Sustainability: Fork-Knife-Spoon

Good morning everyone! Today I’m going to talk about one of my favorite contraptions for #priuslife which is actually great for life in general. The fork, knife, spoon set. I originally got this to reduce the amount of plastic and single-use cutlery I was consuming. 

Since I became conscious of my impact on the environment in the year 2000, I’ve been working to decrease my footprint and bring sustainability into as many aspects of my life as possible. The fork, knife, spoon set was a simple and elegant solution to the problem of single-use plastic cutlery.

It’s estimated that every year 40 billion single use plastic utensils are thrown out every year.

Divided by the 333 million Americans, that’s about 120 pieces per person per year.

According to Forbes, plastic cutlery is one of the items that won’t ever be recycled because they are too lightweight, too small, and too contaminated.

Which means that this type of single-use plastic just ends up in a landfill or some other random location. Plastic takes about 450 years to decompose meaning, every year the number of single-use cutlery on the planet is increasing. 

If you want to understand the real cost of this cutlery convenience, Andrew Bernier’s paper “Living the Life of a Plastic Fork” he goes into detail on the costs of the initial production of the fork, supply chain & distribution, and finally disposal. 

Just because single-use cutlery is considered disposable, does not mean that it’s sustainable or good for the environment.

It’s estimated that since the 1950s one billion tons of plastic have been discarded. 

If you’re interested in other life hacks to reduce your footprint you can check out habitsofwaste.org where they empower people to change their mission is to clean up the planet one “habit of waste” at a time.

Having your own cutlery set is a cool way to let others know that you care about the earth. It also means you are always prepared for a meal, and you can be sure that your silverware is always cleaned to your standards 😉

References:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/lauratenenbaum/2019/07/16/plastic-cutlery-is-terrible-for-the-environment-and-we-dont-need-to-have-it-delivered/?sh=491fcbf4019c

Sustainability: Trash Removal

Before we get started, just to be clear, this post is not about zero waste living. Zero waste living is next level minimalism where people make lifestyle choices to reduce and eventually eliminate their generation of waste products in their life. To learn more about zero waste living you can read these amazing stories for inspiration and how to’s:

https://www.goingzerowaste.com

https://trashisfortossers.com/about-lauren/

This post is about taking your trash with you in your day-to-day life. Why would you do this? To beautify your environment by not leaving trash on the ground and not adding it to the public trash cans. When you take your trash with you and dispose of it at home its far less likely to end up in the ocean or some other natural environment.

I first heard about this concept from a friend who had recently visited Japan. They made an observation that Japan had no public trash cans and the streets were clean. Apparently in Japanese culture, it’s normal for everyone to take their trash with them and dispose of it at home.

How did this come about? 

According to this articles:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-05-23/where-are-all-the-trash-cans-in-japanese-cities

Japanese people are naturally averse to litter, but that’s not the only reason for the lack of trash. In 1995 there was a sarin gas attack that happened through a public trash can. Ever since then, trash cans have been removed from public places to prevent terrorists from placing gas bombs in them. Talk about another case of something bad being used to inspire something good!

Regardless of how this shift came about, I adopted this practice of taking my trash with me and disposing of it when I got home. I have to say that since adopting this practice, I’ve become far more aware of the trash that I generate in a day. Every night when I get home, I would methodically sort out my trash into the different bins.

I started to notice the overwhelming number of coffee cups and to go containers from specific restaurants. As a step towards zero waste living, I replaced the disposable coffee containers with travel mugs. For the restaurants, I started either packing a lunch or taking Tupperware with me to use as a to go container.

Do you have any interesting trash stories or insights you’d like to add to the conversation? Comment below and start a conversation!

Have you travelled to another country and discovered they handle trash and recycling completely different? Share your story below!

References:

https://livejapan.com/en/in-tokyo/in-pref-tokyo/in-shibuya/article-a0002380/

https://www.goingzerowaste.com

https://trashisfortossers.com/about-lauren/

https://livejapan.com/en/in-tokyo/in-pref-tokyo/in-shibuya/article-a0002380/

RVA Environmental Film Festival 2021

February 12th – 26th 2021

I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to create a musical composition for the RVA Environmental Film Festival. This year’s film festival is being showcased entirely online. Check out their website and the various titles to sign up for your spot today!

click here for the RVA Website

The Richmond Virginia Environmental film festival has been an annual event since 2008. It is funded by many environmental organizations and because of this sponsorship it is able to remain free. The festival’s goal is to offer entertaining and educational films that leave attendees with increased awareness of environmental issues that we face locally and globally.

You can also check them out on Facebook!

If you are looking for inspiration for your next environmental project, this is a great place to get started. This year Ananda was asked to compose some music for the festival. Sign up to learn more and hear the awesome music.

