Friday, April 24, 2009

Earth Day Tip # 17: If You Don't, Who Will?

Disclaimer: This might get preachy. I kept editing it, trying to make it less preachy, but I just have to accept that sometimes if you feel strongly enough about something, it may just sound preachy. Sorry!

One thing that keeps me passionate about living a green life is knowing what I do actually does effect things around me. How often do we go through life feeling small and insignificant? As if everything we're trying for has no impact in the grand scheme of things? Being green is one way in which I know my actions are taking effect on things around me and that there is an impact in what I do.

We, as humans, are supposedly the most intelligent creatures on Earth, yet we (as a whole race) are driving it into the ground, taking everything thing else on this planet with us, and, for the majority of us, not even thinking twice about it. The good thing about being the most intelligent creature on Earth? We can do something about it!

I don't want to sit by idly and say "I wish there was something I could do." Instead, because I am one of the most intelligent creatures on Earth, I'm going to do my part and do what I can for those that can't take action for themselves, particularly wildlife and nature.

Take a look at this slideshow from Treehugger about 10 animals that may very well become extinct in our lifetime.

What's the recurring reason that these animals are becoming extinct? Human neglect and our complete lack of respect for the environment. 2 of these animals are near extinction because humans have almost hunted them into oblivion, another 5 due to loss of habitat by destruction caused by humans (most often in efforts to sustain our gregarious living habits), and 3 animals from a combination of both.

I think the first experience in which I felt so strongly about animal conservation was when I watched a leatherback turtle lay her eggs in Grenada. During that amazing night, I learned how these beautiful creatures were declining in huge numbers due to human neglect, egg poaching and habitat destruction. The truly unfortunate thing is that the fate of leatherback turtles are really in our hands. If we do nothing to help save their species, they will disappear. And not just the leatherback turtles, but many other animals as well.

I also think back on my trip to Kauai almost ten yers ago. One of the highlights of that trip was my last night. I was drying off on the beach after a day of snorkeling and I caught sight of something flapping in the ocean. Although I couldn't make out what it was, I rushed out into the water. Sure enough, I ended up swimming with two green turtles as the sun started to set! Almost ten years later, I still get butterflies just thinking about that moment: the excitement, the joy, the sheer elation of the experience of swimming with those turtles. I want to have more of those experiences and I want you to have that experience and I want my future children to have that experience too.

Perhaps this is why I'm so passionate about environmentalism and being green. I think this home we call Earth is just so amazing, with so many beautiful things to see and to experience. I'm willing to do everything I possibly can to keep it that way. For me and for future generations.

What about you? Are you going to join me in keeping this Earth amazing so that we can all continue to live beautiful and amazing lives, wherever we are and whatever we are doing?

The Earth Day blog series have been a real pleasure for me but I think this is the perfect way to end it. I'm sorry that it's a week ahead of schedule but I'm sure there will be more discussions about this in my blog in the future. Thank you for following along!

Earth Day may have passed but we shouldn't focus on appreciating the Earth just one day out of the year. We should appreciate it every day and we should live our lives without taking our world for granted. It's for us, it's for our future and it's for all things living.

Go Team Green!

© Connie Hum 2009

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Earth Day Tip #16: Green at Work

Seeing as a majority of us spend a huge amount of time at the workplace (and hopefully not begrudgingly), it only makes sense to bring the green to work with us while we're making the green.

Here are some easy and simple ideas to help you create a low-impact workplace:
  • Optimize your energy - Make sure that your computer is set to an energy-saving mode. Shut down your computer every evening before you leave work as the standby mode will still require power. Always shut off the lights in your office and conference rooms when you're not using them.
  • Stop unnecessary printing - Print only the things you absolutely need to. In this digital age, there is hardly anything that you should need to print. You can store files on your computer (remember to back it up to an external hard drive) instead of file cabinets. You save not only trees, but office space and file retrieval time, especially when you move offices. Use RECYCLED PAPER if and when you do print and remember to print double-sided.
  • Work from home - Eliminate the commute and you're sparing the air from all the pollutants your car emits and the gas required to make the trip to work. An added bonus, you can work in your pajamas! If working from home isn't an option for you, look into carpooling.
  • Green dry-cleaning - As much as I resisted having to dress professionally at work (the extra money spent and time lost required shopping for clothes that I wouldn't normally wear), I would still wind up with "fancy adult" clothes that require more attention than a quick toss into the wash. Traditional dry cleaners use a whole lot of toxic chemicals, which has been linked to groundwater pollution, cancer and reproductive disorders, in their cleaning process. For clothes that require dry-cleaning, look for green cleaners in your neighborhood that offer a special, environmentally-friendly option called "wet-cleaning". Green Apple Cleaners is a good one in NYC and New Jersey that picks up and delivers to your office for free.
  • RECYCLE! - If your company doesn't already have a recycling program in place, consider finding a new job because your company is already behind the times. Really. OR, if you prefer to keep your job, start a recycling program at your company.
  • Bring your reusables - I've said it before and I'll say it again. Stop using disposables! Bring in your own coffee mug, use your reusable water bottle, and keep a set of your own utensils at the office to help eliminate a huge amount of waste.
I did all these things while I was working at McKinsey and I always got compliments from people for being an "inspiration." Plus, people thought I was really fancy because I had a chic mug and I was always using china when I ate. =)

What other great green workplace tips can you share with us?

