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Useful Trash – Huh?

Written by Christel Schultz

Did you know that food scraps and yard waste make up approximately 30% of what we throw away! That means nearly 1/3 of what goes into our landfills is actually “useful trash” because it can be composted to serve a new purpose. Compost can be used to help improve soils, grow the next generation of crops, and improve water quality. You may be surprised how easy composting can be!Whether you live on a farm in the country or have an apartment in the city, composting can fit your into your space and lifestyle. You may have the perfect spot in mind if an outdoor compost pile is feasible at your location, but a multitude of bins are available for indoor and outdoor use as desired. Canisters specific to composting are available through hardware stores, garden shops and various locations online. If you like to get creative, there are plenty of ideas and tutorials for building a personalized container more specific to your lifestyle. The basics ingredients of composting remain the same: browns, greens and water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a detailed list of what to and not to compost.Compost should have an equal amount of browns (dead leaves and branches) and greens (grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps). The pieces need to be relatively small and mixed into the pile regularly, preferably on a weekly basis. Dry materials should be dampened with water. The browns provide carbon, the greens provide nitrogen, and water aids in the breakdown of organic materials. Keep track of what goes in, and maintain the contents – properly managed compost should not have a nasty odor or attract pests. Indoor bins may create usable compost in as little as one month. Depending on environmental conditions, outdoor compost may take several months or more. As a general rule, once the material is dark brown or black, soft and crumbly with an earthy smell, you have nutrient-rich humus, and the compost is ready to use.The finished product should be applied differently depending on your gardening situation. Seeds generally require more soil than compost to grow in a pot, but some seeds make take root and flourish in straight compost. Established seedlings and plants are typically more tolerant to higher concentrations of compost. For outdoor gardens or entire lawns, a thin compost layer can be applied across the whole area – this is called top-dressing. Water will infiltrate the soil carrying the nutrients with it. Research what you’d like to do to determine the best compost to soil ratio or application process for your scenario. If you don’t have a garden, potted plants or a yard, but you’d perhaps like to see your kitchen scraps put to use, there may be a community garden or compost center near you!

It’s not just lawn cuttings, fruit or vegetable scraps that can be composted, either! Since our society has become more conscious about environmental impacts, the consumer demand for earth friendly products has increased. The public wants to know what is biodegradable or compostable. In 2002, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) developed regulations and test methods (ASTM D6400 and ASTM D6868 ) so that materials could be scientifically proven to biodegrade. Several types of products and packaging in today’s market meet the compostable certification standards. Specific brands of hot and cold drink cups, cutlery, yard and food waste bags are among these items. Testing and certification of these products is completed by organizations like the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) – the leading certifier in North America. BPI created a database of certified products with an easily recognizable logo:

BPI Compostable Logo.jpg

PLEASE NOTE: These products are certified compostable in industrial facilities; they are not suitable for home or backyard composting.

Whether you choose to buy compostable products or give your useful trash a new life, I encourage you to consider all the advantages. Aside from gardening or landscaping, compost provides numerous environmental benefits:

  • reduced need for fertilizers and pesticides
  • reduced landfill methane emissions and reduced vehicular carbon emissions from waste transport
  • increased soil nutrient retention
  • improved runoff and soil erosion prevention
  • balanced soil pH
  • improved water retention in sandy soils and improved drainage in clayey soils
  • enhanced soil remediation through binding, increased plant uptake and removal of contaminants

A small change in the way we dispose of things can significantly reduce our environmental impact. Share some insight with your friends and family or start a conversation with your neighbors. Imagine the possibilities if more households participate in practices like these!

Secrets Below the Surface – Ocean Acidification

Written by Christel Schultz

Global warming and climate change have long been the subject of scientific study and discussion. Over the past couple of centuries, the burning of fossil fuels has caused a significant increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Deforestation has compounded the issue by reducing the volume of COour planet can process. However, approximately 25% of CO2 in the atmosphere dissolves into the ocean, decreasing concentrations in the air that contribute to warming. Because of this, it was initially thought that absorption by the ocean may be a good thing.