Sustainable Snail Mail

The postal service is amazing for all the wonderful things it brings us, but what happens to all that extra paper? In this challenge we will apply the Zero Waste Hierarchy Model from “Zero Waste Europe” to snail mail. We challenge you to follow these steps over the next month to achieve Sustainable Snail Mail.

REFUSE / RETHINK / REDESIGN

  • Move all of your bills to electronic statements with email notifications. 
  • Collect all of your junk mail for a month and then go through each individual piece of mail to figure out how to unsubscribe from snail mail. If you do this and find more information than what is offered below, please write what you discovered in the comments so we can all benefit!
  • Take the time to cancel any subscriptions that you’re no longer interested in, or opt for the digital version of the publication.
  • In your Amazon account you can opt for no plastic packaging for all future orders. To do this, log in to your account, go to help > contact us > more help/chat. It may take a few minutes to complete this process.
  • Opt out of Insurance and Credit Card Offers:  OptOutPreScreen.com (or call 888-567-8688). (You do not have to enter your ssn to complete this process).
  • Remove your address from Valpak https://www.valpak.com by clicking on “Address Removal” at the bottom of the page.
  • To unsubscribe from political mail, you will need to send in a note that politely says you no longer wish to receive their publications.
  • You may be able to use the app PaperKarma https://www.paperkarma.com to take pictures of junk mail and then they try to stop the junk mail for you.

REUSE

  • Save your snail mail paper in a bin for fire starter.
  • Make your own paper with your mail scraps. For instructions on how to make your own paper please check out my youtube videos on how to make a deckle: [ insert link ] and how to make your own paper: [ insert link]

RECYCLE / COMPOST

  • Recycle your paper by placing it in your recycle bin.
  • Compost your mail. Check out my video on composting to learn more about how to compost your paper at home.

References:

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/how-to-stop-junk-mail_n_5b27beb7e4b056b2263c5b54

https://itstillworks.com/13646353/how-to-stop-political-junk-mail

Composting

Click Here to Watch the Informational Video

What is Compost?

Compost happens naturally as organic matter decomposes. It is sometimes referred to as “black gold” because it contains many nutrients for plant growth. This dirt is great for gardens or for improving the soil structure.

Composting is the active intervention and expediting of this process. Composting is what happens when we intervene and monitor this process. By doing this we can ensure that we have a regular supply of this nutrient dense earth.

Why Compost? 

The primary reason is the environmental benefits. When you compost, less of your waste ends up in a landfill. Compost can suppress some soil-borne diseases. Increasing the population of microbes and cause them to out-compete pathogens. Compost is a great substitute for topsoil or fertilizer supplement when gardening. It can also be really fun and educational for the whole family.

It is cost effective and you’re more in control of knowing what exactly is going into your soil. Different plants require different nutrients and you can craft your compost ingredients accordingly.

There are a lot of different ways to Compost.

You can do hot or cold compost, add worms or let nature provide critters, in a bin, in the ground, above ground, in a wire cage, the options are endless. For more information on the types of bins you can use or design check out the references in the comments below.

For this video we are going to show three different types of cold compost. We have a large black rotating bin, a cat litter bin, and a boxed in area in the yard. The rotating bit and cat litter bin can be considered hot compost because the containers will keep the heat in. These will be ready in 3-6 months. The open box is considered cold compost and will be ready in 6-12 months.

The essential elements for creating good compost are:

Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, and Water

No matter what your bin looks like, you want to make sure it is well ventilated. You can see with the boxed area it is exposed to the air, the black bin has holes along the side and near the cover. When using the cat litter bin for compost, what we want to do is drill some holes in one end of the bin.

You want to make sure your compost remains damp to the touch. You can achieve this easily by adding water to your bin. Be mindful not to overwater your compost. 

Now for the fun part, the carbon and nitrogen! Here are a couple different charts on the kinds of nitrogen and carbon sources you can use for your compost: 

It’s also helpful to know what kinds of things cannot be composted. As a general rule of thumb, you don’t want to compost cooked food or meat at home. These require a much higher temperature to process.

Things not to compost: Bones, Cheese, Cooking oil, Dairy Products, Lard, Mayonnaise, Meat products, Milk, Peanut butter, animal feces, plastic, petroleum, solvents, Salad dressing.

Knowing what to put in your compost is just one step in the process. It’s also important to pay attention to the nitrogen to carbon ratio. Good compost falls in the range of 25:1 – 40:1 with the ideal being 30:1.

Here’s a list of common compostable items and their ratios: 

Let’s use the calculator online to see how we can combine food scraps with newspaper and leaves to create the perfect mix of compost.