© Connie Hum 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

EARTH DAY Tip: Celebrate by Encouraging Others to Go Green!

HAPPY EARTH DAY! Let's keep making Earth Day everyday!

I'm a firm believer that everyone can make small changes that will help make the world a greener place. Being green doesn't have to be a fringe group of tree-hugging hippies, just look at the group that's been reading and commenting along with my Earth Day blog series. Definitely no tree-hugging hippies in this bunch.

But how do we, the non tree-hugging hippies, get more people involved in helping to improve our world? Can we help make "tree-hugging" more hug-able?

The best thing to do to spread the green is to set an example. Show your friends and family how easy it is to be a part of the green movement by rocking your reusable water bottle and shopping bags wherever you go, send people amazing flowers from your compost-fertilized garden, recycle and ask friends and family to do the same (at least in your home) and so on. Once they see how simple and yes, even how enjoyable being green is, they might just start acting more green too.

The biggest thing is not to point out what in particular they are doing wrong. No one likes to get criticized and doing that isn't going to make people want to change their ways. You can make simple suggestions that focus more on how being green has benefited you and how it may benefit them too. "I used to spend so much money on bottled water but now, with my reusable bottle and drinking filtered water, I've saved so much money."

Another way to help people be more green is to let them know why being green is better for them, and not just the environment. People may not necessarily care about the effects on the environment because they don't think that it effects them directly but if you point out that styrofoam leaks chemicals into food and drinks which can cause health complications and possibly even cancer, then maybe people will think twice the next time they reach for a styrofoam container.

I also think that most people would be willing to be greener if they knew where to start. Encourage newcomers and help them get started on going green. Suggest little changes first and work your way up from there. Encouraging someone to sort their trash for recycling is a lot easier than convincing someone to invite worms into their home. Perhaps (and please take this as humbly as possible) directing them to this blog site may help? Treehugger is also a good resource for beginners.

I don't think it's realistic to turn a heavy duty consumer into a zero-emissions person, but if we can get even one person to do something differently, that is going to help the environment in a huge way. Especially since it's more than likely that each person will somehow be able to influence another. So go on! Try to get at least one person to do ONE thing greener! It really will make a difference!

In fact, I would like to know if and how I've influenced you in the green process. Have I? In what way? Please, stroke my ego. Haha...

Does anyone else have any good pointers for spreading the Green cheer? Please let us know how we can help others to the "greener side" of the grass. Thanks!!!


© Connie Hum 2009

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Earth Day Tip #14: Become a (Part-Time) Localvore!

New vocabulary! A localvore is a person who only eats locally-grown and produced food. Why become a localvore, even part-time?
  • Less resources, mainly fossil fuels, are spent on the packaging and transportation of your food
  • It supports your local economy instead of big corporations, who are also some of the biggest polluters
  • You're eating fresher and less processed foods because the food doesn't have to travel as far or need to be preserved
How local do you have to stay in order to be a localvore? Many people differ on what they would consider "local" but the standard is 100 miles or less from your home. If you can eat food within a 100 miles of your home, you're a localvore!

You can even take it one step further and start a fruit and vegetable garden in your own home (especially now that you've started composting and will have all that fertilizer soon)! Tomatoes are super easy to grow, as are fruit trees. Fresh herbs turn ordinary dishes into WOW dishes. Even for those living in New York City, you can find some space for a small herb plant. Perhaps in the corner of your kitchen counter, or even your window sill.

Try being a localvore for a week and see how easy it is. Or try it with certain foods (particularly meat and dairy products) to lessen your environmental impact.

© Connie Hum 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Earth Day Tip #13: Composting!

I'm sorry, but I get very excited about composting and this blog is making me very happy! I suppose it's because eliminating waste is something that I constantly think about and I feel composting is such an easy and effective thing to do to help the environment. And you get to do it with worms!!! It's like being a kid again!

Organic waste in landfills is wasted space and it decomposes to release methane gas, which contributes to the greenhouse effect. By composting our food waste, we can eliminate around 13% of methane gas from the ozone! Now that's effective green-ing!

For those of you lucky enough to have homes with actual gardens and space, you can buy a compost system (some without worms) to turn your food waste into fertilizer. There are many different designs, types and sizes, so I'm sure you can find one that suits you best.

When I decided last year that I wanted to try composting in Manhattan, I did a ton of research. Again, space was an issue and I finally decided on the Happy Farmer Kitchen Composter. It's small, doesn't use worms but a mix of Bokashi to help compost and was airtight to prevent any smells from leaking into my small living space. It was perfect for my needs and I started happily composting. Until Halloween came. I carved some pumpkins and put them in with the rest of my compost. Unfortunately, I didn't put enough Bokashi in. A month later, I had a huge stinking mess on my hands. I still like my Happy Farmer composter and would certainly give it another try but I will be sure to use more Bokashi in the future, especially when dealing with pumpkins.

