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Despite my former pesky problems,  my worm bin is doing great. Today, I lifted up the top strata and found a rich, beautiful layer of compost dotted with egg shells (which seem to be the last to decompose) and thick with fat happy, wriggly worms. Finally, my battle with the fruit flies seems to be at a truce. But, I have happy news for anyone in the neighborhood (or TriBeCa or the Village) who wants to compost but isn’t into worms.

Starting next weekend, March 5th to be exact, the Greenmarkets in Inwood, Greenwich Village and TriBeCa will join Union Square Greenmarket and begin to collect compostable kitchen scraps.  During this temporary pilot program Greenmarket groupies in these neighborhoods will be able to drop off fruit and vegetable scraps to be hauled away to  to facility to become compost.

This is good news for anyone in these neighborhood who wants to compost but isn’t quite ready to be roomies with rollie pollies or worms. (Come on — they never hog the shower!)

In case you don’t know, according to the GrowNY food comprises about 17% of NYC’s waste stream. Food when it’s composted turns back into nutrients that can enrich soil, but when it’s sent a landfill it costs the city money to dispose  and can create greenhouse gas emissions.  It’s a literal waste.

I’ve blogged about the impact of composting before, but I want to remind myself and everyone that this is an easy way to make a difference  and for those of us who live near these Saturday Greenmarkets, it just got easier.

What can you compost: (from GrowNY)

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Non-greasy food scraps or leftovers (rice, pasta, bread, cereal, etc.)
  • Coffee grounds & filters, tea bags
  • Hair and nails (animal or human), egg and nut shells
  • Cut or dried flowers, houseplants and potting soil

Meat, chicken, fish, greasy food scraps, fat, oil, dairy, dog or cat feces, kitty litter, coal or charcoal, coconuts, diseased and/or insect-infested houseplants or soil are all no-nos.

If holding on to scraps until Saturday sounds messy, here’s the trick —  you throw it all in a bag in the freezer or the fridge and it minimizes the ick factor.

The pilot will only run until June 30, 2011.  If it’s a success, it will become permanent and other markets will adopt the program. I want to find out what success means. I’ll call around on Monday and see if I can find out. I also believe that fresh compost from this program will be available for purchase in these markets — but again, I need to confirm whether or not this is true.

Here’s a list of the Greenmarkets who will be participating in the program:

  • The Inwood Greenmarkets on Isham Street
  • The Abingdon Square Greenmarket on Hudson and Eight Avenue, between West 12th & Bethune streets
  • The TriBeCa Greenmarket on Greenwich Street, between Chambers and Duane streets

Note: According to GrowNY you can also drop off compost at these Greenmarkets:

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Believing that Christmas can be eco-friendly is a bit like believing in Santa Clause. But, I sort of believe in Santa Clause. I know. I know. I’m Jewish. But I’ve been living with Christmas-celebrators for a really long time. And the Christmas tree is a habit I’m not ready to kick.  I have half-Jewish kids as my excuse for why we have a tree. But the truth is this year, when it came time, the kids said, “Why don’t we get one of those little trees? The ones in pots. Then after we can plant it. Isn’t that more green.”

Where was I going to plant a tree? On the fire escape?

Ok. I know, I know. I’m Jewish, and technically should not be decking my halls with anything but a mezuzah. But when it comes to a Christmas trees, what I want is a big-ass Nutracker second act, Rockefeller Center Christmas sized tree. And despite my Jewish guilt, I usually get something that fills the corner of the living room in goyish splendor.

A few weekends ago, we went to my friend K’s house for a tree trimming party. She had a gorgeous Douglas fir that she’d gotten at Whole Foods. She said the tree was locally sourced — from  a tree farm NJ  — and that the signage promised that they planted two trees for every tree they cut. Which, as she pointed out, was not only green but good business.

Chanukah started on December 6. Z’s birthday was December 18. I’ve been in hyper festive drive for a really long time. I’m really tired. So last Friday, when John and I went to pick up the tree, we went to  Whole Foods. I was grateful to K that she given me sustainable cheat so I didn’t have to do the research.

