Sunday, April 27, 2008

Greening and cleaning

Tis the season for spring cleaning!

I've noticed a wave of new "green" cleaning products hitting the shelves and TV marketing commercials lately... but did you know that you can easily mix your own on the cheap using simple ingredients from your kitchen?

Here is a list I'm compiling based on my own research, anecdotal and experimental: green cleaning tips. Feel free to contribute any that you've found to be successful too! I'm sure I haven't seen them all yet.

On the topic of mixing your own household chemicals, NEVER mix ammonia and bleach. I don’t know why this isn’t explained in large writing on every product that contains either ingredient, but the combination of ammonia (NH3) and chlorine bleach (OCl) produces toxic chlorine gas that can kill you.

NH3 + OCl(-) ------> NH2Cl + OH(-)
NH2Cl + OCl(-) ------> NHCl2 + OH(-)
NHCl2 + OCl(-) ------> NCl3 + OH(-)

All you budding chemists out there can study the chemical reaction equations at the “Ask A Scientist” webpage. I haven’t balanced a chemical equation since college and see no reason to put myself through that again!

I bought a book called Clean House, Clean Planet by Karen Logan that included some good, simple recipes for earth-friendly cleaning solutions that you can make from common household substances. However, I wouldn’t recommend buying the book because there are so many recipes like this available free on the internet. Check out these websites for starters: Frugal Living page about baking soda. Vinegar has an extensive page too.

Cheapskate Monthly browse tips for cleaning, etc.

While I'm plugging Cheapskate Monthly again, here are some tips from readers that I've been collecting from the email newsletter. Ideas range from creative re-use of household items to thrifty cleaning and pest prevention.

For those of you with extra cash, there are green housecleaning services out there! Green Clean USA is one that serves the Baltimore/Washington DC area. Read an article about them from the Washington Post here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Baltimore Green Week in effect

Hear ye, hear ye: Baltimore Green Week is about to start! The official kickoff is this Friday night at the Walters Art Museum.

Don't miss the Ecofestival at Druid Hill Park on Saturday.

Check the webpage for the other events, such as a tour of the harbor via Coast Guard cruiser, meetings with Mayor Dixon and other city officials to discuss new local green initiatives, a green building tour, and workshops about public health and policies, building green communities and workplaces, and greening the economy by creating new green-collar jobs.

All events are free and open to the public.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Watch some green TV

This past week I've been out of commission with a nasty cold, but I've comforted myself with two thoughts: (1) all this sleep I'm getting must be good for me, and (2) while I'm lying around, there are lots of good green TV programs to watch!

I've discovered Building Green TV on PBS, Modern Marvels specials about renewable energy and building materials on the History channel, and a whole slew of home & garden programs on HGTV.

In fact, on Earth Day, all HGTV programs will follow an environmental theme. Their latest special, 20 ways your home can save the planet, has some great ideas for going green around the house. They are even sponsoring a green home giveaway.

Now that's TV worth watching.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Green your garbage

This weekend, Baltimore county is hosting a sale on compost bins at the Carver Center in Towson: bins are on sale for $35 and you don't have to be a county resident to purchase.

Composting is a great way to recycle your yard and kitchen garbage, while doing your garden a favor too. Once your scraps have decomposed in a bin or pile, they make excellent (and free) fertilizer for your plants.

In areas of New York and New Jersey, residents must pay for trash pickup... while this is not yet an issue here in Maryland, why not get in the habit of recycling and composting now to cut down on your trash?

Read about composting at these websites...

Baltimore County composting advice

Compost Guide from Clean Air Gardening - a treasure trove of information about composting. Check out the links to his other sites too.

I've been cooking up batches of compost in the tumbler I got last summer from the Clean Air Gardening store (shown in the photo above). Read up on recipe advice and watch your green/brown ratio, or you'll end up with a slimy mess like I did! This season I'm adding more shredded leaves saved from my winter yard cleanup, and hoping for the best.

If you aren't up for outdoor composting, consider vermicomposting with worms.

Redworms can live quite happily indoors in a plastic container filled with shredded newspaper and your table scraps, eventually converting them into a fine garden fertilizer of worm droppings. An entrepreneurial organization called Terracycle has built a company that sells such worm fertilizer in two-liter soda bottles collected from the public. It's good for your garden and for the environment.

Read about worm composting at these websites...

