FDR Memorial

FDR Memorial
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial - click on the image for larger view

Friday, June 18, 2010

Better World Shopper - a guide to help make better decisions as a consumer

"As consumers, we vote every single day with the purest form of power...money. The average American family spends around $18,000 each year on goods and services. Think of it as casting 18,000 votes every year for the
kind of world you want to live in. Use this site to take back your
power."

Better World Shopper

I would like to suggest some actions to take with the help of the Better World Handbook.
1) Resist the Urge to go Shopping (visit the Church of Stop Shopping )
2) Buy less stuff
3) Treat workers with respect and courtesy
4) Buy used (think Freecycle, Recycling centers, Thrift shops, Salvation Army, Craigslist)... See More
5) Buy durable and reusable products
6) Buy products with minimal packaging
7) Support locally owned independent businesses (visit Pioneer Valley Local First and think CSA)
8) Buy Fair Trade (visit the Fair Trade Federation)
9) Boycott irresponsible companies (visit Ethical Consumer's boycott list) http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/Boycotts/currentboycotts.aspx
10) Let companies know how you feel
11) Buy from socially responsible companies (see the Better World Handbook)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Plastic from Corn or Oil? How About None of the Above

Last week my nine year old son and I went to the grocery store. He made it his task to make sure there was as little plastic in the wagon as possible. Whenever a product came in a container other than plastic we choose that option. When our wagon was full we still had shampoo bottles, dish soap, sour cream and yogurt containers. We came home and immediately wrote some letters to Whole Foods corporate offices making some suggestions on how they could reduce plastic use starting with returning to refillable options.

Plastic is a problem that NEVER goes away and even the "alternative" plastic have very real drawbacks.
The alternatives to traditional plastic are in the forms of PLA and Oxo-Biodegradable plastic.

PLA is considered a compostable and biodegradable resource. It is often referred to as carbon neutral because is comes from carbon absorbing plants. PLA can be made from wheat, beets, potatoes and corn.You can read my earlier post on PLA for more information on it's pros and cons.

Oxo-biodegradable plastic is made from PETROLEUM. The same plastic pellets that make old fashion plastic make oxo-biodegradable plastic and then additives are included to allow the plastic to fragment and degrade. The additive called D2W and metal salts allow the plastic to chemically degrade (not bio-degrade). Manufactures claim the metals are trace amounts but others worry about the added metals in the soil and food chain. While Oxo-degradable plastics are being used in Europe they are not certified biodegradable by the EU.
"
EU standards for compostable and biodegradable packaging was introduced and adopted by all European states (equivalent standards exist in the USA,Canada, India and Australia). These standards ensure that a product is biodegradable, compostable and is safe. In order to gain certification, the final packaging product must be fully tested and approved. To date, degradable plastics have not met the requirements for biodegradable certification (8/08)"
These plastics are still a petroleum product and have a serious impact.


Back at the grocery store in an effort to avoid plastic we have had to make some changes. Rather than buy that bag of dried fruit in a plastic bag we buy dried fruit in the bulk section in a paper bag. We will bring the fruit home and put it in a glass jar and then re-use and re-cycle the paper bag. When we go to the recycling center in our town we always look for big glass storage jars and jars of all sizes and shapes. No more need for plastic containers.

At the store we wanted to buy cookies but when we arrived in the cookie isle we found so much packaging we were overwhelmed. We can buy organic sugar in the bulk section in a paper bag and flour wrapped in a paper bag. Then we went home and made our own cookies, apple muffins, carrot bread and a marble bundt cake. In avoiding the packaging my kids rediscovered baking, had fun projects on these cold snowy days and we had yummy things to eat all week. Some times the things we think are convenient remove us from the process of living.
We just need to think about the choices we make when we buy products and the impact of those products.

So next time you are in the store and you reach for the plastic bag or the products packaged in plastic STOP! Use a paper bag instead and recycling it. Better yet for veggies and fruits let them touch each other and roll around in the wagon. I know it's a radical idea but those carrots don't mind fraternizing with the apples. They really did all just come from the farm full of dirt, manure and bugs. When you reach for something in a plastic bottle or container look around to see if you have the options of buy that product in another form of packaging. If not can you buy a large container that will last longer (rather than 2 small ones) or buy concentrated products that can be made to last longer.
At the end of the day the bottom line is that we need to use less stuff and rethink our transportation and storage of goods.

Info & Links

A Dummy's Guide to Biodegradable, degradable and compostable

A Bittersweet Symphony called D2W

End of the Road for Plastic?

