Savvy Consumer Tips

With all the new “green” choices out there for paint, it’s easy to get confused. Bette Asbra, co-owner of Pro-Staff Painting & Faux Finishing, a Diamond Certified company, says the biggest thing to know when buying most “no or low” volatile organic compound (VOC) products is that by adding any color to the base, you’re increasing VOC levels. Many consumers don’t realize this. The more color added and the deeper the color, the more VOCs.

The only new paint without VOCs in either the base or any of the tints is made by Benjamin Moore, according to Ms. Asbra. She recommends the “Natura” line, which is offered in a wide range of colors. With those, you can add as much tint as you want and not worry about pushing up VOC levels. In addition, this line uses higher-end pigments and saturates better, giving you much better coverage when you’re painting.

Do your old eyeglasses get tossed in a drawer and forgotten after you get a new pair? As reported by Earth911.com, the World Health Organization estimates that approximately 44% of the population in developing nations need glasses but don’t have access to them. Without the necessary lenses, correctable conditions such as far-sightedness and astigmatism keep many children and adults from reading, learning, and working. Put your retired spectacles to good use by donating them. Lions Clubs International has been collecting and recycling used eyeglasses for nearly a hundred years. To get your glasses to the Lions, mail them to: Lions Clubs International, Attention: Receiving Department, 300 W. 22nd Street, Oak Brook, IL 60523. (Check packaging guidelines first.)

Or, find local outlets where glasses are collected for distribution by the non-profit group OneSight. The foundation estimates it needs to collect and recycle 1.2 million pairs of used eyewear annually to support 20 global clinics.

Eco-friendly oenophiles will be happy to know that their conservation efforts don’t have to stop at recycling the bottle—wine corks are wanted too. ReCork America has drop-off locations in the Bay Area. The recycled corks can be used for everything from insulation to ping pong paddles. Yemm & Hart, a Missouri recycler, has been collecting cork stoppers since 2004, converting them into cork tiles. Visit the site to get mailing information for your own donation or to request tile samples.

You might think you’re saving the Mediterranean’s cork oak groves by purchasing wine with synthetic or metal closures, but the tree is not killed to obtain its cork bark. In fact, according to Audubon Magazine, the cork oak groves are part-time homes to more than 250 species of birds and still stand since they provide a source of income for the farmers who own them. Non-cork stoppers now threaten that ecosystem.

Do your old eyeglasses get tossed in a drawer and forgotten after you get a new pair? As reported by Earth911.com, the World Health Organization estimates that approximately 44% of the population in developing nations need glasses but don’t have access to them. Without the necessary lenses, correctable conditions such as far-sightedness and astigmatism keep many children and adults from reading, learning, and working.
Put your retired spectacles to good use by donating them. Lions Clubs International has been collecting and recycling used eyeglasses for nearly a hundred years. To get your glasses to the Lions, mail them to: Lions Clubs International, Attention: Receiving Department, 300 W. 22nd Street, Oak Brook, IL 60523. (Check packaging guidelines first.)

Or, find local outlets where glasses are collected for distribution by the non-profit group OneSight. The foundation estimates it needs to collect and recycle 1.2 million pairs of used eyewear annually to support 20 global clinics.

One of the hottest “green” building materials on the market today is insulation fabricated from denim scraps leftover from the jeans manufacturing process. Made by Bonded Logic and sold under the brand name UltraTouch, the denim insulation contains over 85% recycled denim and cotton fibers. The material, which is also fire retardant, doesn’t contain any toxins or irritants. And unlike other types of insulation, it doesn’t itch or require any protective clothing during installation.

Though old, well-worn jeans aren’t used for the bulk of the denim insulation being produced, Green Jeans Insulation, an UltraTouch distributor in Wisconsin, does accept donated jeans, which they send through the recycling and manufacturing process. The results are typically donated for use by nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity. Visit www.GreenJeansInsulation.com/donate for the mailing address and details.

