Green Living

As a society, we rely on plastic. From the medical equipment and household goods created by the reaction injection molding process (wherein two liquid components are mixed, injected into a mold, and cured) to the bottled beverages we bring home from the grocery store, the convenience we love is often tied to this material. In recent months, single use plastics — particularly those found in shopping bags — have come under fire, prompting many people to make the switch to reusable options instead. But is your tote bag actually any better for the environment?

A lot of people assume so. After all, if you purchase an item that you can reuse again and again (especially if it’s created from a natural resource), it must be inherently more eco-friendly than a product you use only once and throw away. And with 127 different countries and cities banning the use of single use plastic bags, it’s no wonder that consumers are turning to totes as a more sustainable alternative.

The problem, as it turns out, is that the process involved in making and distributing cotton tote bags comes with an even more significant carbon footprint than other kinds of bags. Although U.S. manufacturing accounts for 18.2% of the world’s goods, a report conducted by the UK Environment Agency found that no matter where these bags are manufactured, they’re probably not as good for the planet as you’d think. The cotton needs to be grown, which requires an immense amount of energy, fertilizer, and water. It also needs to be manufactured, which involves chemicals during the processing phase, and transported. And because cotton totes are heavier than plastic bags, estimates show that up to 80 times more fuel is needed to distribute them.

Ultimately, the report found, you’d have to reuse a cotton tote bag 393 times in order to equal out its environmental impact to that of a plastic bag you’ve used only three times. A separate study published by the Danish government was even less forgiving, as researchers there found that a biodegradable cotton tote bag would need to be used 7,100 times for it to have less cumulative environmental impact than a plastic one. And if the tote bag is made of organic cotton? You’d need to reuse it a staggering 20,000 times to even things out.

Of course, people aren’t throwing away these cotton tote bags at nearly as high a rate as we see with single use plastic bags, which means our landfills and waterways are still dealing with the negative effects of widespread plastic litter. In other words, this doesn’t mean that plastic bags are better for the environment. But ultimately, research suggests, the type of bag you’re using might matter less than whether you’re bringing home locally grown produce and you’re riding on a bike instead of in a car.

If you’re determined to switch out your plastic bags for reusable totes, you shouldn’t necessarily be dissuaded from doing so. But opting for a reusable bag made of recycled plastic — or constructing your own tote out of old clothes or fabric you already have on-hand — is a much better alternative than purchasing a new cotton tote. If you really care about the earth and don’t simply want to follow green trends, it’s a good idea to explore the true impact of these choices, rather than merely assuming that anything has to be better than plastic.

Sometimes the best intentions have unintended consequences that swiftly remind us that we live in a vortex of unpredictability. So it goes with the planet we live on. The recent conversations surrounding the environment have been louder than ever. For good reason, too. As long as we live on this space suspended rock that sustains our very existence, we should treat it with respect.

From the industrial scale, right down to our own personal practices, environmentally conscious living has been on more minds than ever before. For instance, wood is the number one most energy efficient material to make products with. Meanwhile, we’re trying to curb our use of plastic. We have a pretty big global plastic pollution/waste problem, so industries across the world are taking steps to do their part in reducing or getting rid of their disposable plastic products.

Independent coffee shops accrue $12 billion in annual sales and when we stopped to consider the number of straws, plastic cups, stirrers, etc. that were going into landfills, it was pretty clear change was needed. Grocery stores enacted this change by offering reusable grocery bags or getting rid of plastic grocery bags altogether. One market had a humorous take on this that sort of backfired.

In Vancouver, East West Market sought to discourage single-use plastic grocery bags by public shame. If you didn’t bring your reusable bag to their market, you had to use their single-use bags which all feature a variety of different, embarrassing things emblazoned on them.

“It’s hard to always remember a reusable bag. We redesigned our plastic bags to help you never forget again!” reads the caption of their Instagram video introducing the bags.

Wart Ointment Wholesale, Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium, The Colon Care Co-Op are the three bags you’ll get if you forget your reusable one. Store owner David Kwen thought this would dissuade shoppers from being wasteful. After all, would you want to be seen with a grocery bag that says Dr. Toew’s Wart Ointment Wholesale?

Turns out that people love the bags and think they’re hilarious. Which, they are, but now more people are getting the single-use bags. Unshakeable in his efforts, Kwen insists it’s a positive thing and he has a great point to back that up. After his embarrassing bags went viral, he realized that the story itself and the intent behind the bags has reached more people than he had ever hoped to.

