Hankies vs. Facial Tissues


Last year in preparation for a very sad event, I bought a package of cloth hankies. Since then they have become a staple with me as my nose runs from October through May. I like how soft they are on my beleaguered nose, I like that I’m not cutting down trees to wipe my nose, and I like saying hankie way better than facial tissue. Seriously, what focus group came up with that name? It sounds as ridiculous as “ladies lounge”.

Here are some pictures of adorable vintage cloth hankies. They are easily found in almost any vintage clothing shop for very low prices. Why not try and save a few trees (actually 163,000 if every household used one less box of virgin fiber tissues) and smile when you blow your nose into a hankie that says “Thank you”? These hankies are from an online shop called Betsy Vintage. They are pricey, but so cute!


Alternatives to wrapping paper


In our house we celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah. That is a whole lot of gift giving, which can mean a whole lot of gift wrapping. It bums me out each year to see the clear garbage bags filled with holiday wrapping paper. This year I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of paper we use to wrap gifts. For Chanukah, we give one or two gifts a night. I’ve been putting them unwrapped inside a pretty gift bag. Lindsay doesn’t seem to notice or care that they aren’t wrapped. She’s just interested in what’s inside the bag. In fact she saw the bag today and asked why there was nothing in the Chanukah bag (her comforter wouldn’t fit in it).

Neil asked what I planned to do with the presents for Christmas. The gift bag obviously won’t work, so I’ve been looking at ideas online for gift wrap alternatives. Here’s what I found so far. Please feel free to add suggestions.

  1. Use fabric to wrap the gifts. I’ve gotten some fabric bags over the years when I’ve purchased something at a fancy shop. I always hang onto them because it just seems a waste to throw them out. (I’m convinced that I have a form of mental illness when it comes to throwing things out, but that’s a whole other post). I think putting some of the gifts in these bags would be pretty. If I had more time, I would even consider sewing a few bags from all the bits of fabric I have.
  2. Use the funny papers to wrap kids presents. If your paper has a comic section, this can be a nice option.
  3. Old calendars can be cut up and used to wrap smaller gifts.
  4. Wallpaper
  5. Old maps. NYC subway maps are free
  6. Kid’s artwork. If you don’t want to use their drawings, have them decorate paper grocery bags with stickers, drawings, glitter, etc.
  7. Pillow cases from mis-matched sets of sheets

Here are some factoids that might give you some more incentive. I pulled them off the California government website.

  • An estimated 2.6 billion holiday cards are sold each year in the United States, enough to fill a football field 10 stories high.
  • More household waste is produced between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than any other time of the year–about six million tons of added waste nationwide.
  • Half of the paper consumed in the U.S. every year is used to wrap and decorate consumer products.
  • About 40 percent of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Consider purchasing rechargeable batteries instead of single-use household batteries. In 2006 alone, more than 40 billion single-use batteries were sold worldwide.
  • Tuesday's Tip


    I’ve been thinking a lot about the small things we can do that add up to a big impact. That is what has made me want to post some ideas hopefully once a week. In any case, I’ve chosen tuesday as my day. The idea of these tips is to spark awareness and not guilt. I think we sometimes get caught up in how bad so many different things are that it’s hard to think of the small things we can do to chip away at the problem.

    So, these are my guilt-free tips. If you have any ideas of your own *please* email them to me and I will post them when I can.

    Today’s tip is to lower the water usage in your toilet. A family of 4 typically uses 100 gallons of water a day, and the toilet is the biggest factor in the water consumption.

    Ideally we would all have low-flow toilets, or the cool dual-flush ones that have a different amount of water to flush #1 and #2. If that’s not an option (remember, don’t feel guilty!) you can reduce the amount of water in your tank. This reduces the amount of water used per flush, which adds up pretty quickly.

    When I was a kid, a lot of people put a brick in their toilet tank. The mass of the brick would reduce a brick-size mass of water in your tank. That’s the idea I’m working with today. The only problem with using a brick is that it begins to deteriorate in the water, which can cause problems with your pipes.

    Instead of a brick, you can use a number of different objects. I love to go on hikes and nature walks, so my objective was to find a river rock. When we stayed with friends up in Woodstock, NY there were plenty of beautiful, smooth river rocks near their house. River rocks are great because their surface has been smoothed over by years of water flowing. They won’t deteriorate in your tank and cause problems.

    If you can’t find a nice river rock, another solution is to take a plastic bottle or jug that is about 1 liter in size. Fill it with pebbles and seal it. The pebbles weigh it down, so it doesn’t float around and interfere with the workings of the toilet.

    Of course, there’s the old saying, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” If you and your family are up for this (mine is not), you can save a lot of water by just not flushing as often.

    Earth Baby Compostable Diapers

    One Day of Diapers. Photo © Sean Dreilinger

    One Day of Diapers. Photo © Sean Dreilinger

    Earth Baby was founded by three California Bay Area families who saw the amount of disposable diapers they were sending to the landfill and wanted to do something about it. They launched Earth Baby, which is a service that delivers diapers and wipes. They come later to collect the used diapers and bring them to a composting facility. The composting process uses only .5 watt-hour of electricity per diaper (equivalent of running a 60 watt light bulb for 30 seconds), no water or chlorine bleach.