Washing the car typically uses many gallons of water and sends toxic runoff into storm drains and, ultimately, lakes and streams. Products such as Lucky Earth Waterless Car Wash not only save water, they get cars shiny again with no runoff. A no-rinse product from Eco Car Care requires only a couple of gallons of water, to dilute the cleanser. And though Simple Green’s car wash solution requires a full rinse, the sudsy runoff won’t harm lawns or other greenery.

Each year, the production of junk mail in the U.S. uses more than 100 million trees and produces emissions equal to 3.7 million cars. To end the waste, ForestEthics has launched a campaign for a Do Not Mail Registry, similar to the popular Do Not Call Registry that curbs unwanted telemarketing calls.

Until the registry becomes a reality, take matters into your own hands. Download a Junk Mail Kit, produced by the Bay Area Recycling Outreach Coalition, and follow the steps to stop unwelcome mail. Cancel catalogs with the help of Catalog Choice.

No time to stop junk mail yourself? GreenDimes, a Palo Alto company, will get your name off mailing lists for a small fee. And, they plant five trees for every new customer!

It’s summertime and that means more cooking outdoors. Reduce your carbon footprint by retiring your old charcoal grill and replacing it with a gas grill. They’re not ideal, but they do burn cleaner. If you stick with charcoal, the Daily Green recommends using all natural charcoal briquettes, which don’t contain additives, or environmentally certified wood briquettes, made from sustainably farmed hardwoods. Use a chimney starter—a tall metal cylinder—to get the fire started with fewer CO2 emissions.

While you’re greening your grill, why don’t you go all the way and use biodegradable plates and utensils when you can’t use the real stuff. And don’t forget to compost the leftovers.

According to the Nielsen Company, parents and students will spend just under $1.6 billion on back-to-school supplies this year. Spending even a portion of that on “green” products would have a meaningful impact on the environment.

When buying paper, check the labels and choose the product with the highest post-consumer waste (PCW) content. (That’s the waste paper from our homes and offices.) Treecycle.com and Green Paper Company are two of the online retailers that make it easier to buy tree-friendly back-to-school supplies.

You’re going to need pens and pencils to go with that paper. Forest Choice #2 cedar pencils are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council “to have originated from environmentally well-managed forests.” Biodegradable cornstarch pens and other green writing tools are available from Green Earth Office Supply.

Once your kids are back in school, encourage them to start their own classroom recycling program.

The most eco-friendly way to use a fireplace is to turn it into a showcase for candles, flowers or other décor. If you’re not willing to give up cozy nights by the hearth, do the next best thing by making wood choices that reduce pollutants.

According to Treehugger.com, manufactured logs — Java-Log and the new Duraflame, for example — are a greener alternative to real, cut firewood. That’s because the manufactured logs recycle waste, such as sawdust and coffee grounds, which saves trees. They also use plant-based waxes, which are a renewable source of carbon. And they burn cleaner than cut wood, emitting less particulate matter, carbon monoxide and other pollutants.

If you do burn real wood in your fireplace, make sure it’s dry. “Green,” or damp, logs will release more smoke and carbon. How do you know a log is dry? It’ll make a sharp, hollow sound when you tap it, compared to the dull thump of green wood.

Fall is the best time to plant in Northern California, allowing new transplants to benefit from the expected winter rains. But what happens if the rains don’t come? As anyone who’s lived in California for more than a few years knows, the occasional drought is as sure a bet as the rains.

So, the next time you go to the nursery, shop with water conservation in mind, making selections that require little or no watering when established. Two great guides for picking the right plants for your plot are the Sunset Western Garden Book, published by Sunset Books, and the California Gardener’s Guide (Volume II), by Nan Sterman. Nursery staff can also steer you toward drought-tolerant plants.

As the cover of Sterman’s book illustrates, xeriscape — landscaping designed specifically for its ability to resist drought — doesn’t mean giving up lush greenery and flowers.

Fish may be an important part of a healthy diet, but the way we harvest our seafood can be very bad for the health of our oceans. Some species are over-fished, or caught using methods that kill significant amounts of non-target sea life. In the case of farmed seafood, some aquaculture methods pollute the ocean. The challenge for sushi and seafood lovers is how to know which choices are better for the environment. 
To help eco-conscious consumers, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Blue Ocean Institute, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium each have created a “pocket” guide to more sustainable seafood selections. Download one or more of the guides and refer to it the next time you’re trying to decide between bluefin tuna (an environmental no-no) and wild-caught Alaska salmon (a better choice).

