Green your life at home, work & play

Greening Hospitals April 6, 2012

The health care industry has a great, untapped potential to be more environmentally friendly. Currently hospitals in the U.S. create 6,600 tons of waste per day. There are many problems that the health care industry faces that others do not, such as infectious and hazardous waste. The proper disposal of these items is important for both human health as well as the environment. Current methods of disposing of infectious or hazardous waste, although effective, are not the best for the environment. Incinerating waste is important to not spread infectious diseases or have chemicals leach into the ground in landfills, but this causes air pollution from mercury and dioxin.

Contrary to what many may believe, a large amount of waste created by the health care industry is actually regular trash and recyclables – plastic, cardboard, etc.  The need for sterile instruments has led to the “single-use” culture, which has been facilitated by prevalence of plastics. In certain instances this is necessary (needles, etc). However, in other instances, reusable products could be utilized. A re-assessment of how hospitals use materials is necessary to find this difference. For example, plastic is commonly used for packaging, but glass or other materials can be a substitute when there is less risk of breakage. Glass is a great material because it can be recycled infinitely without degrading, unlike most other materials.

Fortunately, some people realize the great impact that the health care industry can have on the world’s carbon footprint. In 2000, the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care was created to promote eco-friendly practices, which include pollution prevention and resource conservation. There are also many hospitals in the U.S. that are going green as well.

Photo Courtesy of Planet Green


Too Dry or Too Wet? January 13, 2012

Depending on the difference between the humidity of the outside and inside air, your house can either be too dry or too wet. In the winter time, outside cold air is drier than that in your house, which causes the air in your house to dry out. If your home is too dry, a humidifier can help, though you may need to weatherize your home to better seal it from outside air. However, most often a too wet home causes the most problems, such as mold and mildew growth, infestation by dust mites, cockroaches and bacteria, and structural damage. There are many causes of excess moisture, including leaky plumbing, a wet attic or basement, humidifiers, gutters, downspouts and drains, and of course flooding and sewer backups. Anything made out of wood, paper or cardboard in damp areas can also create mold growth, which can cause asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.  Maintaining appropriate moisture levels in your home is important to keep it healthy and green:

  • Find and fix all plumbing leaks (even small leaks can lead to mold growth)
  • Install and use exhaust fans in kitchen and bathrooms (especially when cooking or after showering)
  • Change the water in your humidifier once a day and clean weekly
  • Open windows or use fans to increase air circulation
  • Direct water away from your home’s foundation with landscaping and correctly situated downspouts
  • Repair all cracks and holes in walls
  • Keep gutters clear to prevent water buildup
  • Ensure that dryers have external exhaust fans

Just a quick walk around your home can save you thousands of dollars in repairs if you catch the problems early. For more tips on how to identify and fix moisture problems in your home, check out this article from Oregon State University.


Fuel Economy Standards May 5, 2011

In the United States, transportation accounts for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions. Within transportation, light-duty vehicles contribute 60% of those emissions, with the rest coming from heavy-duty vehicles, aircraft and other smaller sectors. The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program aims to address and reduce the transportation industry’s emissions.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2007, April 2009

Phase I – The first phase of the National Program was announced by President Obama in May 2009. It governed both CAFE and greenhouse gas emission standards for cars and light trucks of model years 2012-2016. The final rule was adopted in April 2010 and was a significant step since it was the first time the U.S. has strengthened fuel economy standards since the 1970’s. The final rule of Phase I requires an estimated fleet wide average of 34.1 mpg and 250 grams of CO2 per mile by 2016.

Phase II – In October 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a joint Notice of Intent that identified a range of proposed standards for cars and light-duty trucks of model years 2017-2025. The agencies projected an annual decrease in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of 3% to 6%. This correlates to a range of 47 mpg to 62 mpg in 2025. They are expected to propose the new standards by September 2011.

According to a recent study, even under the most stringent standards being considered (6% decrease or 62 mpg), variable profits in the industry would likely increase. Also, the Detroit Three (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) actually would gain more of the profit increase than the rest of the industry, since they are more invested in trucks and larger cars and therefore likely to be required to make greater fuel economy improvements than their competitors. Improved technology doesn’t come without its costs. But these higher fuel standards are actually cost-effective as long as fuel stays above $1.80 per gallon, and with gas currently hovering around $4 a gallon it’s not hard to imagine it staying this high.

