tap water. I’m not sure where this fear first took root, but another concerning fact the article brings up is, “An estimate 1,500 plastic bottles end up as waste in landfills or thrown in the ocean every second”.

This blows my mind. And all the more reason to take action. If you drink water, or plan on doing so (which you def should, here’s an article about the benefits of staying hydrated), carry a water bottle. I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a place or situation, where I was in civilization, where it was unsafe to drink the tap water.

Ironically, there are chemicals that can leach into the water you’re drinking from disposable plastic bottles. If you’re looking for an alternative, I like Hydro Flask for their design and ability to keep their contents hot or cold for longer than conventional, plastic bottles. They’re also made from steel. So you’re bypassing most plastics while you’re filling up your bottle. Win, win. Or get one from your local thrift shop. You’ll be recycling and saving resources!

Take Public Transportation or Walk/Ride a Bike

With so many cars on the road, this one is a no brainer. I’m not suggesting that you sell your car. Only to take a closer look at your driving patterns. Where are you going and how often? What’s the nature of the trips you’re taking? Is there another way to get to where you need to be without hopping in the car? Do you work or go to school in an area that has a robust transit system? Maybe instead of taking your own vehicle, you could share a ride with thousands of others, and do your part to lower greenhouse gasses.

Not to mention that commutes can be ideal times to catch up on your favorite podcasts or reading. Writing if that’s something you’re in the habit of, or meditating. Something I did on my way into work when I worked in Cambridge.

Owning a car is a necessity for most people though. For example, if you have children you may need to drop them off at school in the mornings, or pick them up in the afternoon or bring them to various activities. Also, grocery shopping can be difficult if you don’t have a way to bring your groceries home. So you’ll need to rely on your car for certain things for sure.

Getting Around Without a Car

I don’t have a car, and still manage to get all the things done on my list. I walk to work or when I worked further away, I took public transit which was very reliable. When I go grocery shopping, I take public transit to the store, and take a Lyft home. Of course, I only need to take care of myself. If I had a family that relied on me, I would most likely find another way to provide for them. This is where a car would come in handy. What I’m suggesting is, that we think of different ways to get our needs met when it comes to transportation.

If you live close to a commuter rail station, or subway or bus stop, consider taking them to your workplace instead of driving. Or maybe carpooling with a co-worker who lives close to you. This will help you to save on gas, while using a service that is already running or share a ride with someone who is going your way. Reducing your carbon footprint even further. Do you live close enough to walk or ride a bike? Consider these carbon neutral ways of greening your commute time.

Donate Time or Resources

Are you an avid hiker? Do you use the beach frequently? These are great hobbies or activities to cultivate and ways to relax and destress. But there won’t be many places left for our enjoyment with the ways things are heading. What can we do about it? Find a place to volunteer or donate to, that are in line with your interests and hobbies.

If you enjoy going to the beach, why not join an organization that is cleaning the surf at your favorite oasis. Can’t find one? Start one. Organize your friends and family, maybe some coworkers as well. Throw a party on the beach you’re cleaning, but spend some time cleaning the beach first. Then you can all enjoy the the fruits of your labor while cooking out together.

The same idea can work for a particular park or reservation you enjoy hiking. In both cases, it may be best to get in touch with those who are in charge of the maintenance of the area you plan on cleaning. There may be efforts already taken in that direction.

If you’re short on time but have resources to donate, try finding an organization or charity that is in line with the type of activities and activism you enjoy. I’ve donated to 4Ocean, and the Appalachian Mountain Club in the past. If you’re looking for ideas on where to donate time or resources, this post from “The Good Trade” has a bunch of ideas on where to get started. Also, check your local community Facebook page. Or your city or town’s website. There could be something happening locally that you can get involved with. Taking some of the pressure off you to organize something new.

Get Involved

To sum up our current environmental situation, as an old co-worker of mine used to say, “it’s no easy”. And as another co-worker used to say, “that’s how it be sometimes.” I quote these people not to make light of the situation we’re in, but to bring a shared sense of struggle and hope. We’re not in this alone. It’s important to remember those who have helped pave the way and have already done good work. The people who have lifted our spirits when we felt totally overwhelmed by a situation, like the one we’re in now. Or those who have given us the wisdom to help get us through a project when we feel depleted, while there’s still more work to be done.