“The underlying thing is that it creates conversation, and that’s what we actually wanted to get across to the general public,” said Kwen.

About half of people enter a business because of signage but Kwen now had droves of people coming in to get his single-use plastic bags that were meant to keep people from using plastic bags. Still, it opened so many avenues for conversation. Not merely from him, but from all the people who took them. It’s a great talking point. His solution to the popularity of the embarrassing bags is discontinuing the plastic ones and getting canvas grocery totes with the messages printed on them.

Reaching people with humor in the name of the environment? I’d hardly call that backfiring.

No one enjoys being faced with a high energy bill. Unfortunately, with summer just around the corner and temperatures heating up, your home may soon be facing off with your electric company.

The good news is there are plenty of ways you can keep your home cool this season without digging into your savings account. Here are a few tips you can use to stay cool this summer while still saving energy.

  1. Have your HVAC inspected in advance. The early bird catches the worm with energy savings when it comes to your HVAC system. In fact, efficient HVAC systems need maintenance inspections at least twice a year. Maintenance ensures your system doesn’t have any issues that could cause it to overwork itself or malfunction when you need it the most. Be sure to change out your system’s air filters every three months while you’re at it to keep your home clear of allergens and debris.
  2. Use natural ventilation to your advantage. If you live in an area where the air cools down at night, consider turning off your HVAC system and opening your windows while you sleep. You can shut the windows again in the morning and close the blinds or curtains to keep the air cool. Certain air coverings such as blackout curtains can help to prevent heat gain through your windows.
  3. Use your water wisely. The average family of four uses up to 400 gallons of water every day. To help save on your water bill, turn off your sink or shower when you’re not using it such as when you’re brushing your teeth, applying soap to your skin, or scrubbing the dishes.
  4. Use fans to circulate the air. Ceiling fans and ENERGY STAR fans are a great way to get the cool air in your home circulating without turning down your thermostat. However, it’s recommended to turn these fans off when you’re no longer in the room to use them. Fans are designed to help cool down your skin by creating a wind chill effect. ENERGY STAR ventilating fans are recommended for areas where heat and humidity can build up in your home, too. These areas include your laundry room and your bathroom if you don’t have fans installed there already.
  5. Lower the temperature of your water heater. The last thing you want during a hot summer day is to get into an even hotter shower. As it turns out, water heating accounts for up to 18% of the energy that’s consumed in your home. To keep from scalding your hands when you turn on the sink and to help reduce your energy costs this summer, lower your water heater to the warm setting. This setting is around 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, make sure your water heater is in good condition in the first place — the standard water heater lasts 10 to 15 years before corrosion causes wear and tear.
  6. Make sure your attic is insulated. When you have poor insulation in your attic, your home attempts to equalize the temperature inside your home with the outside air. Your home’s heat or cool air escapes from the attic, leading to your home feeling too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. Call in your local professionals to seal up the cracks in your attic and you’ll reduce your energy expenses year-round.

There are many different factors that can increase your home’s energy bills. By following the tips above, you can help to keep your energy bills down this summer without foregoing your comfort.

No one can deny that society is becoming more environmentally-conscious; we are all aware of (and focused on) the impact our life has on this planet, from that piece of plastic we recycled to whether or not our groceries are pesticide-free. While not everyone is able to power their home with a renewable form of energy, there are plenty of things you can do — especially as spring fully takes hold and brings the spirit of change along with it. Let’s take a look at three things you can do this season that will have a positive impact on your environment, from the basic to the revolutionary.

Service Your HVAC System

Making the shift towards a cleaner, greener life doesn’t have to be extreme or costly; in fact, it can be quite simple. Energy use contributes to our carbon footprints in a big way, and our heating and cooling systems are often the main culprits — the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that between 25% and 40% of the energy used to heat and cool the home is wasted.

The easy and affordable act of replacing your unit’s air filters can go a long way toward improving its efficiency, mostly because it isn’t forced to work as hard to cool or heat the home. However, if your home’s windows and insulation aren’t up to snuff, you’ll have to do a bit more to ensure your house is completely sealed and airtight.

Install New Windows

One of the best ways to do that is by installing new windows. Energy Star products come with a number of benefits, the most long-term of which involves reducing your home’s energy use. Older houses are notoriously leaky; cool air escapes in the summer and lets the warm outdoor air in, while the opposite happens during the winter. With new windows, you can ensure that your energy system’s efforts aren’t being wasted by keeping cooled and warmed air right where it should be — inside!

