Monday, August 31, 2009

3 ways to reduce your carbon footprint by over 8 tons!

Your carbon footprint can be sort of a difficult thing to visualize -- you can't really see your carbon emissions trailing up into the atmosphere as you go about your life. You surely know that burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gas emissions, and that it's not just your car that contributes to your carbon footprint -- the electricity you use in your home, your airplane travel, even the food you eat has a significant impact on the number that goes with your particular footprint. And, while every person's footprint is a bit different, one thing is true for everyone: You can reduce your carbon footprint by half (or more!) with these three tips.

First, though, we should establish a few baselines. The average yearly carbon footprint for a Singaporean is 12.20 tons, according to the United Nations; the global average is just a shade under 4 tons each year. This is not something we can be proud of. If we're going to make any progress in the fight against the climate crisis, that means it's time for big action, so let's get to it. Here's how to lose over 8 tons in a year.

Become a Weekday Vegetarian: Lose 0.7 tons

Your diet has a huge impact on the climate. A vegetarian diet is often cited as a greener way to eat (and it is, in a lot of ways) but it's a very polarizing topic for lots of people, and it's no good to stand around shouting at folks who just won't give up meat. Happily, we've found a happy medium: Be a weekday vegetarian. It's simple, easy to remember, much cheaper than buying all meat, all the time, and still has a significant impact. According to a study from the University of Chicago [PDF], an all-vegetarian (lacto-ovo -- dairy and eggs allowed) diet will reduce your carbon footprint by about a ton; cut that back to five out of seven days -- about 70 percent -- and you've got 1400 pounds, or 0.7 tons.

You can still eat a little meat -- please, choose a climate-friendly version when you do -- when the weekends roll around; during the week, it's easy to find tons of vegetarian recipes you can feast on, knowing your on your way to losing 10 tons of carbon.

Buy Green Power: Lose 2.5 Tons

Eating green is just a small slice of the pie, so to speak. The average household is responsible for nearly 9 tons of carbon emissions per year, according to the Department of Energy. Most of that comes from our most prominent source of electricity in this country: Coal, which we use for about 48 percent of our electricity nationally. Since there are 3.5 people per household, on average in Singapore, we can cut the 9 ton average by more than a third, down to 2.5 tons per person per year.

Switching from the "dirty power" that your utility provides to renewables can save you a bundle of carbon. Each utility does it differently, so you'll have to contact whichever company or organization makes sure there's light when you flip on the switch, but more and more are offering programs that allow you to help them invest in renewable energy, and cut way back on your carbon footprint in the process. One caveat: You will pay a bit of a premium for green power; in most cases it's about one cent per kilowatt-hour, maybe $180 or $200 per year, but you can easily save that by buying less meat as part of your weekday vegetarian diet, and you can save even more cash with the last of the three tips.

Cut Three Flights per Year: Lose 5 Tons

A huge source for our individual and collective carbon footprints: Airplane travel. It's sort of the elephant in the room when it comes to talking about this stuff, since modern airplane travel can be marvelously convenient -- it's the only way to get from one end of the country to the other, say, in less than a day. Until a proper high-speed rail infrastructure connects the corners of our country, airplane travel will just be a reality for some of us, some of the time.

That's okay; we're just saying you could do less of it. While that sounds restrictive and maybe even a little backwards, it's not as hard as you might think. Frequent business travelers: How many silly trips do you make each year that you don't have to? I'll bet at least one. How often do you zoom away and return home within three or four days? Seems kinda quick, no? By using tools like teleconferencing, and combining business with a little pleasure, you'll be surprised at how easy it is to not fly so much.

Here's the crux of this one: Flying generates humongous carbon emissions. One flight from New York to Los Angeles (y'know, five hours or so, a movie, maybe catching up on your reading) averages nearly two tons, all by itself. Exact numbers are tricky to pin down -- it really depends on what sort of plane you're flying, exactly how full it is, a little thing called radiative forcing -- but it's a safe bet to say that cutting out three round-trips will save you 5 tons (and probably a little more).