D2W Information from Symphony


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

PLA goes in the Waste Basket and Why You Should Bring Your Own (non plastic) Cup to the (fair trade) Coffee Shop

PLA is a form of plastic that is made from corn. Many local shops and stores now carry containers and cups made from PLA in an attempt to find a more environmentally conscious choice than conventional plastic. Regular plastic lives forever. (click here to learn more about regular plastic). PLA on the other hand is considered a compostable and biodegradable resource. It is often referred to as carbon neutral because is comes from carbon abosorbing plants. PLA can be made from wheat, beets, potatoes and corn. The current manufacturer of PLA, Natureworks, is owned by Cargill, the worlds largest corn merchant. Thus PLA is made from genetically modified corn.

There are definite upsides to
PLA. The manufacturer of PLA, Natureworks claims that producing PLA uses 65 percent less energy than producing conventional plastics and it generates 68 percent fewer greenhouse gases, and contains no toxins. Take note that PLA is considered COMPOSTABLE. This doesn't mean it will compost in your backyard compost pile. Well, it will eventually but it will take a looonnng time. In a commercial composting facility using a constant 145+ degree temperature PLA plastucs will completely compost in 45 days. There are only about 100 or so commercial composting facilities in the United States. In a landfill PLA takes anywhere from 100-1000 years to decompose. Still better than conventional plastic which NEVER goes away. Since PLA is made from corn it can be incinerated without the release of any toxic fumes.

The most important thing to know about PLA is that it is NOT RECYCLABLE. Every time someone throws a PLA cup into a plastic recycling bin it will contaminate the regular plastic recycling process. So do not put your PLA cup in the recycling bin. Your not doing Mother Earth or her inhabitants any favors by doing so. PLA when properly disposed of in the waste basket PLA is a step in the right direction but not a big enough step.

The bottom line is that consumers need to think more about the packaging that comes with all the stuff they buy. Choose products with less packaging and give your local stores and
restaurants feedback that you want less packaging. The best choice is to bring your own cup with you to the (local fair trade) coffee shop. When you have a choice, choose metal silverware instead of plastic and real plates or paper over plastic or styrofoam. If you don't have your own cup opt for paper over plastic. PLA is not the answer to plastic cups and mass consumption.

To learn more you can visit:
Corn Plastic to the Rescue, from Smithsonian.com
Alternatives to Petroleum Based Plastics

(Photo credit BEC, Courtesy Flickr)

Monday, December 15, 2008

We Make A Choice Everytime We Buy Something

I recently attended a local teach-in on Local Economy. It was wonderful to see so many great people and speakers all together showing concern for our local community and our way of life. Unfortunately the local emphasis was somewhat lost in the end on a large discussion about global policies, politics and a general feeling that the problem was so large it was akin to trying to move a mountain. Talking about the economy is talking about our money: where it goes and where it comes from. It's not a mountain. It's thousands of small individual choices that we make every single day.

The reality is that I think it is easy to fall into the habit of blaming large corporation or political policies. It is much harder to see that these larger things are supported by individuals and those individuals are us: you and I.

Someone at the teach-in mentioned that she thought the new Home Depot (in Hadley) was a good idea because we really didn't have a local store to buy these kinds of things at. I nearly fell out of my chair and in my bones I could feel the owners and employees of the several local hardware stores cringing. It's just not true.

Here in Amherst, you can buy just about ANYTHING you need within 10 miles of downtown. This summer I spent 4 months without a car taking on the mission to shop locally and buy local whenever possible. The first week I cringed thinking I was going to have to do without. By week 3, I realized I had everything I could ever need close by. The majority of the food for my family of 5 came from our local CSA, Brookfield Farms. At the farm we could also get milk from a local farm, Mapleline and other local grown and made products such as soap, cheese, honey, yogurt and apples from yet a third and forth local farm, Cold Spring Orchard and Small Ones Farm. The CSA is 7 miles away via the bike trail. So our weekly bike trip to the farm solved our food issue. Other local stores that proved to be treasures were the Local Farm Supply store, Bike shop (Hampshire Bike Exchange), Stationary Stores (AJ Hastings) and the local toy shop (The Toy Box) solved most of our other needs. We also tried to not buy and when possible to use library loans, borrowing from friends, freecycle and to buy used when possible using the Salvation Army, Freecycle, local tag sales and trading with friends. We were able to bike and walk 98% of the time while buying locally here in our community. We bought less, lived better and saved a lot more money.

We make a choice every time we buy something. When we buy something at a larger corporation rather than a local small business. When we choose to buy something made in a sweatshop vs. something made with fair labor. When we choose to buy things that are disposable and have a short life cycle vs. re-useable, recyclable long lasting things. These are all choices that reflect what is important to us.