Although new windows can be a costly investment, they’re always worthwhile. Not only will you be reducing your carbon footprint, but you’ll be saving money on energy bills every month; since fiberglass windows last at least 50 years (and often longer), it’s a savings that you’ll continue to see for as long as you stay in the house. Even if you have plans to move within a few years, your energy-efficient windows will only increase the value of your home.</>p

Remodel Your Kitchen

Installing new windows can have a big impact on the “greenness” of your home, but it won’t be one that you necessarily see and feel. If you really want to embrace the spirit of spring, you can have your kitchen remodeled in an energy-efficient way; whether you focus on complex or simple changes (from installing Energy Star appliances to Energy Star lightbulbs), you’ll be able to fully experience the difference in your home.

Since one-third of homeowners say that they led a healthier lifestyle after remodeling their kitchen — even if it wasn’t geared towards energy efficiency — the change will undoubtedly do you good. After all, if the most subtle remodels can alter our attitudes, consider the impact thinking BIG will have!

Spring is a season of change; it tends to inspire people to do any number of things, from losing a few of those pesky lbs to getting that new haircut. Fortunately, it can have a much farther reach than a simple physical change. By paying attention to our individual water and energy usage (and getting the eco-conscious kitchen remodel of our dreams), we can ensure that we are doing our part to keep this one planet we have healthy and safe.

As if the title wasn’t enough to make you smile, these three furry environmental helpers will only cause more. The bond between animals and the environment has always been a close one. Where human beings enter into the delicate symbiosis isn’t always in the best ways. Take a look at our relationship in a nutshell.

Sheepskin will absorb 30% of its weight in water, but still feel dry and remain warm. So humans make shoes out of it. Most paper products come from trees, millions of homes are made from trees, and the oxygen we breathe all comes from trees. We thanklessly use them without batting an eye.

Nature gives, we take. Animals give, we take. Very few of us give back to the creatures and environment that sustain us. But, there are still champions fighting for the preservation of the earth. Which brings us to an interesting relationship between human beings, a few dogs, and the forests of Chile.

It’s estimated that in the next five decades that 17 million acres of forest will be lost to urbanization and property development. When we’re not clearing forests that way, fire is a concern. In 2017, a wildfire in the Chilean region of El Maule — considered the worst in Chile’s history — burned 1.4 million acres, consumed some 1,500 homes, and killed at least 11 people. When the blaze was finally contained and put out, you can imagine the blackened devastation of a once glorious forest.

We talk about how much damage we do to nature, but it’s only fair to talk about how nature is resilient and can heal in the face of astounding odds. After the fire, some unlikely forest allies set to work to get the forest growing again. Three Border Collies named Das, Summer, and Olivia.

Das is the mother of Summer and Olivia. Their owners are sisters Francisca and Constanza Torres who are very familiar with the high-energy that Border Collies inherently possess. So, they sought to take that energy and help the forest along the way. The three dogs were given special backpacks that were filled with seeds of native plants and trees in the forest. When they’d spend hours running through the woods, now they’d also be spreading seeds all around, helping get some life back where it once flourished.

“They reeeeeally love [it]!! It’s a country trip, where they can run as fast as they can and have a great time. We come out with the dogs and the backpacks full of native seeds, and they run for the burned forest spreading the seeds. We have seen many results in flora and fauna coming back to the burned forest!” said Francisca Torres in an email interview with Mother Nature Network.

They four-legged crew can cover 18 miles of forest and spread more than 20 pounds of seed in a day. Where they’re most limited are the humans, who only have the energy to travel a few miles in a planting session. Still, where Millennials are expected to spend $1.4 trillion on travel by 2020, these sisters and their dogs are creating their own adventures to restore the beauty of an environment that too much of the world takes for granted. They’ve made it a point to travel to different forests that have seen similar damage. At the end of a day in the woods, the three energetic canine forest explorers are handsomely rewarded with well-deserved treats. Plus, all that ground to cover is hungry work.

On top of this, Francisca Torres runs a dog training school and community called Pewos. From day one, they’ve received some donations, but the two sisters mainly pay for seeds, travel, etc. from their own pockets. But, they don’t mind. In fact, they love it.