Had I the space and a willing roommate, I definitely would have started composting with an indoor worm compost. My partner in Earth-saving, Parker, started worm composting in his apartment in Chicago and gave me the rundown. It sounds like my kind of project! To make your own worm composting bin, follow Parker's easy instructions. If you live in New York, the Lower East Side Ecology Center offers free indoor worm composting workshops to help you get started.
  1. Purchase a heavy duty, 10-gallon storage bin. This is going to be your compost bin.
  2. Drill holes into your worm bin, approximately 1-1.5 inches apart. All over. Lid, sides, bottom. Everywhere. Connie suggests drilling small holes to prevent any possible worm escapes.
  3. Shred newspaper, junk mail or any kind of non-glossy paper (preferably something that was headed towards recycling anyway) into 6inch x 1inch strips.
  4. Fill a bucket with water and immerse the shredded newspaper in the water.
  5. Pull the paper out of the water and squeeze it out. Now you have a ball of damp, compacted paper strips. You need to kind of pull them all apart, filling the bin halfway, essentially making a damp matrix of loosely piled strips of paper that worms can crawl through and not be uncomfortably dry.
  6. Obtain worms. They can be bought online or from pet stores. If you know someone with a worm bin, maybe they'll let you have a few to get started. They will eventually reproduce and you'll have more. Look online for more worm details.
  7. Put worms in bin. Give them a handful of dirt to help them digest their food.
  8. Store your bin between 40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, out of direct sunlight.
Now your bin is ready to start composting your food waste!
  1. Feed your worms the leftovers from anything you would pretty much feed a vegan person. They should not be given meat, dairy, eggs, sweets, cooked foods, or oily foods. Appropriate worm food is stuff like fruit or vegetable peels, the end of a lettuce, any veggies that go bad, dead leaves from plants, apple cores, onion ends, etc.
  2. Feed them by burying something appropriate in the substrate, trying to bury it in varying spots.
  3. Worms will eat about their weight in food per day. So make sure you're giving them enough, but not piling up more food than they'll ever finish. Parker likes to feed them a couple big chunks of something (like the end of a romaine lettuce or carrots) at the same time as something that's in small pieces. This way if he forgets about them for a couple days they'll just gnaw on that romaine, but until then they can gobble up the smaller stuff quickly.
  4. Don't let the bin get too dry or too wet. It should be damp inside, not too wet and not too dry. If it's wet, leave the lid off for a few hours and drill a few more holes. If the paper substrate feels dry, add a little bit of water
  5. Don't add too much citrus peels at once, it can make the bin acidic and the worms become unhappy.
  6. Keep the worms happy by checking to see that the bin is not too wet or dry, that they have food, etc.
  7. The box will probably grow a whole slew of weird molds and fungi in it. This is OK, it's a harmonious environment. But if you're finding a lot of weird, evil-looking bugs (especially centipedes) in your worm box, it probably has gone bad. (Connie's input: Consult a worm composting expert, or the LESEC website mentioned above)
  8. In about 6 months, when you can't see the paper anymore, take out your fertilizer for your garden and replace with more paper to start the process again.
Doesn't that sound like such an awesome thing to do? You keep unnecessary waste out of the landfills which reduces the amount of methane gas in the air, you get fertilizer for virtually free to help your garden grow beautiful, and you get to play with worms! I really do encourage you to give composting a try!

Anyone have fun composting stories to share? Please do and make my day! =)

© Connie Hum 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

Earth Day Tip #12: Dispose Those Disposables!

The average American creates about 4.5 pounds of waste each day, that amounts to almost 1,600 pound (726 kilos) a year! Yikes! Where does all that waste go? Well, they eventually end up in landfills and/or the oceans. It would be virtually impossible for us to create no waste at all but there are ways that we can eliminate the huge amounts of unnecessary waste that we send to landfills.

Here's a breakdown of common trash that we send to waste away the years (I love puns) in landfills and how we can start eliminating it from our trash cans:
  • Paper products - Use less paper products whenever possible. When drying my hands, I make sure only to use 1 sheet of paper towel. My hands are the same dryness afterward and I'm using half the amount of paper towels that most people use. Same goes for napkins. If you're a pretty neat eater, you could probably get away with not using a napkin at all during a meal and just wiping your mouth with the towel you used to dry your hands after you wash them. Another good way to not create excess paper waste: use handkerchiefs instead of tissue. Toss your hanky in with the wash and you're all set!
  • Disposable utensils - When I used to work in the office, I kept a set of real utensils and a plate that I borrowed from the cafeteria in my desk. I never had to use plastic utensils or paper plates and it was just a quick wash to clean them. Likewise, I also kept a pair of chopsticks in my purse so that I wouldn't have to use those cheap, chemically processed wooden chopsticks that so many Asian restaurants use and throw out after you use them that one time. After a year, I saved around 1000 plastic forks, knives and paper plates from going to a landfill.
  • Plastic or paper cups - At the office, I had a mug that I used for my daily teas and occasional coffee binges. I drank a lot of tea each day so my estimated saved waste from a landfill is probably 5 cups a day, or 1200 in a year. If you forget to bring in your own mug to the office, use the same cup for the day and send only one cup to the trash, instead of several.
*Please note that there are now great biodegradable disposable options on the market and are commonly available. If you need to use disposables, please use the these as they are the best disposable option for the environment. They work just as well as the conventional disposables, but with less harm to the environment.
  • Food waste - A huge portion of our waste is actually food waste, which we can prevent from reaching landfills by composting. Yes, composting! Turn your food scraps into nutrient-rich soil. Totally green and pretty darn awesome if you ask me! This was a project that I was very excited about and did a lot of research in. My story and a whole blog dedicated to composting next week so take the weekend to think about how sweet the idea of composting is, and learn how to start composting on Monday!
Really, waste is one major part of going green where we can make a huge difference and that's one of the main reasons that I'm so into it. Making less waste helps us because we're saving trash from landfills AND we're saving money because we have to restock less often. You don't really have to change your lifestyle to make less waste, you just have to be aware of what your daily waste habits are and try to reduce them.

