Last week I wrote about how you can actually use egg shells in your compost pile, but then I realized I haven’t written anything about starting a compost pile. It’s actually really simple and really effective if you like to garden. You can even start a compost bin in an apartment. Here’s how you get started:
1. Get a bin
You can actually just make a compost pile an actual pile, but everyone recommends getting a bin for the sake of neatness and organization. Also if you plan on composting food scraps, it’s better for keeping the animals away. Below is what a typical compost bin looks like:
Ideally, you’ll want a bin that is about a cubic yard, but you can work with one that’s smaller.
2. Green, brown and everything in between
A good mixture of green and brown scraps is recommended. Green scraps such as grass trimmings, young weeds and comfrey leaves provide nitrogen to the pile and generates heat. Brown scraps are high in carbon and add fiber. You can use dead plants, autumn leaves and even cardboard to give this kick to your compost. Coffee grounds, hair and paper towels can also be composted, but use these items sparingly.
Make sure you mix everything in the bin really well too. You want to layer it so it’s even and there’s no compact areas of green or brown. Depending on the materials you have available either do a mixture of 3 parts brown to 1 part green, or half and half. Use a pitchfork or a shovel to turn your pile once a week to ensure the mixture keeps decomposing.
Like I said above, you need to turn the pile once a week. This keeps the air flowing through the pile to help the anaerobic decomposition. But you also want to keep the pile damp. Depending on the weather where you live, you might need to add water to it. The temperature is important also. The best way to test temperature is to feel the top of the pile. If it’s warm or hot, the compost pile is working. If not, just add more green material high in nitrogen.
4. Don’ts of Composting
Try to avoid composting bread, nuts, pasta or cooked food. They don’t break down well and cause your compost to turn slimy. Also out of health and safety reasons, never try to compost meat, bones, plastic, oil, fats, human or animal waste (ew) or magazines.
Give it some time then harvest it. You have been successfully sustainable!
I was watching TV the other night when a commercial came on. CBS Cares was advocating for reusing items instead of trashing them. I was so excited! Then I saw them drop a coin into a bank fashioned out of a pop liter, and I raised my eyebrows.
Look CBS, I know you care, but who is going to want to keep a pop bottle piggy bank around for years? Eventually it’s going to end up in a landfill anyways. Don’t misunderstand me, a pop bottle piggy bank is very clever, but there are items you can reuse more effectively. So I wanted to name a few:
Eggshells are great for composting. They decompose quickly and enrich the soil with calcium. Crushed eggshells sprinkled into the soil also acts as a great insect and pest repellent for gardens. And if you’re into Pinterest I bet you’ve seen this:
You can reuse eggshells to grow seedlings. Just fill with potting soil and plant the seeds. They transfer easily into the ground once the seedlings are too big for their containers.
Eggshells also can make coffee less bitter, just crush them up and line a coffee filter. When you’re done, toss into a compost pile if you have one.
And if you’re brave, eggshells and apple cider vinegar can even be combined to produce a home remedy for minor skin irritations.
Also, researchers at the Ohio State University are developing ways to use discarded chicken egg shells into a sustainable hydrogen fuel. Turns out these little powerhouses are all sorts of useful.
When you don’t know what to do with your old t-shirts, don’t throw them away. Start a DIY project!
I have plenty of old t-shirts from high school that I don’t wear anymore because they’ve shrank or became worn and dingy. Instead of tossing them though, I’m always looking for ways to give them a second life. Earth 911 has some great ideas you can utilize to reuse your old shirts. Don’t worry if you’re not handy with a needle and thread, many of these ideas only require scissors or glue. I particularly like the idea of making a shirt to make a shopping bag.
3. Packing Peanuts
Packing peanuts are often thought of as little environmental nightmares. While the best thing to do is find a recycling center who will take them off your hands, there are things you can do with them.
For one, you can save them and store them away until you need to mail something. By paying them forward, you reduce the need for more packing peanuts, and you can request the next recipient do the same. If you have a green thumb, packing peanuts can also be used in lieu of gravel for gardens and potted plants. The biodegradable variety are great for drainage and they’ll make potted plants lighter. Packing peanuts also keep ice from melting quickly. All you have to do is fill a plastic baggie with them and place them on top of ice in a cooler.
So have you ever tried reusing any of these items? Are there any household items you do reuse or are interested in their reuse potential?
So my readers gave me a great idea after my last post.
While I was rambling on my soapbox about how sustainable fair trade chocolate is, they wanted to know more about fair trade itself. To be honest, I didn’t know many details when it came to fair trade. Buying fair trade was just something nice I thought I was doing, but I didn’t give it much thought beyond that. Now that I know the impact of it, I decided to write a little beginner’s crash course. Let’s begin, shall we?
What is Fair Trade?
The official definition from the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO):
Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalizes producers and workers-especially in the South. Fair Trade Organizations (backed by consumers) are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of international trade.