They reported that the dogs have spread seeds in 15 different forests in the region and have no intention on stopping. Which is definitely a good thing because forests need to be regrown and Border Collies never want to stop running.

Despite what we humans like to believe, our planet was not made to support us indefinitely. As our population continues to grow (the UN predicts we’ll reach a staggering 9.8 billion by 2050), space has become a major concern. Those already here are forced to deal with exorbitant home prices due to the fact that the number of people vying for a place to live has doubled in the last 50 years. Add in the fact that homelessness is already running rampant in most nations, and tiny homes present a perfect solution to all problems.

Tiny homes are defined by their ability to put everything a homeowner needs — such as a bathroom, bed, kitchen, and living space — into an exceptionally compact space. By taking advantage of every square inch available, tiny homes offer an affordable and entirely liveable alternative to a normal house. This is precisely why shipping containers and concrete pipes are so heavily favored in the tiny home industry.

Making Life Smaller

Most shipping containers are eight feet wide, nine-and-a-half feet tall, and either 20 or 40 feet long. On average, a used 20-footer costs anywhere between $1,400 and $2,800, whereas a 40-footer costs $3,500 – $4,500; include the cost of labor to make the material liveable and you can be sitting pretty on a tiny home of your own for around $15,000 — a significant savings over the average $200,000 home price in the United States.

As the most used manmade material in the world — and an inexpensive one at that — concrete has recently joined the tiny homes ranks. What originally started in Hong Kong as a way to provide affordable housing for the overwhelming population, OPods have proven their value; the two-and-a-half meter wide concrete water pipes have been transformed into 9.29-square-meter homes, allowing them to fit into narrow gaps between buildings and be stacked in self-contained low rise modular communities.

Since the debut of the OPod prototypes, America has been exploring the possibilities of concrete pipes: in a contest devised to show how making affordable housing can be a reality in an age where homelessness in the United States is a huge problem, Bolivia-born architectural student Sandra Guillen created her Pipe Dream. The 16-feet-long, eight feet in diameter concrete pipe was designed to offer 100 square feet of living space, complete with a shower/toilet room, a collapsible bed, workstation, and even a covered porch.

The ingenuity of creators like Guillen and James Law (who founded the studio that built the OPods) proves that the problems of a rising population, sky-high home costs, and even the homelessness epidemic can be solved. If we continue to persevere for the good of humanity, there’s no telling how much we can accomplish.

Despite the growing need for housing across the nation, houses are becoming more expensive than ever. This is putting them out of reach for countless Americans. In fact, the rate of new houses being built now is over 20% lower than the rates previously seen between 1975 and 2000, according to the National Review.

Just last year, the United States needed more than 400,000 new homes to be built in order to accommodate the growing population. Unfortunately, few Americans can hope to cough up the funds for building a home in or around productive cities like Los Angeles or New York City. The National Review notes that construction prices have risen by almost 33% in the last three years alone in the Bay Area.

But America isn’t the only nation struggling to match supply with demand.

One of the world’s most unaffordable property markets is making it impossible for even well-paid citizens to claim a home of their own. Hong Kong residents simply cannot hope to establish roots in the New Territories in the traditional housing market.

This is where steel shipping containers and boxes come in.

In Hong Kong, prefabricated steel containers that look like shipping containers are being sold by the dozen amidst the area’s housing crisis. One of the most popular container home costs around $19,100 for 30 square metersBloomberg reports that the cost of a down payment on an apartment could be more than double that price.

As a growing number of people move into these homes, however, more people are being put at-risk for legal consequences.

“Of all the prefabricated homes in the style of a container that I have seen in ads or online, I can tell you 99.9 percent aren’t in compliance with the law,” claims Vincent Ho, one of the managing directors for Freevision Ltd.

This is because a citizen needs to receive government approval before construction of the property begins. It also has to meet certain standards, akin to zoning laws and building permits present in the United States. For example, these container homes need to comply with certain fire-safety codes, ventilation standards, and zoning laws established by the government.

Regardless, the demand for this type of home has only grown. Steel container orders have more than doubled in Hong Kong since 2016 and estimates claim that 40% of these containers are being designed to serve as home residences.

In Hong Kong, citizens have managed to shirk these laws and avoid detection since the majority of these homes are being built in obscure locations. But construction companies have taken note of their popularity and affordability. With backing from the government, a non-profit called The Hong Kong Council of Social Service plans to build 90 legal container homes within the city’s poorest areas. These homes are not meant to be permanent dwellings, but they will serve as a necessary form of housing as citizens wait for public housing.