I’ll be looking into green, house assessments in the future and if you have any insights I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. What are your green habits? But for right now, there is loads of work that needs to be done. Find something that sparks your interest and get involved in some way. Even if it’s something small to start. At least it’s a start. You’ll also feel better about being part of the solution. And connecting with like minded people along the way. Maybe making some new friends to boot. So get out there and lend a hand at making the world a little more green. You and the environment will be glad you did. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “A poem behind my green living room…!!! Un poème derrière mon salon vert…!!!” by Denis Collette…!!! is licensed under

      CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Green New Deal: What Are We Planning to do With Our Resources?

The Green New Deal is something that’s been in the works and the news for a while now. So I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I don’t really know what the proposal is all about. Seeing how part of the mission of my blog is based on environmental advocacy and sustainability, I feel I should at least be abreast on some of the major talking points. I’ve heard it being spoken about in brief news clips. But haven’t done any real digging to find out what it’s all about. So for the past week I’ve been looking for news articles to get a feel for what it entails and maybe find ways I’m able to support it on an individual level.

Green New Deal Scope & Design

What I’ve found is, that the plan itself is pretty ambitious. The scope of which the Green New Deal may cover, according to this article from The Intercept, may be anywhere from agriculture, plans for relocating coastal populations from flood zones, ensuring democratic participation in clean energy planning and ending eminent domain. A universal basic income, wildfire management, transportation upgrades and trade policy. And this is only a portion of what it may contain.

Also, according to this article from Vox, the Green New Deal is a take on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal from the 1930’s. The Green New Deal also covers going carbon neutral in the time frame of ten years. To providing careers, livable wages and pensions to families in the lower income bracket. Closing some of the gaps in the entrenched wealth divide between social classes in the states.

Why The Green New Deal Makes Sense

This was something that was a bit confusing to me at first. But as I continued to read, I realized that most likely the people who would be most incapable of switching to renewable sources, would be those who are having trouble finding these resources to begin with. I.e. lower income and vulnerable populations.

If you’re having trouble paying for the electric bill already, then there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to find alternative sources of energy. Such as installing solar panels on your existing house or apartment building. If you already have the means, then switching to a renewable source shouldn’t be an issue.

And furthermore, the Green New Deal isn’t a set of laws or legislation. It’s a large scale plan to invest in renewable energy sources. Decarbonizing our economy and infrastructure while making society a more fair and just one. The plan makes a lot of sense. But as I said above, it’s ambitious. It can be a little overwhelming for a person on the individual level to feel as though they are having an impact.

How Can an Individual Make a Difference?

If you don’t have the time to write congress, protest or knock on doors to gain support, what can an individual do to help the goals of the Green New Deal? The scope of this expansive proposal is large. So in an attempt to help the average person feel as though they can be doing their part to help, I’ll be listing some ideas on how we can make a difference on an individual level. Ones that are in line with the goals of the Green New Deal.

Electric Co.

The first, and probably most pertinent one is, our current energy consumption. One way of changing this is to ask your electric company to switch your power supplier to a company that provides energy from a renewable source.

For example, I live in Massachusetts. So I would need to call National Grid, who purchases power from varying sources throughout the state and ask them to purchase my power from a renewable company. Such as one who uses wind or solar as their main harvesting methods. The energy all travels through the same grid. So there’s no need to upgrade anything in your delivery system.

This has the effect of increasing demand for energy that is provided from renewable sources. And since we live in a capitalist economy, we are voting for cleaner energy with our dollars when we switch to sources such as wind or solar.

Buying Local & Growing Your Own

Buying local is another option. As is growing your own food if you have a green thumb. Some of the focus of the Green New Deal is around trade policy. This may include aspects such as shipping packaged produce from remote parts of the world. While most companies have their logistics down to a science, i.e. filling their shipping containers to maximum capacity for best fuel optimization, buying local produce supports local farms. These farms most likely have fair wages for workers and ethically grown produce. You’ll also be investing money into your own community.

And you can’t get much more local than growing your own! Whether it’s in your backyard, a community plot or in containers scattered around your apartment. Growing your own veggies is most definitely a satisfying and tasty endeavor. You’ll also be eating your produce when it’s at peak ripeness. This means that you will be getting most all of the nutrients your veggies have to offer. So not only will it be better for the environment via food miles, but you’ll also be eating healthier as well.