Composting Calculator

As you can see in the screen shot here, for every 1 part of food waste you would need 4 parts of newsprint and 4 parts of dry loose leaves to create a ration of 27:1. 

You can play around with the calculator online to see what different things you can add to get the perfect compost ratio. The important thing to remember is to include sources of nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and water.

Another thing that is important in creating great compost is rotating your ingredients. The black bin is probably the easiest to rotate, you just give it a spin like on the price is right. With the cat litter bin, you can just flip it over, and in the boxed in set-up you will need to use a shovel to rotate the mixture. Compost should be rotated every 3 to 4 days or twice a week.

Now let’s talk about hot and cold composting. Cold compost is less labor intensive and the temperature will range from 40-110 degrees. Hot compost will range from 130-170. The boxed area is an example of cold compost. The black bin and kitty litter container can be considered hot compost. You can construct a hot compost pile outside by placing a tarp over the ingredients to trap the heat in. To keep the pile warm, before the temperature drops to 100 you want to turn the pile to aerate the soil. The heat comes from the bacteria and microbes working on breaking down the pile. By turning the pile, you give them some new material to snack on and keep the temperature high.

How do you know when your compost is finished? When the material is an even texture and has no strange odors and the pile is the same temperature as the air.

Do you have a composting story you’d like to share? Or have a burning question about composting? Write it in the comments below!!

References:

https://www.planetnatural.com/category/compost/?fbclid=IwAR2pTiZkRqy_kVUcOGpiofTQrwP5pswZEdsqFv7C9-DwtFIKLuE00S1XnJo

https://extension.umd.edu/resource/how-make-compost-home

Carbon: Nitrogen calculations videos

Compost Ratio Calculator

https://www.klickitatcounty.org/DocumentCenter/View/3523/Compost-Calculator

The Life Cycle of A Butterfly

Can you imagine what it must be like to go through a transformation where everything about who you are changes, except for your nervous system? That’s what happens in the life cycle of every butterfly.

Stage 1. Egg

Not much happening in this phase of life. It is interesting to not that female butterflies will lay anywhere between 40 and 500 eggs in their lifetime. They also lay eggs on specific plants. They smell the pheromones of the plant with their antenna from a distance and when they land on the plant, they verify it’s the correct one by tasting it with their feet. This plant is specifically the best plant for their offspring when they become a caterpillar.

Stage 2. Caterpillar

Caterpillar. The sole purpose of the caterpillar is to eat, excrete, and grow. It takes in everything from the plant it was hatched on and gathers this nutrients to prepare for the next stage of life.

Stage 3. Chrysalis

During this phase, an outer “shell” is created to protect the insect while it transforms. Everything about the physicality of the caterpillar will dissolve into a DNA “goo” leaving only the nervous system in tact. This “goo” contains the information to create discs. These discs form the various parts of the Butterfly. When the transformation is complete, the Chrysalis will shed and the butterfly will be “born”.

In a recent visit to Aruba, I was able to experience a Butterfly Farm. The tour was really interesting and went into the finer details of how much butterflies like to drink (fermented fruit). Some of them cannot hold their liquor apparently. Okay, that was really funny to learn about, but the life cycle of the butterfly got me thinking about how that can be applied to humans. Have you ever had an experience where it feels like your entire identity seems to be literally falling apart? Your nerves are bare to the outside elements and you just want to lay around in a puddle of goo?

I thought so….I have certainly felt this way before in life. Maybe there’s something to be learned from observing the transformation of the butterfly. Before becoming a butterfly, the caterpillar takes in a lot of information and gets pretty “full” or “grown”. Then it goes and hides away from the world, later emerging as this fully formed being of beauty.

There’s a purpose to every stage of the Butterfly’s life and if you’re in the goo stage, stay the course, brighter times are ahead! Maybe you’re in the process of recreating yourself and you’ll emerge with a new life path and a new zest for existence. The old you may be completely gone, never to return…. what a relief!

Maybe there are people around you who are in the goo phase and they just need some time to re-organize themselves. I encourage you to take a moment and reflect on what phase of a butterfly’s life you are in and write your thoughts in the comment below. Do you have any words of wisdom for others in the goo phase?

Fundraising for Mali, Africa

This summer I’m interning for International Solidarity for Africa – Mali. Their mission is to ensure a path of sustainable development for the people in Mali by supporting collective participation in several different projects.

Some of their projects are:

Revitalizing Communities Through Sustainable Growth

Restoration of Soil Degradation and Adapt to Climate Change

Providing Drinking Water and Sanitation by Installing Three Wells and Providing Sanitation Materials

Providing Support to the Association of Women of Magnambougou via Market Gardening

The objectives of this virtual internship are to spread awareness of their organization and raise funds for their various projects.