We called Whole foods in Edgewater and asked if they had trees and if they were local. Yes they told us. Then, when our quest for fondant took us to AC Moore in Paramus, we ended up in the Whole Foods across Route 4. They had trees. They just were from North Carolina. That sounded very far away. I asked if the trees at Edgewater were from North Carolina and they said yes all the trees in that part of Jersey came from the same distribution center.

Damn.

I guess I should explain, there is a Christmas tree stand across the street from my house. I didn’t want to go there because – 1) I thought Whole Foods had some more local version 2) they are super expensive.

One year we had gotten a tree from Metropolitan Plant Exchange. We called. They said, yes they had trees from a local nursery.  It was on the way home.  Did I mention I was tired. I heard the word local and knew the prices were reasonable. We picked up the tree from their selection in a sad, dark parking lot and hit the GW Bridge.

The next day, I wondered, how could a local Nursery grow christmas trees. So I called Metropolitan Plant Exchange back and they told me that the nursery was called Shemin Nursery. My Google search told me that they were a nursery  in Connecticut. Ok, CT is not so far away. CT has Christmas tree farms. But when I called the nice folks at Shemin up they said, they were not actually a nursery but a distributor. They didn’t know where particular my tree came from. They suggested I called their Mahwah NJ office. So I did.

Meanwhile I surfed around a found some other facts via EarthEasy:

  • Yes, they’re renewable. Christmas trees are a renewable resource. When they’re growing, they improve the air quality
  • Grind is good. Ninety percent of live trees are recycled into usable mulch.
  • Plastic trees last forever. Plastic trees are made of petroleum products (PVC), and use  plenty of resources when they’re made and when they’re shipped.  Although they’re made to last forever, research shows that they are tossed fairly when they start to look shabby — which normally only takes a few years. Once they hit the landfill they stick around for a really long while.
  • Pots  are green. The greenest way to have a Christmas Tree is to buy a small tree in a large pot that you can either re-use for a few seasons, or plant in your yard.
  • North Carolina is the tree state. Despite my vision that Vermont is the land of Christmas trees. most trees in the Northeast come from North Carolina. In fact, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, with they harvested the second most number of trees in 2001.  (Oregon was #1, New York was #7 and Vermont trailed at #12)

Unfortunately, I also learned why you should look for an organic Christmas tree — just a little too late. According to Balanced Living Magazine many  Christmas tree farms use pesticides to protect the trees from insects and disease.In addition to the regular contamination of  groundwater and harming of wildlife, some believe the residual pesticides on the tree pose a danger to your family. In particular this pesticide  chlorpyriforus, which according to a study by the Cooperative Extension Service of North Carolina, is a suspected neurotoxin.  If you bring a tree that’s been sprayed with this pesticide, it could be adding a new level of toxicity to your home. Check out the links if you want more specifics. Since, I already had the tree in the living room, I didn’t want to dwell on it.

But back to Metropolitan Plant Exchange. I called the Mahwah office and explained my situation. They told me that trees were being shipped from, where else — North Carolina. So I checked out where in North Carolina Christmas Trees herald. I figured that my Christmas tree must have travelled between 500 to 750 miles to get from its farm to my NYC apartment.

The journey of my Christmas tree.

The stand across the street from my house, although it wouldn’t have been organic,  would not have been much better. Those trees are shlepped down from Quebec — also about 500 miles away.

Next year,  I’m going to use Local Harvest to find an organic, local tree farm. And I’m going to stat planning it before the holidays hit and I am too exhausted to think straight.   Unless, of course, the neurotoxins on my current tree fry my brains before the New Year . . .

Christmas Tree Mulch Fest 2011

Here’s one thing that’s easy. The NYC Parks Department will be chipping and mulching Xmas trees on January 8-11.  Inwood Hill Park  and J Hood Wright Park will both be taking trees. To find a location near you visit this site.

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I just finished doing this quick search. “Can you recycle wrapping paper? ”

I was relieved to find out yes. According to NYC.gov, wrapping paper can be recycled here in New York.

However, I’m a bit suspicious.  According to Earth 911, wrapping paper is often difficult to recycle because it’s often dy ed and laminated, plus it frequently contains non-paper additives, such as gold and silver coloring — like the adorable silver foil paper with penguins on it that we wrapped Z’s birthday presents in.

