Green from a guy’s perspective

November 2015

By Marco Conci, Homaday Eagle Scout, Troop 36

I recently attended the Sustainable Contra Costa County Award dinner and received a copy of “The Better World Shopping Guide” by Ellis Jones. It’s an interesting guide that shows you which companies are most environmentally friendly. I learned that money is power for these companies, so it seems like they get away with more than they should. For example, there’s a major company that makes household chemicals, health care and beatify products. This multimillion dollar company is rated one of the lowest in sustainability. In fact, I read that not only do some of their products—like the threw-away wipes for counters, floors, bathrooms and hands go straight into landfill and they do unnecessary animal testing. And it seems that they spent $46 MM on lobbyists – for what, I wonder? There’s tons of information packed in this little book and on their website

A lot of people don’t realize how quickly our planet is going extinct because of human action. I recently learned that some fast food places are known for demolishing rainforests. How you ask?  Well, for example, basic items like making palm oil—which is in many foods and beauty products—is ruining rainforests. Search the World Wildlife Federation and you’ll learn that “uncontrolled clearing of land for conventional palm oil plantations has led to widespread loss of these irreplaceable forests”. So our choices in what we eat not only affects the forests, but is affecting wildlife and the survival of animals such as the tigers, elephants and orangutans.  This may be a bigger issue than we can resolve from Danville, but we can play our part by making good choices in the products we buy. Get to know the food manufacturers you buy your food from. There are definitely a few major food companies that could do a lot better in their environmental practices.

The EPA estimates that 75% of the American waste stream is recyclable, but we only recycle about 30% of it. It’s pretty easy to recycle we just have to make it a habit like remembering to turn off the water when you brush your teeth. Did you know that, by recycling one aluminum can you can save enough energy to listen to a full album on your iPod? And by recycling 100 cans you can light your bedroom for 2 whole weeks!

If we all make small changes, we can make a big difference in how we take care of our earth. If you buy water bottles or cans make sure you recycle them or better yet carry your own reusable water bottle. And know the rules on recycling, such as what item goes in what bin.  A used pizza box can’t go in recycling but it can go in your green bin. There’s some easy rules to learn and recycling is always better than landfill.

Think about recycling when you’re shopping too. It seems that a lot of big name brands from food to electronics have lots of cheap packaging materials that can’t be recycled. These materials, such as Styrofoam are bad for the environment and take forever to decompose. But at the same time there’s many companies that are making an effort to change their packaging and shipping practices.

When you’re buying electronics research the company to check if they’re environmentally responsible. Almost all companies share this information on their website. Chances are there’s little difference in price when you compare companies; and when you’re done with those electronics make sure you recycle them, including the batteries.

As Californians we all know that water is incredibly important. EBMUD’s recent decision to change our water source from a reservoir in Sierras to a Sacramento reservoir is definitely a sign of how bad the drought is. So keep making those showers short, put a bucket in the shower to catch the excess water, turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth and keep watering of plants and landscape to a minimum.

Another easy way to make your carbon footprint smaller is to ride your bike or walk.  We live in a great town with lots of trails so think about riding if your friend’s house or the ballfield is a mile away. That’s less than a 10 minute walk or ride.  So it boils down to choices – which ones are you going to make?

Marco Conci is a sophomore at Monte Vista High School in Danville and an Eagle Scout with Boy Scout Troop 36. In September, Marco received the Rising Star Award from Sustainable Contra Costa County.  Marco is currently in process of selecting another Hornaday Conservation project to pursue.   

Reprinted by permission: Danville Today News

Please turn off your smog.

Tip of the Month – October 2015

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President Sustainable Danville Area

Recently on a beautiful morning, with a lovely temperature of 68 degrees, I arrived at the dry cleaners at the same time as another car. As I turned off my vehicle and collected my garments, I admired a young father and his two young children—who were reading peacefully in the back seat. The father mirrored my actions, gathering his garments before exiting his car, but, he left one step out – he didn’t turn off his vehicle. Instead, this father left his car idling.