I would like to suggest some actions to take with the help of the Better World Handbook.
1) Resist the Urge to go Shopping (visit the Church of Stop Shopping )
2) Buy less stuff
3) Treat workers with respect and courtesy
4) Buy used (think Freecycle, Recycling centers, Thrift shops, Salvation Army, Craigslist)
5) Buy durable and reusable products
6) Buy products with minimal packaging
7) Support locally owned independent businesses (visit Pioneer Valley Local First and think CSA)
8) Buy Fair Trade (visit the Fair Trade Federation)
9) Boycott irresponsible companies (visit Ethical Consumer's boycott list)
10) Let companies know how you feel
11) Buy from socially responsible companies (see the Better World Handbook)

What's the difference if I buy the stupid mop made in China at Walmart or a local store?
Obviously it would be better to buy a made in the USA or fair trade mop made entirely with recycled and recyclable materials in the first place but we know that just is not always a possibility.When we buy the plastic made in China mop at Walmart the profit margin on the mop goes to Walmart which in turns supports Walmarts poor labor policies and corporate goals to develop a monopoly by running local businesses out of town. When you buy the plastic mop at a local store the profit margin goes to a local small store owned by and employed with your neighbors. It keeps your money in your community. It sends a message that you want to have a town with locally owned stores and not a town with only a Walmart or a supermall. (As a side note locally here in Amherst we have a Big Y store which is one of the only American owned and privately owned grocery stores in the US. They are based in Springfield, MA, bring many jobs to our local economy and stock many local products and produce from local farms on their shelves. Another excellent reason we don't need or want a Walmart superstore down the road.)

Why Buy Made in the USA or Fair Trade
When you buy goods made in the United States you send a message that you WANT goods made in the United States. The US manufactures very little these days and because of this there are less and less jobs for US workers. So if you want people to have jobs, want your children to some day have a job it's time to send the message that we are willing to pay for US manufactured goods. We all need to be willing to pay a little more to create jobs right here in the United States that have fair labor policies and safe working conditions. The investment doesn't go off to some random company. It comes right back to our communities, our neighbors and ourselves in terms of jobs and possibilities.

When we can't buy things made in the USA the next choice is Fair Trade. Fair trade can also cost more than non fair trade goods. This is really a nobrainer though. When you buy non fair trade goods your money often supports slavery, horrific working conditions, child abuse/neglect, environmental pollution, unsafe working and living conditions. Your purchase send the message that these things are OK. When you buy fair trade you send a message that you are only willing to invest in businesses that pay people living wages, offer safe working conditions and thinks about sustainability.

So next time you go to buy, stop and think first....make wise and conscious purchasing decisions.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Brainstorming way to live greener, healthier and happier

Recently my friend Sue and I have taken on the task of trying to form a local community based group for individuals and families to brainstorm ways to live greener. We call this the Amherst Community Green Living Group. There are many local organizations that work on and discussing the larger global ecological and social issues that affect our lives. Thinking globally is important....thinking locally is wonderful.... for a little while let's think even smaller. I want to explore the practical and creative ways we as individuals can live greener, healthier and happier lives. Let's learn from what we each have done individually. Having the opportunity to discuss what individuals have done in terms of alternative fuels and technology, alternative transportation, energy conservation, food storage, small organic gardens, permaculture, reducing waste etc. can help us to see and discover practical ways to live greener.

On January 30th at 6:30PM I will be hosting a showing and discussion of the film the 11th hour narrated by Leonardo DeCaprio. "this captivating documentary explores the perilous state of our planet, and the means by which we can change our course. Contributing to this crucial film are noted politicians, scientists and other ambassadors for the importance of a universal ecological consciousness.". We hope to have a nice size group of people so we can start brainstorming topics for upcoming meetings. Some ideas we have come up with already is to have speakers come and talk about solar power systems, permaculture, winter food storage, and alternatives to oil heating. I'm looking forward to see what topics and ideas others in the community bring to share and discuss. If you live in the Pioneer Valley please join us in this discussion.

Amherst Community Green Living
is a group of individuals and families in the Amherst area that get together on a monthly basis to share, discuss and educate themselves on ways to live greener and lower our carbon footprint. Our focus is on ways we as individuals can make a difference for our planet, our community, our families and ourselves.

