photo credit: flickr user techbirmingham

If you’re reading this blog, you are using an electronic device – whether it’s a computer, smart phone, or e-reader.  But one of the things you may not know is that electronic devices can have serious consequences on the environment.  All electronic devices use heavy and other precious metals which, when they are mined and are returned into the ecosystem can have a detrimental effect on the health of local ecosystems and watersheds.

Recycling electronics is a huge step in ensuring that our devices do not harm the environment.  But in some instances, recycling electronics only means that recycling companies remove the valuable metals – like gold – and dissolve the rest in an acid bath, which often reenters the watershed.

Fortunately, there are organizations which serve as watchdogs to ensure that the electronics that you recycle are done so in a responsible manner, which has no negative impact on the environment.

The Basel Action Network (BAN) is one of the most important international organizations today working to ensure the efficiency of electronic recycling industries.  According to their website, they tackle important issues of environmental justice relating to the toxics trades, confronting “the issues of environmental justice at a macro level, preventing disproportionate and unsustainable dumping of the world’s toxic waste and pollution on our global village’s poorest residents. At the same time we actively promote the sustainable and just solutions to our consumption and waste crises — banning waste trade, while promoting green, toxic free and democratic design of consumer products.”

BAN runs a certification program called e-Stewards which serves as a watchdog to ensure that e-recyclers meet sustainable standards.  To date, they have certified over 40 e-recyclers with 100 locations across the United States that meet “globally responsible, safe means to process e-waste.”  These standards represent best practices in the e-waste processing industry, including no disposal in landfills or incinerators, no prison labor, and no export to poor communities.

In New York City, responsible e-waste recycling isn’t so difficult to do!  The Lower East Side Ecology Center runs a city-wide recycling program that responsibly recycles e-waste, and throws several e-waste recycling programs throughout the year.  To learn more about the LESEC’s recycling programs in NYC, you can visit their website here.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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It’s been a tumultuous and busy summer for me.  In addition to my responsibilities as the blogger for Green Depot, I’m also the director of outreach for a startup nonprofit, the Human Impacts Institute.  But this is work I’ll be leaving at the end of the summer to move onto the next big thing: pursuing my PhD in environmental Anthropology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.

New York City has been my home now for almost four years, and I’ll be sad to leave.  One of the great things about living in this sometimes overwhelming city was the knowledge that the amount of green space, the number of environmental and community organizations doing powerful work, a city government keen to tackle climate change, and an extensive bike and public transportation systems, made NYC one of the most environmentally-friendly places in America to live.

So in looking to move to the Rutgers area, what are some of the criteria I’ve been using in trying to pin down a new home that would allow me to live even more ecologically?

  1. The house. It might be my personal dream to move into a LEED-certified earth ship some day, but given my limited finances and the limitations of housing in central New Jersey, I recognized that this was likely infeasible.  Instead, I thought about what kind of home I would want to live in otherwise: was it sunny, to reduce heating costs in the winter?  Would we be able to purchase renewable energy from sources like wind or solar? Could I compost in the back yard?  Would I have the option to plant a garden, to produce some of my own food? Was the house already weatherized, and if not, would I be able to do it myself come winter? Would there be options to capture and recycle grey water from the bathroom and kitchen?
  2. Walkability. New York City is known for its walkability, but many communities in America – especially suburban communities – are designed for driving rather than walking.  I wanted to know if the town I was moving to had well-maintained sidewalks.  Were there nearby commercial streets with local, independent businesses and restaurants to patron?  Would there be a sidewalk cafe culture to get people out of their homes and participating in the community?  Were there parks and natural areas within walking distance?  And was there viable public transportation within walking distance?
  3. Bikeability. My main mode of transportation is my beautiful green commuter bike.  I wanted to know if I would be able to ride it to school safely, efficiently, and pleasantly.  Would the ride be pretty?  Would cars be respectful of cyclists, or at least less in number?  Would the town be especially hilly, making daily commutes more difficult?  Was there a bicycle infrastructure – bike lanes, sharrows, highways, and divided paths?
  4. My city’s commitment to being green. It’s not too often that a city in America makes a serious commitment to being a “green” city.  New York City is working hard at being green, and I’ve been lucky to live in a place where that was a priority for my government.  Would I be able to find that in New Jersey?

