green home

Think about the Environment when Melting Ice

Posted on February 18, 2010. Filed under: air quality, green home, green services, living green, water conservation | Tags: , , , , , |

SPECIAL BLOG CONTRIBUTION by Ryan Keith, Landscape Architect and General Contractor

As a Washington, DC resident, I have been digging out of the snow for the past week.  It has been back breaking work and I am excited for all the snow to melt.  Over the past 2 weeks, many of my clients have been contacting me to discuss the use of chemical Ice Melt products.  What are the best choices to ensure safety yet minimize environmental impact?

The first thing to realize is that Ice Melt products are not good for the environment but there are products that are less harmful.  Ideally, we would all use shovels to clear snow and ice and the sun would do the rest but, the reality is that Ice Melt products keep us safe walking around and keeping up with our busy schedules in the winter.

Here are the pros and cons of the different Ice Melt products and my feedback on which ones I use in an effort to be “greener”.

  • Not Green, but Effective in Melting: Currently, the most common and cost-effective Ice Melt product is Rock Salt (Sodium chloride).  This product is the most common product used by municipalities for roadway clearing and is quite effective at its job and it is cheap.  The problem with Rock Salt is what happens after the snow and ice are gone.  Rock Salt will kill vegetation, wash into the waterways and increase salinity, kill fish and contaminate drinking water.  Additionally, it is harmful to pet’s paws and is very corrosive to metals and concrete.
  • Greener Alternatives: Potassium chloride and Magnesium chloride are alternative chlorides that are better than traditional rock salt in that they do not harm plants but, they still wash into our waterways and have a great environmental impact.
  • Less Harmful, but Not Green. The second category of Ice Melt products is Urea (carbonyl diamide), these are commonly marketed as “green” Ice Melt products.  Urea is less hazardous to children and pets but will still release nitrates into the waterways, depleting oxygen in the water and killing fish.
  • Greener Alternative: The better Urea based product is Coated Urea (Carbonyl diamide with glycol mixture) as it is less hazardous to children and pets and the glycol mixture inhibits the release of nitrogen into the waterways.  Limiting nitrogen in the water keeps our waterways healthy.
  • Municipal Ice Melt Mixes: The third category if Ice Melt is Biological Ad Mixtures.  These products do not work on their own yet, but increase the effectiveness of Rock Salt (Sodium chloride) when added together.  You can add a Beet Sugar Extract or Corn Extract to Rock Salt and it makes the Rock Salt more effective and thus reduces the potential quantity of rock salt needed to keep roadways clear.  These extracts are currently only being added at the municipal level and are not commercially available to consumers.  Since an enormous user of rock salt is municipalities, we should be encouraging our local department of transportation to utilize an extract to keep cost down by making the rock salt more effective and limiting rock salt in our waterways.
  • Greener, but More Expensive: The last category of Ice Melt are the Acetates.  The Acetates are Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA), Sodium Acetate (NAAC) and Potassium Acetate.  The acetates are some of the safest around children, pets and the environment.   The major drawback is that they are all significantly higher in cost.  It is common to see products that mix an Acetate with one of the Chlorides to form a more cost effective and more environmentally sensitive product.

Personally I use a Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) by itself or mixed with salt to make it more effective at lower temperatures.  I have also used Coated Urea with success.  Most importantly, I do not over-use the products and only spread what is absolutely needed to maintain safety.  Less of any of the Ice Melt products is always better for the environment.  I also do my best to lobby the local Department of Transportation to use Biological Ad mixtures or Acetates with their Rock Salt to reduce impacts on the environment while keeping costs under control.  The Department of Transportation uses a lot more Ice Melt than consumers do and their decisions have a much greater impact on the environment.

About the Author: Ryan Keith is a Landscape Architect and General Contractor in the Washington, DC region.  His firm, Redux Garden + Home, specializes in environmentally sensitive design and construction practices.  See his work and contact him through his website at www.reduxgardenhome.com.

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Show Some Love to the Planet

Posted on February 14, 2010. Filed under: carbon footprint, green business, green home, green purchasing, living green, waste reduction | Tags: , , , , , , , |

It’s Valentine’s Day. If you are embracing a loving spirit today and sending some love to those important people in your life, why not throw Mother Earth into that mix. I have to admit that after more than a week of battling record snowfall in Washington D.C. I’m not loving Mama Earth so much and may have even muttered a “so much for global warming” under my breathe after the 20th time of shoveling my way out of my house – BUT – a day of sunshine and glistening snow had me feeling a little less bitter, and reflecting more about weather, climate change, and our environmental responsibilities regardless of how hot or cold it is on any given day or week.