If you have other ways to help eliminate excess waste from landfills, please share them here!

And please, think about the awesomeness that is composting over the weekend. More on that on Monday!

© Connie Hum 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Falling Into Place

Man, I need a break from all the Earth Day blogging! =) It's such a great topic to talk about but it's definitely hard for me to find something to write about and then write it everyday! I'm glad to be taking the blog on a tangent for a moment.

Well, I've been in Istanbul for over a month now and things are really starting to fall into place for me. I finally found a foundation to volunteer with AND they're teaching me Turkish there too! It's the Başak Arts & Culture Foundation and they mainly work with Kurdish immigrants who have relocated to Istanbul. Through arts, dance, theater, language and education, we help them get situated and overcome social and psychological problems.

My Turkish is slowly coming along with the help from Rosetta Stone and being around it all the time. I am understanding much more than I am able to speak, though if people are patient and wait for me to form my sentences and align my suffixes, I'm communicating on a level similar to that of a evil, hillbilly child. If anyone's read David Sedaris' "Me Talk Pretty One Day," there's an essay about him living in France and trying to learn French, only to discover that his language skills range "from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly when he asks a butcher `Is thems the thoughts of cows?' as he points to the calves' brains displayed in the front window. I imagine that's not far from how I am speaking in Turkish, though thankfully, I'm not in the market for calves brains, just liver sandwiches. =) Bleh!

Mina and Melda are doing well with their English and the family and I have already noticed an improvement. Mina's grammar and vocabulary is growing each day. She loves drawing and we draw pictures almost every evening. Mina's also very fond of treasure hunts and I'm running out of places to hide clues for her. We've started baking scones together and I'm hoping to advance to more desserts though it's hard because I can't find all the necessary ingredients. Melda's vocabulary is growing and she's even started speaking simple sentences to me. She's very polite and requests things with "Yes, please" though it sounds more like "ness please." We're working on her Y's. Playing all together can get tough at times as they both want undivided attention but whenever we have a dance party, we three are happy as can be.

I'm still in the (slow) process of finding a bellydance teacher in Istanbul. I really had no idea it would be this difficult!

I'm really excited to see what else I can progress with in the next 5 or 6 months that I'll be in Istanbul. If I've come this far in little over a month, I just might be able to reclaim Constantinople by the time I'm through here! =)

© Connie Hum 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Earth Day Blog RECAP

Hi everyone,

First off, thanks for following along with my Earth Day blog series! Now that we're about halfway through the blog series, let's see how we're doing!

Parker in Chicago introduced worm composting to six people in the Chicago area, Mi-An turns off the water when she brushes her teeth to help conserve water, Neil's learned to never bring styrofoam into my home, Cobo Duane recycles dirty magazines as wrapping paper, I shower like Jennifer Aniston to save water and we're all learning to go green-er, together!

What changes have you made to go green-er? What are you having trouble with? Did you calculate your carbon and ecological footprints? Have you managed to decrease your footprint in the last two weeks? Is there a topic that you want to know more about that I haven't discussed so far? Come on, I'm pretty new to this "green thing" too and I'm running out of blog ideas. Share and comment below. We're all here to support each other in the process!

© Connie Hum 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Earth Day Tip #10: Workout, Bulk Up, Green In

Many of us want to be in better shape and are members of gyms (whether or not we actually go is another story) and unfortunately, with a majority of the equipment connected to an outlet during all hours of operation, not too many gyms out there are what we would consider green.

We may not be able to change the way our local gym operates, but we can certainly make our environmental impact less while we break a sweat. Even for those of us who aren't fitness buffs, there are ways to improve our own health while staying green.
  • Take it outside and enjoy the sun - Instead of cooping yourself up indoors when the weather's nice, jog, roller-blade or ride a bike outside. Go hiking and enjoy nature. For those living near the sea, go swimming in the ocean or take up surfing. I was probably in the best shape of my life when I was surfing in San Diego, all that paddling to tone my arms and back. In an effort to promote public health in Istanbul, the city has put up outdoor gyms for everyone's use. I have to admit though, it's kinda funny to see people using these outdoor gym equipment, but as you see, people ARE using them!
  • Play team sports - It's fun to get your friends together on a sunny weekend afternoon for a friendly game of softball, kickball, soccer, or touch football. Just don't go to Calle Ocho for their sangria brunch before your designated meeting time!
  • Replace driving with walking/biking - If you're not going far, leave your car at home and walk or bike to your destination. If you can, walk or bike to work occasionally.
  • Work out at home - Clear some space to do lunges, sit ups and stretches. Grab some canned food or soda cans and lift them to tone your arms and back. I sometimes would just blast my ipod and dance in my living room with my dog. It's fun and burns calories!
Here's a site dedicated to everything Green Fitness.