According to a report today in the Daily Green, .”Between Thanksgiving and New Year we americans increase our garbage generation 25%. That means 5 million extra tons of garbage. And, I’ve seen this quote a few times now, from Carnegie Mellon Green Practices initiative — “If every American family wrapped just three presence in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.”

Ugg. Over the last 4 months I’ve done a lot of wacky things in order to avoid making garbage. I’ve walked out of restaurants that served water in styrofoam cups, brought my own kit to motel breakfast buffet, made a name for myself at Pret (I’m the lady with the to-go cup), — I even chopped up my old couch so I could recycle the leather. But as the holiday season kicked in, I didn’t say no to the gifts you buy your kids. Like my trip to Disney World, I haven’t been able to let go of this piece of  American culture.  The kids did get bought presents for Chanukah, but I tried not to be excessive.  And I wrapped  most of the gifts we gave  in plain brown craft paper that was made from 100% recycled materials.  John drew menorah’s and dreidels  on the paper using metallic sharpies .It looked pretty great. But I also rounded things out with some traditional wrapping paper that I had in the house — I thought I was being green because I hadn’t bought it.

I’ve always been pretty good at reusing old paper. But now that I know it’s going right to the landfill, I changed my filter of what to save and what to toss. I’m happy to say that 1/2 of the garbage bag can be recycled — tissue paper, craft paper, and those thin sheets of paper they use to wrap pottery. 1/4 I’ve salvaged to re-use next year. But the last 1/4 I’ll put in the recycling — but I am a bit worried that it will actually get recycled.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue to  more conscience about how I wrap those presents.

Fun and greenest ways to wrap gifts:

  • Personalize recycled craft paper.
  • Use old maps, drafts of documents or other technically inspired paper. Look how cute these packages look wrapped in architectural plans
  • Use old newspapers and magazines and comics.
  • Use old pieces of fabric  — old bits of plaid would be pretty fun for Xmas.

See more ideas from Earth 911

Resources for recycled wrapping paper

Greenfield paper

Nice contemporary designs. Made in San Francisco, so not local. Not too expensive ( About 8 bucks a roll), but certainly not the 99 cent store. Still that’s about how much I paid for my metallic penguins.

Lucky Crow
Adorable fabric bags for gifts. Not cheap. But certainly reusable. A little retro. And unique.

Fish lips

A bit more traditional, but still very nice. A little cheaper per roll. A little more local — it comes from Jacksonville, Florida.

My search tonight, didn’t find anything in NYC. I can’t believe that’s true. Anyone know where to get recycled wrapping paper here.

(P.S- My craft paper was 99 cents a roll!)

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Right now, Speaker Christine C. Quinn is New York City's "Green" Champion. I wonder if she knows where to buy organic chicken sans the Styrofoam.

Let’s start with the good news.  Last month The City Council approved a bunch of bills that will finally overhaul NYC recycling laws. This legislation, which has been bouncing around all Spring,  will be the first major change to New York City recycling since 1989.

The new law will mean that finally all hard plastics will be recycled by the city. For New Yorker’s like me, it means we won’t have to be traipsing our #1 and #3 plastic garbage to other states or our#5 plastic to Whole Food. It also means that  they’re going to put more recycling bins in schools and public areas and allow residents to recycle hazardous waste like paint. (via New York Times Green Blog)

According to Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who’s been instrumental in pushing this bill through:


“Our legislation will divert over 8,000 tons of plastic every year away from landfills and incinerators.  That’s equal to the amount of trash produced by nearly 10,000 people each year.”

I first heard about this on the radio a few weeks ago. And I’m completely psyched about this. But can somebody tell me why I can’t buy an organic or at least humanely raised chicken that’s not packed in Styrofoam? Oh, yes, the Whole Foods saga continues.

I know that lots of people will say, just stop going to the grocery store. But the thing is, Whole Foods in Connecticut sells their chickens on recycled paper trays. So why not New York.

So I wondered, maybe the 59 th street Whole Foods was an anomaly. I called the Tribeca store and talked to Jeanette in customer service . Unfortunately, she told me that yes, the store in Tribeca uses Styrofoam trays.