So there you have it: Three steps, over 8 tons of carbon emissions saved. It's not quite as easy as installing a programmable thermostat, or another easy lifestyle change you can make in a day, but it has a heck of a lot more impact. If you're serious about helping curb runaway climate change, these tips are the place to start. Seriously.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Green Cleaners on Channel News Asia

As featured on Channel News Asia's - 'The Green List'. Green Cleaners was proud to be featured in the Lifestyle episode promoting healthier cleaning in the home :)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Make Your Own Natural Salve for Dry Skin

Spotted this recipe and after trying had to share with you!

I have really, really dry skin. For years, I bought whatever super-creamy, generally pricey cream I saw advertised for treating dry skin. And each and every product either smelled weird, had ingredients I wasn't comfortable slathering on my skin, or just flat-out didn't work.

The original recipe for this salve was to use one cup of olive oil, one cup of calendula blossoms, ¼ of a cup of shaved beeswax, and shea butter. At the time, I was fresh out of calendula (but I did have plenty of dried lavender buds) and I didn't have any shea butter on hand. I decided to wing it and use what I had around the house. The results were absolutely wonderful. I changed the procedure a little, mostly because I didn't want to watch the concoction for twenty minutes while it steeped. It seemed to work well, though.

How to Make Skin Salve

One cup of olive oil
One cup your choice of blossom. Try lavender buds, calendula blossoms, dried rose petals, rosemary, or mint leaves.
¼ cup of beeswax, grated or shaved
Jar or other container to store finished salve
Cheesecloth, or a fine mesh strainer

Making the Salve:
Place one cup of olive oil and your choice of blossoms or leaves into a saucepan over medium heat.
Heat until the mixture is just below a simmer.
Turn the heat off, move the pan to a cool burner or a trivet, and let the flowers or leaves steep for twenty to thirty minutes.
Strain the oil through a strainer or cheesecloth into a clean bowl. Squeeze as much oil as possible out of your flower buds or leaves with a spoon.
Add beeswax to the oil, and stir it in until it melts.
Pour your salve into a clean jar or container (I used a clean baby food jar), and let it finish cooling, uncovered.
Cover and store.

What can you use this salve for? As I mentioned above, I love to slather it on my hands to keep them soft, but it's also great on your knees, elbows, feet - anywhere you have rough, dry skin. And for you parents out there, it is an awesome alternative to store-bought diaper rash ointments.

I love it that this is all-natural and cheap, and I love even more that I was able to make it with something I grew in my very own garden :)

Monday, August 17, 2009

'Killer Spices' Provide Eco-friendly Pesticides For Organic Fruits & Veggies

Mention rosemary, thyme, clove, and mint and most people think of a delicious meal. Think bigger…acres bigger. These well-known spices are now becoming organic agriculture's key weapons against insect pests as the industry tries to satisfy demands for fruits and veggies among the growing portion of consumers who want food produced in more natural ways.

In a study presented at the American Chemical Society's 238th National Meeting, scientists in Canada are reporting exciting new research on these so-called "essential oil pesticides" or "killer spices." These substances represent a relatively new class of natural insecticides that show promise as an environmentally-friendly alternative to conventional pesticides while also posing less risk to human and animal health, the researcher says.

"We are exploring the potential use of natural pesticides based on plant essential oils — commonly used in foods and beverages as flavorings," says study presenter Murray Isman, Ph.D., of the University of British Columbia. These new pesticides are generally a mixture of tiny amounts of two to four different spices diluted in water. Some kill insects outright, while others repel them.

Over the past decade, Isman and colleagues tested many plant essential oils and found that they have a broad range of insecticidal activity against agricultural pests. Some spiced-based commercial products now being used by farmers have already shown success in protecting organic strawberry, spinach, and tomato crops against destructive aphids and mites, the researcher says.

"These products expand the limited arsenal of organic growers to combat pests," explains Isman. "They're still only a small piece of the insecticide market, but they're growing and gaining momentum."

The natural pesticides have several advantages. Unlike conventional pesticides, these "killer spices" do not require extensive regulatory approval and are readily available. An additional advantage is that insects are less likely to evolve resistance — the ability to shrug off once-effective toxins — Isman says. They're also safer for farm workers, who are at high risk for pesticide exposure, he notes.

