Q&A: Summer Grilling

  • June 23, 2011 9:43 am

THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,

My family and I love to grill in our backyard all summer long.  If the weather allows it, we’re out there almost every night!  Our old charcoal grill is, well, old and tired, so we’re thinking of purchasing a new one for the season.  We would like it to be as environmentally friendly as possible, especially because we use it so often.  What are your thoughts on the best grills to buy?

Thanks,

Louise

THE ANSWER:

Hi Louise,

Thank you so much for your question, and lucky you to have a backyard for daily grilling and more.  Us city dwellers are very jealous.  This is a hot topic as the days are getting longer, the weather is warmer, and July 4th is fast approaching, but there are a lot of issues to consider before lighting up those coals.  In The Conscious Kitchen I explain the ins and outs of grill use:

No one can deny the allure of an open fire.  Cooking outside makes sense when the weather is warm, but there are a number of things to scrutinize before you grill.  Foodies have long debated the merits of charcoal versus gas.  Gas, a nonrenewable resource, is a convenient and controllable way to cook on an open flame, but where taste is concerned, charcoal always wins.  Environmentally speaking, though, charcoal is worse than gas.  Among other negatives, charcoal promotes deforestation (it is made from trees) and pollutes the air as it burns.  This might not seem like a big deal if you’re the sort who grills once in a blue moon, but think about how much pollution gets collectively released into the air on a day like July 4.  According to an article in the July/August 2005 issue of Sierra magazine, an estimated sixty million barbecues are held on this holiday, during which Americans burn the equivalent of 2,300 acres of forest and release 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air.  Research has shown that in areas where people grill often, fatty acids in meat smoke can contribute to hazy skies.  Fat smog!  If you aren’t prepared to give up grilling, it’s good to be aware of the impact it can have on both your health and the environment and to minimize it however you can.

THE LIST: GRILLS

A sliding scale of choices from best to worst:

-Solar cookers (not technically grills) cook outside using nothing but the sun’s energy

-Electric, natural gas, and propane: they burn cleaner and are more efficient than charcoal or wood

-Hybrid grills, using as little natural charcoal or wood as possible

-Natural charcoal and hard wood, using a chimney starter

AVOID: Conventional charcoal, charcoal containing lighter fluid, and lighter fluid in general

I have more on each of those choices, and the nitty gritty on why lighter fluid must always be avoided in the book. And don’t forget about what you’re putting on the grill (i.e. local veggies and well-raised meat), the plates you’re eating off of (preferably reusable), and how you’re cleaning up after dinner (natural cleaners, please).

Who has tried a solar cooker? Curious!

What You Don’t Know: What’s In Your Tampons Etc.

  • June 14, 2011 8:22 am

More than half of the population must use them monthly, but do most women think about how fem care (as the industry calls them) products impact the environment or even their bodies? Nope. Kind of a big oversight for something you’re so, um, intimately involved with. Think about it: conventionally produced tampons are made of cotton, which is one of the most highly sprayed crops on the planet. They can also contain plastic, rayon, and are often scented. Here is an excerpt from Planet Home about the risks associated with using them:

According to the National Research Center for Women and Families, approximately 43 million women in the United States use tampons.  And no one knows the cumulative health effect of using conventional feminine care products.  While the boxes on most drugstore shelves aren’t required to list ingredients, most tampons are cotton or a cotton-rayon blend with scent.  Fragrance can contain hormone-disrupting chemicals and can also be irritating to skin, especially in such a delicate area.

Conventional cotton often comes from genetically modified seeds and has been sprayed with pesticides, which is bad for farmers and the environment.  According to the Sustainable Cotton Project, cotton farming uses about 25 percent of the world’s insecticides and more than 10 percent of the pesticides.  These pesticides used on cotton happen to be among the world’s worst: Five of the nine most commonly used have been identified as possible human carcinogens.  Others are known to damage the nervous system and are suspected of disrupting the body’s hormonal system.

Highly absorbent rayon is manufactured from wood pulp, a process that involves bleaching with chlorine-containing substances.  The eventual product may contain chlorinated hydrocarbons as well as dioxin residues.  Highly absorbent synthetic fibers can be a breeding ground for the bacteria that cause toxic shock syndrome.  Although some synthetics have been banned, the FDA still allows the use of viscose rayon in certain amounts in tampons.  Dr. Philip Tierno, author of The Secret Life of Germs, director of clinical microbiology and diagnostic immunology at the New York University Medical Center, and a leading expert on the health risks of tampons, says that rayon can still create a breeding ground for toxins.  All-cotton tampons present the lowest risk.