Finances & the Environment

Unfortunately there isn’t much we’re able to do when it comes to livable wages for workers. But there are some things we can do when it comes to how we choose to spend our dollars. There are credit cards that are marketing themselves as environmentally friendly by offsetting the carbon footprint your purchase has when you swipe your card.

While this is a step in a greener direction, and any attempt to help reduce the carbon being released into the atmosphere is a welcome one, it’s not as clean as it sounds. As Sara Rathner from “The Nerd Wallet” put it, most banks that are issuing these cards are more than likely investing heavily in fossil fuels. Our safest bet when deciding to make a purchase is, deciding if we really need to make the purchase.

This makes a lot of sense. But the reality is, we will sometimes need to make a purchase using a credit card. And in my opinion it’s better to do so with a company that is actively trying to offset the carbon footprint. By making a donation to an organization that is doing green works. Alternatively, we can also look to donate to a charity of our choice. And if we look to shop as locally as possible, we may develop healthier purchasing habits along the way. We’re also waning ourselves off of instant shipping that has become so commonplace.

Transportation & the Environment

Speaking of shipping, transportation is another place where we can make an impact. One of the aspects of the Green New Deal is updating and expanding high-speed light rail for travel needs. This can be approached from a few directions.

Light Rail

First, from a recreational perspective. I live just outside of Boston Mass.. We have a light rail system that is reliable. But we also have trains and buses that connect Boston to other parts of New England and the East Coast. So if you’d like to leave Boston for the weekend you have options. There’s no need to pack yourself and stuff into your car for the trip.

For example, I don’t own a car. But I’d like to take a long weekend in Portland Maine. To go to some of my favorite places and just enjoy coastal Maine for a few days. There’s a tea house, Dobra Tea, that has a few locations up and down the eastern seaboard. The one in Portland Maine and Burlington Vermont are two of my favorite places to visit and a must on my trip.

Luckily there is a train line that runs from Boston’s North Station, that stops in Portland. It’s called the Downeastern. So if I’m feeling like taking a weekend trip, I can hop on a train and be there in a few hours.

Busse, Commuter Rail & Trains

Second, if I want to head south of Boston, I can easily head to South Station which has trains and buses which will bring me to all points south. I believe they go as far South as D.C.. So If you’re looking to get out of your city for a few days, it’d be worth it to check to see what your local travel options are first. That way you won’t have to deal with weekend traffic or other road trip hassles.

If you live in a city that has reliable public transit, commuting via commuter rail, train (more commonly known as the subway) or busses are all great options to help reduce some of your carbon footprint. I take the commuter rail and bus/train to get to work now. Sure the commute may be a little longer, but it gives me a chance to ease into my day. I check emails, do some research for articles I’m writing and just to relax for the first portion of my morning.

Also it costs less to take public transit that it would to drive into work everyday. You save on gas as well as wear and tear on your vehicle. If you go carless and take a Lyft or Uber when you need a ride, your transportation budget becomes exponentially cheaper. As you don’t have a car payment or insurance payment to figure in.

Of course these options are mostly only available to people living in a city with established public transportation. But it’s worth your time to look into if you’re thinking of making a switch to something a little greener.

Other Options

There are also other small shifts you can make in your daily routine that will help you to do your part that are in line with the Green New Deal. As we all know, planting trees is still one of the best ways to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, state rep. and a major spokeswoman for the Green New Deal is planting a rooftop garden. She plans to fill it with greens to help promote the cause. But if you don’t have a rooftop to turn into a garden, there are other options available to you.

For example, there are websites like Ecosia. Ecosia is a search engine that uses its profits to plant trees in parts of the world that need them most. They boast, every time you search, Ecosia generates income from ad revenue that they then use to plant trees. This is a great way to take something you do every day and turn it into something helpful for the environment.

Donating Directly to the Cause of your Choice

Alternatively, you can also donate directly to projects and organizations that are doing the type of work that aligns with your personal preferences. This list from Green Dreamer has 34 different types of groups and organizations that are doing sustainable work. They range anywhere from ocean conservation, to social justice. Green Dreamer is community supported. Which means they independently cover green topics without special interests from large agricultural or oil companies.

Are there organizations that you’ve heard of and always wanted to donate to? Or find out more about their work? For me, I’ve historically been drawn to groups that take care of our resources. Such as our oceans and mountains. A few of the organizations I donate to are, 4 Oceans, The Sierra Club and Oxfam.

