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.

Memorial Day, the classic American holiday for outdoor cooking and the mark of the beginning of the Summer, is just around the corner!

Despite being a good time to celebrate the start of summer with friends and family, the holiday is also notorious for the amount of disposable goods that are consumed during Memorial Day.  My own memories of it are full of disposable napkins, paper and styrofoam plates, and plastic cups and utensils.

This year, why not make the commitment to make Memorial Day a little more sustainable?

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

1. Compostable Hot/Cold Cups: Wold Centric are constructed from paper, but unlike other disposable paper cups, are lined with NatureWorks Ingeo polylactic acid (PLA) which is corn-derived.  Most disposable paper cups on the market are lined with polyethylene, which makes means they cannot be composted.  These, instead, are fully biodegradable and compostable – and a huge step up from the familiar petroleum-based plastic SOLO cups.

2. Cornstarch Compostable Utensils: World Centric cornstarch compostable utensils aren’t only biodegradable, they’re also heat resistant up to 200 degrees fahrenheit.  They’re made from 70% NatureWorks Ingeo PLA specifically derived from U.S.-grown non-GMO corn, and 30% talc.  Do note, though, that they compost best in a commercial composting facility, to check to see if your local waste management department has a composting program.

3. Wasara Compostable Plates and Cups: Wasara produces a full line of single-use dinnerware that are made from 100% tree-free renewable materials: sugar cane fiber (bagasse), bamboo, and reed pulp.  That means that opposed to their plastic and styrofoam counterparts, they are fully biodegradable and compostable.  They come in many different designs: small and large square plates, small and large round plates, and in bowl, tumbler, and wine cup form.

4. Compostable Bagasse Bowl: World Centric also produces a line of biodegradable and compostable bowls, which are constructed from 100% sugarcane fiber, or bagasse.  Not only are they kinder on the environment for their compostability, but typically sugarcane fiber is burnt to dispose of it, contributing to climate change.  These bowls are soak-proof, and have no plastic or wax lining.

You can get lots more ideas for a sustainable Memorial Day by visiting our outdoor entertainment feature page!

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

credit: flickr user kristine paulus

People always seem to come together through agriculture.  This makes a lot of sense – the advent of agriculture many thousands of years ago gave rise to sedentary communities that were once nomadic and centered around hunting and gathering.  People congregate where there is a project – like farming – to be undertaken together, as a group.

Growing up on a farm, our small town was a tiny slice of rural culture where folks would assemble at the weekend farmers’ market, at the feed store or the agricultural co-op, or at the annual county agricultural fair.

That little slice of agricultural community is something that I’ve sorely missed in New York.  But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t congregating, on a smaller scale, all around the city!

A few months ago, I came across a charming, and moving, story in the New York Times: Chicken Vanishes, Heartbreak Ensues.”  You might have already read it, but it’s a really lovely story of how a community can form around agricultural practice – even if the people in that community didn’t know how much they were coming together while they were doing so!

In the neighborhood of Bed-Stuy, a family was keeping a family of chickens in the front yard of their home, facing the sidewalk.  Having chickens in the front yard caught the attention of the community’s residents, and the author talks to the ability of the chickens to bring folks together: “The admirers came in droves… In a neighborhood fraught with the tensions of gentrification, making people talk to one another, and talk about something other than themselves, is not an insignificant accomplishment. What I’m saying is that these chickens are important in ways that chickens aren’t usually important.  They are Bed-Stuy’s very own peace doves.”

The story goes on to talk about how their prize hen, Getrude, was stolen one night and the tremendous uproar this caused in the community – folks talked about where the chicken might have gone, offered help in finding the thief to the owners, left signs and banners of support on the fence of their property.  Eventually the chicken was returned by a very guilty young man who admitted to stealing the chicken in a drunken dare.  And, wonderfully, the return of the chicken caused a great positive reaction throughout the neighborhood.

Chickens, bringing people together like that, and in a place like New York City – who would have thought?

Chicken keeping in the city is a growing hobby.  The Huffington Post noted a growing trend of chicken keeping in NYC as far back as 2009.  Indeed, for the aspiring chicken-keeper, Just Food, our own local urban agriculture advocacy organization, runs the City Chicken Project.

courtesy justfood.org and the city chicken project

Funded entirely by member donations, the City Chicken Project offers several resources for city gardeners and farmers who raise chickens.  They publish the City Chicken Guide, run chicken workshops, and have a Just Food City Chicken Meetup in NYC which brings together chicken hobbyists from disparate backgrounds.

And what’s again remarkable about urban chickens are the organizations it brought together – Just Food, the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Added Value, and Heifer International.

Urban chickens get people excited!  It’s a strange animal to cause such allure, but it certainly adds a lot of vibrancy to city life.  And, considering the impacts that the industrial chicken and egg industries have on the environment, urban chickens certainly help improve our sustainability here in the city, as well.

