A Greener Season

by Cathy Robinson

Concerned about our environment? Here are some low cost, easy and sustainable ideas for a ‘Green’ Holiday season.

Buy Local

Purchase your Thanksgiving meal from local farmers and feel the gratitude of supporting a family close to home. While you’re picking up some local products, why not buy extra and freeze or can for a delicious treat over the winter? Locally grown potatoes and squash are at their most flavorful this time of year, and freeze or can beautifully. Buying in season is usually less expensive as well. Our family’s goal this year was to make all our own jam for school lunches. We grew, bought, and picked berries and apples and made several batches of jam and jellies. Directions for canning and freezing can be found online and in libraries, or your county extension agent is a great resource.

Giftwrap Alternatives

Most mass-produced (and expensive!) wrapping paper you find in stores is not recyclable and ends up in landfills. Instead, here’s a great chance to get creative! Wrap presents with old maps, the comics section of a newspaper, even brown paper grocery bags tied with twine or a plaid ribbon. Those many pieces of children’s artwork can be saved and used to wrap special gifts. If every family wrapped just three gifts this way, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. Remember to recycle the paper afterwards! Or make the wrap part of the gift! Use a scarf, attractive dish towel, bandana, or some other useful cloth item. Along the same line, handmade cards are very nice to receive, whether made by you or your kids. Taking the time to write a personal note is a gift in itself.

Holiday Trees

Green Christmas trees aren’t just about color. Tree farms are just that – farms that plant and harvest a crop. Buying a tree from local grower is much more environmentally friendly than cutting one down in the woods, and supports local businesses. Ask your grower about pesticides and other chemicals used if that is a concern for you. After the season, string popcorn or spread peanut butter on pine cones and re-decorate your tree for your yard. The birds and squirrels will love it! Finally, be sure to recycle your tree. Each year, 10 million Christmas trees end up in the landfill. Most local cities and towns offer recycling and turn the trees into usable, green mulch. Buying a potted tree and planting outside in the spring is another great option, just keep the tree cool and lightly watered over the winter and be sure to choose one that will survive in our Zone 4 climate. There is nothing in the rulebook that says you have to have a pine tree as a Christmas tree. You can use any type of potted tree or plant as your eco-friendly Christmas tree, maybe even one you already have in your home. Being resourceful is just as important as being green.

Lighting Choices

Finally, LED lights use 90% less energy than conventional holiday lights, saving up to $50 on your energy bills. That’s not a bad payback! Take a pledge this New Year to reduce your home energy use by buying energy-efficient light bulbs. Installing only 6 compact fluorescent light bulbs will save the average American family $60 per year. Be sure to recycle these bulbs, as they contain mercury. LED replacement lighting for homes is available in most home centers.
Every little thing we do makes a difference. Supporting local businesses, reusing, recycling, and using less energy are great ways to live sustainably – which is a gift to yourself AND the Earth. Happy Holidays!

Winter Composting

When you hear the words winter composting, your first thought might be, “WHY?” Here are just a few reasons for keeping an outdoor compost bin active through the cold months:

• Helpful if you need (or simply want) to deal with large quantities of waste materials – more than can be handled by a typical indoor home-based system.

• It can be a really fun challenge, and a great way to master your composting skills in general.

• Good way to get some attention and educate others about composting (winter composting is a great conversation piece, too).

• Depending on the techniques used, it can actually provide a supplemental heat source for a winter greenhouse (requires larger composting mass than described below).

• You won’t likely need to worry about the system drying out or overheating (as can happen in the summer).

Now, you’re probably thinking, “HOW?” These tips from renowned Canadian blogger “The Compost Guy” can help.

• A good heat source is necessary to keep your system microbially active. This requires the presence of an external heat source or enough material (‘critical mass’) with a well balanced Carbon to Nitrogen ratio (somewhere between 20:1 and 40:1 works best) to support microbial heating. The critical mass for thermophilic composting is generally in the range of 1 cubic yard – so use a system that has a volume of at least that much (the colder your region, the bigger you’ll want to make your system).

• You’ll need some insulation unless you are creating winter composting heaps significantly larger than 1 cubic yard. An excellent low-tech approach: stack up straw bales around the outside of your bin. An excellent winter system could be as simple as stacked straw bales to create walls filled with your balanced mixture of waste materials.