4 Oceans

Well, I don’t actually donate to 4 Oceans. They are a certified B corporation that prides themselves on pulling a pound of trash from the ocean for every purchase made. So every time you buy something from them, you donate to their trash collection cause. They have single use plastic alternatives for purchase, but what I’ve gotten in the past are bracelets made from recycled plastic pulled from the ocean. I usually buy them as gifts for people who may be difficult to buy for. This way you and the person receiving the gift can feel good about doing something to help keep our oceans a little cleaner.

The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is an organization that focuses on protecting our environment from pollution and maintains trails and green spaces. Be it from helping to make the switch from coal power plants to renewable sources. Or to protecting our national parks. The Sierra Club is doing work to help us continue to enjoy the great outdoors. They are also a place where environmental protection meets social justice. By advocating for groups that work with vulnerable populations.

Oxfam International

Oxfam international is an organization that aims to help bring an end to world poverty. They do this by advocating for communities that are experiencing conditions that are near or at poverty levels. They help to train, bring in necessary technologies to, as well as help communities grow nutritious foods. Also to gain access to clean water, land and access to fair wages. They do a lot to look after the welfare of the communities they work with too. They help by providing care for communities experiencing conflict or reeling from a disaster.

Get Involved

These three organizations and the list of causes above are only the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to organizations that are out there making a difference, there are many. There are sure to be plenty of people doing the work you would like to be a part of. All you need to do is get out there and look for them. Who knows what you may find. It can be overwhelming, to think of all the areas that needs our attention. Just remember to take it slow, one step at a time.

Also it’s helpful to realize that it took us a while to get into this mess, it may take a while to get ourselves out. So instead of beating ourselves up for not being as green as humanly possible, let’s take an honest look at where we are. Ask, what have we gotten ourselves into and make steps, however small, to get ourselves out from where we are. And don’t give up! It won’t be easy, that’s for sure. But it’s possible. We only need to be diligent in our efforts and work faithfully towards our goals. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Normandy Pasture” by Bold Frontiers is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 9/30/22

Recycling: Are We Really Making a Difference?

I remember reading and hearing about how China is refusing our recycling about two years ago. It was concerning to find out we were shipping our trash to other countries, but to learn that we are no longer able to any more and the uncertainty that comes with that, left me feeling a bit anxious. What are we doing with our recycling? This seems like something so basic that I’m floored we don’t already have a plan in place already.

One Big Problem

We can’t just leave our garbage to pile up with nowhere for it to go. Why was this not thought through? Instead of a plan, we have a pollution problem that is literally choking our oceans and lakes. We’re using chemicals that are poisoning our foods and releasing volatile organic compounds into our atmosphere and accelerating climate change. And most of this is due in large part to the petrochemical companies creating products that are harmful to people and the environment. Mostly under the guise of it being cheap. This just isn’t acceptable in my book and I hope others agree.

So I’m angry about this. And I’d say this my anger is a healthy response to an unhealthy situation. But I don’t want to be blinded by my emotions that come with the sense of being wronged. Yes there are horrible things happening in the world, but that doesn’t mean that I will default to black and white thinking. I.e. everything involving petroleum is evil and all plastics are wrong. It’s helpful to think of these as problems that we’ve stumbled into. Using what we knew at the time to be the best solutions to what we were facing.

But if you’re anything like me, it’s difficult to draw the line that it doesn’t fall within my realm of responsibility to “solve” these issues. Taking on too much responsibility is something I know I struggle with. And I’m sure I’m not alone. So what’s the alternative to feeling like we have to come up with a solution? Probably becoming part of the solution. Then advocating for the solutions that are most helpful. So what are some solutions to the problems we’re facing?

Things That Need Our Attention

Let’s take a look at some of the problems we’re facing first, to get a better understanding of what we’re up against. According to the Columbia Climate School, of the 267 million tons of materials recycled in the U.S. in 2017, only about 94 million tons were composted or recycled. Much of the unrecycled material was either incinerated for energy, or went to landfills.

A large part of the problem is that there is no centralized program for recycling, states side. In the States, there is no federal recycling program that is coming up with solutions and instituting guidelines for the process. It is now currently the responsibility of 20,000 communities in the U.S. to decide what and how to recycle its waste. And what’s more is, that these recycling programs need to compete with other municipal programs. Programs such as schools and road maintenance for funding. This seems like a lose lose situation.