Idling is when a driver leaves the engine running and yet, the vehicle is parked. Every day in the US millions of cars and trucks idle needlessly, sometimes for hours. Certainly there are times when a driver may not be able to avoid running their car engine, such as when stopped at traffic signal or stuck in slow-moving traffic…but honestly, stepping into a store for five or ten minutes is not one of those unavoidable times.

Besides the inexcusable danger of the possibility that one of his precious children might have wandered to the drivers’ seat for any number of reasons and accidently or intentionally thrown the car into gear endangering their lives and others – this father added to unnecessary air pollution that his family and all of us don’t need.

An idling car spews out as much or more unhealthy smog and soot as a moving car. Nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds are the main health-harming pollutants. These pollutants have been linked to asthma, heart disease, chronic bronchitis and cancer. Unfortunately, children and the elderly, along with those with asthma and other chronic health problem are especially susceptible to the dangers of car exhaust.

Idling cars also emit carbon dioxide (CO2) which is a main heat-trapping gas leading to global warming. Each day, Americans waste approximately 3.8 million gallons of gasoline idling their cars. To offset emissions in our community, we would have to cover the entire land mass of our city each and every year with new trees.

Besides polluting our air and wasting gas, idling is also a poor practice for modern automotive engines. Many have a misconception that idling is beneficial for our car engines, but this outdated habit actually harms the car, our wallets and the environment.

Here’s four ways to be idle free:

Turn off the ignition when you’re waiting for more than 10 seconds. Just idling for 10 seconds wastes more gas than restarting the engine. Car experts share that if you idle longer than 10 seconds both you and your car engine are better off if you turn your vehicle off and then restart it when ready to move.

Warm up your engine by driving it, not by idling. Modern cars require only a few seconds of idling time before they can be driven safely, even in winter. The best way to warm up a car is to ease into your drive and not revving the engine. In fact, the engine warms twice as quickly when driven verses standing still.

Warm up your car’s interior by driving. Driving is also the best way to get your car’s heating system to deliver warm air faster. Remember when you sit in an idling car you are breathing in dirty exhaust fumes that leak into the car’s interior cabin. Is the warmth of sitting there worth damage to your health – or the health of your children?

Take care of your car engine.  Restarting your car frequently is not hard on the engine, nor will it provide undo wear to your battery. The opposite is true – engine idling forces it to operate in a very inefficient and gasoline-rich mode that can degrade the engine’s performance and reduce mileage.

By understanding the effects of idling and reducing the times you do so can improve your car’s performance, save you gas money and most importantly – keep the air clean for those we love.

Want to learn more about reducing pollution, waste and preserving our environment? Follow us at or visit us at






Dollars for Turf and Toilets

Tip of the Month – September 2015

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President Sustainable Danville

The California Department of Water Resources has announced new rebates to help replace old, inefficient toilets and lawns with water-saving alternatives.Besides the $100 rebate to replace one toilet per household, the bigger rebate is $2 per square foot for lawn replacement, up to $2,000 per household.

Now is an opportune time to replace your water-thirsty lawn because if the weather forecasts are right, we should soon receive El Nino soaking rains. My husband and I converted our front and backyard lawns in response to the 2008-09 EBMUD emergency requesting a 20% reduction in water use by residential customers. We stopped watering our lawns¾and plants¾with the idea that anything that couldn’t make it on once a month watering would be replaced.

front yard

There are many classes and free resources about drought tolerant plants including seasonal sales from The Garden at Heather Farm in Walnut Creek and the Horticulture Program at Diablo Valley College. I worked with Chris Finch, a drought tolerant plant expert that helped write the publication, Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry climates of the San Francisco Bay Region  to identify plants that appealed to me and would work in our community’s climate. EBMUD also has a resource list of local nurseries, demonstration gardens, classes and events, and books where you can learn about and view native plants.  Additionally, some local nurseries will design a lawn conversion planting plan for a fee and then rebate the fee as credit toward plants purchased. (Click here to investigate East Bay nurseries that offer significant “Tear Out Your Lawn” challenge discounts and free consultations.)