But the new pesticides also have shortcomings. Since essential oils tend to evaporate quickly and degrade rapidly in sunlight, farmers need to apply the spice-based pesticides to crops more frequently than conventional pesticides. Some last only a few hours, compared to days or even months for conventional pesticides. As these natural pesticides are generally less potent than conventional pesticides, they also must be applied in higher concentrations to achieve acceptable levels of pest control, Isman says. Researchers are now seeking ways of making the natural pesticides longer-lasting and more potent, he notes.

"They're not a panacea for pest control," cautions Isman. Conventional pesticides are still the most effective way to control caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles and other large insects on commercial food crops, he says. "But at the end of the day, it comes down to what's good for the environment and what's good for human health."

The "killer spices" aren't just limited to agricultural use. Some show promise in the home as eco-friendly toxins and repellents against mosquitoes, flies, and roaches. Unlike conventional bug sprays, which have a harsh odor, these natural pesticides tend to have a pleasant, spicy aroma. Many contain the same oils that are used in aromatherapy products, including cinnamon and peppermint, Isman notes.

Manufacturers have already developed spice-based products that can repel ticks and fleas on dogs and cats without harming the animals. Researchers are now exploring the use of other spice-based products for use on fruits and vegetables to destroy microbes, such as E. coil and Salmonella, which cause food poisoning.

Other scientists are currently exploring the insect-fighting potential of lavender, basil, bergamot, patchouli oil, and at least a dozen other oils from exotic plant sources in China.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

GardenTech 2009

Green Cleaners is a proud supporter of GardenTech 2009....Come down today or tomorrow to HortPark (off Alexandra Road) and say hello at our booth in the Eco section of the show! :)

See you there!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Autism: Its the Environment, Not Just Doctors Diagnosing More Disease

California's sevenfold increase in autism cannot be explained by changes in doctors' diagnoses and most likely is due to environmental exposures, University of California scientists reported.

The scientists who authored the new study advocate a nationwide shift in autism research to focus on an array of potential factors in the environment that babies and fetuses are exposed to, including pesticides, viruses and chemicals in household products.

"It's time to start looking for the environmental culprits responsible for the remarkable increase in the rate of autism in California," said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, an epidemiology professor at University of California, Davis who led the study.

Throughout the nation, the numbers of autistic children have increased dramatically over the past 15 years. Autistic children have problems communicating and interacting socially; the symptoms usually are evident by the time the child is a toddler.

More than 3,000 new cases of autism were reported in California in 2006, compared with 205 in 1990. In 1990, 6.2 of every 10,000 children born in the state were diagnosed with autism by the age of five, compared with 42.5 in 10,000 born in 2001, according to the study, published in the journal Epidemiology. The numbers have continued to rise since then.

To nail down the causes, scientists must unravel a mystery: What in the environment has changed since the early 1990s that could account for such an enormous rise in the brain disorder?

For years, many medical officials have suspected that the trend is artificial -- due to changes in diagnoses or migration patterns rather than a real rise in the disorder.

But the new study concludes that those factors cannot explain most of the increase in autism.

Hertz-Picciotto and Lora Delwiche of the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences analyzed 17 years of state data that tracks developmental disabilities, and used birth records and Census Bureau data to calculate the rate of autism and age of diagnosis.

The results: Migration to the state had no effect. And changes in how and when doctors diagnose the disorder and when state officials report it can explain less than half of the increase.

Dr. Bernard Weiss, a professor of environmental medicine and pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center who was not involved in the new research, said the autism rate reported in the study "seems astonishing." He agreed that environmental causes should be getting more attention.

The California researchers concluded that doctors are diagnosing autism at a younger age because of increased awareness. But that change is responsible for only about a 24% increase in children reported to be autistic by the age of five, according to the report.

"A shift toward younger age at diagnosis was clear but not huge," the report says.

Also, a shift in doctors diagnosing milder cases explains another 56% increase. And changes in state reporting of the disorder could account for around a 120% increase.

Combined, Hertz-Picciotto said those factors "don't get us close" to the 600% to 700% increase in diagnosed cases.

That means the rest is unexplained and likely caused by something that pregnant women or infants are exposed to, or a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

"There's genetics and there's environment. And genetics don't change in such short periods of time," Hertz-Picciotto, a researcher at UC Davis' M.I.N.D. Institute, a leading autism research facility, said in an interview Thursday.