Many companies are improving their own fleets ahead of the anticipated fuel economy regulations. For example, in 2004, FedEx launched the first street-ready hybrid trucks. They increased fuel efficiency by 57%, decreased particulate emissions by 96%, and reduced smog-causing emissions by 65%. As of 2010, FedEx was operating one of the largest fleets in the industry. They use nearly 2,000 alternative energy vehicles worldwide, include natural gas, all-electric and biodiesel vehicles.

Instead of trying to roll out hybrid vehicles across the entire fleet, which would not have been cost effective, FedEx instead has focused on managing the fleet to reduce emissions. They have set a goal of improving efficiency of the entire fleet by 20% by 2020. This includes a variety of methods such as optimizing routes, using smaller and more fuel-efficient “sprinter” vans, and delivering by foot or bicycle in large cities like New York City and London. Other companies, such as UPS, are
also looking to reduce their fuel consumption and improve the management of their fleet, as are companies that own fleets.

FedEx image source: Autoblog Green


Greening Your Dorm Room – part 2 of 2 May 10, 2010

Filed under: General,Green living,Green tips,Health — ecocindy @ 5:12 pm

Here are some additional tips for you, whether you have just started college or are in your last year:

  • Smell better naturally – Avoid all those extra energy drains like plug-ins air freshers for freshening the air; use essential oils instead.  And as long as you watch the open flame, beeswax candles can be used since they are natural air cleaners.
  • Use daylight – The sun is on your side, so use it to your advantage. Daylight or task lights are more energy efficient and better for your tired eyes than those old overhead lights.  And please upgrade your lighting technology. Don’t use that old technology from the 1890’s, the incandescent bulb, upgrade to LED’s or CFL’s. Also, forget halogens – they use lots of energy but even more importantly, they are a fire hazards.
  • Green IT –  The type of computer you use makes a big difference in the amount of energy you use. There are now greener, less toxic computers available. Check out EPEAT before you buy. Also use a laptop instead of a desktop to lower your carbon use comparing them the energy savings are from 50% to 80%.  And turn it off when it is not in use.
  • Clean Greener – Washers and dryers are big energy users so always run full loads. Washing in cold water for your clothes saves energy and your clothes. Because there are dust mites and more in your dorm room, wash your organic sheets in hot water.  Don’t use the dryer if you can help it (a big energy user), use the drying rack – it adds humidity and you save energy – what could be better than solar and wind assisted drying.
  • Eliminate Chemicals – Fewer chemicals in your life are healthier. There are over 10,000 chemicals around us each day that have never been tested.  Check the ingredients in your personal and cleaning products; use less and go green. If you are using products with ingredients that you have to pass a chemistry course to pronounce; consider products your grandma used and check Green Seal and Environmental Working Group for more info.
  • Reduce your waste – Because it makes a difference. Landfills offgas methane, a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. Don’t use paper/plastic throwaways – cheap reusable kitchenware is a great alternative. A stainless steel water bottle (BPA free) is much better than buying plastic bottles since plastics in the waterways are a big problem.  Plus plastic leaches toxins into your body and are manufactured from fossil fuel.
  • Green up – Plants have been proven to clean the air and reduce stress, so grow your favorites and maybe grow a little lettuce to add to your popularity.
  • Sequester Carbon – If you can not find enough to compost (ie you only eat pizza) then suggest that your univerisity compost food and yard waste.
  • Avoid tuition hikes – Advocate for sustainable practices from staff/faculty and the administration because there are better returns on any investment than ever before. Save your health and money while saving the planet.

Greening Your Dorm Room – part 1 of 2 May 2, 2010

Your room may not be that neat, but you can make it green! The first “room of your own” is an ideal time to create green habits, and demonstrate a healthy lifestyle for your dorm mates. Whether it’s practicing energy and waste conservation or sprucing up your space with eco-interiors it makes a difference.

