Are you one of the millions of Americans trying to make your dollars stretch by taking a “staycation” this summer?  Hanging around the house can be a good thing. You get to tackle projects you don’t have time to get to during the year, and you can invite friends over who you never see—even though they’re local.  You invested in all that patio furniture, in your deck, in your barbeque—so show it off by making a nice dinner for friends and serving it outside in the backyard.

We’ve got a couple of recommendations for green products that’ll help you entertain in style, without sacrificing your environmental values.

Soji Solar Lantern

Light up the evening with the Soji Modern Solar Lantern. These elegant lanterns have a solar panel that collects sunlight during the day, stores it in a rechargeable AAA battery,  and then lights up the night with very efficient LED lights. They’re portable and freestanding–they don’t require extension cords running across the grass into the house or garage! Comes on automatically at dusk unless you turn it off.  They’re made from hard plastic, so they’re durable, and they’re pretty affordable, too.

Wasara plates

Whether you’re serving chili, grilled vegetables, burgers and chicken, or old fashioned corn on the cob, make your clean-up job easier by using these cool disposables. Nope, they’re not paper or plastic. Wasara plates, bowls, and cups are made from 100% tree-free rapidly-renewable materials: sugar cane fiber (bagasse), bamboo, and reed pulp. They’re much more elegant than anything you’ll find in your local supermarket, and they fit comfortably in hand.  Strong, oil- and water-resistant, good for hot and cold foods, and best of all: fully compostable. Available in multiple sizes and types.

Fair trade napkins

Use cloth napkins as an alternative to throw-away paper. These fair trade, 100% organic cotton napkins are hand woven by rural women in Guatemala using centuries-old techniques and looms. Income from weaving helps support their families and maintains ancient cultural practices. After the party, just throw them in the laundry with your colors.

Woolly Pockets "Island" planter

Finally, bag spending money at the florist, and consider this cool alternative “plant in a bag” for your table centerpiece: Woolly Pockets Freestanding Islands. They’re made of 100% post consumer recycled plastic felt, and they’re lined so they won’t leak all over a nice table. Fill them with lush plants during the summer, and bring them indoors in the fall to enjoy year-round. Made in New York by a very cool company.

NatureMill composter

When the party’s over, remember to compost your leftover food! Corn cobs, soggy salad, watermelon rinds, and stale buns can all be enjoyed by worms or bacteria and fungi.  Check out the Worm Factory, and the NatureMill composter that fits under the counter in your kitchen. And several months later, you’ll have an excellent, nutrient-packed soil amendment to use in your garden outdoors, or on your houseplants.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!

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Somehow it got to be August, and we’re thinking Back to School.  How many of us realize that our children have become the unwitting generators of a huge amount of garbage?

According to Waste Free Lunches, the “average school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school.”

With that in mind, Green Depot has just brought in an assortment of lunch storage ideas that will turn the disposable paper sack and the ubiquitous sandwich bag on their heads. These green products are much cooler than the vinyl lunch boxes you pick up every year at Wal-Mart. The ones that are hard to clean and smelly.

Say goodbye to endless plastic sandwich bags!

Fresh Snack Pack

The Fresh Snack Pak is what I bought my two daughters last spring, and they’re holding up really well.  You can put a sandwich in it, or get more than one for chips, fruit slices, etc. They look like a little envelope (folds flat when empty), and are made from EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) plastic. They contain no PVC (poluyvinyl chloride), BPA (bisphenol A), or lead.  Just wipe clean with a sponge, or handwash when you’re doing the dishes, and drip dry.

Fluf Lunch Bags

Fluf reusable lunch bags are another cool option. Shaped a bit more like the traditional brown paper bag, the Fluf comes in a few different styles suitable for kids…or just plain Suits. The body is 100% certified organic, pre-shrunk cotton, and the liner is made with phthlate-free vinyl (EVA). It’s removeable, too, for easy washing. A snap closure is easy for little hands to use.

Snack Bag

The handmade reusable snack bag costs next to nothing, and is embroidered with all sorts of whimsical creatures—from chubby little mice to robots.  The outer shell is 100% unbleached cotton; the inner liner is water and stain-resistant nylon. A velcro closure keeps you from…losing your lunch.

Now, for something old and new. The Stainless Steel Tiffin Food Carrier is a sleek, round metal lunch box that’s been used in Asia for years to take food to school or work. New to the States, it’s constructed of food-grade stainless steel, and has sturdy side closures that snap down to keep the lid firmly in place. Each of the two compartments can be heated separately, or refrigerated.

Tiffin Stainless Steel

If you’re sending them to school with pasta salad or last night’s yummy leftovers, the little brats will need something to eat it with. Try these super hardy MicroBites Mini-Utensils. You can use ‘em backpacking, too.