Many researchers have theorized that a pregnant woman's exposure to chemical pollutants, particularly metals and pesticides, could be altering a developing baby's brain structure, triggering autism.

Many parent groups believe that childhood vaccines are responsible because they contained thimerosal, a mercury compound used as a preservative. But thimerosal was removed from most vaccines in 1999, and autism rates are still rising.

Dozens of chemicals in the environment are neurodevelopmental toxins, which means they alter how the brain grows. Mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, lead, brominated flame retardants and pesticides are examples. While exposure to some -- such as PCBs -- has declined in recent decades, others -- including flame retardants used in furniture and electronics, and pyrethroid insecticides -- have increased.

Household products such as antibacterial soaps also could have ingredients that harm the brain by changing immune systems, Hertz-Picciotto said.

In addition, fetuses and infants might be exposed to a fairly new infectious microbe, such as a virus or bacterium, that could be altering the immune system or brain structure. In the 1970s, autism rates increased due to the rubella virus.

The culprits, Hertz-Picciotto said, could be "in the microbial world and in the chemical world."

"I don't think there's going to be one smoking gun in this autism problem," she said. "It's such a big world out there and we know so little at this point."

But she added, scientists expect to develop "quite a few leads in a year or so."

The UC Davis researchers have been studying autistic children's exposure to flame retardants and pesticides to see if there is a connection. The results have not yet been published.

"If we're going to stop the rise in autism in California, we need to keep these studies going and expand them to the extent possible," Hertz-Picciotto said.

Funding for studying genetic causes of autism is 10 to 20 times higher than funding for environmental causes, she said. "It's very off-balance," she said.

Weiss agreed, saying that "excessive emphasis has been placed on genetics as a cause. "The advances in molecular genetics have tended to obscure the principle that genes are always acting in and on a particular environment. This article, I think, will restore some balance to our thinking," he said.

Some issues related to whether the increase is merely a reporting artifact remain unresolved. There could be other, unknown issues involving diagnosis and reporting, scientists say.

The surge in autism is similar to the rise in childhood asthma, which has reached epidemic proportions for unexplained reasons. Medical officials originally thought that, too, might be due to increased reporting of the disease, but now they acknowledge that many more children are asthmatic than in the past. Experts suspect that environmental pollutants or immune changes could be responsible.

Autism has serious effects, not just on an individual child's health but on education, health care and the economy.

"Autism incidence in California shows no sign yet of plateauing," Hertz-Picciotto and Delwiche said in their study.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Nissan turns over a new Leaf

This weekend Nissan released photos and details of the electric car it intends to put into production in 2010. The Nissan Leaf is a purpose-built, pure battery electric vehicle. Nissan previously let us test-drive the Leaf's power train using the Cube as a test model. The Nissan Leaf has its own distinct look; it's a more conventional car than the Cube, with four doors and a hatchback. Although it hasn't announced pricing, Nissan says the Leaf will be affordable, priced as a C-segment car. The company also notes that the Leaf will cost less to operate than a gasoline-powered car, both in energy and maintenance, as there are fewer moving parts. Also, many governments offer incentives in the form of tax credits or rebates to purchase an electric car.

The Leaf uses a laminate lithium ion battery pack with an output of over 90 kilowatts. The car's drive motor puts out 80 kilowatts of power, substantial enough to give it performance equivalent to a gas-powered car. Nissan claims the Leaf has a range of over 100 miles, fairly typical for electric car projects from other automakers. The Leaf uses regenerative braking, and has a recharge time of 30 minutes to get the battery pack up to 80 percent using a quick charger. From a 200-volt source, the Leaf takes 8 hours to recharge.

One of the more innovative elements of the car is its onboard computer. Along with typical functions such as charge level and range, this computer is connected to a data center that will receive diagnostic information from the car. It will also keep the driver informed of local recharge stations. Although not specifically mentioned, this onboard system could easily show navigation with traffic conditions. Nissan says the computer will also provide entertainment for passengers.

The Leaf will originally be built in Japan, and sold in Japan, the United States, and Europe. As demand dictates, Nissan will build additional units in its Smyrna, Tennessee plant.