Baltimore County vermicomposting

And here's a great website and blog about everything wormish, written by the aforementioned Compost Guy:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Knitting is sexy... and green!

OK, so I'm a little slow to adopt new technology... but I finally broke down and got an iPod. I find that I don't use it in public as much as most people seem to, probably because I work alone so much that I relish human contact when I'm out and about. Social isolation = bad. I also have a healthy fear of getting plowed down by oncoming traffic while walking around with earphones or cell phone on my head: how can people jog or bike like this?? But anyway, I figured I should still get some sort of case to protect this little gem when I do take it out.

So I went online, dutifully searching for a proper carrying case. Somewhere between noticing the pricetags of iPod socks on the Apple website and realizing how many centuries the plastics therein would take to decompose, I decided I’d be better off knitting my own.

Free knitting resources abound on the internet! But personally, I owe 99% of what I’ve learned about knitting to my friends Carrie, Frog, Ajax, and that nice lady who sat next to me on a cross-country flight last month (surprisingly, the FAA will let you carry knitting needles on a plane even with today's stringent airport security).

Remember how knitting suddenly became trendy a few years back when young celebrities like Julia Roberts and Madonna were caught in the act? No longer are knitters compared to the creepy Madame Defarge of Dickensian times! It seems that knitting and other crafty tendencies have become more widespread as the green movement has taken off. Check out these websites for cool crafty stuff and ideas:

And here is a cool blog written by a fellow green, crafty Baltimoron, also full of good ideas.

...But back to the knitting. There are plenty of websites out there that will give you advice on knitting in general.

Here are a few patterns that inspired me to knit for my own iPod…

And here’s the “pattern” I used to knit my own little iPod sock:

1. Cast on about 30 stitches (compare stitch size to your iPod size, I don’t know how to measure this, or what size needles to recommend. Use your best judgement here.)

2. Knit in stockingette stitch (alternate knit and purl rows) a piece long enough to wrap around your iPod comfortably.

3. Cast off about half of the stitches.

4. Continue knitting the rest of the piece long enough to wrap around the iPod again to form a pouch that can hold your earphones.

5. Cast off and stitch up bottom and sides.

Good luck, and happy knitting!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Give it away now

While you’re spring cleaning, why not give some things away? Here are some local ventures where you can donate, sell, or otherwise get rid of your stuff. Your trash could be somebody else’s treasure…

Craigslist is a worldwide network that includes local branches on every continent except South America and Antarctica, as of this writing. Give away stuff on their “free” page, or sell by category. Or buy stuff/find a job/meet your match. You can do all kinds of things on Craigslist!

Freecycle is a non-profit network of people who are giving (and getting) free stuff in their own towns and thus keeping good stuff out of landfills. Moderators are volunteers. Posted items must be free, legal, and owned by you (i.e. no freecycling your neighbor’s annoying Chihuahua) (…speaking of re-locating pets, the rules vary on this, so check the site FAQ before posting).

The Baltimore Free Store’s mission is “to promote recycling and reuse to help alleviate the traumas of poverty, and to involve communities in working together to meet their needs.” A good idea for a good cause.

Say you have piles of books to give away. A great way to share your books with others is the Paperback Swap. You pay to mail books to other club members, and they return the favor when you request a book through the system. It’s currently free to join.

Want to give your books away locally? The Book Thing is a noble endeavor started by Russell Wattenberg in 1999 to give free books to people who need or want them. Last time I visited The Book Thing, it was somebody’s basement filled to the gills with shelves and piles of books: old, new, what have you. I was forbidden to leave without at least ten books! It was great.

And finally, if you’d prefer to give your non-book stuff to a worthy cause without leaving the house, here are some charities that will pick up donations from porch or curbside:

Purple Heart : enter your zip code to see if they serve your area.

Note: Recent studies have shown that spending money on others makes us happier than spending money on ourselves. Giving things for the good of others may prove to be just as rewarding!

P.S. Also check out for trading stuff!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Where to recycle electronics

So your electronic whatsamajigger just died. Don't take it to the dump! It can be recycled.

Check out local electronics recycling options here. Accepted items include TVs, VCRs, DVD players, computer monitors, CPUs, mice, keyboards, cell phones, power supplies, laptops, scanners, computer cables and cords, stereos, answering machines, and other home electronics. They do not accept appliances at this time.