After laying a new path of Kentucky Blue Stone pavers, we tapped off our sprinklers that would later be converted to drip irrigation.  During the month, our neighbors and friends saved newspapers and cardboard to use for sheet mulching. This is an important step

in the conversion process because the sheet mulch kills the lawn and suppresses further weed growth while improving soil nutrients and structure and encouraging favorable microbial activity.  Sheet mulching is a wonderful labor saver because it spares you the hard work of actually tearing out the lawn.  However, if your lawn is full of tree roots you may have to do some additional digging or rototilling to rid the area of roots before you can lay down an effective mulch covering.  (Click here to learn more tips for sheet mulching success.)




Once we had our plant layout, we knew exactly where we needed water, so we converted our sprinklers to drip irrigation. This weekend project was accomplished with a trip to the local hardware store that offers a screw-on octopus replacement to sprinkler heads that make it easy to connect tubing and drippers.

pathway Once the sheet mulching was done, we covered it with 5 inches of compost. I was able to plant over 60 plants in one afternoon and because I used 4-inch sized pots and there was no need to dig into the cardboard/newspaper. While I was doubtful the plants would fill our yard, Chris assured me that they would be full-sized by spring. But she was right. I encourage you to visit lawn conversion page to see more pictures and learn more about the process.

Reprinted by permission: Danville Today News




Save Every Drop

Sustainable Danville Area – Tip of the Month – August 2015

By Cynthia Ruzzi

I’m optimistic! The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has reported a 90 percent chance of El Niño lasting through the winter. I don’t want to appear insensitive to the hardship of severe weather, but a moderate to strong El Niño usually means a ‘wetter’ California. In case my ‘rain dance’ delivers, the National Weather Service says it’s best to be prepared, so I’m getting ready to save every drop!

I’m ready to catch that rain right out of the airor at least off my roof. Previously, our small house had five downspouts funneling rainwater from the gutters away from our foundation and into pipes leading to the storm water drain at the end of our street.

No More! Over five years ago, I purchased a 75 gallon rain barrel. The simple installation included:

1. Choosing a downspout close to the area where I would use the collected water

2. Placing the rain barrel where the overflow would be able to soak into the ground in my yard. Working with the grading of your property will avoid drainage problems affecting your foundation or your neighbor

3. Balancing the rain barrel on concrete blocks to give extra clearance for my bucket under the spigot and gravity to move water through a hose

4. Preparing my downspout meant disconnecting the line where it leads to the storm drain and sawing above the top of the rain barrel. Leave room for the elbow to be attached. The elbow is a flexible plastic or metal sleeve that goes over the metal of the remaining downspout directing water into the top of the barrel. A few screws or glue between the elbow and downspout and I was ready to put the barrel in place.

Please don’t drink the water from your rain barrel I use the collected water on flowers, trees, shrubs and before I replaced my thirsty grass that too.

A visit to Bend, Oregon was the inspiration for replacing the other downspouts at our house. Many homes in Bend have large chains hanging from their roofline. Instead of trying to hide ugly, noisy downspouts, these rain chains move water from their gutter to the ground in lovely cascading waterfalls. Some folks let the water fall into basins that trickle over pebbles, minimizing the splash and creating Zen-like sounds. Most home had large, rustic chains, but others used copper cups that let the drops fall from one cup to another, creative an entertaining visual on a rainy day. Back at home, I found more inspiration on Pinterest and Houzz,my go-to Internet sites for all things home décor.

Rain chains or Kusari doi’ have been used for hundreds of years in Japan to transfer rainwater to large barrels for household water usage. The philosophy of feug-shui implies that rain chains can bring a positive energy flow into your home by transporting the water element with a sense of tranquility. If this energy is the calmness I feel listening to the gentle sounds through my window, then I agree that rain chains are a wonderful way to add an outdoor ambiance to your home.