What is “Green”? The best definition of Green refers to the health impacts quality of life, and minimizing the total environmental impacts. That said, going Green are primarily ways to save money, increase comfort and create healthier environments for people to live and work, using improved indoor air quality, natural daylight, and thermal comfort. Here are some tips for greening your dorm room. Pick one or a couple to do for a month or so – once they become a party of your daily habits, add some more.

  • Buy less stuff – Consider is you really need something before you buy. Check out the Story of Stuff on the web  – in 20 minutes it explains the cradle to grave idea that has changed the world.
  • Reuse creatively – Decorate with your own found or crafted items. Be crafty and make your own paper wall tiles, shades for your window and for privacy a screen.  Making a rag rug lowers your stress level while making sure you don’t have VOC’s (volatile organic compounds)off gassing from your new carpet.
  • Buy local– Look for local stuff, for example, on free-cycle, craigslist and even better start a listing on your own campus. Don’t send your stuff across the country and add to your carbon footprint.
  • Trade, barter and give it all away– Someone has what you need, and you probably have what someone else needs. When you leave, recycle your decor and everything else. Remember that old adage, less is more.
  • No paper should end up in the trash – Recycle and use recycled paper, double side or even better don’t print out at all.
  • Nix the mini fridge – Going without a fridge is best, but if you really can’t go without your own cold juice, sharing an Energy Star mini fridge and then keeping it full and clean will save energy.
  • Nix the AC – Use a fan instead. Be sure to clean your fan using a wet rag to take off all those black and dirty particles that would otherwise end up in your lungs.
  • Use less appliances– The less appliances, the better; but if you are sure you will starve in the night, rice cookers and stainless steel electric kettles can be energy efficient.
  • Get smarter–  For those rechargers and all those appliances you can not give up, plug them into a smart power strip that will help avoid all those energy vampires or phantom loads (electrical products—TVs to microwave ovens to air conditioners—cannot be switched off completely without being unplugged, thus drawing power 24/7 using “standby power.”) Typical American dorm products are constantly drawing power. Together these amount to almost 10% of residential electricity use and therefore are a big part of America’s carbon footprint. Smart power strips have come down in price, are fun to use and can save you up to 15% of your footprint.

Look out for the second part of this blog shortly!


Myths vs. Facts of Going Green – Part 2 of 2 April 28, 2010

Here is a continuation – there are more, but these are a few of the more commonly asked questions.

Myth: A couple of degrees one way or not make any difference.

Fact: Properly using a programmable thermostat in your home is one of the easiest ways you can save energy, money, and help fight global warming!  The thermostat makes it easy by offering four pre-programmed settings to regulate your home’s temperature in both summer and winter — even when you are asleep or away.

56% of the energy use in the average home is for heating and cooling, and adjusting your thermostat (lower in the winter and higher in the summer) is a quick and easy way to save energy and money in your home and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to the US Department of Energy, you can shave about 1% off your energy bill per degree change over an 8-hour period. So, if you decrease your home thermostat 10 degrees while at work, you can save up to 10% off your monthly heating bills.*

Source: Harvard University Office for Sustainability and ENERGY STAR calculators

Myth: Teflon is safe to cook with.

Fact: No, not really.  Tests have concluded that:

  • In 2 – 5 minutes on a conventional stovetop, cookware coated with Teflon can exceed temperatures at which the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles/gases linked to possibly thousands of pet bird deaths and an unknown number of human illnesses each year.
  • Dupont studies show that the Teflon begins off-gasing toxic particulates at 446°F
    • At 680°F Teflon pans release at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens, two global pollutants, and MFA, a chemical lethal to humans at low doses.
    • At temperatures that DuPont scientists claim are reached on stovetop drip pans (1000°F), non-stick coatings break down to a chemical warfare agent known as PFIB, and a chemical analog of the WWII nerve gas phosgene.
    • For the past fifty years, DuPont has claimed that their Teflon coatings do not emit hazardous chemicals through normal use. Recently though, they have taken a step back from their safety assurance.
    • In cases of “Teflon toxicosis,” as the bird poisonings are called, the lungs of exposed birds hemorrhage and fill with fluid, leading to suffocation. DuPont acknowledges that the fumes can also sicken people, a condition called “polymer fume fever.”
  • Replace all Teflon non-stick cookware, especially old cookware!

Myth: The government has checked all chemicals used in industry.