“Are you allergic to Styrofoam?” she asked me.

“No,” I told her, “I”m just committed to not buying Styrofoam.”

Nobody’s surprised. She also agreed that it was against Whole Food’s corporate identity to use Styrofoam and promised me that she’d check and see if other NYC Whole Foods used Styrofoam. She never got back to me.

So yesterday, I ran to Fairways on 125th street. I’d had a good experience getting chicken in a paper wrapper on 72nd street, but 125th street was a bust. First of all I had to explain what I wanted in Spanish — which was tricky. (And no, I don’t know the word for Styrofoam in Spanish.) But the woman behind the butcher counter pretty much understood what I wanted. (She of course tried to take the chicken wrapped in Styrofoam and rewrap it). There was a chance they had more Organic chickens upstairs, but I ran out of patience and didn’t want to wait while they checked on the third floor.

I went to buy grass-fed beef instead, but the London Broil were imported from Australia. I’ve pretty much sworn off eating meat from other hemispheres let alone other states. Needless to say, I left Fairways with no dinner. (Maybe the universe wants me to go Vegan — I’m sure that’s what my cousin Donna will say.)

As I checked out, the man bagging my grass-fed milk was a bordering middle aged white guy wearing a tie — he was atypical for the average Fairway’s  grocery bagger.

“Are you a manager?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“I just wanted you to know,” I told him, “I couldn’t buy any of your meeat or chicken because it was packed in styrofoam.”

“Are you allergic to Styrofoam?” he also asked. (Is there a big styrofoam allergy epidemic I don’t know about?)

“No,” I said, “I’m committed not to making garbage.”

The cashier, a large black teenager nodded. I could tell he completely agreed with me.

The manager guy didn’t dismiss me. He listened thoughtfully to what I said.

“I’ll raise your concerns,” he told me. And, you know something, I believe him.

Note: Several months ago I asked the Cornucopia Institute to check and see if Fairway’s Milk was legit. I also emailed Fairway’s to ask where they sourced their milk from, to see how local it was. I never got a response on either front. I need to dig around a bit more. Unless somebody else out there knows more.

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Blaise cannon balls into Vermont watering hole. What we do now to oppose environmental contamination -- from fracking for natural gas, to lead leaching out of the landfill -- that will help make sure that one day he can watch his son splash into a watering hole like this, too.

Ok. I’m clearly not alone in my obsession with reducing garbage. This weekend, in the Lower East Side, on the iconic Hester Street no less, there’ll be scores of people (much trendier than me) contemplating their garbage cans and wondering how to keep their shit out of landfill. That’s because this weekend, July 24-25 is Zero Waste Weekend and people will be flocking to the Hester Street Fair to find out more about living urban green.

Here’s a few points from the Hester Street Fair website that I thought were interesting:

Food Scrap Surprise: In my last impromptu science class with my brother the geochemical oceanographer he told me that food will break down in the landfill, but that by composting it, you also get the added byproduct of super-rich soil. Well, according to the Hester Street Fair website, our landfills are so compressed with food waste, that much of it doesn’t even get decomposed. (YAY worm box!)

Electronic overload: 40% of the lead found in our landfills comes from electronic waste. The fear, it seems, is that the toxic lead could leach out of the landfill and into the groundwater.

It’s funny, this weekend in Vermont, we were swimming in a little swimming hole in the bend of a river and I thought how clean and pristine so much of the planet looks. It’s easy to see why so many people don’t want to believe that the earth is in danger. There’s enough much natural beauty to trick us into complacency.

But even in my lifetime I have seen forests turn into subdivisions, farms into shopping malls and wild land become roads that lead to condos or hotels.

It’s not easy, but a first step is education and  re-evaluating all the stuff we believe we need and for me at least, it’s been about trying to figure out how to rethink my disposable lifestyles.  And starting to let the powers that be know that I’m not ok with policies that threaten my natural resources. ( I did send letters to NYC Senate and Congressman telling them that I supported remove the exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act for frac-ing   Go to  http://gaslandthemovie.com/take-action/contact-elected-officials, they make it super easy.)