We have been working with the head of the organization Adama and another American intern, Ashley, in developing an English version of their French website so their organization can better reach an American audience. You can see the new website here:

English

It has been a pleasure to work with the head of the organization, Adama, who has been incredibly supportive and grateful for our efforts. He has dedicated his life to this project and it really shows in all the good things they have accomplished already. To help them continue to mission, you can donate to a fundraiser:

1000 Cranes for $1000 (Update: The fundraiser has ended)

All funds raised will be delivered to SIA for use on their projects, specifically on the ones related to women’s empowerment.

How does it work?

The fundraiser will run for the month of August, 2020.

For each $1 raised, 1 Origami Crane will be made.

Each $1 donated is 1 entry into a raffle. The raffle winner will receive all the Origami Cranes (shipped by mail).

Each Origami Crane has a positive affirmation written on the inside, like a fortune cookie, so you can continue to spread the love by giving them away!

There’s more:

You can tune in to the fb live event and watch the making of the Cranes! First we will do a short tutorial of how to make a crane, then we will listen to podcasts and YouTubes on the topic of sustainability!

Follow Firewalker Arts on FB to get a notification of when we go live!

After the fundraiser is complete, we will make a short video thanking all of the donors for their support.

How to Make Mint Cuttings

How to Make Mint Cuttings in Water or Soil

click the picture to watch the video

Watch the video!

The most ideal time to grow a new mint plant from a cutting is late spring and early summer. It is very easy to make a new mint plant from a clipping. Mint is a very prolific plant that will quickly spread and take over your yard. For that reason you may wish to keep it in a pot, or you can do like I’ve done in my yard and surround the mint with bricks. Whenever the mint starts to jump beyond the stone I simply transplant them back into the mint zone.

Before you start taking the cuttings you will want to gather all the materials:

  1. Potting soil
  2. Small planter pot with a drainage hole
  3. Clear glass or vase with 1” water in the bottom
  4. Scissors
  5. Root growth hormone (optional)
  6. Clear bin / Ziplock bag

In this video you will see me use chopsticks taped together to hold the mint slightly out of the water. This step is optional. You can just set the mint clipping into the glass of water and get the same results.

Now that you have all of your materials gathered, we will first show how to do the clipping directly in water. 

Steps for Making a Mint Cutting in Water

  1. Cut a mint clipping from the mother plant about 8cm (3-5 inches) in length from the top of the plant. You will want to cut the plant just below a node. A node is where the leaves are coming out of the stem.
  2. Next you will remove the leaves between the bottom node and the top node. Use a scissors to make precise cuts and avoid damaging the plant.
  3. (Optional) Tape the chopsticks below the first node to hold the clipping in the glass.
  4. Place the clipping in a clear container with about one inch of water in the bottom. Make sure that none of the leaves touch the water because they may rot.
  5. Set the clipping in bright, indirect sunlight. Replace the water if it becomes murky.
  6. When the roots are a few inches long, plant the cutting in a pot with potting mix

Steps for Making a Mint Cutting in Soil

  1. Put some potting soil into the small pot with a drainage hole. With your finger press a small hole in the center about 1” deep.
  2. Cut a mint clipping from the mother plant about 8 cm (3-5 inches) in length from the top of the plant. You will want to cut the plant just below a node. A node is where the leaves are coming out of the stem.
  3. Next you will remove the leaves between the bottom node and the top node. Use a scissors to make precise cuts and avoid damaging the plant.
  4. (Optional because mint grows so easily) Apply root growth hormone to the stem of the plant. Do this by first dipping the stem into water and then into the root growth hormone mixture.
  5. Place the root into the small hole in the potting soil and pack the soil in around the root. Add some water to the soil.
  6. Place the whole thing into a clear bin or enclose it in a ziplock bag. This will provide the plant with some humidity to grow.
  7. Set everything in bright, indirect sunlight. Water as needed but don’t over saturate. You can even water it by misting the plant with a spray bottle.
  8. When you see new growth on your mint clipping that means it worked. You can either leave the mint in this pot, transplant it to another pot, or plant it in your yard.

Extra Notes:

Some gardeners suggest using a specific soil for clippings such as: perlite, vermiculite, peet moss, or seed starting mix. I find that mint is very very easy to grow clippings from so it’s not very important what type of soil you use. The first year I tried this I used local Milwaukee soil which is very clay dense. That worked out just fine.

Some blogs suggested using a heating pad underneath your clipping to stimulate growth. I think this is a fantastic idea, especially if you are gardening indoors in the early spring or even winter. Again, I find mint to be really prolific so this tool was not even on my radar for this project.

I prefer using the soil method for clippings. Transplanting the plant from soil is less shocking to the plant than transplanting it from water. If you transplant from water, you may end up needing to transplant more than once and that is more shocking to the plant.