Microbites

You can learn much more on Waste Free Lunches. It’s an an excellent website chock full of tips on how to reduce the amount of trash generated by our kids’ school lunches. Has tips adults can use, too, and even healthy food suggestions.

Using reusables instead of disposables is good for our wallets as parents, and it’s a good way to instill an environmental ethic in our kids.

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5 Must-Know A/E Lessons in Green BuildingGreen Depot has been chosen as one of five case studies in green building design in a book by Zweigwhite, a trade publisher catering to architects and engineers. The book, “5 Must-Know A/E Lessons in Green Building,” will be available shortly. It discusses why green building has become the norm, what the challenges are in green building, how various rating and certification systems work, and what the future for green building is globally.

The chapter on Green Depot interviews founder Sarah Beatty on her goals for the company’s flagship store.  “Retrofits are a smarter way to use what’s already there,” Beatty is quoted as saying in reference to the historic landmark building at 222 Bowery in Manhattan.  “In an urban space, it’s about history and the fabric of a culture. We wanted to honor what was there, protect its uniqueness, and become the next chapter in the building’s history in an inspiring way.”

Green Depot at 222 Bowery, Manhattan

Project architect Caleb Mulvena of Mapos, LLC is also interviewed.  “[Green Depot] was really the perfect client for a green project because they provide green building products. It made our job a little bit easier, and it also made for a unique project. Because they were providing all of the building products for the project, the team dynamics and the bidding process were a little different.” Mulvena is also quoted explaining that building green used to cost about 25% more than a conventional building, but is now only 5-10% above the mainstream average cost, depending on the products and systems chosen.

The green products chosen for the Bowery store are primarily products that the store sells to commercial and residential customers. Many can be found in the Building Materials section of Green Depot’s e-commerce site.

The general contractor for the project, Chris Yeates of New York Connecticut Development Corporation (NYCT) describes how his own company was changed by the challenge of working with Green Depot.

“[The] project was our first LEED project,” he says. Prior to working on 222 Bowery, they junked everything they tore down in a building.  “For debris removal, we threw everything in one big container, and we searched for the best possible price for getting rid of construction debris.  …Now [we] separate it and find avenues to get rid of debris. We do that on our own but we’ve also seen more of a request from owners. We separate, we recycle, we get things to more responsible landfills, and we reuse as much as we possibly can.”

You can purchase “5 Must-Know A/E Lessons in Green Building “ here.

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On Friday, New York State Governor David Paterson signed a bill into law that prohibits babies’ and children’s food and beverage containers from containing Bisphenol A, or BPA. Under the legislation (S 3296H/A 6919D), sippy cups, baby bottles, straws, and pacifiers containing BPA can no longer be sold in New York State. The law goes into effect on December 1, 2010.

Working under the  “JustGreen” umbrella, a coalition of at least 45 advocacy groups worked together for passage of the bill; they included mainstream environmental organizations, consumer groups, health and cancer networks, women’s groups, academic institutions, and environmental justice groups.

According to a press release issued by JustGreen, “New York is now the seventh state and by far the largest in both population and economy to pass phase out of BPA in young children’s products, joining Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. It will be one of the first state laws to go into effect, however. In addition, Maine has declared bisphenol A (BPA) as a ‘priority chemical’ and will institute regulations to phase out its use in children’s food and beverage containers and infant formula containers.  The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is moving forward with similar regulations to cover children’s beverage containers. California has BPA legislation pending.”

BPA has been associated with a wide range of children’s health problems, including “early onset puberty, polycystic ovary syndrome and breast and prostate cancer,” said Senator Antoine Thompson, Chair of the New York State Senate Environmental Conservation Committee.

Because children’s bodies are smaller and metabolize more rapidly than adults, toxins build up in their bodies quickly, and infants have been detected with high levels of BPA in their bodies. JustGreen cited connections between low doses of BPA and “obesity, infertility in males and females, brain dysfunctions, thyroid disruption, heart disease, and diabetes.”

Stephen Boese, Executive Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of New York State, said that BPA has been implicated in learning disabilities and other neurological impairment.

The full press release, and a list of advocates, can be viewed on the Just Green website.

Wee-Go glass bottles

Green Depot Founder Sarah Beatty testified in support of the bill in May, prior to it being passed unanimously in both houses of the NY State legislature (download her testimony here). Since the opening of Green Depot’s flagship store at 222 Bowery in February 2009, Green Depot has put an emphasis on healthy green products for babies and children, including certified organic cotton clothing and bedding, diapers without harsh chemicals, and BPA-free baby bottles. One of our most popular sellers has been the Wee-Go, a glass baby bottle with a soft silicone sleeve that’s easy to grip and prevents breakage. It’s available in 4- and 9-ounce sizes, in six different bright colors.