Luckily, there are alternatives!  And plenty of them.  Look to these companies for eco- and you-friendlier fem care:

7th Generation

Maxim

NatraCare

To avoid using an agricultural/disposable product, you can choose a reusable one. Glenny, my editorial assistant, swears by The Keeper. Here are some of her thoughts on it:

“I purchased my first and only Keeper back when I was a college sophomore, about seven years ago.  Short of waxing poetic about it, I will share my top five reasons for absolutely loving my Keeper:

1. It saves me money.  As a college student I only had to pay $18 for mine, but you can purchase yours today for only $37!  Compare that with the monthly expenditures on tampons and other menstrual products and you’re saving a bundle.

2. Its a small step toward a healthier planet.  Made of natural gum rubber it is a zero waste product.  No throwing out wrappings and used napkins, no toxic cottons to worry about.

3. I’ve had mine since 2004 and it is still in top-notch condition.  Life expectancy is 10 years!  Honestly, my relationship with my Keeper is the longest and healthiest I’ve ever had.

4. No toxic shock syndrome.  Enough said.

5. Portable!  Slip it in your purse for those days when you might start your cycle.  No need to lug liners and tampons around with you, and you’ll definitely never have to sneak out to the pharmacy for an emergency purchase.  The Keeper is small and discreet, and usually comes with a darling little bag to keep it in.

No matter which option you choose, make sure you’re thinking about your body and the environment.  You’ll be much happier because of it!”

What You Don’t Know: What My Editorial Assistant Didn’t Know

  • May 24, 2011 9:46 am

This week I asked my editorial assistant (sounds much better than intern, no?) Glenny Cameron if she’d mind sharing what she has learned/what she didn’t know before starting to work with me a month or so ago–if anything. Needless to say I’m extremely touched by what she wrote. She’s amazing. Seriously, this is an inspiring must-read. Thanks, Glenny. Have anything to add to her thoughts? So curious!

—-

Before working with Alexandra I considered myself a very environmentally aware person.  I buy organic, I shop locally, I reuse plastic bags and refuse to buy bottled water.  Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), there are loads and loads of things to learn about the sustainable lifestyle, and I thank Alexandra for engaging me in them.  There is always more that can be done, more of the world to save.  So, here are the top five things I’ve learned in the past few months, complete with excerpts from The Conscious Kitchen and Planet Home.  Some are small and silly, but we all have to start somewhere, right?

1. Bananas.

I love bananas.  They are now a guilty pleasure.  Enough said.

There are a number of items in your fruit bowl (and in your cabinets – see chapter seven) that might be certified organic but fall into the realm of still not being great to buy.  In this realm, no exotic is more widely available, or controversial, than the banana.  The ubiquitous yellow fruit is nature’s perfect answer to packaged goods – every parent’s nutrient-dense dream snack.  Yet, it’s a deeply flawed food.  Its pretty much the poster fruit for how confusing trying to eat consciously can be.  Bananas are grown very far away, are environmentally destructive, are often harvested under conditions unfair to laborers, and the variety we all eat will apparently be extinct in the not-so-distant future.  The greenest and most environmentally devoted eaters around don’t eat bananas, or refer to them as a guilty pleasure…Americans eat as many bananas as apples and oranges combined.  Food for thought.

2. Organic cotton.

This is a difficult topic because most of my clothes are not made with organic cotton.  The main reason is that organic cotton can be very expensive and I am at times, very poor.  Another reason is that most of my clothes shopping is done in secondhand or vintage stores, where you will rarely find organic goods.  [Note from Alexandra: Secondhand is better than newly manufactured organic cotton items. Go Glenny!] After learning that cotton is the most heavily sprayed crop in the world (accounting for 25% of annual insecticide use globally!) I made a conscious decision to switch to organic cotton whenever possible.  This meant buying new sheets, towels, and looking into organic cotton alternatives for the clothes I buy new (socks, underwear, etc.).  Although I haven’t completely revamped my wardrobe, I now sleep soundly in my organic bed.  [Another note from Alexandra: Awesome!!] Check out ecochoices.com for more information on worldwide cotton production.