Do you have other tips for going green at the gym? Share them with us!

© Connie Hum 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

Earth Day Tip #9: Fish, A Lesson from Jeremy Piven

Okay, this really has nothing to do with Jeremy Piven (are you happy Kristin?) but that was all I could think of as a title for this blog.

In all reality, global fishing is being done at an extremely unsustainable rate, meaning that humans are taking more fish out of the oceans than can be replaced by the ones left. Almost 90% of all the ocean's large fish has been fished out and several major commercial fish populations' survival are being threatened. Scientists estimate that, unless current fishing practices improve, all stocks of currently fished species will collapse by 2048! That is in our lifetime.

Add pollution in our oceans, high levels of mercury in our fish and we've got a major problem on our hands. The hazards of long-line fishing are also depleting marine life as well. Sea turtles and sea birds, including an estimated 100,000 albatrosses, are killed as the unnecessary result of bycatch from long-lines. Sea turtles are near extinction and 19 out of 21 albatross species are threatened, yet nothing is being done to stop long-line fishing.

Given the current system in place that brings me fish from the oceans, I have chosen to refrain from eating fish, particularly fish that are precariously on the brink of extinction and those that are being fished in unsustainable and environmentally detrimental ways, as much as possible.

This doesn't mean that you have to give up fish to help save our oceans. It will certainly help though and I would encourage you to think twice the next time you want to order fish. If you want to continue to enjoy fish, just be thoughtful about it. Here's a great site from the Environmental Defense Fund to help you make smarter fish choices for your own health and for the environment.

A good documentary to watch about the fishing industry and long-line fishing is "Shark Water." Great cinematography and underwater footage. It absolutely took my breath away!

© Connie Hum 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Earth Day Tip #8: Paper or Plastic?

Ah, the big question everyone gets at the check-out counter: "Paper or plastic?" What's a green-savvy consumer to do?

I did some research on paper versus plastic and found that there really isn't a clear-cut answer. Although plastic is pretty horrible for the environment and doesn't recycle easily, it doesn't necessarily mean that paper is the better environmental choice. Paper bags are made from paper, which still comes from trees. Even paper bags made from recycled paper at one point came from trees. The process to turn trees or recycled paper into paper bags is long and riddled with chemicals, energy use and spent resources, as is producing and recycling plastic.

Environmentally, bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store is the best option out there.

For those of you who can drive to your grocery store, just keep some reusable grocery bags in the trunk. Don't forget to bring them into the store with you! For those living in the big city and no access to a car, you can use reusable bags that can be folded down and easily stored in your purse or backpack. I like Chico Bag for their ultra-portable and super cute designs, but there are plenty of good options out there, like the ones Cheryl, Kristin and Demetri are using.

**Extra green points:
Make your own recyclable bags! It's so easy! Just take an old t-shirt, cut off the sleeves leaving the shoulder area intact, cut a small amount off around the neck to create a good-sized opening, turn it inside out before sealing off the bottom of the shirt, turn the shirt right-side out and voila! Your very own reusable bag! I'd also advise you to hem the edges to prevent fraying.

What if you forget your reusable bag the next time you buy groceries? It's okay to take the paper or plastic offered by the store, just remember to use the paper bag again (here's that other type of recycling we talked about) before throwing it out. They're good for gift wrapping or dry waste around the house (like in your office). If you opt for plastic, tie it in a knot and recycle it. Lots of stores are now accepting plastic bags for recycling.

Just a note: As the green movement has picked up steam over the last few years, more and more grocery stores are opting to charge consumers for plastic bags or ban them all together. That's extra encouragement for you to remember your reusable bag next time!

Read the full article on paper versus plastic.

© Connie Hum 2009

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Earth Day Tip #7: Green Party

Many of you know that I love to throw parties. I'll find any reason to have friends over (case in point: the "Yay-We're-Not-on-Fire" party in San Diego during the 2003 fire) and about a year ago, I started thinking about all the garbage my parties were creating. All those paper plates, napkins, plastic utensils and cups...there had to be a better way. And there is! Lots of ways to limit the amount of waste you and your guests create, without spoiling the festivities or forcing a green agenda on anyone.