A Sunday opinion article in today’s Washington Post, “Global Warming’s Snowball Fight,” shed some light on the climate change challenge and raised some questions about whether the recent weather patterns have officially shoved climate change legislation to the backburner. A few comments I’d like to share from the article:

  • Christine Todd Whitman, who since leaving the EPA is President of the Whitman Strategy Group: “Calling what is happening simply “global warming” is misleading. There will be many changes along the way, including colder temperatures. (…) Let’s not forget that 10 of the past 11 years were the warmest on record.”
  • David G. Hawkins, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate change programs: “Just as a group of cancer-free, cigarette-smoking 75 year-olds does not disprove that smoking causes cancer, a handful of snowstorms does not counter massive evidence that we are changing the Earth’s climate.”
  • Ed Rogers, White House staffer to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; chairman of the BGR group: “There is global climate science and then there is the Global Warming Movement. (…) The movement was already dead in Congress in 2010, but Snowmageddon buried it. At least for a while, the left will have to think up a new way to dictate a lifestyle for the rest of us. Maybe now the science can continue without the clumsy overreaching of the movement’s priestly class.”

Quite different perspectives from different sides of the aisle. And this debate will likely continue for as long as I am still alive. In another article in the Washington Post today, writer Bill McKibben shed some interesting light on the cold weather effect of global warming: “…Rising temperature is only one effect of climate change. Probably more crucially, warmer air holds more water vapor than cold air does. The increased evaporation from land and sea leads to more drought but also to more precipitation, since what goes up eventually comes down. (…) global warming has added 4% more moisture to the atmosphere since 1970 [which] means the number of ‘extreme events’ such as downpours and floods has grown steadily.”

While we continue to examine the scientific evidence of climate change, shuffle legislation from the House to Senate and back to the review files, hold meetings in Copenhagen or other cities around the globe, why not take a few simple actions in the meantime. It may not prevent another historic snowfall in Washington DC this winter, but certainly won’t hurt any of us to show a little love to the planet!

A few ideas to live greener, showing some love to Mother Earth and your Valentine(s):

  • Reuse: Get creative with things collecting dust in your junk drawer. Courtesy of treehugger.com, design your own necklace out of old keys.
  • Be an Eco-traveler: Check out these sites for ways to support businesses making a commitment to green while you enjoy a little R&R.
  • Recreate: Got roses from your sweetheart? Turn them into a natural skin enhancer.
  • Improvise: Skip the restaurant. Hit the farmer’s market. Have nice candlelit dinner at home, probably saving money and CO2 emissions.

None of these green actions are destined to have a significant impact on reducing carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases, but every little step helps. Less waste, less travel, supporting a green supply chain – all these efforts add up. So don’t be afraid to show some love to your planet by saying and doing more with less. Your loved ones might also appreciate your thought and creativity!

be well. live green.

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Green Cleaning- Good For the Health of You and the Planet

Posted on January 18, 2010. Filed under: air quality, carbon footprint, green home, living green | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

While there are many green practices worth adopting, switching to green cleaning products is one of those actions I advocate for both as a way of helping the environment but also of protecting our own health.

Why Switch to Green Cleaning Products?

A Safer Home

Each day, families are put to risk by household cleaning products found throughout their homes, most of which are unregulated and untested, and many whose toxic ingredients are not disclosed on labels. According to National Geographic, only about 30% of the roughly 17,000 chemicals found in household products, including those used for cleaning, have been sufficiently tested for their effects on human health. Healthier and safer cleaning products offer natural, non-toxic, and biodegradable alternatives that are just as effective as synthetic chemical cleaners.

A Safer Environment

The use of synthetic cleaners has adverse effects on air and water quality, as well as land-based environmental concerns. Many of the chemicals in household cleaners are harmful not only in their use, but also in their manufacturing process. For example, the first step in bleach production produces dioxin as a byproduct—a chemical that has been identified as a carcinogen and has been linked to birth defects and genetic changes. Natural cleaners are manufactured in a way to leave the smallest impact possible on the environment and the healthiest atmosphere in our homes.