The effects of CO2 on our seas are not readily perceived since they occur below the water surface, so the subject was not prominent on environmental radar until more recently. In the last decade, it’s become apparent that the chemistry of the ocean is changing. Chemical reactions that occur with the absorption of CO2 release hydrogen ions that increase acidity. The pH of surface ocean waters has subsequently fallen by 0.1 units during the last 200 years. It may seem minor, but the pH scale is logarithmic, so that represents a 25-30% increase in acidity that occurred more quickly than any known changes in ocean chemistry for the last 50 million years. Ocean waters are slightly basic (alkaline) by nature, hovering around 8 on the pH scale; acidification refers to the process of moving toward the acid end of the scale.Aside from acidity, one of the main problems with changing chemistry is the resulting decrease in available carbonate ions. This makes production of calcium carbonate structures such as shells and coral skeletons (reefs) much more challenging. The strength and maintenance of these structures is also compromised since rising acidity creates an environment where calcium carbonate actually dissolves. Not only creatures with shells are affected, though. The internal chemistry of tissues and cells changes when CO2 enters the bodies of marine animals. Different species have varying capabilities to balance their internal pH or adjust to external conditions. Regardless, any effort to adapt takes energy that would normally be used to maintain natural functions like growth and reproduction. Ultimately, if the ocean environment is affected, the food web is at risk, and the marine ecosystem balance is disturbed.The ocean’s pH was previously stabilized by the influx of water from streams and rivers. The weathering of rocks upstream provided dissolved chemicals to buffer acidity in sea water. Carbon dioxide is now dissolving into the ocean too quickly for the buffering process to keep up. This leads us back to the underlying balance issue.

Ocean acidification is just one facet of a multi-dimensional problem. Our planet was essentially designed to maintain itself, but human activities have lessened its ability to do so. By making conscious daily choices and practicing moderation, we have the power to reduce our impact and work toward restoration. Make a choice to do just one thing different today, and you can positively affect our tomorrow. Share with your friends, family and colleagues; you could be the reason someone else makes a change today.

 

Clothe Yourself in Giving Back

Written by Christel Schultz

In a largely materialistic and disposable society, it’s refreshing to discover various ways in which to give back to the community and the environment. I got thinking about the basic needs we have in everyday life and how easy it is to get caught up in the day to day with our families, our jobs, our homes, you name it! Sometimes just living seems all consuming, so it’s important to remember the little things we can do to make a difference.

Most of us have to get up, get dressed, and leave the house nearly every day. If you have the benefit of working at home, you still leave at some point for groceries, coffee with a friend, or whatever your thing is! Ultimately, we all have to clothe ourselves and present to some portion of the world, at least briefly! So what about clothing? Donating to thrift stores, shelters or churches is beneficial to everyone and gives clothing a second or third life, even. Buying and wearing new clothes has its place in the network of giving back, too, though.

Many companies are adjusting their business practices to meet the demands of today’s more conscious consumers, and that is great news! Minimizing energy consumption, diminishing waste production, and responsibly sourcing materials are just a few of the progressive steps being taken toward more sustainable business practices. Aside from that aspect, though, I decided to search for companies and organizations that sell clothing of some kind and give directly to a cause. This was a fun, inspiring project, so I’m sharing some of my favorite finds.