Don't forget the donation/reuse/repair angle. Check out the Baltimore County re-use directory for information on where to send your not-quite-dead or repairable electronics. There are plenty of charities that accept old cell phones for reuse by soldiers stationed abroad or survivors of domestic violence.

What about the accessories that go with your electronics: batteries? printer ink? light bulbs?

The MyGreenElectronics website lists corporate recycling and re-use programs
by Apple, Dell, Gateway, HP, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba, wireless phones, Best Buy, Nokia, and Motorola. Just the other day I dropped off some spent printer ink cartridges at my local Best Buy: the recycling kiosk is right inside the front door. I've also recycled printer ink cartridges at Office Depot, and I imagine you can do the same at Staples and other office supply stores.

You can recycle alkaline (AA, AAA) batteries, light bulbs, and plastic bags at IKEA.

Recycling and re-use programs are out there, and new initiatives are popping up all the time. If your favorite store doesn't appear to have recycling programs, ask a manager or check their webpage.

Photo credit: Chris Jordan creates remarkable photographic art. A few of his recent projects illustrate American consumption and waste on a grand scale. Click here to view "Running the Numbers." Ever wonder what two million plastic beverage bottles looks like? That's the number used in the US every five minutes. View his main website here.

Curbside recycling in Baltimore

I'm always surprised to run into people in the Baltimore area who aren't aware of the curbside recycling programs. It's so easy! Just sort your paper, bottles, and cans into clear bags or open-top containers (or toss them all in together if you live in a single-stream recycling area) and put them outside on the prescribed day.

Baltimore County picks up recyclables every week, with paper and glass/cans/plastic on alternating weeks. Check their webpage to see what can and can't be recycled curbside. Better yet: post a copy of the list wherever you keep your recycling bins for quick reference until you learn the system.

Baltimore City just recently switched to single-stream recycling. Read the details and check your zone schedule here.

But what if it's raining? You can still put your recycling outside. The guidelines request keeping paper out of plastic bags even in the rain, so I put mine in cardboard boxes or re-usable plastic storage containers to avert wet paper disaster.

Where to recycle household hazardous waste

News from the Baltimore County recycling website:

The Spring 2008 Household Hazardous Waste One Day Collection Event will be held on Sunday, April 13, 2008 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Baltimore County Resource Recovery Facility (BCRRF) in Cockeysville. Baltimore County residents may drop off unwanted household chemicals, paints, pesticides, mercury thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs, re-chargable batteries, ammunition, fireworks and automotive fluids. No trash will be accepted at this event. No commercial or institutional materials will be accepted at this event. For questions or additional information, call 410-887-3745 or check their website.

Household hazardous waste materials include paint thinner, car batteries, polishes, insecticides, mercury thermometers and glues. These materials are too dangerous to be simply poured down the drain or placed into a garbage can. Some, such as gasoline, thinners, lighter fluid or glues and adhesives can catch fire. Others, such as pool chemicals and bleaches, can react violently with other materials to explode or produce toxic gases. Many, such as lawn and garden or agricultural chemicals, can be toxic if inhaled or ingested, and can cause serious medical problems. HHW is accepted at the Eastern Sanitary Landfill Solid Waste Management Facility (ESL) in White Marsh April through November, Monday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Why recycle?

Recycling saves energy! Here are some facts from the Baltimore County recycling webpage:

  1. A recycled six-pack of aluminum cans could save enough energy to drive a car five miles.
  2. Every ton of newspaper recycled saves 4,100 kWh of electricity, enough energy to power a TV for 31 hours.
  3. The energy equivalent of 16.3 barrels of oil is used when one ton of plastic bottles is produced.
  4. Steel recycling saves enough energy to electrically power the equivalent of 18 million homes for a year.
  5. One recycled aluminum can saves enough electricity to run a computer for three hours.
  6. Americans waste 500,000 trees every Sunday by throwing away their newspapers instead of recycling them.
  7. Recycling one ton of plastic bottles saves enough energy to run a refrigerator for a month.
  8. Recycling 25 aluminum cans conserves one gallon of gasoline.
  9. Recycling one ton of paper saves the energy equivalent of 39 gallons of gasoline, enough fuel to run the average car for 975 miles.
  10. It takes 20 times more energy to make a steel can from raw materials than from recycled steel cans.