How to Make Laundry Day a Little More Eco-Friendly
No more pesky (wasteful!) plastic bags.
Here’s a wonderful promise: You never have to bring home, dispose of, and feel guilty about using another plastic dry cleaning bag again. Nope, we aren’t suggesting you start hand-washing everything from your favorite cocktail dress to your husband’s dress pants—instead, use the Green Garmento three-in-one dry cleaning bag.
This reusable lightweight bag does triple duty as a roomy hamper (with its own snap-together frame), a totable duffel (cinch the top, throw it over your shoulder, and haul it to the cleaners), and a sturdy garment bag for your cleaned and pressed clothes. (See? No need for those landfill-clogging plastic bags.) With clever pockets to stash things like accessories and even your frequent-customer card, the Green Garmento makes dry cleaning easier, more organized, and gentler on the environment. It’s an all-around win.
What do you do when you’re a reluctant city dweller craving nature? If you’re ecologist Jenny Carney, you build yourself a tiny remote getaway (with a little help from Pa).
Jenny Carney was almost struck by lightning once. A field ecologist, she was using a metal tank of compressed nitrogen to measure the moisture content in a tree. “It started to drizzle,” she says. “Then out of nowhere, a bolt of lightning hit the tank.” Fortunately, the tank didn’t explode. But the simultaneous light-sound experience—“near death by natural disaster,” she jokes—was a pretty exciting moment in her (outdoor) working life.
About 10 years ago, Jenny, now 37, took her scientific-inquiry skills indoors, where she felt they could make more of an impact. She runs a sustainability consulting firm in Chicago called YR&G that advises companies on all aspects of green building and energy-efficiency. It’s rewarding work, for sure. But sitting in front of a computer all day made Jenny, who had grown up in rural Wisconsin and had traversed forests in her previous gig, ache for nature. It’s a familiar feeling, even for those of us with urban roots and desk-centric careers.
Hatching a Plan
Raised by parents who had let their kids wander free with an ethos of “benign neglect,” Jenny had fond memories of slipping past barbed-wire fences to say hello to the neighbors’ cows. She dreamed of a similar vibe for adulthood, but she didn’t have the budget for a traditional country house.
Then she read a book that galvanized her. It was by journalist Richard Louv and titled Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Suddenly Jenny had a name for the malaise many of us feel from being cooped up too much—nature-deficit disorder—and confirmation that, as she explains it, “a compulsion toward nature is a health imperative.” If she couldn’t buy a place, she decided, she would build one herself. Something tiny. Did she have the construction chops? Not yet. But she was a good learner, and she had a secret weapon: her dad, Paul, who, she notes, “could build just about anything.” She started combing online listings for affordable property relatively close to Chicago, in a part of her home state that she considered particularly beautiful.
In early 2009, Jenny purchased six acres of raw land in the Driftless region of southwestern Wisconsin, near the bluffs of the Mississippi River. She taught herself the 3-D modeling software SketchUp and spent that spring designing a small structure. Jenny had never designed anything before, but the software is perfect for beginners. “I was shooting for something more like a studio,” she says. In her head, she downplayed the fact that she would actually need to sleep there overnight. (The land was a good four hours from Chicago.) This “made the project seem attainable despite my lack of experience,” she adds with a laugh.
The structure that she drew and later built is not big and not fancy. Says Jenny: “It’s very intentionally not a house—it’s at best a shelter. I actually call it a shed. Sometimes I sleep in a tent or outside on the porch if the bugs and weather are tolerable. Sometimes I sleep inside.” Jenny’s friend Cayce nicknamed the retreat Xanadu, after the enchanted landscape in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan.” It’s an apt moniker. The area features rolling hills, small farms, and country roads dotted with Amish buggies. And at 150 square feet, the shed is all about what surrounds it. “The default state at Xanadu is to be outside in nature,” says Jenny. “You have to make the active decision to go inside.”