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

 

Shipping container architecture has got to be one of the most fascinating uses of upcycling that I know of.  Taking something that might otherwise be discarded to become a space that functions in new and inventive ways just opens up such a realm of possibility for creative and compelling sustainable design.  The Dekalb Market is a really great example of some innovative container architecture – let’s take a look at a few others.

1. Keetwonen is the largest container city in the world, designed for students in the Netherlands.  Constructed from hundreds upon hundreds of containers.  As their website states, there was skepticism that the project would be successful – folks were worried that they might be too small, too noisy, too cold, or too hot.  But the project has become a great success, and become a permanent neighborhood in Amsterdam: the site was first constructed in 2006 and was due to be disassembled by 2011, but this relocation will be postponed until 2016.

2. The Box Office, in Providence, Rhode Island is a fully functional office complex constructed from 32 shipping containers.  Not only is this space built from upcycled shipping containers, they are energy efficient – it’s expected that these offices use 33% less energy than a conventional office.  Moreover, the office was designed with low to no-VOC products and no petroleum-based insulation.  The Box Office was engineered with efficient windows and is climate-controlled with no fossil fuels, using air-to-air heat pumps, and utilizes dual-source lighting, which automatically adjusts interior artificial lighting according to the level of passive natural light entering the space.

3. The Nomadic Museum is perhaps one of the more famous examples of shipping container architecture.  Designed by architect Shigeru Ban, the Nomadic Museum is constructed from 148 shipping containers specifically to house and exhibit artist Gregory Colbert’s photography.  The portable building is constructed from a combination of shipping containers, cables, suspension rods, and cardboard tubes that form columns in the interior of the structure.  Because of the portable design of the museum, it has had a home in multiple global cities – from New York City, to Santa Monica, California; and from Tokyo to Mexico City.

To see more examples of shipping container architecture, try visiting the topic’s wikipedia page, or the unofficial online website for shipping container architecture.

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

Bamboo flooring as a green product is increasingly growing in popularity for many reasons, many of which go deeper than the pure aesthetic beauty of bamboo.  Bamboo is a kind of flooring wonder materials – it is more often rapidly and sustainably produced than traditional hardwoods, and holds up significantly better in the home in more adverse conditions than other conventional materials.

Bamboo flooring has several unique environmental benefits – the greatest being its rapid renewability.  Bamboo isn’t a hardwood tree, like most conventional flooring options.  Instead, it’s a grass which comes to full maturity in about five years.  Many hardwood trees can take decades to mature to harvestability.

But the benefits in the home are equally substantial.  Bamboo is actually a stronger building material than many common hardwoods, including maple and red oak.  Because it is so hard and resilient, it can withstand greater impacts than most hardwoods without denting.

Bamboo is also an optimal material for rooms traditionally considered unfriendly to hardwoods, like bathrooms and kitchens.  Bamboo flooring is usually laminated, making it resistant to warping in moisture-rich environments.  It is also a tropical plant – making it naturally resistant to moisture, spills, and stains.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

We have a sale on bamboo flooring until May 31st.  Green Depot can offer 10% off any of our bamboo flooring options – Prefinished, floating, unfinished, and stained & finished Foundations brand bamboo flooring.  Additionally, Green Depot is offering 10% off Plybam Bamboo Plywood.

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

I have a few other hats, in addition to my role as the blogger for Green Depot.  One of those hats I wear is the Director of Outreach and Advocacy for the Human Impacts Institute, a fledgling NGO I started with a former colleague of mine.

For the next two weeks, on behalf of the Human Impacts Institute, I’m attending the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development’s 19th conference (CSD-19), as a delegate to the Youth and Children Major Group.

This seems like a lot of diplomatic jargon, I’m sure!  And to a large extent, it is.  So, I’ll break it down just a little bit:

At most UN conferences, and at the CSD-19 in particular, every government has a delegation. (Sometimes, groups of governments are represented by a single nation – like the G77, a group of 77 developing nations represented at the CSD-19 by Indonesia).

But not only governments have delegations.  There are nine “major groups” that also have a seat on the negotiation floor: Youth and Children, Indigenous Peoples, Women, Farmers, Business and Industry, Local Authorities, NGOs, Scientific and Technological Community, and Workers and Trade Unions.  I’m a part of the Youth and Children Major Group.

In addition, the conference has several focal areas, and for 2011 they are: Transportation, Mining, Chemicals, Waste Management, and Sustainable Consumption and Production.  Each delegation, from national governments and from the major groups, sends representatives to each negotiation session for each topic listed above (all of which are held in different rooms).

When these groups get together in the room, they hash out the text for policy documents, which are originally submitted by the chair of that focal group.  This is where politics come into play, and things can get heated, especially as lingering tensions between the developed and developing nations comes to the fore.  Major groups are given limited opportunities to offer revisions to the document (known as interventions) and are largely there to observe (know as tracking).  However, in the last two days of negotiation, all major groups are permitted to offer their own amendments and revisions.

And that, in a nutshell, is how the process works at the CSD-19!

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