Fair trade is exactly what it sounds like; it’s the fair exchange of money for goods like coffee, tea, chocolate, jewelry, furniture and art. It’s a global economic model that empowers farmers and producers, especially those working in developing countries, by cutting out needless middlemen and paying providers a fair wage for their goods. The diagram below shows the efficiency and practicality of fair trade versus that of the traditional model:
The Price of Fair Trade
Let’s just admit it, conventional trade is a lot easier on our wallets; using coffee as an example, by comparing a bag of fair trade coffee on Amazon to a canister of coffee at the grocery store you can see a pretty big difference in price, and it’s coffee- a product many people consume on a daily basis. Twelve ounces of coffee doesn’t last long. My reader hayden44e wrote:
I hate that Fair Trade everything seems to be so expensive, although I can totally understand why. I was always a huge fan of fair trade coffee.
The price of fair trade goods are often higher than non-certified products because when a consumer purchases fair trade, they are covering the costs of production plus a living wage (enough for food, shelter, education and medical care) for the producer. The good news is that by the laws of supply and demand, the more people who buy fair trade, the lower the price will go. Tea, chocolate and coffee are relatively lower in cost differences because when fair trade became available, many people were willing to support it and buy these items at fair trade prices.
So if money’s tight but you really want to support fair trade, you can do what I do and buy fair trade goods when it’s convenient financially. It’s better to support fair trade every once in a while than not at all. Plus, fair trade is as much a human rights movement as it is economics, so you can always advocate for it, even when money is tight.
One of my readers, Holly, knows a lot about fair trade also. Her advice on how not to spend too much:
Findlay Market also offers a lot of green options for fair prices if places like Park + Vine are out of your price range. Even Kroger locations have been offering more and more local/green options. It’s so awesome to see the trend taking root in everyday American culture.
By supporting and buying fair trade, you’re not only ensuring fair wages for farmers, but you’re improving communities in developing countries. Fair trade cooperatives (the farms where products are grown) often reinvest their revenue into their business and into their local communities. Not only that, but with the purchase of the cooperative’s goods, they receive funding called a social premium. This social premium in turn is used to build the local community. What the social premium is put towards often depends on the needs of the community, but the most common investments are in schools and education, healthcare, environmental projects, gender equity and business development.
Fair trade is also sustainable. In conventional trade, farmers are often forced into practices that destroy the environment. Fair trade however encourages sustainable farming methods like reforestation, water conservation and growing organic. The standards are pretty high too. You can read more about the requirements here. Fun fact: 85 percent of fair trade coffee is grown organically.
Valentine’s Day is coming up, but you still haven’t bought your significant other’s gift? Don’t despair, there’s still time! Better yet, it’s a great chance to add a little green to a holiday traditionally colored by reds, whites and pinks.
Fair Trade Chocolate
Fair trade is a movement setting the standard for economically fair and sustainable production of goods. Farmers involved in fair trade are encouraged to use the local natural habitat and to avoid using harmful pesticides on their products.
Chocolate is a wonderful gift for Valentine’s Day, but normal chocolate production is bad for the environment as it destroys rainforests and cacao normally is covered in pesticides. Fortunately for the chocoholic, the movement is growing so organic, fair trade chocolate is becoming more available. It costs more, but it’s definitely greener.
Fresh cut flowers are pretty, but they don’t last very long, and they can get expensive as it gets closer to Valentine’s Day.
Now you’re probably thinking: “What’s the problem with fresh cut flowers? They’re natural and they just decay once they get sent to the landfill.”
Jennifer Grayson explains it really well in this Huffington Post article. It basically comes down to the same problem fair trade is trying to tackle: poor working conditions. Then you have the problem of pollution while distributing the flowers across the United States, pesticides and insecticides and to top it all off they emit methane when they wilt and decay. The alternative for flower lovers? Living, blooming flowers!
Blooming flowers live much longer and are much easier on the environment. Green thumbs don’t matter; many varieties of potted plants are hardy and low maintenance. They’re easy to find too; just visit any local grocery store or garden center and opt for the potted plant instead of the cut roses, or visit Apartment Therapy for ideas on what kind of flowers to look for. Beware, some plants/flowers can be very pricey. Lowe’s carries some reasonably priced house plants that range from $3 to $35.
Where to Buy:
Local grocery store
It might not sound like a good precedent to set by giving your loved one a recycled gift for Valentine’s Day, but that’s not your only option. (Although Global Good Partners has excellent recycled products.)
You can buy fair trade or locally made gifts instead. The Daily Green has some great ideas for what to look for while shopping.
Also instead of the traditional, cheesy Hallmark greeting card, consider making your own! Inhabitat has a couple examples that you can utilize to make creative, personalized cards.
So how about it? Are you planning on shopping green for Valentine’s Day? What about any other time? Have you ever bought fair trade, locally made or recycled products? If so, what? Let me know in the comments! Have a great Valentine’s Day!