How to be Green and Clean

Don’t Be Green-Washed

The search for truly green products may not be as easy as reading “organic” on a label.  Many companies engage in greenwashing practices, including words such as “organic,” “eco-friendly,” “biodegradable,” and “non-toxic” on their labels to make products more appealing to consumers. Unfortunately, these claims are often unverifiable and meaningless.  Look for products with full ingredient disclosure or third party certifications to ensure that product claims are substantiated.  Independent groups such as Green Seal, Cradle To Cradle, the Leaping Bunny and the EPA’s Design for the Environment program analyze product ingredients and certify that those chemicals don’t pose harm to your health or to the environment. My rule of thumb is to buy products with less than 5 ingredients and with names that I can pronounce and recognize. I also look for products packaged in post-consumer recycled materials or that offer refills to  further reduce environmental impact.

The Bleach Debate

It has been argued that because bleach breaks down into salt and water, it can be considered biodegradable and does not necessarily pose an environmental hazard. Bleach is a popular cleaning product because it is effective on a wide range of bacteria and viruses and has the added benefit of being cheap. However, despite the fact that bleach breaks down when released into the environment, it is an eye and lung irritant and mixing bleach with other acids (such as vinegar) can produce dangerous and potentially lethal fumes. Furthermore, the manufacturing process of bleach creates the known carcinogen dioxin as a toxic byproduct. It is best to find alternatives to bleach to ensure both a healthier planet and home.

Some Good Green Cleaners

  • Better Life. This company was started by two dads, one a chemist, the other a greenie. This is the most effective green cleaning line I have used to-date and one that I use in my home for every surface.  Buy in DC: ACE Hardware locations, Green Living Consulting. Online: Walgreens.com, Drugstore.com. Delight.com.
  • BioKleen. Family-owned, with all products receiving a third party review. Order through Greenshops.com
  • Ecover. Belgian company that started making eco-friendly products in 1980. In DC: Whole Foods, Yes Organic Market, Nora, Java Green, Brookville Supermarket. Online: HerbTrader.com
  • Mrs. Meyers. Biodegradbale, phosphate free and made with essential oils. In DC: Ace Hardware, Bed Bath & Beyond, Container Store, Dean and Deluca, Greater Goods, Whole Foods, Frager’s Hardware.

National Geographic’s Green Guide also reviews and sells products that meet their environmental criteria.

Green Cleaning Recipes and Tips

Vinegar

Vinegar naturally cleans like an all-purpose cleaner. Mix a solution of 1 part water to 1 part vinegar in a new spray bottle and you have a solution that will clean most areas of your home. Vinegar is a great natural cleaning product as well as a disinfectant and deodorizer. Always test on an inconspicuous area. It is safe to use on most surfaces and has the added bonus of being incredibly cheap. Improperly diluted vinegar is acidic and can eat away at tile grout. Never use vinegar on marble surfaces. Don’t worry about your home smelling like vinegar. The smell disappears when it dries.

Here are some uses for vinegar in the rooms of your house:

Bathroom – Clean the bathtub, toilet, sink, and countertops. Use pure vinegar in the toilet bowl to get rid of rings. Flush the toilet to allow the water level to go down. Pour the undiluted vinegar around the inside of the rim. Scrub down the bowl. Mop the floor in the bathroom with a vinegar/water solution. The substance will also eat away the soap scum and hard water stains on your fixtures and tile. Make sure it is safe to use with your tile.

Kitchen- Clean the stovetop, appliances, countertops, and floor.

Laundry Room- Use vinegar as a natural fabric softener. This can be especially helpful for families who have sensitive skin. Add ½ cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle in place of store bought fabric softener. Vinegar has the added benefit of breaking down laundry detergent more effectively. (A plus when you have a family member whose skin detects every trace of detergent.)

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is another natural substance that can be used to clean your home. Lemon juice can be used to dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits. Lemon is a great substance to clean and shine brass and copper. Lemon juice can be mixed with vinegar and or baking soda to make cleaning pastes. Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle baking soda on the cut section. Use the lemon to scrub dishes, surfaces, and stains. You can also put a whole lemon peel through the garbage disposal. It freshens the drain and the kitchen. Orange peels can be used with the same results.

Baking Soda

Baking soda can be used to scrub surfaces in much the same way as commercial abrasive cleansers. Baking soda is great as a deodorizer. Place a box in the refrigerator and freezer to absorb odors. Put it anywhere you need deodorizing action.

Olive Oil/Lemon Juice

Mix together 1 cup olive oil and 1/2 cup lemon juice to create a homemade furniture polish. Mix together in a clean new spray bottle. To use, remember to shake before each application. Apply a small portion to your cleaning cloth. Spread the polish over the furniture, trying to polish evenly. Use another clean cloth to polish the surface dry.

be well. live green.

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