I should note that styrofoam is ALWAYS a NO at ANY party! Styrofoam is not recyclable or biodegradable and the global warming effects are 1000 times worse than carbon dioxides! All my friends are now aware of the evil that is styrofoam thanks to their experience of seeing my reaction to styrofoam.
Here are some ways that I was able to limit the amount of waste created at my informal parties:
  • Living in Manhattan where even cupboard space is scarce, I only had dinnerware for 4, forcing me to use disposable tableware at parties. Then I started asking my friends to bring their own plate, utensils and cup/glass to eliminate the need to use disposables. For the few that would forget their place setting, I would lend them mine since the others had brought their own. This made a HUGE difference in the amount of trash I ended up having to take out.
  • I'd label bins for trash and recyclables, thus encouraging my friends to recycle and also preventing the need to sort through the trash later.
  • During the summer months, we would picnic on my Manhattan roof (oh, how I miss that apartment), laying out a sheet on the ground. We didn't need to worry about any spills (and there were always spills) as we'd just let the sheet soak it up since it was going to be washed anyway.
  • For indoor spills, we'd use kitchen towels which I'd then wash and reuse, again and again.
  • To make sure that none of the food went to waste, I made sure I ate it all after the guests left. Not (usually) in one sitting though. And I would also make sure to pack leftovers for my starving student friends. =)
For more formal gatherings, here are some ideas for making it a bit greener.
  • Send out electronic invitations for your soiree instead of paper ones. Evite is a great site where you can design and customize your event invitations. You can include personal photos as well. An added bonus: Evite keeps track of your invitees' RSVP details.
  • Try not to serve your guests with disposable anything. That's going to be the biggest thing you can do to cut the amount of trash you make. And as the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy boys always said: Throwing a party but serving on disposable plates is a social faux pas.
  • You can eliminate the need for tableware all together by serving finger foods only.
  • Use cloth napkins that you can wash after the party instead of one-time use napkins.
Luckily, there are some biodegradable disposable options out there now if you really need to use them. They can be found at Whole Foods (or similar stores) and environmentally conscious stores. As the green movement gains more popularity, I'm sure they will become even more widely available. I'll talk more about this next week.

© Connie Hum 2009

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Earth Day Tip #6: Stop Buying Bottled Water!

NOT buying bottled water is probably one of the MOST effective things that you can do for the environment. How and why?
  • Bottled water is not actually any better for you than tap water: Especially in the developed world, water systems are well-regulated and tested for bacteria and toxins several times a day by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only once a week.
  • Bottled water creates more garbage in landfills: Almost 86% of all plastic bottles never get recycled, amounting to 1.5 million tons of waste EACH YEAR. Plastic also degrades at an extremely slow rate. This means that it's going to be in a landfill for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. To add insult to injury, plastic emits harmful chemicals into the atmosphere as they decompose in the sun. So it's bad for the earth AND the air.
  • Bottled water costs you money: If you drink the daily recommended amount of water using bottled water, it will end up costing you almost $1,400 a year! Ouch! Drinking from the tap will cost you around 49 cents a year. Now there's a smart way to get rich quick!
  • Bottled water depletes natural resources: Every aspect of making a single bottle of water uses up precious fossil fuels. Making the bottle, filling the bottle, shipping the bottle, storing the bottle, it all requires the use of natural resources. The same resources that many of us are aware is in limited supply. Why are we using our valuable natural resources on something that almost all of us can get for free at home?
  • Bottled water is a waste of water: A staggering 16.5 billion gallons of water is needed to produce the plastic bottles!
Let's enjoy our water guilt-free and in a greener fashion. Buy a reusable water bottle (Sigg and Klean Kanteen are good options) and refill it with either tap or filtered water. Both brands come in fun and colorful designs, as well as small, kid-friendly versions. I would also recommend that you try to steer clear of the heavy-duty reusable plastic bottles. Plastic is still plastic.

© Connie Hum 2009

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Izmir is Here

This past weekend, while my host family was vacationing in Dubai, I went back to Izmir, my previous home in Turkey for a visit to see a couple of old friends.

Upon arrival, I had a typical Connie (mis)adventure. I had turned off my Turkish cell phone for the flight from Istanbul. I was supposed to call my friend Gürhan when I was on the Havaş (shuttle) from the airport to Alsancak, expecting to meet up around 2:30-ish. I turn on my phone and realized that I needed a pin code to get back into the phone. I had no idea what it was. So, I decided to guess. My first attempt was incorrect and I was advised that I would have three more tries. I guessed again. Still no luck. Two wrong guesses later, I'm now not only required my pin code, but also a PUK code to get into the phone. I didn't even know what PUK was supposed to stand for!

Not sure what to do and obviously getting desperate, I asked the gentleman sitting next to me as if he, perchance, would figure out my PUK and pin code. He couldn't but offered to let me use his phone. Wonderful. Except Gürhan's phone number is stored in my phone. Mrff...

I finally arrive at the predetermined meeting spot but no Gürhan which I suspected since I hadn't called him. I decided to run into a Turkcell store and see if something could be done. No one spoke English. Arg... They pointed me to another Turkcell store and I was able to communicate that I had locked myself out of my phone and that I didn't know my pin or PUK code. They looked up the account and saw that I wasn't the name on the account (Serra, my host mom had gotten the phone for me). They said that she would have to come and get the phone unlocked. I told them that she was in Dubai. I guess just to get me out of their hair, they decided to unlock the phone for me anyway.

So now I'm back in my phone. I eventually get a hold of Gürhan and another friend, Ali (cue the Prince Ali song from Aladdin because that song always plays in my head when I say Ali's name). Ali meets me and then we head over to a church to meet Gürhan. He's acting in his friend Andrew's movie and was in the middle of shooting.