• To create an insulation system, line the inside of your bin with multiple layers of corrugated cardboard, then build an outer wall around the bin, thereby creating a space you can stuff full of insulation (I use second-hand home insulation). Add some additional layers of cardboard between the outer wall and the insulation layer, and voila. In areas where heavy snowfall occurs, snow can be used for supplemental insulation; just build up big heaps of snow adjacent to 3 of the 4 faces of your bin. Another great naturally occurring source of insulation is the earth itself. Digging a compost pit in the ground into the side of a hill can be an easy (and effective) strategy. It will also help to maintain a thick layer of bedding over the top of your composting mass. Loose straw and fall leaves are very well suited for this task, but there are plenty of other possibilities as well.

• Continually add fresh waste materials to keep your system fueled. Try keeping a bucket (or larger container) for your kitchen scraps. You may even want to seek out external waste sources to ensure you have enough. Local coffee shops (for coffee grounds), grocery stores (for waste produce) or stables (for manure) are just a few possibilities.

For more information on winter composting, visit www.compostguy.com/winter-composting/

Green Kids


Use “Green Bucks”

For older children, the concept of “Green Bucks” helps teach them about two types of green: money and the environment. Similar to an allowance, Green Bucks are given to kids as a reward, but instead of being used on the latest toy, they represent a set amount of money that is donated in their name to an environmentally-friendly charity of their choice.

My Place

Planet Green has a series of short animations with great messages about going green called My Place. They are silly, effective, and fun to watch! www.planetgreen.discovery.com/videos/my-place

Easy Going Green

We all want to “Go Green” but many adults don’t know where to start. Easy Going Green is an interactive deck of 52 flash cards created to help teachers and parents instruct children about respecting the environment. Designed with the young child in mind, Easy Going Green gives simple and practical steps that children and families can take to protect the environment. $19.95, www.easygoinggreenkids.com

Green Reads for Kids

Earl the Earthworm Digs for His Life teaches us about the amazing work of worms and how we can use them to create compost from our organic waste.

Garbology Kids

Out of sight, out of mind. A national recycling rate that hovers around 33 percent proves that many U.S. consumers are familiar with this trash-tossing attitude.

Sabbithry Persad’s new book Garbology Kids, is the first in a series of five books that will educate children on where waste goes once it’s tossed.

Persad believes that if kids learn more about recycling and waste management at an early age, they can take the knowledge with them into their adult lives, and it will become as automatic as getting in their hybrid or electric car, fastening their seat belt, and brushing their teeth. www.garbologykids.com/

Lick Global Warming

Every kid loves ice cream and the kings of flavor, Ben & Jerry, have created a colorful, animated website that gives kids an easy way to understand climate change and global warming. There are colorful maps, games, and educational information to teach kids how to be green and environmentally friendly. http://www.lickglobalwarming.org

Count Your Pennies

Pennies for the Planet is a successful nationwide campaign to help critical conservation projects. It’s powered by kids collecting pennies (and nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars, too!) to help save wild places and wildlife in the United States. Working in groups and troops of all sorts, in school classrooms, with their families, and on their own, kids have turned pennies into a gold mine for wild spaces and wildlife in need of protection. www.togethergreen.org

Is Fresh Air “Drying Up” as a Drying Alternative?

by Heather Rothbauer-Wanish

It seems like almost a signal to the seasons. Spring arrives, followed by the heated sun rays of summer; clothes are hung on clotheslines to soak up the air and wonderfully long daylight hours.

Not only does hanging clothes outside save the electricity that would have been used by the dryer, the clothes come back into the house smelling freshly-scented and have the ‘crispness’ of being dried outside. However, legislation is being proposed in many areas that would ban the use of clotheslines. From the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, this issue has become a popular discussion of basic rights and environmental-friendliness.

According to an article in the New York Times, clothes dryers use at least six percent of all household electricity consumption. The Wall Street Journal, citing the same percentage, stated that this ranks dryers third in energy use, only behind refrigerators and lighting. The high energy use, and high electrical costs of dryers, has led people to hang clothes outside for drying purposes. However, not everyone wants to see others’ laundry from their window; this is especially true in association-governed communities.

Drying for Freedom (dryingforfreedom.com) follows the actual case of feuding neighbors in Miss., where the police say one man shot and killed another last year because he was tired of telling the man to stop hanging his laundry outside.