To get involved in the Amherst Community Green Living Group simply come to a meeting, visit our website at http://www.amherstcommunitygreenliving.blogspot.comor join our mailing list http://groups.yahoo.com/group/amherstgreenliving


Monday, August 18, 2008

Acceptance, Diversity and Friendship

The natural course of the human mind is certainly from credulity to skepticism.
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Caspar Wistar (June 21, 1807), quoted from Encarta Book of Quotations (1999)

The moon is full. Crickets sing to me as I listen to the gentle rain. This is my temple, my sacred space. Here I connect (or reconnect) with all life. I hear the Earth breathe. I feel the energy of the trees around me. I am renewed, inspired and healed. For me this is a spiritual, even a religious, moment.

As an animist (yes a non-theist), a Unitarian and a Pagan I have become quite comfortable over the years with my religious knowings being eclectic. Here in the beautiful Pioneer Valley surrounded by a loving and supportive community my paganism is mostly accepted by my friends of all religious backgrounds, my family, the parents of the students I teach and the people I work with. I'm very open about my beliefs and very accepting of those of others. It's nice to be accepted.

You might think this acceptance comes from my being lucky enough to live in an accepting community. I used to think so too. The problem is some of us are fine with respecting each others religious and/or spiritual paths but we are not good at accepting that some people just don't need, choose not to have or simply aren't interested in this work at all. We also sometimes like someone so much we become un-accepting of their differences because it's something we aren't sharing together. My example of this is my Quaker friends who sometimes treat us as if we'd be better friends if we were
Friends.

My partner and very best friend is a very grounded, caring, community focused, eco-conscious individual. He is a utilitarian and a humanist and an ATHEIST. People are constantly assuming this means he has anger towards religion or he hasn't been "found" yet. Our friends are trying to constantly adopt him into some spiritual path by saying things like "Well you're really a Quaker and don't know it yet?" or "Your a social pagan, right?" He's not. He is exactly what he says he is: an atheist, a humanist and a utilitarian. He respects our right to our own religious ideas but he has no need for them himself, no curiosities about what if. It simply isn't his path at all.

I do understand that it is a complement when our friends who are Friends(in the Quaker sense) wish we were Quakers too. It is a way of saying "Hey we really like you and wish for more common experiences and time with you". I even understand when for social reasons a group adopts the atheist. It is a way of trying to be inclusive. It's not though. It's not the same as saying "Hey we like you for you, as is, and still want to have a connection with you".

So tonight as I sit and bask in the glow of the moon my mind wonders to this topic of acceptance, diversity and definition. What is it about atheism that is so hard to accept. Why is it that we can be tolerant and accept that we find connection in different ways and yet we are so confused, or threatened by the idea that for some connection is about something other than spirituality. Why is it when someones belief are very different we try hard to be tolerant but when their belief systems are close to our own we feel the need to nudge them the last few inches to our particular side. I don't have a clear answer. Over the years I've been guilty of this kind of thinking and behavior myself. As a community it feels like something we should think more about.

Recently at a dinner party my new friend T made a comment to me that "people are more than what they do". This was in reference to the fact that at these social gatherings people's first question is always "So what type of work do you do?" as if we are all easily defined, labeled and boxed by our profession or lack there of. Her comment was very wise. People are also more than their labels and more than their religious or lack of religious ideas. Whether someone is a Pagan, a Christian, a Muslim or an Atheist, a doctor, a lawyer, a stay at home mom or unemployed.... once we label them and begin to make assumptions about what that means we deny ourselves the opportunity to truly explore who someone is, what they think and what their relationship to us is or might be.

So what can
I do? I'm going to work harder to look deep into people's eyes. To really listen when they speak. To try and see them for who they are and not who I'd like them to be. To learn from our differences. To be solid in my own path without needing them to walk beside me. My hope (and guess) is that they are probably more interesting and complex than my assumptions would be anyway. I'm going to find connection in the fact that we are all connected by many different things. Some are connected by faith, others circumstance, family bonds, shared interest. The ability to share and disagree and accept is a true gift of friendship. It's sometimes really hard to do.





Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Automobiles and the rediscovery of time and space

When I returned from my recent vacation down the east coast my 94 Eurovan was in need of a ball joint. As I had spent more on our vacation than I planned, Kevin and I decided it would have to sit in the driveway for a few weeks while we saved up. His car, a 98 Toyota was also in need of shocks and brakes. Ugh! As gasoline was well over $4. a gallon we opted for a radical solution. We would go without a car for a month!

Many of our friends and neighbors thought us quite insane. (They might think this anyway) They instantly had visions of me stuck at home with three starving kids unable to go to the grocery store. Or of Kevin collapsing of heat stroke on his 9 mile journey to work. We of course had some concerns too but we were resigned to make a good long term decision. Not eating to fix the car was definitely the wrong choice. A little inconvenience for a few weeks we could handle.