American businesses have dubbed these living quarters “modular homes.” These homes are prefabricated by an offsite manufacturer, shipped to the buyer, and then assembled on-site. Where an apartment building might take more than a year to construct and rely on a number of specialized industries to make the final product, a modular steel home can be achieved in nine months and rely on cheaper labor.

This has become an increasingly popular option in Florida. Though shipping containers aren’t often built to withstand extreme weather, many Floridians have fallen in love with the eco-friendly design, affordability, and timeliness.

Should a homeowner worry about their home blowing away in a hurricane, a solid foundation can put these thoughts to rest. New concrete foundations only take between two and seven days while raised concrete can be used almost immediately. Securing the modular home to a strong foundation will ascertain it won’t blow away during periods of inclement weather.

Should the steel container home ever blow away, you never need to worry about it taking on damage. Every modular home sold in the United States has to pass a floor test where a concentrated load of 16,000 lbs is pressed onto an area measuring 44 square inches. The strength offered by steel ensures that your home will take on minimal damage should an accident or other natural disaster occur.

The four most-common metals used in the construction industry are aluminum, copper, carbon steel, and stainless steel. Because these modular homes are typically made from steel, they’re easily recycled. Even the 2.5 million metric tonnes of metalworking fluid sold throughout the world can be recycled, making it a green building process.

Even snowy Brooklyn has begun to experiment with modular homes.

FullStack Modular helped create the world’s tallest modular tower measuring 32 stories. Now, New York City’s agency has begun to engage in further efforts for affordable housing, including modular housing for mixed-use development.

Are steel container homes the wave of the future? It’s too soon to say. But as this trend grows amidst the nation’s worsening housing crisis, we might see the housing market start to change.

In recent years, the gap between food production and consumers has closed considerably. People are giving much more thought to not only to where their food is coming from, be it meat or fruits and vegetables, but how it is grown. Even as meat consumption is increasing in the United States, with consumption projected at levels of more than 200 pounds a year per capita, the organic produce market is booming. As Americans take closer looks at their labels, one major trend is emerging: organic food is rising in popularity.

Organic food is currently the fast-growing sector of the U.S. food industry, despite its stringent regulations: the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established an organic certification program that dictates how foods are grown, handled, and processed. Because of these specifications, consumers know that their food is organic thanks to the friendly “Certified Organic” sticker adorning their products. Though the sector began in 1997 as a humble industry making a mere $3.6 billion annually, it now rakes in a staggering $50 billion; let’s figure out what changed.

A Change In Generation

The biggest catalyst is undoubtedly the growth of millennials. Defined as the generation born between 1981 and 1996, millennials comprise 42% of organic consumers and will continue to drive the market as they age. In an article posted on Forbes (written the same year organic food reached that iconic $50 billion mark), they describe the millennial mindset as turning the traditional food value equation on its head.

“When millennials make purchase decisions, they’re considering more than the traditional drivers of taste, price, and convenience,” said Kira Karapetian, VP of Marketing for cloud-based product data engine Label Insight. “They value authenticity, and make decisions based on the way they perceive brands to impact their quality of life, society as a whole, and how that brand may be contributing positively to the world.”

Because of those strict regulations that must be adhered to in order to produce organic goods, the impact on the environment is significantly lessened. The chemicals used in pesticides are eliminated, which protects our limited water supply (only 3% of the planet’s water is freshwater) and keeps our soil free from any long-term damage. Additionally, removing these harmful substances allows pollinators like honeybees to flourish and protects farmers from routine exposure. Since ingesting harmful pesticides is also good for our own bodily health, the shift from traditional farming to organic makes perfect sense.

Keeping Up With Demands

Despite the fact that this country boasts three million farmers — and that the organic business is booming –, only a small amount are dedicated to the organic trade. In California, a state that prides itself on its progressive and health-oriented nature, only 4% of the agricultural land is being farmed organically. The Golden State has recently calculated that a shift up to 10% organic acreage — a goal they’ve set for 2030 — would reduce emissions equivalent to 601,500 cars per year; going fully organic would be the same as taking 7.8 million cars off the road.

California has often been at the forefront of revolutionary ideas, and the organic revolution seems to be no different. Given all the benefits organic farming provides, we can only hope that other states will follow in its stead.