It’s in the Genes
Jenny grew up watching both her parents make things with their hands. Her mother, Jane, is an artist who teaches reupholstering (just one of her many skills) at the local tech school. Jane taught Jenny and her sister how to cane chairs, a skill that came in handy when they needed pocket money during graduate school. Jenny’s father, a retired construction foreman who worked on bridges, built the family’s current home and several outbuildings with help from his kids and his brothers. Jenny says, “Lots of people from Wisconsin are like this. They’re industrious—they just do things.”
Raising a Shed
By most accounts, Jenny’s shed went up smoothly one extended October weekend in 2009, in large part because Jenny and Paul made a great team. She’s a planner; he’s a figure-it-out-as-you-go-er. “I enlisted his help right away to look at my drawings and tell me whether it was going to work,” she says. “But he didn’t fully engage in the project until we were actually building it.” Then there was no problem he could not solve.
They started by choosing a location for the structure. Jenny wanted to build deep in the woods, on a level road that followed an old farmer’s fence line. Her city self sought privacy. Paul convinced her to move the site closer to the field where she would park her car, in part so they wouldn’t have to lug building materials as far. (She thanked him later.) They created what’s known as a floating foundation by laying a small bed of gravel for each footing and arranging 12 concrete deck blocks (they look like cinder blocks). Working hard with Jenny and Paul all weekend were Paul’s brother Bob and Jenny’s mom, Jane, who also kept the team well fed. At one point, a couple of friends stopped by to lend extra hands.
Says newbie-builder Jenny, “When you focus on the constituent parts, [a project like this] seems manageable: Build a floor, add some walls, top it with a roof.” And that’s what they did. After the foundation was in place, they framed the floor, dropping supports of different lengths to create a level surface on the hill. Since they were building on an incline, the supports at the top of the hill are shorter than those at the bottom—and the floor appears to stick straight out of the hillside.
Days at Xanadu are spent lounging on the porch and enjoying the company of friends while waiting the 20 minutes it takes for water to boil.
Next they put down plywood floor decking. Then they framed the walls, leaving room for windows, and the roof, which would be metal, to facilitate rainwater collection.
After the skeleton of the shed was in place, they hung exterior walls made of plywood and added a layer of environmentally friendly siding (made of cement, sand, and wood fiber). “Fiber-cement siding,” Jenny explains, “is durable and low-maintenance, yet it’s far more environmentally preferred than vinyl siding. For one thing, it’s inert and noncombustible, so you don’t have to worry about off-gassing or the release of toxic compounds in the event of a fire.” Paul and Jenny finished up by installing energy-efficient windows and a sliding-glass door that opens onto a porch, sheltered by an overhanging roof.
Three and a half days after the project began, the exterior shell was complete. Jenny’s mom rewarded the team with a huge pan of lasagna made on a camp stove.
Filling in the Blanks
The remaining construction took place in stages over the course of the following year. Jenny came back by herself to build the interior walls. She used Energy Star–qualified foam insulation between the studs and finished the inside walls and the ceiling with formaldehyde-free plywood.
That fall, Paul returned, and together they fitted the space with a woodstove and a chimney so it could be used in winter. He and Jenny also built a simple, space-saving Murphy-type bed: It’s a basic platform bed whose head is attached to the wall with hinges. They added hooks to the far legs and chains to the wall so that the bed could be hinged and lifted to hang vertically, flush against the wall, when not in use. Bed linens are kept in two storage bins that, like most everything in the shed, serve a dual purpose—they’re sofa seating.
Something To Eat, Nothing To Do
Jenny researched vegetables that could thrive without care. Since she’s not around to water regularly, they needed to be OK with what nature provides. In raised beds in a nearby field, she grows onions, fingerling potatoes, and beans, which she leaves to dry on the vine, then harvests for dinner.
Days at Xanadu are spent lounging on the porch, blazing trails, hunting for wild morel mushrooms, and enjoying the company of friends and loved ones while waiting the 20 minutes it takes for water to boil on the woodstove.