The reality turned out to be a bit of a blessing. Kevin was able to take the PVTA bus from the end of our street right into work. After a week he determined that he liked having 20 minutes to prepare in the morning and 20 minutes to decompress in the evening as he rode the bus. It also made him come home on time every night. He had to leave work at 4:45 when the bus came. It tamed his inner workaholic. Our home is only a mile from the center of town. It's an easy walk or bike ride. The Whole Foods and Trader Joe's is maybe 2 miles. Not too bad on our bikes. On a rainy day the bus leaves the end of our street and takes us right to the center of town. The kids and I simply biked to the library, the store and for the occasional bagel. All in all it was simpler than we thought it would be.

Then two more events triggered our perception of cars and time.

We are members of a wonderful Biodynamic CSA, Brookfield Farms. The bike trip from our house to the farm is 6 miles each way. The first week we waited for Saturday morning and then Kevin and I took all three kids on a bike ride to the farm. We expected a production. Despite a flat bike tire at the half way mark we arrived and made it home still in one piece with a minimum of whining. The second week the kids and I went on our own. By the third week we had a particular route we liked and timed our stop with the open hours of the South Amherst Library. The kids accepted that this was our afternoon together. Round trip it takes 4 hours. This includes at least an hour of picking veggies and hanging out at the farm. There were no phone calls to interrupt our time together. No computer screen to distract. Our time to rest in between the 6 miles each way became a space for quality time. We could hang out at the farm, pick veggies with calm and enjoy our time together. All three kids playing and laughing together. No more rushing in and then out to the next errand. Just quality time together laughing over chocolate milk and strawberries right off the plant. This one afternoon, I no longer miss the car.

The next event was our Friday night date. For the last year Kevin and I have gone out every Friday night for dinner at the Amherst Brewing Company (ABC). We try to let nothing interfere with this time. We need time together at the end of the week to talk, decompress and be together without the kids. It makes us better parents and nicer people. So when the first Friday came I was unsure how we would handle this. Friday arrived and I hopped on the bus that brings Kevin home and we continued our bus ride into town. After dinner we walked through town talking and sat together waiting for the bus. We just sat on the bench holding hands and talking. We couldn't rush home to the kids or the next thing as we had to wait for the bus. Our date was probably only 30 minutes longer than normal but they were 30 minutes we were missing through the modern temptation of rushing to the next thing. The following week we walked to town. Now it seems silly to even drive this mile journey. even in the snow the bus is right outside our door.

Being without a car has made us aware of how much most of us drive our car back and forth on little trips close to home usually all by ourselves. It has also taught us how much of our day is filled with things we think we need to get or do that in reality we didn't miss at all. Twice our neighbor has let us borrow there car to go to the grocery store. Once for a smaller trip my daughter and I biked the four miles to the grocery store. Cars are nice but the instant access to drive away, drive to get, drive to be has made our days full of all kinds of unnecessary things. It also allows us to fill our time with things other than being together, enjoying the people we are around, breathing in the air and seeing the sunshine (or the stars).

All this has led us down the path of becoming a one car family. At least for now. We have gone ahead and sold our Toyota. The Eurovan will get fixed in the next few weeks and Kevin and I can share it for things we need to drive to due to distance, timing or scheduling. Perhaps in the future we will thing about a small fuel efficient car. For now, in between the must drives and the occasional far away play date or family visits, I hope the Eurovan spends lots of time in the driveway. I've rediscovered time and space. I've rediscovered my feet, my strength and a bit of my health. The first week of our adventure the mile to town took my breath away. Now the 12 miles to and from the farm is a pleasant bike ride. My oldest son has mastered the bus schedule and become very comfortable getting where he needs to go by bus or bike. We've all discovered a new resourcefulness. We've also discovered that a bit of having to work at something is good for us.

I'm grateful for the lesson. Now I'm starting to wonder about how many other appliances I might do without and gain some other quality from.

BBS, Blog and Community

Originally Peace Frog was a Bulletin Board system (BBS) back in the 80's and 90's. The focus was on community building, social justice and environmental awareness. As the web grew and BBS's went the way of the dinosaurs, Kevin and I had a children and jobs that took all our attention. Kevin working as a programmer/IT super genius and myself as a homebirth midwife.

Recently, as we continually work towards being more earth conscious and friendly within our community the BBS has been missed. It was always a place to share ideas. discoveries and gain support. To this end it is my hope that this Blog can be a way to do all those things and more. SO here we go....