Sounds like the Hester Street Fair might be a fun way to get educated and for me a place to safely get rid of that Dell laptop that hasn’t worked since 2005.

Find out more about the Hester Street Fair and Zero Waste Weekend.

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Ten years ago, I bought a leather sofa. I was pregnant and I wanted something durable. Leather seemed like a good choice. I even paid for the special , “We fix it if it rips insurance.”  I never for a moment thought about the politics of buying leather or if the cow I was sitting on was grass-fed. Ah, those were the good old days.

Meanwhile fast forward, a decade later — or really two boys later — and the sofa is shot. The leather is fine. It’s perfect in fact. But the frame had not survived the years of, “Get off the couch. Now!”

So for about a year now, we’ve been sitting on a sofa with a dip in the back and a big hole in the middle so that when you sit down, you sink down and hit the wooden frame. I knew it had to go.

Last weekend, I inherited my parent’s living room sofa. But when it came to removing our not-so-gently used leather sofa, I didn’t want to just leave it on the side of the road. I mean, the couch was busted, but the leather was not. It seemed a waste to toss it.

I called Wearable Collections, the people who gather textiles at the Green Markets around New York City. I had recently learned that they divert scrap fabric from the landfills, but I wasn’t sure if they would take leather.

“Sure,” the guy said, “If they’re big pieces they’ll get re used.”

Maybe I’m crazy, but this made me happy.

So, we got to work. All and all in didn’t take that much time.  As an added bonus, I also recycled the metal legs and any loose screws (no jokes please). Then we hacked the frame with the joy and abandonment of a punk band in a 70’s hotel room.

Hey, you know what they say, recycling can be fun.

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My neighbor and fellow bus-stop-mom-friend said that her mother-in-law treks her plastic up to Rhode Island and that Rhode Island will take #1 and #2 plastic. I was excited because the trunk of my car is filled with plastic that I have been collecting since April. Lately, my frustration with the pile of garbage in my house has made me want to toss those suckers into the trash. Then last night we watched Addicted to Plastic on the Sundance Channel.

Addicted to Plastic was good on a lot of levels. It wasn’t a judgmental. It simply laid out the history of plastic over the last 100 years. In a nutshell, when petro-chemical plastic was created they thought it would change how we live and give us more leisure time.  It’s amazing in that it can be used to make a whole wide range of super durable stuff. Except for a small percentage of down cycling, every piece of plastic that was ever created still exists.

But the biggest WTF for me was the whirlpools of plastic floating around in the ocean — everything from garden furniture to tiny bits and bobs — they referred to the ocean as plastic soup. The smaller bit mimic organic food like fish egg and  are easily ingested by fish and other marine wildlife.  And to make matters worse the chemistry of plastics attracts other toxic pollutants.  By entering the food chain, the toxic stuff is passed on to our plates. Once again, I find you can’t think about food without thinking about garbage.

But it’s not all bad news. Many companies are investigating in creating plastics from plants. These bio plastics are bio degradable and sometimes compostable — like the SunChips bag or the container from my Farmer’s Market beans. They can be made from renewable raw materials like starch from corn, potato, tapioca, or other plants and vegetables.

Ironically we are going to Rhode Island this weekend. As I gleefully went through my plastic I found that one of my  little evil cups is made by Trellis Earth. Not only is this bio plastic compostable but it also breaks down in the airless environment of the landfill — paper towels don’t even do that! (See below for more scientific explanation.) I wish I could remember where that bit of plastic came from — so I could go back and eat take out guilt free.

Where to watch Addicted to Plastic:

http://www.documentary-log.com/d402-addicted-to-plastic/

From the Trellis Earth website:

“Yes, Trellis Earth™ products are made from ingredients that when decomposed become inert elements supportive of natural biological processes with non-toxic results. Our products are specifically engineered to biodegrade in the anaerobic conditions of a landfill using state-of-the-art technology.  Many critics of biodegradable plastics technology are not familiar with this technology and are only disparaging old technology when they denounce efforts to introduce biodegradability via anaerobic microbiological activity.  Making high biomass content bio-plastic blends biodegradable in the landfill has become an approach pioneered by Trellis Earth.”  Learn more >

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