The Unfinished Product
There’s still no plumbing or electricity installed on the property, and for now Jenny prefers it this way. She collects rainwater in a barrel to wash dishes, cooks on a campfire propane grill or the woodstove, uses a solar-charged battery to power a few lights, and turns to sawdust and a bucket for a loo. As long as you’re prepared to rough it, she says, staying at Xanadu feels like cushy camping.
In an effort to return the land to its original state. Jenny cultivates prairie plants, such as milkweed. (Monarch-butterfly larvae require it, and sadly it’s disappearing.) Last year, she planted heirloom apple trees, which the deer keep picking at. In a field near the garden are tree-swallow houses made by Paul from a design that Jenny found online. Birds make their home there during mating season; field mice take residence the rest of the year. Even the swallows have a second purpose, says Jenny: “They’re insectivores, gobbling mosquitoes to make lounging in the field more appealing for humans.”
Jenny dreams of a high-speed rail link between Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin, which would allow her to make the most of the trek. Until then, she does the four-hour drive whenever she can get away, staying as long as her schedule permits.
At the end of each visit, before she heads back to her city life, she has a ritual. She sits on the porch, drinking a beer and reading a poem.
Paul Carney understands Jenny’s pull toward this rustic project. During his retirement, he figures that he spends 90 percent of his waking time outside, gardening, fishing, and working on his house. “In the summer, I just come in to eat and sleep,” he reports.
Every year, the United States chucks nearly 40 percent of its food. Dana Gunders, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the author of The Waste-free Kitchen Handbook, offers money- and planet-saving tips.
Your book says the United States wastes 50 percent more food now than it did in the 1970s. Why is that?
Portion sizes have grown tremendously since then. Plus, it’s become normal for restaurants and caterers to produce excessive menus and buffets and for consumers to buy more than they need.
We’ve come to expect large amounts of food.
Yes. Research NRDC has done found that people are not comfortable with empty white space on plates or in fridges or grocery carts. There’s an urge to fill those spaces with food. And in our culture, throwing food out is acceptable. In fact, leaving something on your plate is considered posh.
What else contributes to food waste?
A lot of produce won’t get picked for market because it’s not pretty enough to be sold. It gets tossed or turned into the soil.
What’s the environmental impact?
About 70 percent of our water and 50 percent of our land is devoted to agriculture. So when we’re not eating that food, it’s a huge unnecessary use of resources. About 33 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gases are produced to grow food that never gets eaten.
What types of food get wasted most?
Fruits and vegetables. Tied for second are dairy products and bread. Meat is third, but it has the biggest impact. If you throw out a hamburger, that’s the equivalent of taking a 90-minute shower, in terms of the water it took to produce it.
How can we waste less produce?
If you need small amounts of specific fruits or veggies for a recipe, buy them from the salad bar so the excess won’t rot in your fridge. Or buy frozen versions, which have almost the same nutritional value with none of the pressure.
What else can we do?
Be realistic. What tends to happen is you buy all these groceries on the weekend because you’re feeling aspirational about how much you’re going to cook. But by Wednesday, life has happened and you’re ordering takeout. And then the broccoli goes bad. Instead, plan for that. If you can, shop often and buy less.
How else can we be conscientious shoppers?
Use a shopping list or an app. And take a last look in your cart before checking out. Think about when in the near future you’re going to eat each item. If you don’t have a clear answer, don’t buy it.
You also talk about conducting a “waste audit.”
For two weeks, jot down what you throw out to pinpoint what you are wasting and why. Did dinner plans change? Did you get wooed by a sale and buy too much? Write down the cost so you feel the financial pain.
How closely should we follow expiration dates?
Take them with a grain of salt, as they’re not federally regulated. A “use by” or “best by” date typically says when the product will be at its best quality. There may be a change in taste, color, or texture.
So we may be throwing out food that’s still OK?