    More than the city government’s commitment to sustainability, I wanted to know if the population of the town cared about being green.  Was there a recycling and composting program in place?  How robust would it be?  Did local residents participate in civic life: were the farmers markets popular?  Could I find CSAs and co-operatives easily?  Did folks throw and participate in street fairs, community events, and town hall meetings?

THE ANSWERS

It was just my luck that I stumbled upon the little town of Highland Park, just across the Raritan river from New Brunswick, NJ, and self-styled “first green community in New Jersey.”  The house I’ve found is on a quiet street, a few blocks from main street and the farmers’ market.  There are numerous parks within walking distance, and I’ll be able to help my new roommates grow their tiny garden in the back yard.  The landlord provided us with a compost tumbler, and the house has double-paned windows, faces south, and is insulated in the walls and attic.

What’s more is that the town is a vibrant and culturally-diverse place to live, with street festivals and town gatherings common and well-attended.  Rutgers university is just across the river – my department’s building is about a 20-minute bike ride away – and in New Brunswick is a small food co-operative I plan on joining.  What’s more, is that the town has an aggressive long-term plan for bolstering its sustainability credentials, as designed by its city government’s green council.

All in all, a nice little place to live!

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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image credit: flickr user pfsullivan_1056 on creative commons license

For some folks, having a cool indoor temperature during the summer is a matter of health.  But for many of the rest of us, having indoor air conditioning is a matter of comfort, rather than health.

But what many of us don’t realize is the extent of the impact that air conditioners can have on the environment – and on our utility bill.  In many instances – especially here in the Northeast U.S., where Green Depot is headquartered – a fan can prove to be significantly more economical and environmentally-friendly, and create a home environment that is just as comfortable as it would be with an air conditioner.

How an A/C Works

Air conditioners don’t differ much from how a refrigerator functions.  An air conditioner pumps a chemical refrigerant through a cycle of compression and expansion.  As the refrigerant moves, it absorbs heat from the interior of a home and pumps it to the outdoors.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is also known as the Entropy Law, states simply that when there is a heat differential – i.e., when one area of a room is hotter than another, the heat will move from the hotter part to the cooler until an equilibrium is reached between the two.  An air conditioner has to mechanically compress the refrigerant into a hot liquid form to suck the heat out of a room efficiently enough to cool it down.  This requires a substantial amount of energy – usually electricity – to accomplish.  You can read more about how air conditioners work by clicking here.

The Impacts of A/C

The substantial amount of energy needed to make an air conditioner function typically comes from a power plant or a car engine.  According to National Geographic, air conditioner use in the U.S. results in average of about 100 millions tons of CO2 emissions from power plants each year.  Surprisingly, that accounts for 1/5 of all kilowatt-hours consumed per year.  Think about it – one fifth of all electricity consumption in the United States goes to cooling buildings, and even this is often not enough electricity to supply Americans with the air conditioning they use in the hottest summer months: consider the brownouts and rolling blackouts that many of us experience in the hottest days of August.  And according to alternet.org, the electricity used to air condition the U.S. exceeds the entire electricity consumption of the India and Indonesia combined.

Air Conditioners and the Ozone

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the depletion of the ozone layer was a major cause of concern for governments, environmentalists, and citizens alike.  A major contributor to that depletion at the time were chlorofluorocarbons – CFCs – which were widely used as air conditioner coolants.

an image of the 2009 "hole" in the ozone layer, taken by scientists at NASA's Godard Space Center via their flickr account, gsfc, on a Creative Commons license

Thanks to international policy coordination, CFCs were replaced by the much more ozone-friendly hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) which deplete 95 percent less ozone.  But according to National Geographic, demand has grown significantly for air conditioners in India and China, and despite the 95% reduction in ozone depletion thanks to HCFCs, the volume of air conditioners being used has set back ozone recovery by 25 years.  In the U.S., ozone-depleting coolants were made illegal in 2010, but many of the older air conditioners we use still use HCFCs (and the oldest still use CFCs).  In developing nations, HCFCs will be allowed until 2040.