3. Plastic.

I know that all of the nasty chemicals that are found in plastics aren’t news to anyone reading this site.  They weren’t to me either, but I needed a push to start actively avoiding them in my life.

BPA – a hormone disrupter (it mimics estrogen) that has the FDA, Health Canada, and the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program, among other entities, in a tizzy, and parents and hikers across the nation switching their baby and water bottles to BPA-free versions.  Manufacturers have taken consumer temperature and are busily marketing “safe” plastic products.  Unfortunately, some of the resulting BPA-free items contain other chemicals that are new to this arena and haven’t exactly stood the test of time.

Phthalates – this family of chemicals, which make plastic flexible (among many other things), are endocrine disrupters and reproductive toxicants.  The are currently being voluntarily removed or banned from everything from nail polish to neonatal tubing to toys.  They’re less ubiquitous in a kitchen than BPA but are likely found in certain plastics (like meat and cheese wrappings) as well as PVC (vinyl) flooring and even in cleaning-product fragrance.

Sure, I use (organic) cotton totes and only use my plastic bags for my garbage can, but I when I looked in my cupboards I was ashamed to realize how much food was stored in plastic containers.  My cereal and pastas were in plastic bags and my fridge was filled with leftovers in plastic tupperware!  What was I thinking?  So I threw it all out and bought loads of canning jars to use as storage instead.  I even moved my spices.  It was easy! [Yet another note from Alexandra: Nice! Love this!]

4. DIY cleaning.

I must confess, I have a fairly high tolerance for dirt and dust and have never lived in a sterile environment.  Perhaps it’s leftover from growing up in the country, in a house where the windows were always open and pets of all kinds were rampant.  I truly believe this is why my brother and I have incredible immune systems.

That said, most of my cleaning was done with minimal products, usually just water.  On the occasion when I was inspired enough to actually use some disinfectant, I turned to the all-natural brands like Seventh Generation or Ecover.  Fortunately, Alexandra’s tips on DIY cleaning have buffered my “do less” attitude toward cleaning while still keeping my apartment germ free.  I’ve even passed these tips on to my mother, who I can thank for fostering my housekeeping habits (or lack thereof).

DIY Cleaners

-Soap plus water equals mopping solution.

-Soap plus baking soda and a drop or two of water equals excellent mildly abrasive paste.  Extras to mix in include lemon, natural essential oils, or even hydrogen peroxide.

-Water plus vinegar equals glass cleaner.

5. Unplug.

Living alone and living simply means that I have few appliances.  I don’t own a coffee maker or a desktop computer.  My TV is rarely used.  But, for the gadgets I do use – lights, clocks, speakers – I never thought to unplug them when not in use.  I admit, my cell phone charger was usually plugged in until reading Planet Home.

Appliances use energy even when turned off.  Pull plugs out of the wall to stop energy draw.  Alternatively, plug them all into a power strip and turn the strip off when not in use, as well as overnight.

A very simple step towards greening your life.

Q&A: Sheets And Towels

  • May 19, 2011 9:39 am

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

Any home organic companies you recommend? Sheets and towels can be so expensive I’m hesitant to just buy them “blind” – I’ve purchased some Gaiam organic sheets and they are fairly cheap feeling and ill-fitting.

Thanks,

Lis

THE ANSWER

Dear Lis,

Thanks for the query. I hear you louder than I’d like. I bought several sets of organic sheets about 5 years ago and they’re currently worn so thin they’re tearing. I don’t remember my conventional sheets before then wearing out so soon. I don’t wash them overy often, and usually only in cold water. The dryers in my building are industrial so maybe that’s a factor. Then I purchased another organic brand when my daughter moved into a twin bed. These are already wearing through after only 3ish years.

Having only personally used two brands, I’m unfortunately not up to suggesting brands, especially as what I like might feel uncomfortable to you. That said, I will explain how to go about finding the best of what’s on the market. I must admit I’d buy my ripped brands again anyway. There are too many excellent reasons to buy organic cotton sheets beyond durability and fit, including that the Sustainable Cotton Project says cotton farming uses about 25 percent of the world’s insecticides and more than 10 percent of the pesticides. These happen to be among the world’s worst pesticides. I choose organic to avoid being involved with that system. Besides, now I have many lovely rags to clean with.