A rain barrel—used to catch storm runoff from your roof—does wonders for the environment. First, it keeps usable water out of the sewer and water treatment system. It also helps reduce overflow in the sewers. And it reduces the amount of potable water that must be used for things like irrigation and toilet flushing. To begin harvesting useful rainwater, just slide a rain barrel under a shortened downspout from your roof. San Francisco residents can get a deal on a 60-gallon rain barrel through a partnership between Cole Hardware and the Public Utilities Commission. If you prefer the do-it-yourself approach, visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for instructions on building your own rain barrel.

You can’t go wrong replacing your old, incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). A CFL, which looks like a glass corkscrew or spring, lasts longer than a standard bulb, conserves energy and, ultimately, saves you money. But CFLs do require special handling when they burn out.

To avoid releasing toxic mercury into the environment, don’t toss CFLs into the household trash — recycle them. Home Depot and Ikea both offer free in-store recycling. If you don’t live near either business, visit Earth911.org to find a recycling location near you.

A broken CFL also requires special handling. Visit the EPA online for tips on safe cleanup and disposal.

Do your old eyeglasses get tossed in a drawer and forgotten after you get a new pair? As reported by Earth911.com, the World Health Organization estimates that approximately 44% of the population in developing nations need glasses but don’t have access to them. Without the necessary lenses, correctable conditions such as far-sightedness and astigmatism keep many children and adults from reading, learning and working.

Put your retired spectacles to good use by donating them. Lions Clubs International has been collecting and recycling used eyeglasses for nearly a hundred years. To get your glasses to the Lions, mail them to: Lions Clubs International, Attention: Receiving Department, 300 W. 22nd Street, Oak Brook, IL  60523. (Check packaging guidelines first.)

Or, drop your glasses off at any LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sunglass Hut, Target Optical, or Sears Optical location for distribution by OneSight. The foundation estimates it needs to collect and recycle 1.2 million pairs of used eyewear annually to support 20 global clinics.

The vast majority of the country’s 35,000+ dry cleaners use perchloroethylene, a known toxin, to get your clothes clean. California has committed to phasing out “perc” by 2023. But what are your options if you want professionally cleaned clothes and a clean environment before then?

According to Green America, you have a couple of good choices. One is to wet-clean your items—even those that say “Dry Clean Only.” The secret is a computer-controlled washer that can be programmed to spin as slowly as six revolutions per minute, depending on the fabric. And no toxins are needed to get stains out.

The other option is liquid carbon dioxide cleaning. In the process, CO2 is converted to a nontoxic liquid solvent that gets out all sorts of stains when clothes are rotated in a special machine. The liquid CO2 is pumped back to a storage tank at the end of the cycle, ready to be used again. No new CO2 is generated—the CO2 used is recaptured as a by-product from other industries—so the process does not contribute to global warming. (Avoid CO2 cleaners that use Solvair machines, which utilize toxic glycol ether as a solvent.)

The Urban & Environmental Policy Institute of Occidental College offers an online directory to help you find liquid CO2 and wet cleaners in your area.

Eco-friendly oenophiles will be happy to know that their conservation efforts don’t have to stop at recycling the bottle—wine corks are wanted too. ReCork America has drop-off locations in the Bay Area. The recycled corks can be used for everything from insulation to ping pong paddles. Yemm & Hart, a Missouri recycler, has been collecting cork stoppers since 2004, converting them into cork tiles. Visit the site to get mailing information for your own donation or to request tile samples.
You might think you’re saving the Mediterranean’s cork oak groves by purchasing wine with synthetic or metal closures, but the tree is not killed to obtain its cork bark. In fact, according to Audubon Magazine, the cork oak groves are part-time homes to more than 250 species of birds and still stand since they provide a source of income for the farmers who own them. Non-cork stoppers now threaten that ecosystem.