And to add to the confusion, the only plastics that are being recycled in the U.S. are 1 and 2. Plastics 3-7 are not being recycled, even though they are labeled as such. No bueno. This leads to a vast majority of plastics being sent to the incinerator to produce energy. Along with the plastics that are able to be recycled, but aren’t do to contamination. I.e. not being thoroughly cleaned. This means a majority of the material we are sending out with the intentions of being recycled, end up in the incinerator.

Reduce, Reuse & Zero-Waste Living

With all this information and misinformation, how do we begin to feel as though we are making a difference? From my understanding, the tenets of reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse, still focus on all the areas we need to be paying attention to, to be a part of the solution. One way of living that encapsulates a majority of these tenets is zero waste living.

The concept of living zero waste is simple. It’s to purchase goods that have no component that can’t be recycled, composted or reused in some way. For example, purchasing items from the bulk bins at grocery stores, and carrying them home in cotton, reusable bags or glass jars is a way to eliminate the plastic wrap or packaging that is too flimsy to be properly recycled. Keeping as many items that turn into waste out of landfills and incinerators is the guiding ethos behind the idea of living zero waste.

And this is not an easy way to live for sure. So many items are packaged in some form of unsustainable material, that often times you will have to go out of your way to find alternatives. One big way to make an impact, as I mentioned above, is to buy product in bulk. And I’m not talking about the big box stores where you can buy a years worth of toilet paper on the cheap. But rather stores that have a section with bulk items, that aren’t prepackaged. Where you can bring your own containers to take home with you.

Places to Start Living More Waste Free

Whole Foods has a bulk section, though it was temporarily suspended due to concerns with Covid. My local store has recently put there bulk section back into use starting on June 2nd. There are other places to buy bulk as well. This site from Zero Waste Nerd has a location finder where you can enter your locality and their site will list some of the known zero waste grocery stores near you. I found a shop on my commute that sells household cleaning supplies in bulk. All you need to do is bring a container and fill up anything from laundry soap, to all purpose cleaners. This is a great way to reduce a lot of the packaging that comes with so many of the products we buy regularly.

Another site I found in my search, Litterless, has a similar approach in that they list stores by state, then city, that have bulk shopping options. You can choose your state from the list on their homepage, then they have a list of cities, with the stores and what they sell in alphabetical order. They also link to the store’s site, so you can check them out in advance to see if they have and are what you are looking for.

Buying Bulk

While we’re on the subject, how do you carry these items home to be used? You can’t just toss a bunch of flour or oats in your basket! For items such as the cleaning supplies, glass ball jars work well. This way you can buy as much as you need, use them straight from the jar in the case of laundry detergent, or refill your reusable spray bottle for other types of cleansers. I use the wide mouth Ball Jars which I feel are easier to use a scoop or measuring cup with.

If you’re buying bulk produce, reusable cotton muslin bags will do the trick. You can put all your fruits and vegetables in these bags. I use mine for items such as green beans and fresh herbs. I haven’t tried this, but you may also be able to use these bags for some dry goods as well. They would be great for items such as beans and oats. Anything large enough not to slip through the weave of the bags. Glass jars will also work for spices and baking needs. Such as flour or sugar. Just make sure to ask an employee to help you tare the weight of the jar before you load up.

For me, the items I buy bulk at the stores have a corresponding container at home. So if I buy a pound of wild rice, I have a jar waiting in my cupboard to be filled. This way I don’t have a bunch of bags loosely cluttering up my cabinet space. And I can reuse the same few bags I have to refill different items.

So instead of using one bag for each item to then be stored in, I can have a few bags that I use to refill the containers that are already dedicated to a particular item. And I can easily switch it up to contain other items as needed. This way I only need as many bags as items I need to refill. This keeps things organized while also cutting back on the need to buy a large amount of one type of container (and then carry them everywhere).

How Much Trash Do You Produce?

Another way to get a handle on your garbage consumption is to do a trash audit. This is as simple as it sounds. Take your trash, probably a week’s worth and go through it to see what you throw away. What are the items you are throwing away the most? What is filling up your recycling bin? From here, you can make the decision to cut back on the items that you find reoccurring the most. If you find that you are recycling a large amount of shampoo and soap bottles, maybe making the switch to something like bar soap for both hair and body. Or visit a bulk cleaning supply store like the one I mentioned above, to reduce the amount of plastic that is adding up in your recycling.