The weekend was really fun, just hanging out with Gürhan and Ali. It had been almost four years since the last time we saw each other while we were working at the Space Camp in Izmir. We hung out all weekend going out drinking, eating, karaoke-singing, and catching up. We also watched a Fenerbahçe fütbol game (we won), which I found pretty fun and interesting to watch. I suppose it would be when you hang out with people who are so into it.

Izmir was much the same as I remembered it. Nothing far too exciting, but still it was nice to go back to my old stomping grounds.

The weekend was much too short, but there are some tentative plans to hang out some more in the next five or six months so there will be some more good times ahead.

*Additional pictures from my Izmir weekend are posted on my Facebook.

© Connie Hum 2009

Earth Day Tip #5: Conserve Water

Water is one of life's basic necessities but we take its limited supply for granted every day. Yes, the Earth replenishes its water supply naturally but people are using it at a rate much faster than the Earth can keep up, making it an increasingly scarce commodity. This makes sense if you think back on our ecological footprints and realize that no one's footprint was less than 1.

Only 3% of all the water on Earth is water we can use to live. That's it! There's never going to be more, only less. We need to start conserving water in order to meet future needs as well as preserve the current environment. Come on, EVERY living thing on this planet needs water to live. Let's stop wasting it!

Hey New Yorkers! If you call 3-1-1 and request a water saving kit, they'll send you one for free! You'll need to know your block and lot number, which you can find in seconds on NYC's homepage.

Here are some ways that everyone can help conserve water at home:
  • Run the dishwasher only when it's completely full to potentially save up to 1,000 gallons of water a month
  • Check for any leaks in your faucets and toilets
  • Water your lawn in the mornings and evenings when it's cooler to minimize evaporation
  • Replace shower heads with water efficient models, saving up to 750 gallons of water a month
  • Collect the water you use to rinse fruits, vegetables and rice to water your houseplants
  • When I shower, I turn off the water when I'm soaping up my body and my hair, saving more than 150 gallons of water a month (hey, Jennifer Aniston does it too!)
  • Wait until you have a full load of laundry before you start the wash or make sure to set the water level to match the size of the load.
  • Turn off the water when you brush your teeth and when you shave to save 300 gallons of water a month
  • My friend Mike taught me this rhyme to help conserve water: If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down. Best applied at home (not at work) when you know you won't have any guests over
Do you have any other water-saving tips to share? Share it below in the comment section!

© Connie Hum 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

Earth Day Tip #4: Spring Cleaning

Everyone loves spring, but spring cleaning? Maybe not as much. Unfortunately, it's something that has to be done (at least to some degree) and there are ways to be greener about it. Here are a few of the easier things that can be done.
  • Research shows that the level of pollutants in indoor air can be 100 times higher than outdoor air. Open your windows and let some fresh air in!
  • A majority of household cleaners on the market have toxic chemicals in them, which is bad for you and the environment. The same toxic chemicals can cause headaches, skin irritations, provoke respiratory reactions and even depression. Choose truly eco-friendly cleaning products like Seventh Generation and Simple Green that are non-toxic and made from all natural ingredients.
  • If you're getting rid of your old toxic cleaning products, do NOT just throw it in the trash. They may potentially leak into water streams and will wreak havoc on the environment. A lot of communities have special days where they collect toxic waste for safe disposal. Find out when and where before getting rid of your old cleaning supplies.
  • Go green, save green! Save some money while you're green cleaning by making your own all-natural cleaning solutions. A good recipe for an all purpose cleaner consists of 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup baking soda with a 1/2 gallon water. To combat bathroom mold on tiles, mix one part hydrogen peroxide (3%) with 2 parts water in a water bottle and spray directly on the moldy spots. Wait at least an hour before rinsing. For an effective toilet bowl cleaner, mix 1/4 cup baking soda with 1 cup of vinegar. Pour into basin, let set a few minutes then scrub as normal. To prevent cooking odors, you can simmer 1 tablespoon of vinegar with 1 cup of water while cooking.
Does anyone else have some great ways to clean more green at home? Please share them below.

© Connie Hum 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009

Earth Day Tip #3: RECYCLE!

Okay, now that we're all aware about going green and we've calculated our footprints, let's take it one step further. One of the most easiest things you can do starting right now, is RECYCLE! Now I know that most of you probably already recycle but there's some of you out there that may sometimes "forget" to sort your trash or throw your recyclables in the correct bin. Let's make an effort to recycle every time.