Green to Grow

Another is the Green to Grow nurser–a bottle that’s phthalate-free, BPA-free, dishwasher safe, and comes in 100% recycled packaging.

We all know that breastfeeding is best, but when bottle feeding is necessary, at least now there are safer ways to do it in New York State.

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Yesterday the Associated Press reported on a serious bedbug infestation in New York City. According to the AP story, one out of every 15 New Yorkers (or about 400,000 people) is harassed by bedbugs, and the annoying bloodsuckers “have rapidly multiplied throughout New York and many other U.S. cities in recent years.” According to CNN, New York City’s Bed Bug Advisory Board is launching a $500,000 initiative to combat bedbugs, through education and other eradication efforts.

Bedbugs don’t spread disease, but they can bite your body up pretty well, leaving red spots and scratches and making you itchy, if not bordering on insane. There is a plethora of disgusting photos showing bedbug insult and injury on the web: search “bed bug bites” on Google Images, and prepare to be revolted and have fear instilled in your heart.

Some people decide to throw out all their bedding, clothes, carpet, and upholstered furniture in an effort to get rid of the little buggers, but this is not usually effective because the bugs can re-emerge from their tiny hiding places behind furniture and in walls, and can go for a whole year without eating. Discarded furniture may be picked up by others looking for freebies, and can spread the bugs farther. Some people move in an attempt to escape the bugs, often unwittingly spreading them to other apartments, or even workplaces as the bugs can hitch a ride on clothing. And

Rest Easy Bedbug Spray

Rest Easy Bedbug Spray

not all professional exterminators are adequately educated to deal with bedbugs, says Harold Harlan, a bedbug expert extensively interviewed for this lengthy article on MSNBC.

If your infestation is not totally out of control yet, a number of green products exist to help you tackle bedbugs. Rest Easy Bedbug Spray is one product that offers some respite. It kills and repels bedbugs using all-natural, plant-based ingredients including oils of cinnamon, lemongrass, cloves, and mint.  It won’t harm you, your kids, or your pets either.

EcoZProducts for Bed Bugs is another option; it targets bugs and eggs using an EPA-exempt minimal risk pesticide, and leaves no residue. Like Rest Easy, it’s safe to use around children and pets. Download info here.

If you’ve been afflicted and have tried something successful, please post a comment here so others can learn from your experience.

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If you’re like me, the dog days of summer usually find you toting around a box of tissues, clinging to your Allegra or Zyrtec bottle like a security blanket, and blushing each time you sneeze loudly in a public place. There are so many allergens we’re routinely exposed to—dust, pet dander (on our friends’ clothing—even if not in our own houses), tobacco smoke, cleaning chemicals, molds, and a host of flower and tree pollens.

Quick: before the ragweed blooms

When I was a kid, my mom uttered the word “ragweed” like it was a swear. There was venom in her voice directed at this feathery plant who made her kid wheeze and sneeze uncontrollably. Turns out I have a lot of company. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 30 to 60 million Americans suffer from ragweed allergies—many miss school and work due to their discomfort, and many have trouble sleeping. The ubiquitous plants bloom from mid-August through October, each one releasing around a billion potent pollen grains, making us miserable in what can seem like a billion different ways. Itchy throat. Watery eyes. Coughing. Sneezing. Sniffling. Aggravated asthma.

Thankfully, there are a host of green products and practices that can bring us relief. Top among them is closing the windows, and cleaning your indoor air with an

Austin Air HealthMate Jr. Alen Paralda air purifier air filter

Healthmate Jr, and Alen Paralda

air purifier.  We really like Austin Air’s HealthMate Jr. that uses 6.5 pounds of activated carbon and over 30 square feet of medical-grade HEPA to filter 125 cubic feet of air per minute. It will remove chemicals odors, pollen, dust, mold spores, and other allergens. Put one in the bedroom with the door closed to give you (or your sneezy kid) a good night’s sleep.  Larger models are available for open areas like greatrooms and kitchen-dining.  If you want

Allerdust allergy dusting aid

Allerdust Dusting Aid

something with a bit more style, check out the Alen Paralda purifier.

You can also tackle allergens that have settled on furniture and hard surfaces in your house by using these cool products from Allersearch, such as dusting spray, carpet treatments, and upholstery spray that neutralizes allergens on contact.

In a future post, I’ll take on vaccums with HEPA filters, and test kits that can help you determine the allergy levels in your home. For now, check out those air purifiers and allergen neutralizers, and get yourself some summer relief.

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