Category Archives: Sustainable Danville Area Forums

Getting to Zero Waste

Tip of the Month – April 2016

By Cynthia Ruzzi

As we approach Earth Day 2016—a day set aside for the past 45 years to channel our energy and consciousness towards caring for our planet—I find myself thinking about the Sustainable Danville Area motto, Every Choice Counts.  It is a phrase that has encapsulated the practices of many in our community and guided Sustainable Danville Area for the past six years. For some, it is a reminder that small changes contribute to a greater difference and for others it has led to lifestyle changes that deprioritize convenience in order to protect our special place for those that come after us. And while it is a reminder to make ecological and environmental choices that preserve our community and planet for future generations, the word ‘environmentalism’ is not the antonym to ‘luxury’ or ‘good-living’.

Not a plastic bagWhen I shop, I carry a natural cotton jute bag from Dean and Deluca—a stylish choice for a man or woman—or my favorite, Anya Hindmarch “I am not a plastic bag”, that she designed in the 1970’s to create environmental awareness. You have to admit either of these choices is better than a flimsy plastic bag from a local grocery store. And with Danville following Walnut Creek this July by banning single-use plastic bags, it might be time to start your very own collection.

If you’ve read Sustainable Danville Area articles about the importance of eating whole, local foods without pesticides, growing native, drought tolerant and edible gardens, driving electric, using LED lighting or creating art without chemicals, then you know our dedication isn’t just about what’s on the outside of the bag. However, with all our green practices, we still drink fine wine, coffee and eat chocolate—biodynamic, organic and fair trade but delicious none the less.

Which got me thinking…how far would we have to go to consider caring for our planet a sacrifice? In honor of this Earth Day, let’s find out! I’ve challenged myself and my family to be ‘zero waste’ for one week and to see which one of us can make the least waste. From Friday, April 15th – Friday, April 22nd, we will make choices that prevent any contribution to the landfill—and for extra points we’ll limit what we need to recycle. Here are some of the morning-to-night plans we’ve discussed to accomplish our goal:

  1. Food Shopping – Carry reusable bags for transporting food stuff. Buy only items with no packaging, recyclable or compostable packaging. We’ll use mesh or cotton bags for produce and other bulk items. I’ve readied a bunch of glass and BPA-free plastic containers that customer service at my local grocery store will weigh and tag for use for liquid and other items, like fish and meat. My husband already uses a French press for his daily coffee, so no filter to trash or even compost.
  2. compostCompost – Luckily, we will avert any food waste going to the landfill since Alamo and Danville have curb-side food scrap recycling. All food waste, including bones, cheese, citrus peels and other oily/fats (which I would never put in my backyard composting bin) can be included in our organics bin. If you are not already participating in this program, you can get a nifty plastic container for under your sink by calling Republic Services at 925-685-4711. Please do not leave this container outside for pick-up. Instead empty it weekly into your organics green bin. More details can be found online at http://www.recyclesmart.org/app_pages/view/251
  3. Body and face care – I suspect this will be my area of weakness. Even though I use organic shampoos, face creams, etc. their packaging is usually no better than conventional products. Secretly, if I don’t run out of anything during the challenge, I’m fine…but I’m trying to negotiate a handicap with my husband just in case.
  4. Entertainment – I’m feeling good here. We love downtown Danville restaurants and with over 27 of them participating in the food scrap recycling program we don’t have to exclude this activity during the challenge. I’m notorious for having leftovers, so I’ll be traveling with my own ‘doggy-bag’. For places that rely on plastic utensils (my favorite yogurt shop), I’ll rely on the bamboo travel set of spork, knife and chopsticks I recently bought at Whole Foods.

I’m sure there will be other facets of our lives that we’ll find alternatives for during the challenge, but overall we don’t expect to be inconvenienced, just slowed down a bit. The extra time it takes for us to accomplish our daily tasks will allow us to be more mindful and grateful for what we have and hopefully live more in the present.