It’s hard to know what’s what in the world of organic cotton. I try to buy from manufacturers who say they work with certified cotton and specifically mention  third party labels like USDA organic, GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), or sets that meet Oeko-Tex standards. I also have natural undyed and unbleached sheets. It can be difficult to find out the specifics on manufacturing processes and the safety of dyes. So I just go natural. There are certainly sheets on the market adhering to these standards that come in colors. Another thing to consider is country of origin. If you want to support local farmers, you might not want your sheets from places as far away as China or India. When it comes to food, it’d widely accepted that USDA organic domestic is more trustworthy than USDA organic international. I assume the same goes for cotton. It’s harder to police. Since cotton is a crop, I also like to look for Fair Trade labels or mention on the sheet packaging (these aren’t always available).

Here’s a little something on linens from Planet Home:

The greenest sheets (and towels) are the ones you already have.  But it buying new, choose 100 percent organic cotton, either undyed or dyed in an ecofriendlier fashion.  Choosing organic is mainly about making a positive environmental impact; the exposure to toxins from contact with the cotton itself while sleeping is minimal.  Dyes, on the other hand, can come off on skin and are environmentally harsh.  If you see something called “green” cotton, don’t mistake it for organic.  It’s conventional cotton that hasn’t been bleached with chlorine or treated with formaldehyde, a carcinogen.  Bamboo is an eco-friendly material, but not when it is made into a fabric.  Bamboo sheets are basically rayon and not a great choice.  If you’re going to use conventional sheets (or towels), natural fibers are best.  Do not purchase anything with a permanent press finish, which is treated with formaldehyde, a VOC that you will inhale as you sleep.

If you’re reading this and have an organic sheet and towel brand you love, trust, and think makes a durable product, please say so in comments!

Want The Recipe? Why I Likely Don’t Have It, Exactly.

  • May 15, 2011 10:13 am

People are always asking me for recipes. I respond with techniques. As someone who attempts to eat mainly locally (within reason), recipes don’t really work out for me. I’ll read something in a magazine and love the idea of it, only to make my way to the ingredient list and realize I can’t make it. Asparagus and citrus salad isn’t happening for me in the middle of the winter. Or possibly ever; there is no citrus growing near where I live. This is not a judgement call. It’s just how I choose to eat.

It can get pretty dull during the winter. Now that my farmers’ market is bursting with life, I’m overjoyed to the point of acting ridiculous. I tried to hug my favorite farmer this morning when she told me I had to get out of bed earlier next week as she would have peas. I love peas more than almost anything. And I love that she was teasing me (I am never the early bird; I write late at night).

My weekly shopping goes like this: I basically troll the market and blow all of my money. And then I throw it all together however it makes sense night after night until it is time to go the market again. I use printed recipes sometimes as thoughts or guides. But mainly I ‘m a technique-girl: I saute, roast, bake, and so on. Or I eat it raw. I’m a capable cook, but mainly I’m an excellent shopper.

Here’s a great example of my kind of “recipe” from the amazing Joan Gussow, reprinted from The Conscious Kitchen.

Joan Gussow’s Roasted What’s-In-The-Garden

This isn’t really a recipe–which makes it the perfect recipe. It’s seasonal and doesn’t call for anything that isn’t growing in the same region (Gussow’s yard!) at the same time. Plus it gives wonderful insight into the mind-set of a deeply green thinker. “I tend to make things that are related to what I have. I save recipes when they come along, but I don’t make as much use of cookbooks as I might. They have an assortment of things I might not have. If I were thinking about dinner during the day, I am thinking of the fridge: What’s in it should I use up? What’s in the garden I should use up? I’m aware of what I have at a given time. I had my first Burbank russets this year that were big. I love to dig potatoes. It’s a pleasure, like finding gold in the earth–a wonderful bucketful of potatoes comes out of the ground. I rolled them in oil and stuck them in the hot oven. Then I thought, I’m not going to waste that oven heat.” She remembered that a friend had done a potato-and-green-beans thing, and called her to find out how to proceed. She wound up roasting potatoes, green beans, and Jimmy Nardello peppers on separate sheets in the oven for about a half hour. “It wasn’t a meal,” she says. “It was potatoes and green beans and peppers on a plate. And it was delicious.”

Sounds good to me. What’s your favorite non-recipe?

Q&A: Microwave Safety

  • May 5, 2011 9:17 am

THE QUESTION

Hi,

I believe microwaves are bad for food. What do you think? Can you share any articles that have some scientific evidence? Thanks! Hope all is well!