The sharp growth of these types of communities brings additional regulations. Frank Rathbun, spokesman for the Community Associations Institute, stated that there are approximately 60 million people living in about 300,000 association-governed communities. Some states, including Wisconsin, limit homeowners associations’ ability to restrict the installation of solar systems; however, many times it is unclear if clotheslines fall into this category.

Chippewa Valley resident Tiffany Coggins, owner of Green Girl Inc., is passionate about the environment and has started her business as a way to share environmentally-friendly tips and ideas. Coggins feels strongly that people should have the right to hang clothes outside. “I would hope that people would work to reverse existing bans. I also hope people will fight to keep new bans from coming into existence. People should have the ability to hang clothes in their own yards to better the environment and save money,” Coggins said.

Katy Martin, originally from Altoona and now a resident of rural Chippewa Falls, shared Coggins’ thoughts. “When I was young, single, and seeking my first house, I really liked a particular house in a certain area of town. However, I did not buy for one reason: you could not have a clothesline in your own yard,” she explained.

Coggins reflected on the larger picture of the environment. “I think that we need to put the environment much higher on our priority list. Something as superficial as being offended by looking at some other person’s laundry hanging outside seems silly when you look at the environmental big picture,” she explained.

Carrie Heath, a Chippewa Falls resident, hangs all her laundry outside on every possible day that she can. She also recognizes the impact on the earth. “Not only is it free to use the sun and wind to dry your clothing, but there is no wasteful byproduct. The sun is a natural antibacterial as well; towels and sheets that are hung in the sun are so much cleaner,” Heath said.

When residents choose to hang laundry outdoors in an association-governed neighborhood that has strict guidelines, there can be legal action. One such case in Bend, Oregon has led to numerous complaints by neighbors regarding viewing others’ laundry, as well as written warning letters to the person who has chosen to violate these covenants.

According to Coggins, there are options to consider if someone does not want to view the laundry of a neighbor. “If people are disturbed by the aesthetics of looking at hanging laundry, then maybe they should put in extra plants for landscaping to block views to their neighbors’ yards,” she commented. “There would be many benefits to adding landscaping, including additional removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” Coggins added.

Emily Kuhn also enjoys the benefits of helping the earth while drying clothes outdoors. “I am excited to be able to hang my laundry from our clothesline this summer; it’s so much more energy-efficient than using the dryer,” Kuhn commented. However, Kuhn also addressed the need for discreteness. “I will admit that I’d never put a clothesline where anyone but the nearest neighbors could see it — and only the ones who can view our backyard, for that matter,” Kuhn said.

People have been using the sun and wind to dry laundry since the beginning of time. While the appearance of clotheslines has become more of an issue in recent years, people in the Chippewa Valley are struggling with reconciling appearance versus the betterment of the earth. Hanging laundry has been a time-honored tradition for many families, and Coggins hopes it will continue to be a practice well into the future. “Hanging laundry outside reminds people of their parents and grandparents. It gives them a feeling of nostalgia,” she concluded.

What Does Your CO2 Footprint Look Like?

by Abby Czeskleba

These days, it’s difficult to turn on the television without hearing a story about the adverse effects of global warming. Of course, newspapers are no exception. We read new studies and findings about global warming all the time. Meteorologists even use global warming to explain strange seasonal weather patterns. While there’s more than one theory about the cause of global warming, a majority will agree that it is caused by our carbon dioxide emissions. With the whole human race to blame, it’s hard to understand how we as individuals contribute to this problem on a daily basis. If we don’t understand our contribution to global warming, how are we ever going to change? Becoming more aware of the problem will help us all to cut down on the amount of carbon dioxide emissions and teach us how to conserve energy.

America: Leading the Way

Since 1980, residential housing nationwide has increased by 78.6 billion square feet or 2,820 square miles — an area almost three times the size of Rhode Island. A typical American house is an energy guzzler that produces a surprising amount of greenhouse gas. In the last 25 years, the average size of a single-family house — and consequently the amount of space that must be heated, cooled, and lit — has increased from 1,740 square feet to 2,330 square feet. As of 2005, the United States was the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide makes up more than 80 percent of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The United States now adds 21 percent more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere annually than in 1990, almost all of it from fossil fuels. Additionally, TVs, computers, stereos, and other electronic devices account for roughly ten percent of all residential electricity in the United States. Sixty percent of that electricity is consumed while the devices are not in use. That amounts to more than 56 million tons of CO2 emitted annually.