Besides the obvious things that people commonly recycle (glass, plastic, aluminum, paper waste, magazines, cereal boxes), we can also recycle:
  • Print cartridges: Most manufacturers have recycling programs where you can return the empty cartridges or you can earn $1 per cartridge through the site, Recycle Place.
  • Aluminum foil: Just recycle it with the rest of the cans!
  • Old mobile devices: Discarded cell phones account for nearly 65,000 tons of toxic waste each year. Office Depot and Best Buy collects old cell phones for recycling, as should most cell phone carriers. There are also a growing number of charities that will collect your old mobile devices (cell phones and PDAs) and give them to those in need. For help with deciding which charity you want to donate to, check out Recycling For Charities.
  • Used motor oil: Turn in your old motor oil for recycling! It keeps the oil from leaking out into our water systems. Find a recycling center near you.
  • Used water filters, yogurt containers, etc.: If you're filtering tap water for drinking (and you should be but more on that in a future blog), you can also recycle your used filters. Whole Foods announced this year that they are starting to take used Brita filters, as well as #5 plastic (indicated on the bottom of the container) commonly found in yogurt, cottage cheese and hummus containers and medicine bottles. For a complete list of participating Whole Foods that collects #5 plastic, click here.
The idea of recycling doesn't just mean processing used materials into new materials. It can also mean recycling an old product with a new purpose. Just because you no longer have a use for something doesn't mean that someone else won't or can't find a use for it. Here are some recycling alternatives to throwing away common items that will help keep them out of landfills and just in time for Spring Cleaning!
  • Take out containers: Whenever I order in for delivery, I save the plastic take out containers and reuse them as tupperware.
  • General household items: Yes, you can "recycle" these items! Instead of tossing something out with your garbage, post it on Craigslist or a similar site. "One man's garbage is another man's treasure" and you might even make a little money off of it! Some things you can put up include hangers, cardboard boxes, linens, old pots and pans, etc. Really. People will take them.
  • Clothes and shoes: Before I left for Turkey I cleaned out my closet and came across a ton of clothes and shoes in good condition that either didn't fit me or I just didn't wear anymore. So what did I do? I had a sleepover with my girlfriends and gave them their pick of the lot. Whatever was leftover I donated to Goodwill. It's a multiple win situation. Your closet gets cleaned out, you have a great excuse to have friends over, your friends have new clothes and like you even more for giving it to them for free AND you've given something to a worthy cause. My friend Shoko also did this before she left New York City and now I have a few pairs of cute summer pants that I didn't need to buy! And that means more money I can spend while traveling!
This is just the tip of the recycling iceberg! Do you have any other ways of "recycling" that you would like to share? Do you know of other items that can be recycled but is not commonly known? Comment below and share the awareness!

© Connie Hum 2009

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Earth Day Tip #2: Calculate Your Footprint

I'm such a dork. I actually think it's pretty fun to calculate my footprint then cross check it every few months to see if I've improved.

There are two types of footprints that you can calculate. Carbon and ecological. Your carbon footprint measures the consequences of your actions in terms of how it contributes to global warming. Your ecological footprint measures your consumption of natural resources and the Earth's capacity to regenerate those resources. Together they can give you an idea of how green you're living, as well indicate what areas you can be greener in so that you can reduce your footprint.
Let's calculate both our carbon and our ecological footprints now to get a baseline of how green we're currently living. I'm not sure how great the international versions are. If you know a better one, send me the link and I'll update the blog. Thanks!

To find out your carbon footprint, go the the Nature Conservancy's page. The international version can be at Carbon Footprint.

To find out your ecological footprint, US and Australia residents can use the (falsely named) Global Footprint Network's calculator. International readers can find a version at My Footprint.

The US average for carbon is 27 tons a year. My average: 14, with a majority of my carbon coming from air travel.

If everyone on the planet lived like the average American, it would take 5 Earths to sustain us. According to my ecological footprint, it would take 3.9 Earths to sustain my living habits. Better than the average American, but still not great. I actually knocked this down by 0.3 by eating more locally and using more public transportation.

What's your footprint? What would you be willing to do to decrease your impact on the planet? Please share!

© Connie Hum 2009

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Earth Day Starts NOW!

Earth Day 2009 is officially April 22nd but for the entire month of April, we're going to learn to be GREENer together! As promised on, we're going to start out easy, taking small steps towards making a BIG difference in the world.

As I see it, one of the hardest things about being green is knowing where to start. Ever since being green became "the new black," it seems like almost everything out there is eco-friendly. How can we cut through all the "green-washing" and find out what's really good for the environment? Another reason that seems to prevent people from being more environmentally conscious is the idea that since you're "not a tree hugger," there's little you can do.

WRONG! We're all a little green behind the ears when it comes to being green, but hopefully the month of April will help us find new and simple ways to turn that around!

My biggest fear with my Earth Month blog is that I'll sound too preachy. I really hope I don't come off that way. It certainly is NOT my intent. I don't think I'm better than anyone else simply because I choose to live a greener life and I don't think that those who aren't green now are ignorant, selfish and self-centered. To me, being green doesn't mean you give up life's comforts and conveniences. It's merely about making better decisions in your daily life that will be less detrimental for the environment. Everyone can do that. Let's start now!

First step in becoming green: Awareness! Really, that's it, awareness. Hopefully because you're reading this (and presuming that you're interested), your thought process toward what "being green" means is going to start changing. You're already on your way to being green! See, I told you it could be easy! Being green isn't about being a tree hugger, it's about thinking about how your daily decisions can effect the world.

If you want to really be aware of living a greener life, here are some really good sites to give you more information:
  • Treehugger (covers all aspects of green including travel, fashion, architecture)
  • A Green Living (advice on how to start living green)
  • Grist (environmental news and commentary)
Please, take 20 minutes and check out any of these sites to increase your awareness. Spread the knowledge! Comment with anything you found helpful, shocking, or just plain interesting.

And please, if at any moment, I start to sound preachy, let me know!

© Connie Hum 2009

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