Sarah (New York City)

THE ANSWER

What a great question, one that I hear often.  Microwave safety has been a concern of mine for years, and unfortunately, there isn’t a straight answer. Everyone seems to have one, everyone seems to use one, but what are they doing to our food?  What happens when we stand in front of them, even when they aren’t in use?  The general consensus is that they’re generally safe, but that you need to proceed with caution, and you absolutely must be careful about what you’re microwaving in. Here is (just) some of what I wrote in  The Conscious Kitchen about the issues concerning microwave use:

If saving energy is your top kitchen concern, and you’re not interested in a raw food diet, a microwave is your friend.  Unfortunately no one with taste buds wants to eat a completely microwaved diet, but the machines have a time and a place, specifically when it comes to defrosting and warming.  Of course it’s not that hard or inefficient to heat up coffee on the stove, or to defrost in the fridge or water.  The real savings come when you use one to drastically reduce cooking times for meals; depending on your model, a microwave uses about a third of a regular oven’s energy.  If you use a combination of cooking methods, you can save energy and time while still achieving the taste and texture you want.  For example, stick a potato in the microwave to cook it through, then finish it in the (toaster) oven to make it crispy.  In the summer, you may even save on air-conditioning costs if you microwave instead of baking.

Beyond efficiency and taste, the real issue with microwaves is their health stigma.  Although this is by all accounts unfounded, it lingers – so much so that people refer to microwaving as “nuking.”  According to Health Canada (sort of like our FDA), “This reference to nuclear energy is incorrect and misleading.  Microwaves are a form of radiofrequency electromagnetic energy.  They are generated electronically.  They do not come from radioactive sources and they do not cause food or the oven itself to become radioactive.”  Microwaves employ, well, microwaves to penetrate food, causing water molecules in the food to rotate.  The rotation causes friction that results in a quick spike in temperature.  As soon as the oven shuts off, the microwaves are supposedly gone.

Still, even properly functioning microwaves that conform to government standards for emissions emit microwaves outside the unit during use. Home Safe Home author Debra Lynn Dadd writes on her website that home ovens emit microwaves that exceed industrial daily exposure recommendations.  Health Canada states that the microwave energy that can leak from the ovens (at levels lower than those set by international standards) has no known health risks, as long as the oven is properly maintained.

Tips For Microwave Maintenance:

  • Do not use if the door does not close or is damaged in any way.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s operating procedures and safety precaution instructions.
  • Don’t attempt repairs yourself – hire a professional.
  • Do not tamper with any safety features or locks, and don’t ever put anything through openings in the door seal.  Keep the door seal and door clean, but don’t use harsh cleaners that could damage them.

As for food safety and nutrition, Health Canada says that microwaves don’t change the chemical components in food, so the formation of new compounds, like the carcinogens that arise when you char something on a grill, is unlikely.  Some studies have shown that microwaved items like vegetables retain vitamins well as a result of the short cooking time.  Others show microwaving decreases vitamins.

What to Microwave in?

  • “Microwave safe” is not a third-party-certified or government-regulated claim.  It infers that the material – be it ceramic or plastic or glass – does not absorb the microwaves and therefore heats up very slowly and that it won’t leach its chemicals into your food.  Environmental health experts do not recommend putting any plastic in the microwave, even “microwave safe” plastic.  I agree.  Use glass, or use no container at all when cooking root vegetables if the turntable in your microwave is made of glass.  For more information, see the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service’s microwave ovens and food safety fact sheets: www.FSIS.USDA.gov.

What’s the takeaway here?  If you have a microwave and you like using it, or if you’re an energy savings junkie who cannot walk away from such a low-impact machine, make sure it’s in good condition.  Keep in mind that Consumer Reports says more research is needed with regard to certain aspects of microwave safety, so do proceed with caution.  If shopping for a microwave, used ones are not a good idea.

What To Expect…When Reading This Blog

  • April 18, 2011 8:36 am

Last night I drew a diagram of all of the things that I do. It was a dot I called “me” in the middle, and then circles all around me of what I’m working on, involved with, or otherwise doing. The verdict? I’m busy! (And, um, overextended.)

In an effort to make sure blogging doesn’t keep getting back-burnered, I’ve come up with the following schedule. This way you’ll know what I’m posting and when, and can come back to read accordingly.