    The diapers themselves are made of natural unbleached FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified wood pulp and a super-absorbent gel. They are 100% chlorine and fragrance free. The composted diapers are turned into a high-quality top-soil, which is used at local golf courses and sod farms.

    I am a sucker for the stats that show how many trees have been saved by using recycled paper towels for a year, or how much energy I’ve saved over a year with just one compact fluorescent bulb. If you are like me, you will like to know that as of June 26, 2009, Earth Baby has composted 29,220 pounds of diapers to date.

    They currently only service the Bay area, but their business is growing rapidly, so hopefully they will be available in other cities soon.

    The Story of Stuff


    Take a look at this 20 minute video about the downside of our production and consumption patterns. Annie Leonard narrates the video and discusses the social and environmental problems with the current system of consumption. It’s animated and friendly, so you aren’t left completely depressed. There is also a section on the website called Another Way. It shows 10 little and big things you can do to promote sustainability. Take a peek.

    Indoor Composting


    Here’s a product called the NatureMill that’s been getting a lot of publicity lately. The company says that it will turn your food scraps into garden-ready compost in 2 weeks.

    I am a bit skeptical about this product for a few reasons. My first doubts are with their claim to speeding up the decomposing process to only take 2 weeks. I’ve generally found that compost happens on its own schedule. A good hot pile takes a couple of months.

    My second issue with the product is the fact that it uses electricity. They say that the machine uses about $.50 of electricity a month. I just think it’s weird to take one of the most natural processes on Earth and make it use electricity. When most people start composting, it’s because they are concerned with the environment and want to reduce the amount of garbage that’s going into a landfill. The rich garden soil is a bonus.

    However, if people begin to compost with this product who would never have composted before I think it’s a positive move. If the amount of electricity is offset by the reduction of waste hitting a landfill and all of the energy costs involved in that process, I will keep my mind open. Anybody use the NatureMill or know of anyone who does? I’m curious to hear feedback on it.

    Compostable lunch trays


    A few posts back, I wrote about the fact the NYC schools use styrofoam trays for their student’s breakfast and lunches. This is such an ecological horror. I can’t imagine where they are shipping all of this mess.

    It was nice to see the following story about an alternative to the styrofoam.

    A South Carolina middle school is experimenting with lunch trays made out of bamboo and sugar cane to see if they might be the answer to the millions of Styrofoam trays the state’s public schools send to the landfill each year. WFAE’s Julie Rose reports:

    There’s been a trend in public schools over the last decade to trade washable plastic lunch trays for disposable ones made of Styrofoam. About half of South Carolina’s public schools use those trays, according to Education Department spokesman Pete Pillow. He says it’s because they’re cheaper and easier.

    “Remember, you’ve got to heat that water to a certain temperature. You’ve got to have the suds and the soap,” says Pillow. “If you’re feeding a thousand students a day that’s an awful lot of dishes to be washing to be washing according to all the state health regulations.”

    And that requires someone washing dishes pretty much full-time, says Pillow. But the cost savings come with environmental consequences.

    Pillow says South Carolina schools dump about 40-million Styrofoam lunch trays in the landfill each year. Over the next six weeks, Hand Middle School in Columbia will try out disposable trays made from bamboo and sugar cane that will then be chipped into pieces for the city’s compost.

    The bamboo trays cost about three times the Styrofoam ones, but will save the school landfill fees. If it proves cost effective enough, Pillow says the state will consider using the trays in more schools.

    Tonight is Earth Hour

    Tonight at 8:30 switch off your lights for one hour.

    In 2009, Earth Hour is being taken to the next level, with the goal of 1 billion people switching off their lights as part of a global vote. Unlike any election in history, it is not about what country you’re from, but instead, what planet you’re from. VOTE EARTH is a global call to action for every individual, every business, and every community. A call to stand up and take control over the future of our planet. Over 74 countries and territories have pledged their support to VOTE EARTH during Earth Hour 2009, and this number is growing everyday.

    We all have a vote, and every single vote counts. Together we can take control of the future of our planet, for future generations.

    VOTE EARTH by simply switching off your lights for one hour, and join the world for Earth Hour.

    No Christmas Gifts This Year


    © Frank Jania. All rights reserved.

    © Frank Jania. All rights reserved.

    On NPR I heard about a website called No Christmas Gifts This Year. The idea is that on average Americans are planning to spend $431 on Christmas gifts, that they probably can’t afford. This is down from last year’s figure of $859. (According to the American Research Group)


    You can send a note to a friend or family member requesting that you spend time together instead of exchanging gifts. It’s a nice way to take the Grinch-y-ness away from the idea of a year with fewer gifts. 

    Take a peek at the site and send it to some friends. Less wrapping paper, packaging and junk that will eventually get tossed in the landfills sounds like a good Christmas present for the earth!