  • Happy Earth apparel is unique in the fact that 50% of net profits go directly to supporting conservation efforts. A group of “nature-loving scientists,” Happy Earth encourages a global effort to address environmental issues such as climate change, deforestation, and ocean pollution. Happy Earth supports rain forest and ocean protection, clean energy, river restoration, environmental litigation specialists, and marine mammals threatened with extinction. With every order placed, at least one tree is planted through Trees for the Future, too!
  • Sevenly is an organization that collects and promotes cause-themed art to advocate and bring awareness to those causes! They have clothing products to benefit the environment, encourage faith, supply food and water provisions, support the fight against human trafficking, and much more! The Sevenly selection is ever changing and created by passionate people who strive to make a difference! They pledge $7 per purchase as part of 7-Day Campaigns and 7% from their Collections sales! The effort has resulted in donations totaling over $5 million to a multitude of non-profits since being founded in 2011!
  • Tentree actually plants ten trees for every item purchased! They even have a tree registration program so you can track the trees that you planted, and that’s important because their goal is to plant 1 billion trees by 2030! Tentree is reaching beyond sustainability to revolutionize the apparel industry. They offer a variety of clothing products created with fabric blends that include materials like coconut, organic cotton, and cork. Over 21 million trees have been planted as part of the Tentree mission!
  • Sand Cloud embarked on a journey to “Save the Fishies” with their product sales. Many of their shirts are made entirely of recycled material – 8 plastic bottles per shirt, to be exact! They also donate 10% of profits to partner organizations that work to protect vital marine ecosystems, conduct beach cleanup and preservation activities, rescue and rehabilitate marine mammals, and educate youth about environmental degradation and conservation in coastal communities.
  • Marc Skid takes a different approach to giving back – through the sales of brightly colored underwear! They offer bikini and hipster options for gals and boxer briefs for guys, with the exception of their white line that includes standard type boxers! You can “Feed the World” with a purchase from the green collection, “Cure the World” with a piece from the bright red assortment, “Save the World” with a little something in true blue, or choose your cause by making a traditional white selection. Marc Skid underwear is made with Organic Pima cotton that comprises “only 0.0005% of the world’s cotton supply” for “special softness, durability, and resistance to pilling.” Recycled water bottles are used to make a specific kind of polyester that is used for the waistbands – it takes one recycled bottle worth of material to create each waistband. The contribution from each purchase is $4 for all products.

Giving while getting something useful in return makes good sense! What moves your heart?

The Plastic Purge

Written by Christel Schultz

Phasing plastic out of the home…

Eliminating plastic from our daily lives is ideal in theory, but putting that into practice can be difficult and costly. It’s reasonable to think that all of us can make a difference if we take at least one step in the right direction, though. Based on the products used and consumed in our home, we decided the kitchen would be the most effective area to begin swapping out items and learn to discipline ourselves – to refuse certain things that have become second nature to use once and throw away. We’re in the process of exchanging several commonly used items in our kitchen for their more sustainable, non-plastic counterparts, starting with our water filter, water pitcher/dispenser, personal drinking bottles, and straws. I’m happy to share that there are lots of alternatives out there to facilitate the transition!

Filtered water is a way of life for us, and I love knowing that I can have a reusable bottle filled with water from home or filtered on the go almost anywhere the day takes me. Many water filters are created with plastic; however, and a filtration system in our home simply would not meet our needs, so I wanted other alternatives that did not include plastic components.My favorite find is the bamboo charcoal water filter. Bamboo is one of the most sustainable natural products on our planet, it’s very porous, and the charcoal has remarkable filtering qualities. It also leaches beneficial minerals like calcium and magnesium  back into the water it filters. Bamboo charcoal water filters are available in various sizes, for use in personal bottles or family water jugs, and they’re capable of removing a number of impurities in solid and gas form. However, pathogens cannot be removed by bamboo charcoal, so do not rely on them to filter creek or river water.