Fact: We often assume that if a product is sold on the open market, it must be safe.  This is far from always being the case because scientifically analyzing each material requires considerable time and money, which the government doesn’t have.  In the meantime, potentially harmful products remain on store shelves and find their way into our homes.

  • US EPA – Chemicals of Concern List/Action Plans under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in December 2009.
    • Could prompt restrictions on 4 types of synthetic chemicals used widely in manufacturing and consumer products
      • includes phthalates used to make flexible plastics, often for toys, household products and medical equipment
    • Compounds covered in the action plans
      • polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), long-chain perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and short-chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs)—phthalates and PBDEs will be listed as “chemicals of concern.” The PFCs and paraffins will be addressed under other TSCA provisions that could also result in restrictions.
    • These four types of chemicals, the EPA said, raise “serious environmental or health concerns” and in some cases “may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health and the environment.”
    • This is a big deal because it is the first time since TSCA was passed in 1976 that the EPA has made such a move.


Myths vs. facts of going green – part 1 of 2 April 21, 2010

In our workshops and trainings, we have come across some misunderstandings that we wanted to take a minute to clarify. These are only a few- there are more out there, so will be posting at least one more blog about this. Feel free to comment on others you may have come across.

Myth: CFL Are Dangerous and filled with Mercury

Fact: CFLs are JUST AS SAFE as incandescent bulbs. While CFLs do contain a small amount of mercury (the size of a ball point pen tip), this is actually 4 x less* than what is produced in providing the additional electricity for an incandescent bulb over its lifetime.

If a CFL breaks, pick up the pieces with a wet paper towel, seal it in a bag, and place it in an electronic-waste collection space (along with your batteries, inkjet cartridges, CDs, cell phones and chargers).

* Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Myth: When it says it is Biodegradable, it means it is biodegradable

Fact: “Biodegradable” is a label that only means something (in the US) if it is tested in CA– if it decomposes within a year, it is considered biodegradable and can earn the California label. The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) is a professional association of key individuals and groups from government, industry and academia, which promotes the use, and recycling of biodegradable polymeric materials (via composting). Together with the US Composting Council, it has developed a label for consumers to look for.

Myth: All fish is good for me and the environment.

Fact: Contaminants are commonly found in Fish and Shellfish

Where do they come from?

Industrial and municipal discharges, agricultural practices, and storm water runoff can all deposit harmful substances directly into the water.

Fish can absorb organic chemicals from the water, suspended sediments, and their food.

Specific Contaminants include:

  • Mercury: Since methylmercury binds to proteins, it is found throughout fish tissue, including muscle tissue that makes up fish steaks and fillets.
  • PCBs:  PCBs can build up in the fatty tissues of fish and other animals.  High concentrations pose serious health risks to people who frequently eat contaminated fish.

What are the risks?

  • Health problems that may result from eating contaminated fish range from small, hard-to-detect changes to birth defects and cancer.
  • More info can be found on the EDF site

Do the health benefits of omega-3s outweigh the risks associated with contaminants in seafood?  Fish is generally healthy to eat, but there are some types you should eat infrequently, if at all. Consider the following:

  • For young children and women of childbearing age, consumption of mercury-contaminated fish can severely impact a child’s development.
  • Older women and men may find it an acceptable tradeoff to exceed recommended seafood meal limits to increase their omega-3 intake.
  • People at high risk of cardiovascular disease must weigh the cancer risk of eating fish high in PCBs with the benefits of eating fish high in omega-3s, in which case the benefits of omega-3s may outweigh the cancer risk (1 in 100,000 – the level recommended by the EPA). However, these chemicals are known to cause serious health problems besides cancer, so the tradeoffs are not simple.

The good news is that there are several low-contaminant, high-omega-3 seafood options available (see Eco-Best list),  so there’s no need to risk eating contaminated fish.

The global catch of wild fish leveled off over 20 years ago and 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are being harvested at capacity or are in decline. Today, half of our seafood comes from farms. People are raising fish, shrimp and oysters like farmers raise cattle and chickens. But the ecological impact of fish farming depends on the species chosen, where the farm is located, and how they are raised. Learn more from the Monterey Bay Aquarium or Oceana.


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