Air Conditioners and Healthy Home Air

One of the other major issues concerning air conditioner use are the impacts they have on human health.  A co0ler environment in the hottest summer days can make the difference between life and death for infants, the elderly, and those in poor health, but air conditioners also run the risk of becoming health hazards.  Dirty air filters in air conditioners can allow allergens, pesticides, and other particulate matter into the home which may aggravate respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

Air Conditioners vs. Fans

Fans don’t cool a home, but they do have the potential to make a home much more comfortable in the summer months, without the massive energy drain that air conditioners require, and without the risks posed to the environment and respiratory health.  Fans work by moving air around, and whisking moisture and heat away from the skin.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

The Bedfan Cooling System

Green Depot carries a wide array of green products that can be used to help make your home more comfortable in the summer, without sacrificing your electricity bill or the internet.

We carry a number of standard fans that can be used around the home (like the Vornado Compact 530 Whole Room Fan, or the Charly Metal Fan), but there are other fan options to make home more comfortable.

The Bedfan cooling system fits at the end of a bed and circulates cool air under your sheets at night, removing the heat that is trapped by your sheets, and has even been proven to stop night sweats due to menopause, andropause, diseases, or medications.

The Vornado Under-Cabinet Circulator fan affixes underneath any horizontal surface: cabinets, desks, in the kitchen, the laundry room, office, or workroom.

Lastly, the Solatube Solar Attic Fan is a solar-powered fan that vents all the hot air that has risen into your attic space out into the environment.  Not only does it cool your home, it also wicks moisture from the air, leaving your attic free of molds and mildews that can become a health hazard over time.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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sunSummer brings so many wonderful things – cookouts, camping trips, and trips to the beach.  But one of the less wonderful things that accompanies the arrival of summer are sunburns.

UV radiation is a serious cause for concern.  And each year, millions of Americans apply sunscreens and sunblocks to prevent those rays from reaching their skin.  But what’s surprising to know is that many of the products which we use to block the sun are unregulated by any governmental organization, and therefore can put anyone at risk to the exposure of hazardous chemicals whenever they apply sunscreen.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit environmental organization located in Washington, D.C. that is dedicated to research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands, and corporate accountability.  One of their major projects in the last few years was their 2010 guide to sunscreens.

The EWG has done some astonishing research into the safety of commonly-used sunscreens.  On their website, they cite a few salient facts as the rationale behind conducting an audit of the safety of sunscreens, and reasons why you should chose a sunscreen that is less risky in terms of its chemical ingredients:

  • 1. The FDA has failed to finalize its 1978 sunscreen safety standards, and this has muddled the understanding of the safety and efficacy of conventional sunscreens.
  • 2. There’s no clear consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer – meaning that choosing a more toxic sunscreen to prevent cancer might be more dangerous than using a milder, or natural one, and avoiding more sun.
  • 3. Major “chemical” sunscreens penetrate the skin and may disrupt the body’s hormone systems; mineral-based sunscreens do not penetrate the skin.
  • 4. This is the 34th summer in a row without final U.S. sunscreen safety regulations.

To learn more about the dangers of sunscreens, you can visit the EWG’s 9 surprising truth’s page by clicking here.

So, what alternatives then exist?

Fortunately, the Environmental Working Group has gone through and analyzed an entire host of sunscreen products, in an effort to identify which are the safest for human use.  These would be sunscreens that pose the least amount of risk in terms of toxicity and chemical exposure, with the least amount of effects on human health.  You can access the full guide by clicking here.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

Green Depot carries one green product in particular that has been vetted and cleared by the EWG as being one of the safest available and most effective sunscreens on the market.