Rain chains are not only pleasing to the eye and ear, but they are also environmental friendly. Retaining water on your property helps to reduce soil erosion and water pollution and may even help reduce uneven house settling. Local clay soils are prone to ‘shrinkage’ due to lack of moisture. Dry spells, like the current drought, can cause soils to contract causing uneven settling of building infrastructure which leads to cracks in foundations and walls. Wonder if this explains the hairline cracks in the newly ‘re-stucco-ed’ walls of our home? Either way, I’m saving every drop for a non-rainy day.

What about you? Join us at or

Reprinted by permission: Danville Today News

Can I? Yes, You Can

Tip of the Month – July 2015

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President Sustainable Danville Area

I have to admit I was jealous— toiling in my office when I received Carol’s text. The photo showed she was already testing her brand new Ball Fresh TECH Electric Water Bath Canner with Multi-Cooker. With urgency, I replied ‘whatcha cookin?’ I imagined early season peaches, green beans or even the first tomatoes. The possibility was endless and I counted the days until my new canner would arrive—or Carol shared some of her ‘to-die-for’ dill pickles.

Home canning is one of those passions that folks rarely talk about, but ardent ‘canners’ spend hours lovingly processing and ‘putting up food’. There are so many reasons to consider canning food at home, starting with its:

Love in a jar: For some, canning is a connection to their past—a reminder of time spent with family or a link to their heritage. Maybe it’s a jar of preserves based on a family recipe that brings you back to after-school snacks or a crisp dill pickle in the middle of winter that smacks of a summer’s picnic, but its right there in the jar no matter when you need a flood of memories.

A joyous gift: It’s hard to go wrong sharing the gift of food. There’s something special that comes from presenting or receiving home canned foods. I don’t feel the pressure to consume it immediately, but I also appreciate the love and caring that has gone into the preparation of the gift. I pack my pantry with jams, pickles, pasta sauces and apple pie-in-a-can and when the holidays roll around…well, I have a back-up plan to cover everyone on the list.

It’s a matter of taste: Let’s face it, locally grown, harvested in season produce or fruits, canned when just ripe, beats a commercial product any day. I know the quality of the organic, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables I preserve and it beats a supermarket’s effort any day. Best said by Eugenia Bone, avid food writer and author of Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods, “Preserving is an extension of the values that made you shop in the farmers’ market in the first place.” If asked, I’d agree and add…the values that bring me back to the garden again and again. The terroir sweetens more than the wine –

Health is wealth: My first choice is organic fruits and vegetables whether I’m growing or buying them. This way I can help my family avoid harmful additives and pesticides. Home canning also helps avoid BPA, a harmful chemical often in the plastic lining of metal cans, such as those used for tomatoes.

Eating for the planet: Canning your own food lowers your environmental impact. Mason jars are reusable and thus reduce the packaging associated with buying conventionally packed foods. Additionally, consuming foods that are trucked thousands of miles burns fossil fuels contributing to pollution and often delivers foods that are rendered tasteless from being picked and packed before peak ripeness. Simple home canning allows you to enjoy delicious ‘pantry to table’ food year-round from your own backyard.

Save a penny: Eating seasonally is not only good for the planet; it’s also good for your pocketbook. When you grow or buy produce in season, it’s bountiful and therefore cheaper—making canning an economical way to stock the pantry.

There are countless resources online, including Getting Started videos from Ball, the Preserving Authority. You’ll also find recipes for everything from jams to pickles, along with one of my favorites I use as gifts:

Apple Pie-in-a-jar (7 16oz pints)

  • Submerge 12 cups organic sliced, peeled medium apples in 4 cups of water and ¼ cup lemon juice to prevent browning
  • 2 ¾ organic sugar
  • ¾ cup cooking starch
  • 1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 ½ cups unsweetened apple juice
  • 1 ¼ cups cold water
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 7 16oz pint size glass preserving jars, lids and bands