You Do the Math

Generating a kilowatt-hour of electricity in the United States (about what an iron uses in an hour) produces 1.64 pounds of carbon dioxide. So the typical household uses enough electricity to add more than 2,000 pounds a month of CO2 to the atmosphere. Most household appliances, except for stoves and dryers, don’t have exhaust pipes. Power plants produce a steady stream of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. For example, a standard refrigerator uses roughly 1,239 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. As a result, 2,032 pounds of carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere. Experts on greenhouse-gas emissions say that every time your car burns a gallon of gasoline, you are putting more than 25 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as well as a smaller amount of methane, nitrous oxide, and various other toxic gases. A single gallon of gasoline weighs only about 6 pounds. Additionally, a new SUV is typically driven 15,000 miles the first year, burns 882 gallons of gas, and produces 22,050 pounds of CO2; whereas a typical midsize car is driven 12,000 miles annually, burns 494 gallons of gas, and produces 12,350 pounds of CO2 .

Solutions for a Better Tomorrow

The good news is that roughly 33 percent of the American production of all greenhouse gases, or the equivalent of 17,422 pounds of CO2 per person, comes from sources under our direct control — for instance, our cars and houses. Cutting that number by half may not entail much pain or inconvenience because we have a tendency to be wasteful with our energy.

There are a number of simple steps we can take to decrease the amount of CO2 we use on a daily basis. The next time you have a barbecue, cook your burgers with propane gas — you’ll only use 5.6 pounds of CO2 per hour as opposed to 11 pounds of CO2 with charcoal briquettes. You can also ask your energy company about switching to a supplier that uses electricity from windmills, small hydroelectric plants, and methane landfills. This small step can remove close to 20,000 pounds of your family’s annual pollution. If you can’t switch your energy supplier, you can add insulation to your house to help cut down on heating and air conditioning bills.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions for the Average U.S. Household
Figures are based on national averages for a 2,000- to 2,500-square-foot house.
Space Heating:
• 54,900 ft3 of natural gas
• 6,643 lbs of CO2
Lighting and Appliances:
• 8,998 kilowatt-hours of electricity
• 14, 757 lbs of CO2
Air Conditioning:
• 2,785 kilowatt-hours of electricity
• 4,566 lbs of CO2
Water Heating:
• 19,700 ft3 of natural gas
• 2,384 lbs of CO2
Source: U. S. Department of Energy, 2001 Residential

Other fun ways to save energy include replacing parts of your lawn with ground cover to decrease the amount of mowing. While mowing the lawn is a great workout, lawn mowers (especially power mowers) produce more carbon dioxide per mile than any car. At work, you can decrease your energy use by using a flat-screen computer monitor. Flat-screens use 50 to 70 percent less energy than older models.

CO2 Emissions & Household Appliances (pounds of CO2 emitted per year):
Television: 196-525 (depending on size of TV)
Dishwasher: 840
Stove: 1,600
Washer: 197
Dryer: 1,770
Microwave: 343
Computer: 430
VCR/DVD player: 90-115
Cell phone: 15
Landline phone: 43
Ceiling fan: 82
Radio/CD player: 74

Perhaps one of the easiest solutions is to install a dozen compact fluorescent light bulbs around your house. This quick and easy step can eliminate 550 pounds of CO2 each year. Perhaps more importantly, the light bulbs would pay back their cost after using them for just three months. The government estimates that if every American home replaced just one light bulb with a florescent light bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars. As a means of encouraging people to use more energy efficient lighting, Energy Star is offering coupons for discounts on florescent light bulbs. For more information, visit www.energystar.gov and click on “Take the Energy Star Change a Light Pledge.”

Finally, you can help decrease the level of CO2 emissions by driving a hybrid or “green” car. Such environmentally friendly cars include the Honda: Insight, Civic Hybrid, Toyota: Prius, Scion XA, Echo, and VW Jetta Diesel. For more information about hybrid cars, visit www.greenercars.com for comparison information about different car models.

Regardless of whether you change one light bulb or buy a new car, the important part is that you are making a conscious decision to help the environment and shrink your CO2 footprint.