Cleaners & Supplies

There are also services where you can order refills for different products such as laundry soap. Companies like My Green Fills, sell packages of concentrated laundry products, detergents, stain removers and other laundry needs. This may not be zero waste, but it greatly reduces the amount of plastic bottles that add up quickly as a result of our laundry needs. And it costs less as well. The way it works is; they send you a bottle with packages of dry refills, that you reconstitute with warm water. Once you go through the packages, you order more and use the same container to refill your detergents.

Paper towels are a big one for me. Switching to a dish towel could be the answer to this issue. Washing a few dish towels each week will definitely save on the waste produced by the paper industry. These can be used as paper towels are, only washed and hung to dry after each use. Make sure to buy cotton towels and avoid microfiber ones, as they can release large amounts of plastic fibers into the ocean, which are dangerous to aquatic life.

Also, old tee shirts work great as cleaning rags. When I retire a work shirt, I will oftentimes cut it up to use as extra cloth rags. They can be used for anything from cleaning up messes to dusting furniture. And as long as you are wearing 100% cotton clothing, it can be tossed into the compost when you’re finished with it.

Composting

While we’re on the subject, composting is a great way to reduce the food waste we accumulate. If you have a garden or space for a compost bin, this should be a fairly easy task. There are premade bins you can buy that house compost, but you can also make your own. This article from The Spruce goes into the different methods you can use to make your own compost pile. One of them is making your own bin using a trash barrel. Something that is accessible to just about everybody.

And depending on where you live, there are companies that will pick up your compost for you. Curbside, just as your garbage and recyclables are already picked up. In Massachusetts, the Boston area, we have Black Earth Composting. Call your local municipal office to find out if there are services near you that you can join. Also a quick google search will yield plenty of results to get you started on your composting journey.

Refusing Plastic While Eating Out

There is also a new trend in food markets and take out places where many of these businesses are switching to compostable containers and utensils for their take out containers and cutlery. Refusing plastic utensils and shopping at places that use compostable containers is a great way to make a small change in the ways we consume garbage. Asking a business if they use compostable or traditional containers will go a long way to keeping these items out of the landfills and incinerators. And in a pinch, bring your own reusable utensils with you when ordering take out. Just tell them you don’t need the utensils.

Other Resources For Plastic Management, AKA Mushrooms

And it isn’t only up to us as consumers to help slow down or stop the consumption of plastics. There is some exciting research that suggests that there are types of mushrooms that are able to use polyurethane, a main component in plastic, as its main food source. This means that some of the mushrooms that we eat, may be the solution to breaking down materials that would normally take generations to biodegrade. And the end result is something tasty for us to eat. Win win!

This article from Treehugger goes into detail about the different types of mushrooms and how they were discovered. Also what they may be able to do for us in the plastic waste department. There is also mention of a mushroom that is able to breakdown polyester. Which, if you’ve read my post on whether it’s better to buy cotton or recycled polyester, you’ll know that this is a major environmental threat. Having an organic solution to these environmental threats is welcome news after what seems like a never ending stream of potentially dangerous outcomes for our future, in regards to our waste consumption.

There’s a lot to be done on the waste management front. Luckily there are motivated people out there that are looking for ways to make the most impact on what seems like a pretty grim looking situation. This post from Wild Minimalist has some suggestions on how to shop zero waste. She mostly focuses on Whole Foods, but you may be able to try these methods out elsewhere, in other stores as well.

The E in Environmental

And one more tip that isn’t related to tangible objects. I was recently talking with a friend who told me that if you tend to collect emails in your inbox, that is taking a hefty toll on the environment. It may only be a few dozen, or maybe a hundred unread emails, but what I hadn’t realized, and what my friend pointed out to me was, that all those emails need to be stored on servers somewhere. This means that there is electricity being pumped into these storage facilities to hold and handle all your unread emails. So keeping a clean inbox is directly related to keeping with a greener lifestyle.

And this blog, Going Zero Waste, is also a great resource for making some of the switches from a less sustainable way of living, to a more green one. It can feel overwhelming for sure. But remember, you don’t have to solve all the problems all at once. And there are loads of people out there searching for and finding solutions to these problems as well. So relax, and take it one green step at a time. I hope this has been helpful, and as always, peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Recycle Logo From Recycling Bin” by csatch is marked with CC0 1.0

Updated: 9/18/22

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