I welcome you and your family to join our challenge. Post pictures and comments to www.facebook.com/sustainabledanville and let’s try to get to zero waste.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News/Alamo Today:

http://yourmonthlypaper.com/current.html

 

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Celebrate EARTH DAY 2016 with the Town of Danville and The Danville Library

8x11_2016_Earth_Day

Have A VERY, MERRY GREEN HOLIDAY

SDA Holiday Image 2012

BY KATHLEEN KULL URBAN

It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays and be overwhelmed with decorating, shopping for the perfect gift, and planning festive dinners and activities. However, having an environmentally friendly holiday season doesn’t have to be hard. Even a few small changes can have a big impact.

Artificial trees provide enjoyment year after year, but the plastic components are toxic to produce. Consider a live tree that you cut down at a local, organic tree farm. It saves on shipping, pollution, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides. Potted trees are also a good alternative. They can live outside throughout the year, be brought inside at Christmas time to decorate, and then donated to a school for planting.

Whether you’re driving through a neighborhood or shopping at a mall, festive holidays lights are everywhere. With the high cost of electricity, LED lights can save up to 90% on your electric bill, the LEDs don’t have bulbs and filaments that break, don’t get hot, and they last a long time. Put the lights on only at night and use a timer to save even more money.

Do you still send out holiday cards each year? There are eco-friendly alternatives such as emailing cards, sending postcards (no envelopes), or using smaller cards. Choose pastel colors if possible. Bright red and green paper is hard to recycle. After the holidays, recycle cards by sending them to St Jude’s Ranch for Children. Call 877-977-7572 for details because they do not accept all cards.

When it’s time to shop for gifts, look for ones with minimal packaging or recyclable materials such as cardboard. If the gift requires batteries, buy rechargeable ones. For information about recycling batteries and other hazardous waste, contact the Contra Costa County Household Hazardous Waste Program at 800-750-4096.

Did you know that Americans produce an additional 25% trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve? We’re sending an extra five million tons of garbage to the landfills. There are many earth-friendly alternatives to the plastic toys and gadgets that end up in the trash. A memorable experience can be a lasting treasure: a zoo membership, a cooking class, a massage, dance lessons, performance tickets, or a museum pass. Homemade gifts for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Christmas are especially thoughtful: baked cookies, a story or poem written for the recipient, a knitted scarf, a booklet with your favorite recipes, or a photograph of your family.

What do you give to someone who has “everything?” A socially conscious gift can have a lasting, positive impact. Donating a dairy goat through Heifer International (www.heifer.org) provides milk, cheese, yogurt and butter for a needy family. Help prevent disease in impoverished countries by donating to Project Concern (www.ProjectConcern.org). A loan to Kiva (www.kiva.org) can alleviate poverty by enabling entrepreneurs in poor countries to start a small business. There are many local options too, including honoring the gift recipient with a donation to the Discovery Counseling Center of the San Ramon Valley (http://www.discoveryctr.net) or the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties.

When it’s time to wrap a gift, choose paper that doesn’t have metal foil or fibers that are not recyclable. Sunday comics, kids’ art, magazine pages, old maps, and fabric remnants make interesting conversation pieces. So do boxes you decorate to reuse next year. Most practical are holiday towels or scarves that serve double duty as a wrapping and a gift. When adding a gift tag, make one out of a recycled holiday card.

Everyone enjoys a delicious holiday meal, but are you guilty of making too much food? Try to be earth friendly and buy local, organic, and fair trade foods, and only what your family will consume. With a variety of composting options available, food scraps don’t need to visit the landfill. Recycle beverage containers such as plastic jugs, paper milk cartons, soda cans, and wine bottles. Wrap leftovers in recyclable aluminum foil rather than plastic wrap.

Sustainable Danville Area wishes our friends and supporters a happy and peaceful holiday season.  Visit us at ww.facebook.com/sustainabledanvillearea

 

 

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 www.betterworldshopper.org

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

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. www.SaveOurWaterRebates.com.

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.)

 

cardboard

 

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

 

 

 

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. http://www.freshpreserving.com/tools/waterbath-canning 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)

http://www.freshpreserving.com/recipes/apple-pie-filling

  • 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

Directions:

  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 GoodGuide.com.

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 GoodGuide.com 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