  1. Prepare water canner. Heat jars in water until ready for use. Do not boil. Wash lids in warm soapy water and set aside.
  2. Blanch apple slices (2 batches of 6 cups) in large pot of boiling water for 1 minute. Remove with slotted spoon & keep warm in covered bowl.
  3. Combine sugar, cooking starch, cinnamon and nutmeg in large stainless steel saucepan. Stir in apple juice and cold water. Bring to boil, stir constantly and cook until mixture thickens and begins to bubble. Add lemon juice and return to boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
  4. Fold apples into hot mixture. Before processing, re-heat, stirring until apples are heated through.
  5. Ladle hot apple pie filling into hot jars leaving 1 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rims of jars. Center lid on each jar and apply bands until fit is fingertip tight.
  6. Process jars in water canner for 25 minutes. Remove jars and set on kitchen towel on counter to cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex when center is pressed.
  7. Tag with date. Add your favorite pie crust recipe if preparing as gift.

Reprinted by permission: Danville Today News








Cleaning the chemicals out of your home

TIP OF THE MONTH – June 2015

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President Sustainable Danville Area

Growing up, cleaning wasn’t just about removing the dust. Our house wasn’t clean until you could smell the Pine-Sol, LYSOL, Windex and Mr. Clean throughout the house. While many of us now use cleaning products that include enticing scents like Magnolia Lily or Jasmine Mint, these synthetic fragrances just mask the noxious solvents that we use in our households year after year.  Many conventional cleaning products are based on petrochemical VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and create air pollution within your home. Unfortunately, these chemicals build up in your home each time you use these cleaners. As they evaporate, the can make their way into your body and are dangerous to your health, causing dizziness, eye irritation, skin rashes and respiratory problems. I decided long ago that it isn’t worth risking our health and so I set out to find alternative products to make my home sparkle.

Once I started my research, I couldn’t believe how many things could be cleaned with white vinegar. The magical elixir of half vinegar and half water cleans everything in my home from windows to toilets. I even add a little baking soda and grape seed oil to wash apples and other fruit before eating. Kids love the ‘science experiment’ caused mixing these ingredients – just one tablespoon of baking soda added to the water and vinegar provides an entertaining show of foaming bubbles.

So we have windows to refrigerators to countertops covered, but what about the cooktop and oven? You guessed it…vinegar and water for general cleaning and for those stubborn stains – mix half sea salt and baking soda, add water to form a paste, cover the spot and let it sit for ten minutes and then spray with your vinegar mixture to scrub your ‘Comet’ clean. For the most serious gunk, I turn to Bon Ami, the barkeepers’ friend and rated a 10 for health by

Since we’re talking ‘gunk’, nothing is worse in my book than cleaning grout. For most situations, I find if I dampen the area with water and then sprinkle baking soda on the area – followed by a light scrubbing with an old toothbrush, things look as good as new. I read that one part hydrogen peroxide to one part water is great for getting rid of mold. However, only mix what you’ll need for the current application as hydrogen peroxide loses effectiveness when exposed to light, air and water. Explains why it’s sold in brown bottles. Hydrogen peroxide is also a wonderful alternative to bleach. Add a cup to your whites as you would bleach and enjoy the whitening benefits without the issues associated with laundry bleach to you and your clothes. Besides the effects of the chemical off-gassing, and the warnings on major brands that product may cause eye irritation and skin burns, chlorine bleach is harsh on the fibers of your favorite T-shirt shortening its life. While we’re talking about laundry, use laundry soap without NPE (nonylphenol ethoxylate) which is an endocrine disruptor and estrogen mimic. In other words, it can mess with your hormones and reproductive functions. Unfortunately, manufacturers’ aren’t required to disclose detailed ingredients and such information to consumers. Once again, I turned to and boy was I surprised to find that the brand with the cute snuggly bear fairs the worst!

Here’s a few of my favorite ways to save money and reduce chemicals when cleaning your home:

Air Freshener: Add 10 drops lavender (or other essential oil) and 2 tablespoons baking soda to 2 cups hot water. Pour into spray bottle.  For a whole house freshener, bring 2 cups of water with 2 tablespoons of cinnamon to boil and let simmer on the stove top.