Yes. A big misunderstanding is that when food is old, it will make you sick. The main reason for illness is pathogens like salmonella and E. coli that contaminate food at the farm or processing plants.
What do we need to be careful of?
Mold, green potatoes, and rancid meat, oil, or nuts.
What are some ideas to use up food?
Toss a mishmash of items into a tortilla or in fried rice or pasta salad. You can also sauté wilted lettuce with butter and garlic. Even if you waste a little bit less, it’s still an accomplishment.
Five surprising ways you’re hurting the environment—and the surprisingly easy changes you can make to be greener.
Using Body Wash All the Time
Photo by Aaron Dyer, Prop Styling by JoJo Li
Liquid soaps require five times more energy for raw-material production and nearly 20 times more energy for packaging production than bar soaps do. “And higher energy consumption usually correlates with a higher carbon footprint,” says David Tyler, a professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon, in Eugene.
Stick with bars when you wash up. Not only do they have a considerably lower impact on the environment but also you’ll use less. A study from Zurich’s Institute of Environmental Engineering found that consumers use almost seven times more liquid soap than bar soap when hand washing, so it’s quite likely that we’re overdoing it in the shower as well.
Being Oblivious to Your Electronics Settings
The average home contains about 24 energy-sucking electronic devices, with TVs, desktop computers, cable boxes, and game consoles among the worst. Combined, they consumed about $20 billion worth of electricity in 2013, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in New York.
It’s easy to tweak a TV, so start there. Select “home” mode in the setup instead of “retail,” which is meant for a bright in-store display. If there is an automatic brightness control, turn it on. “This feature measures the amount of light in a room and adjusts the screen. This can cut energy use by up to 50 percent,” says Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist for the NRDC. On smart TVs, disable the quick-start function, which eats up extra power.
Running the Dishwasher and the Clothes Dryer During the Day
These machines produce heat and humidity, which means your air conditioner has to work harder, says Jennifer Amann, the buildings program director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, in Washington, D.C. Besides, many utility companies charge higher rates during peak hours.
Use your dishwasher and dryer during off-peak hours, which typically start between 8 P.M. and midnight and end around sunrise. (Check with your provider.) For maximum efficiency, use a low dryer setting, and line-dry thick items, like jeans and towels, whenever possible.
Tossing Used Coffee Pods
Around 9.8 billion K-cup pods were sold in 2014. (They account for a reported 85 to 90 percent of the coffee-pod market.) The number 7 plastic most contain isn’t accepted at many recycling plants (also, plants won’t accept pods if they are filled with coffee), so a majority end up in landfills, says Elizabeth Glazner, the editorial director of the nonprofit organization Plastic Pollution Coalition.
Find a nearby recycling facility that will take them by searching for “number 7 plastic” at search.earth911.com. Then separate the plastic cup from the lid, the filter, and the grounds. The Recycle A Cup gadget ($13, recycleacup.com) will do this in seconds. Or mail pod plastic to Recycle A Cup for free recycling. Easier yet, use a refillable pod (My K-Cup, $15, keurig.com).
Overdoing It With Aluminum Foil
Americans discarded about 2.8 million tons of aluminum—including containers, cans, and foil—in 2013, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Whereas soiled containers can be recycled, dirty foil can’t. And it can take centuries for aluminum to biodegrade.
Use unbleached parchment paper for baking and roasting as well as for wrapping sandwiches and snacks. It’s biodegradeable, compostable, and often reusable.
What do those symbols on plastic bottles mean? And why are they different from the ones on the box your latest online purchase came in? Here, the cheat sheet you need properly dispose of recyclables.