The life of any bamboo charcoal filter is based on its size, the volume of water it is designed to filter, and the concentration of substances in the water it is being used to filter. Specifications for the different sizes of bamboo charcoal filters are typically provided on supplier websites, but generally speaking, the charcoal should be changed out every four weeks to maintain optimal filter condition. Consult and follow the directions provided with your choice of bamboo charcoal for the best results! I find Miyabi bamboo charcoal to have great reviews, ample information on the website, convenient product size, and reasonable prices through various merchants.In my experience, the best tasting filtered water comes from a glass or stainless steel container with a lid. I want to avoid plastic containers in the disposable and reusable form, so the better taste makes these options even more attractive. You can repeatedly filter in the same container you drink from, or transfer the water to another jug to insure continued availability of great drinking water! Either way, a lid prevents the water from being tainted and preserves the taste. The Sansone Stainless Steel Water Dispenser Fusti products are highly recommended, come in a variety of sizes, contain no plastic and simply look classy doing what they do. Visit the Watercheck.biz website for a number of dispenser options and all sorts of water lover stuff – rain barrels, fountains, wood-fired hot tubs, and a bunch more – AND they donate a portion of revenues to water sustainability projects! I strongly encourage support for businesses that give back!Another major source of plastic pollution is the disposable straw. I tend to keep and reuse straws from restaurants or convenience stores in my home and on the go, especially with the huge volume of reusable cups in my cupboard. I probably use straws more than anyone I know, and though it didn’t seem like a bad thing with my inventory of insulated cups, there is that plastic issue again! Regardless of the cup, the straws eventually wear out, get bent or cracked, and must be thrown out. Millions of straws are used and discarded each day, and based on the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup reports, plastic straws consistently make the top 10 list of items recovered from our seas and beaches. Stainless steel or bamboo straws are now widely available to replace plastic straws! These straws provide the perfect alternative to this common piece of plastic trash that keeps making its way to our waters! We can’t continue adding to the plastic pollution problem, so let’s be part of the solution!

 

 

Majestic but Misunderstood – Save our Sharks

Written by Christel Schultz

A well balanced ocean requires a wide array of species to be present, from those at the top of the food chain down to the bottom. It may seem that some animals have an unfair advantage over others, but each level of the food chain has a function. The circle of life cycle continues because all things work together as a whole, just as in any system. If the balance gets upset, the dynamic changes, and the system ceases to function as intended. Sharks are one of the ocean’s primary predators, and there are 440 different species of sharks known, each of them differing at least slightly from the others. Despite being an apex predator with essentially no natural predators in its home environment, sharks have fallen victim to human impact on a large scale. Based on reported catches, shark finning and discards, and considering the average weight of sharks, an estimated 100 million sharks are killed every year by human activity.

Shark finning and entanglement in commercial fishing gear are the main threats to sharks today. A study led by marine scientist, Demian Chapman, of Florida International University involved the purchase of 4,800 trimmings from nearly 100 vendors in the Hong Kong retail shark fin market – a city considered representative of the worldwide trends in the fin trade. DNA techniques sensitive enough to identify sharks from shark fin soup, cosmetics or shark liver oil were used by Chapman and his team to determine the prevalent species in the trade. They found nearly 80 shark, ray and chimaera species from coastal and deep sea areas – one-third of which are listed as being threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the global authority on the status of the natural world. Chapman concluded that the market relies on a number of species to operate so that if one declines or disappears, the trade can then continue with others, and the vanishing species may go essentially unnoticed. The detailed study was published in the journal Conservation Biology.

Image provided by Jakob Owens via Unsplash

Though overfishing is a significant issue, bycatch is also a major problem in the commercial fishing industry. Bycatch is the unintentional capture of a non-target species. Sharks are particularly susceptible to practices used by those fisheries in search of tuna or billfish. Skates, rays, and bottom dwelling sharks are most impacted by the use of bottom trawling equipment. The unsustainable shark finning trade, however, is the leading cause for the world’s shark population approaching the brink of extinction.

Image provided by Francisco Jesus Navarro Hernandez via Unsplash

Loss of habitat, climate change and pollution are among other factors contributing to the decline in numbers. Sharks do tend to live long lives but mature late and have very few pups, so they are more vulnerable to exploitation than prolific species. The sheltered environments where sharks raise their young, like reefs and mangrove swamps, are often compromised by the factors noted above, too. These conditions make caring for their young, and finding sufficient food for themselves, very challenging. Their situation is rather dire, and the simple truth is that the overall health of our oceans is heavily dependent upon the presence of sharks at the top of the food chain; their existence is vital to the ecosystem.

Sylvia Earl – marine biologist, explorer, author, and lecturer – said it best, “Sharks are beautiful animals, and if you’re lucky enough to see lots of them, that means that you’re in a healthy ocean. You should be afraid if you are in the ocean and don’t see sharks.”