Disinfectant:  20-30 drops tea tree extract, 3 tablespoons castile soap and white vinegar. Mix in a 16-ounce sprayer and top with water. “Germs be gone”.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner: Sprinkle baking soda in toilet, spray with vinegar and scrub

Furniture polish: ½ cup lemon juice, ¾ cup olive oil. Mix and add to spray bottle. Polish with soft cloth.

Dishwashing rinse:  White vinegar. I just pour it straight into the compartment for spot-free glasses and dinnerware.

And while we’re cleaning, there’s one more thing to ‘clean out’ of your routine. Antibacterial soaps and hand-sanitizers. Most of these products rely on Triclosan, which is an active ingredient in pesticides. Triclosan is quickly absorbed into the skin and entering the blood stream is known to cause allergies, hormonal and neurological side effects.  Our dear friend Peggy Yamamoto shares her secret alternative as gifts in lovely blue glass bottles: Mix 3 ounces vodka, ½ teaspoon glycerin, 15 drops tea tree oil, 25 drops lavender oil.

Reprinted by permission: Danville Today News











May is Bike Month

Tip of the Month – May 2015

It’s a celebration of bikes; a reminder to get rolling again; a gateway to riding more often; a time to evangelize the beauty of bikes; and much, much more. Since 1956, May has been recognized as National Bike Month and the League of American Bicyclists has sponsored this celebration of bicycling for decades. National Bike to Work Week and Bike to Work Day are often cited as the month’s flagship events—but Bike Month is about so much more than just getting to and from the office.

Bike East Bay went out and asked local bicyclists why they ride. It turns out, we all have different reasons; some of us ride because it’s cheap or because it’s simply the easiest way to get around. Others ride because they believe riding bikes is a way towards strengthening their community’s sustainability and health.

With growing cultural awareness around health and wellness, sustainability and economic savings, bicycling is being seen by new and broader audiences as a simple solution to many complex problems, from reducing obesity rates to increasing mobility options. And while a Saturday ride on the Iron Horse trail demonstrates the growing number of multi-generational bicyclists—the National Household Travel Survey showed that the number of trips made by bicycle in the U.S. more than doubled from 1.7 billion in 2001 to 4 billion in 2009.

This year’s Bike to Work Event is scheduled for Thursday, May 14th. Throughout the East Bay, there will be over 100 Energizer Stations to fuel your journey to work, school and about town. The event’s organizers, and Bike East Bay have a simple webpage to help you find an Energizer Station along your route. Visit for an interactive map of where and when on May 14th, you can pick up your free Bike to Work Day canvas bag and other goodies to make the ride fun. Take the pledge to ride this May at the You Can Bike There website and be entered to win prizes at the end of the month.

Bike commuting is a growing phenomenon with over a 62% rise since 2000. Bicycling is a ‘zero-pollute’ travel option and the Bay Area is the best place in the country to ride a bike to work, school, on errands or to a local restaurant for lunch or dinner. There are thousands of miles of bike paths, lanes and routes and the 511BikeMapper can help you find them. For longer trips, combine bicycling and public transit and will guide the way with information about taking bikes on transit

Need more reasons to consider riding your bicycle this season? One study showed that the average bike commuter lost 13 lbs. in the first year without changing their diet. While that’s enough to get me ‘back in the saddle’, 511 Contra Costa is rewarding folks who make the change from driving alone to bicycling—or carpooling, taking transit or walking. The Drive Less Commuter Incentive Program provides eligible participants a $50 check. To receive the incentive you must live or work in Contra Costa County, be 18 years of age or older, would otherwise drive alone to work and lastly, complete the brief questionnaire to determine the effectiveness of their program. Want to apply? Visit to get started today.

We want to know what motivates you to ride your bike locally.  Is there anything that would encourage you to use this transit mode more often? We want to hear from you. Send us your pictures from Bike to Work Day and join us on Facebook at or email at