When did lending a hand to Mother Earth become Hieroglyphics 101? We’ll admit—the chasing arrows and reuse codes befuddle us at times, too. According to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s 2015-2016 Report, 94 percent of the US population has access to some type of recycling program, but not every community accepts all materials, thus relying on symbols to dictate reuse and disposal. While the forms might resemble, they can vary in function for consumers and producers alike.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has outlined marketing guidelines for recycled merchandising and promotion, requiring prominent notation of product, package, and service claims. In other words, “recycled content” can refer to the product (say, aluminum foil) or the packaging (cardboard box). And just because your water bottle is recycled, doesn’t mean your cap is too. Here are a few everyday emblems handy for those moments of curbside confusion or grocery-aisle deciphering.
Recycling’s universal insignia, the Mobius Loop, was coined by University of Southern California student Gary Anderson in honor of the first Earth Day in 1970. Today, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recognizes it as an indication of recyclability, meaning it is accepted by most community programs for repurposing, but it doesn’t necessarily contain reclaimed materials.
Three arrows enclosed in a circle implies the object is recycled, but take care to note what is repurposed—the packaging, lid or cap, or product itself—as producers are required by the FTC to indicate. Black arrows against a white background imply a combination of new and reused materials, and sometimes contain the exact percentage in the loop’s center. When the arrows are white and the background is black, the product is 100 percent recycled.
Often, plastic items identify the exact type by a ranked Resin Identification Code scale, which indicates the specific category and proper disposal method. For example, polyethylene terephalates (Level 1) compose most clear containers—think soda bottles and ketchup—whereas their screw-on caps are polypropylenes (Level 5). Both can typically be collected curbside, but the former is repurposed for tote bags and the latter becomes brooms or brushes. Not all communities will accept each number, so check with your center before discarding. Hint: The higher the number, the less common the plastic, and thus more difficult to reuse.
For discarded cardboard, glass, or even mobile phones, organizations like the Electronic Recyclers International or Recycled Paperboard Alliance have adopted their own trademarked badges apart from common monograms. You might recognize cereal boxes branded with the “100% Recycled Paperboard” seal, implying their cardboard is entirely recycled. Or maybe you’ve seen companies bearing certificates of ERI registration. While following FTC guidelines, these groups operate closely on the producer level to monitor accreditation requirements beyond the broad scope of non-trademarked symbols.
You don’t need to spend your life savings on a curated art collection.
When you hear the phrase “art collecting” a couple things might come to mind: it’s expensive, it’s complicated, and it’s totally unattainable until you retire (or win the lottery). But these days, thanks to the Internet, it’s easier than ever to start your own collection—without breaking the bank.
Online retailers like Twyla and Saatchi Art have transformed the art-buying process by making it quicker, less expensive, and intimidation-free. To eliminate any first-time jitters, we’ve asked art experts to share their insider secrets and tips so that you can master the art of art collecting.
Listen to Your Gut
Photo by Hero Images/Getty Images
You’ll know when it’s love at first sight, says Ariel Saldivar, VP of Artist Relations at Twyla. “When I was 22 living in Dallas, I visited an artist community called The Continental Gin Studios. There, I met Douglas Cartmel, an artist, whom I befriended and bought my first piece of art from—a seascape on titanium for $400. I had such a strong connection to it that I had to have it despite the price (Which led me to eating cereal and ramen for every meal for a long while!).”
While a $400 price tag may be hard to swallow, Saldivar suggests mixing in less expensive pieces so you won’t go completely broke (and live off boxed food forever). And if you’d prefer to test the waters before you commit, Twyla offers a 30-day trial for $30. So if your heart doesn’t skip a beat every time you walk by the picture, painting, or poster, you can return it up to 30 days after receiving it—no questions asked.
Do Your Research
Rebecca Wilson, the chief curator of Saatchi Art, advises shoppers to get a head start on art collecting. “Buy works from emerging artists before they get snapped up by galleries and their prices start to go up.” If you’re unsure where to start, Saatchi Art hosts an “Invest in Art” series twice a year, which showcases the most exciting emerging artists to keep an eye out for. Wilson also suggests experiencing art before investing in a piece of your own—whether by going to shows, reading art-focused magazines, or simply browsing museums or online. “This will help you to get a clearer sense of what you like and the art market in general,” she says. Luckily, the Internet has made the art world more transparent and available to the masses.