Badger brand unscented natural sunscreen has been given a rating of “1″ by the EWG, placing it in the highest bracket for safety and efficacy.  This sunscreen is water resistant for at least 40 minutes, environmentally-friendly, safe for children, and blocks both UVA and UVB rays.  This entire line of natural sunscreens uses the mineral zinc oxide instead of chemicals to block the sun, and a base of only certified organic plant oils and beeswax to moisturize the skin.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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credit: unep.org/wed

Mark your calendars for this Sunday, June 5 – because it’s World Environment Day!

According to the official website for the holiday, World Environment Day is a program of the United Nations Environment Program (the UNEP) created and designated as June 5 in 1973 by the UN General Assembly.  World Environment Day is similar to the American analogue, Earth Day, in that it serves as an annual reminder to keep the environment in mind, and allows civic groups to use the date as a to enhance political action around the environment.

The day has a special historical significance because it marks the first UN Conference on the Human Environment, which is one of the earliest major political events concerning environmentalism, and at the time served as a galvanizing event in the history of the movement.

This year to commemorate the holiday, I’ll be making great use of the beautiful out-of-doors as I travel to Assateague Island National Seashore for a camping and kayaking trip.  While on Earth Day many of us use the holiday as an event for political or community action – for staging rallies or events, or planting trees or doing roadside cleanup – I’m practicing my environmentalism in another way – by getting out into nature and appreciating the pure beauty of it.  And we at Green Depot hope you do, too!

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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The day after Memorial Day, and it’s finally summer.  We now get to look forward to long, sunny days full of outdoor grilling, thunderstorms, the 4th of July, trips to the beach, camping and hiking trips, starry nights… and all of the negative things that come along with the summer, too: the heat, the humidity, sunburn, and the bugs.

Bugs are something we’re equipped to help you with at Green Depot!  And unlike many of the conventional products used to combat summer pests, all of the green products that we carry are non-toxic, meaning they’re safer for you, your family, your pets, and the environment.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

1. Oak Stump Mosquito Trap and Lures: These mosquito traps are non-toxic and reusable from year to year.  They work by harnessing the power of a mosquito egg pheromone, which attracts mosquitos to lay their eggs in the jar which traps them permanently inside, keeping them away from you and your family.  Two traps handles an average-sized yard, and eight traps will cover an entire acre, significantly reducing the local mosquito population and their irritating and infecting bites.

2. Glass Fruit Fly Trap and Lures: These glass jars are aesthetically-pleasing enough to keep indoors, yet effective enough to keep pesky fruit flies out of your home.  It sits on the counter or hangs by a window, drawing flies away from fresh fruit, clearing a room full of flies in only a few hours – much more effectively than common types of bait such as red wine and vinegar.  Add the lure packet to water, add a drop of dishwashing soap, and set the trap in an effective area for 10 to 14 days, or until the trap is full.

3. EcoSmart Flying Insect Killer: This insect killer is unlike other common insecticides, in that it is made from organic plant oils, rather than  toxic synthetic chemicals.  This flying insect killer kills all kinds of insects with no pesticide residue, keeping your family safe, and is effective on flies, gnats, mosquitos, moths, wasps, and other flying insect pests.

4. EcoSmart Insect Repellant: Like the flying insect killer, this insect repellant is made from organic plant oils – not toxic synthetic chemicals – and effectively keeps away mosquitos, ticks, gnats, and other annoying pests for hours.

5. Big Dipper Citronella Candles: Lots of common citronella candles are made from a base of paraffin wax – a petroleum-based product that, when burned, gives off gases that are unhealthy for you and the environment.  Big Dipper Citronella Candles are, on the other hand, made from beeswax which is safe for you and your family.  These candles contain the pure essential oils of citronella and cedarwood, both of which are known to deter insects.  Furthermore, the wicks are made of 100% cotton and contain no lead or metal.

6. Beekman 1802 Bug Repellant Bar: These soap bars are made from a base of goat milk, and contain citronella, eucalyptus, and other essential oils that are effective at keeping bugs away.  For a long day outdoors, use them in the shower.  For shorter periods of time outdoors, you can apply the bars dry onto your pulse points, and your body heat will release the scent from the oils into the air.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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