I’m launching the new schedule this Tuesday, in honor of Earth Week, and will be raffling off several free copies of The Conscious Kitchen and Planet Home to new readers who follow me on Twitter and/or fan me on Facebook mentioning the new, more frequent blog via post or tweet and suggesting one thing I should cover on it.

  • TUESDAYS: Look for relevant information and excerpts from all of my books, linked to whatever is happening in the news
  • THURSDAYS: Q&A days! You send in your questions, I answer them.
  • SATURDAYS: Mish-mosh day, mainly food-related. I’ll be posting farmers’ market videos, ingredient thoughts, recipes, and more.

I promise to stick to the schedule, but of course reserve the right to do slightly less or maybe even more, especially when The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat comes out on June 7th.

If you like what you read, please let your friends know about it, and make some noise in comments. If you’re interested in hearing even more from me, sign up for my newsletter, follow me on Twitter, or “like” me on Facebook. I’m on there daily posting links to what I’m reading and thinking about throughout my days.

Photos From The Millions Against Monsanto Rally For The Right To Know/No GMOs March 26th City Hall New York City

  • March 26, 2011 4:08 pm

It was a cold day at City Hall when the sun was hiding behind a skyscraper. But the signs were hot.

Wanna Be My Intern?

  • March 15, 2011 10:16 am

I’ve posted this in several places, but somehow didn’t think to also spread the word here!? Too busy! I’ve gotten some really wonderful responses so far, but that doesn’t mean you’re not my dreamboat. (Well, full transparency: that one response that told me that interns are slaves and therefore I know nothing about sustainability wasn’t so lovely. No shocker here that she’s not getting hired!)

Author Seeks Intern

Author/environmental health journalist/eco-consultant Alexandra Zissu is seeking an eco-obsessed intern for research, writing, and social media help. I’m looking for a warm, smart, amazing, energetic, organized, and self starter-y person who is interested in all things sustainable and might want to write later in life/dabbles now. It’s a big plus if you adore 5-year-olds and a hectic and wonderful life that bleeds into a hectic and wonderful professional life. I’m happy to arrange for school credit if that’s available from your school. I prefer a multi month commitment, though hours and days are flexible. The position is unpaid, but comes with many perks and introductions. If we hit it off and you stick around for months, a modest stipend is available. I prefer that you already live and/or are in school here in New York, though most of the work can be done remotely. How can I find such a dreamboat?

Check out my website, http://www.alexandrazissu.com/, then write me via the “get in touch” page and tell me all about yourself.

Do You Compost? My Farmers’ Market Does!

  • March 9, 2011 10:19 am

compost drop off!

Look what greeted me when I arrived at my small local winter farmers’ market this past Saturday. What a fabulous and welcome surprise! I already compost at home — in a NatureMill automatic composter that does the trick in my small urban apartment. We bring the results to friends and/or tuck it into the beds of the trees that live on our New York City street. But sometimes there is overflow (we cook at least three times a day and eat a lot of fruits and veggies, plus there are egg shells, coffee grounds, and more). This sign introduces what is a trial run to see if compost drop-off is widely needed/desired beyond the main Manhattan farmers’ market (Union Square). I want the organizers to know it’s very much in demand, so I intend to march my overflow there every Saturday. If you live in NY, there are more trial drop off sites being organized by GrowNYC. Join me in dropping off your scraps.

Here are some thoughts about composting from The Conscious Kitchen:

For biodegradable items to actually biodegrade in landfills, they need access to a basic combination of air, water, light, microbes, and enzymes. Landfill methane emissions are a result of the fact that landfills don’t offer this access. Most are too tightly packed for biodegradable scraps to be exposed to such things, and so they sit, unbiodegraded , next to truly unbiodegradable items for years. In 1989, a garbage project out of the University of Arizona went into a landfill and discovered a legible newspaper from 1952, intact hot dogs, and an ear of corn (husks, too) mixed with material dated from 1971. Tragic but true. These findings are like poster children for why it’s a good idea to keep even biodegradable items out of the landfill and aid the process yourself. Composting is truly win-win. It will drastically reduce your garbage output and give you something valuable–nutrient-dense soil for your garden and house plants–in return from “trash.” Seeing your atrophied garbage once you start composting is nothing short of miraculous–there’s almost nothing in it! It’s mind-boggling how much we collectively throw out that can simply, cheaply, and effectively be turned into good dirt. Once you’ve composted, you’ll never go back.

For more on composting, including resources, see pages 209 to 214 of The Conscious Kitchen.