Art is meant to strike up a conversation. There is no wrong way to collect art as long as you’re happy with the pieces you’re choosing and aren’t afraid to experiment. At Twyla, for example, the art is exclusive to the website, so it’s a sure way to get your hands on a one-of-a-kind piece. The bottom line? Your motive should be discovering a style that you love—not prestige or a high price tag. “If the work goes up in value in the future, that’s an added bonus, but shouldn’t be what drives your purchase,” Wilson says.
Mix It Up
Saldivar suggests collecting pieces from all over: a vacation spot, a local boutique, or even your daily commute. Instead of buying the same old keychain or mug when you travel, take home a piece of art that you’ll never tire looking at.
Overall, art collecting is about finding pieces that speak to you. So go with your gut, do your research, take risks, and incorporate fun finds from your life. That way, the experts say, you can’t lose.
The front section is prime real estate, so save it for the items you reach for most often: hand lotion, bandages, paper clips, lip balm. If you designate that part of the drawer as your essentials area, you’ll be less likely to jam it up with random stuff.
6. Drop Zone
Leave a little open space for storing odd-shaped items (scissors, rubber-band ball) and miscellaneous ones (twine for newspaper bundling, ribbon for rushed wrapping jobs).
Now that the warm weather has (finally) arrived, the rush to get the backyard ready for Father’s Day cookouts and Fourth of July parties is in full swing. If your next summer bash is just days away and your outdoor space still needs some serious sprucing, don’t fret. These finds that can be delivered to your door in two days or less (thanks, Amazon Prime) will help save the party. Whether you choose a rug to cozy up the space, or a fire pit to light up nighttime get-togethers, these picks will transform your backyard into the ultimate summer hangout spot.
Green Decore Outdoor Reversible Plastic Rug
Photo by amazon.com
If you’d like to make your outdoor space feel like an extension of your home, cozy it up with a weather-resistant rug. This plastic option can be left out in the rain and easily wipes clean with a damp cloth. Seven different color options let you choose the one that matches your style, and each one is UV-protected and fade-resistant, so you can’t go wrong.
Pillow Perfect Full Bloom Throw Pillows
Any backyard could use a few extra flowers, and this pair of blooming pillows is a low-maintenance alternative to buying another potted plant. UV-resistant and washable, these pillows are suited for both indoor and outdoor use so you can display them on your patio set in the summer and on your living room sofa in the winter.
Landmann 28345 Fire Pit
A fire pit is more than just a pretty accessory for your patio—it will also light up the yard during outdoor gatherings and warm up guests on chilly summer nights. For less than $100, this small investment will transform your outdoor space for many seasons to come, but will arrive in just two days.
Brightown Outdoor Patio String Lights
One of the easiest ways to boost the ambience of your patio is to rethink the lighting. Take a tip from outdoor bistros and hang gently glowing string lights overhead. This 10-foot strand will light up a small seating area, or multiple strands can be connected to cover a larger space.
Vivere Double Hammock
A comfortable cotton hammock that comes with its own metal stand will lend your backyard laid-back vibes. This hammock’s 2,444 five-star reviews prove it’s as relaxing as it looks. One reviewer even claimed she slept on this hammock for several months, preferring it to her real mattress. Get ready for the ultimate outdoor catnap.
Yescom Outdoor Patio Umbrella
By day, this umbrella will shield you and your guests from the sun, and by night, its 40 solar-powered lights will illuminate the backyard. One button lets you tilt the umbrella to the right or left to follow the sun’s path, while another lets you control the lights at night.
Best Choice Products Outdoor Wicker Sofa
If your goal is to make your patio feel more like an outdoor living room, then this luxurious three-seater with removable, fade-resistant cushions deserves a spot on your wish list. Order it today, and your family will be able to lounge on it during the annual Father’s Day backyard barbecue.