Q&A: Do You Do Black Friday?

  • November 21, 2012 11:11 am

Question:

Dear Alexandra,

I am a sucker for a good deal, which is why I tend to shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I was wondering if you take part in these festivities this time of the year?

Best,

Laura

Answer:

Hi Laura,

But you already know the answer to this question, don’t you? I’m teasing you. A little. So the season for consuming has arrived! I, too, like a good deal. I’m all about supporting the local economy, but am not a fan of overconsumption or wild days of shopping where people trample each other and buy goods that largely aren’t good for them or the environment. There’s something about these hyped up shopping days that drive people out of control. And we all end up buying way more than we actually want or need. Most of these products will ultimately wind up in landfills.

That said, I’m no grinch. I love giving and getting gifts. One way to support the economy and celebrate your friends and family is with experiential gifts–gift certificates for massages or restaurants, babysitting IOUs, theater tickets, and those sort of things. I’m also a big fan of food and drink gifts (oils, vinegars, homemade anything, organic wine) as well as seed packets for the gardeners in your life. There is very little waste or packaging involved with any of these gifts, and those organic wine bottles can be recycled.

So give yourself a break this Friday. Sleep in. Hang out with your family (if this is enjoyable). Take a walk. Go ice skating (my personal favorite Friday-after-Thanksgiving activity). You’ll have plenty of time to gather great gifts for friends and family before the holidays, I promise.

Hope that helps.

Best,

Alexandra

New York Family Magazine: The Green Guru

  • March 1, 2012 1:25 pm

Thanks New York Family for this lovely feature:

The Green Guru

How Organic Living Expert And NYC Mom Alexandra Zissu Keeps Her Loft Clean, Cozy And Eco-Friendly

 

Q&A: What Do You Want For The Holidays?

  • December 7, 2011 12:16 pm

THE QUESTION

Dear Alexandra,

What do YOU ask for for the holidays?

Thanks.

Jake

THE ANSWER

Hi Jake,

You’re not the only one who asked me this! This year I’d like to go entirely waste-free. Though I did—full disclosure—pre-purchase myself some shoes the other day. I love them/they make me feel a little guilty.

Here’s my whimsical stuff-free Top Ten though some of it is really for real.

  1. A clone and more hours in the day
  2. A television show starring yours truly where I get to be totally honest with people about how badly they need to green their lives (usually I’m pretty polite!)
  3. Sleep (this can actually happen if you give me an IOU for babysitting)
  4. Theater tickets (still haven’t seen/am dying to see Book of Mormon)
  5. Dinner out at an organic/local spot
  6. A massage
  7. Food/wine gifts – I know this is technically stuff, but I can hardly bring myself to put sustainably-grown grapes in the same category as plastic gadgets; local cheese is always welcome
  8. A plant or paper white bulbs (they smell sooo good!)
  9. A 10 class pass to my favorite yoga studio
  10. A museum membership

I’m not without stuff wishes of course. I work at home most of the time so nice comfy pajamas are always a treat. I could stand a new-to-me/faster computer, too. I’ve researched and written three of my four books (not to mention countless articles and blogs) on the one I currently have and it is starting to s l o w down. But I can certainly live without either.

Mainly I’m just hoping for some restorative downtime and meals with my family.

You?

Best,

Alexandra

What You Don’t Know: Saving Energy In The Kitchen

  • October 4, 2011 9:57 am

How often do you use your oven?  Probably a lot more now that the temperatures are dropping and a little warmth in your home is welcome.  (As I type there’s a celeriac roasting in mine.) And how often do you think about minimizing the energy output of your kitchen?  Hopefully more once you read this easy how-to list from The Conscious Kitchen, excerpted below.  Every little bit helps!

MINIMIZING STOVE AND OVEN ENERGY OUTPUT

Whatever kind of cooker you have – new or old – here are ways to minimize its impact:

-Make sure all elements are in good working order.

-Match your pot size to the burner size or you will waste heat/energy.

-Pots and pans come with lids for a reason.  Use them.

-If you use drip pans under your burners, keep them clean.  And don’t use aluminum foil liners for this purpose.  Good-quality reflector pans save energy and are made to last.

-Gas stove burner holes can get clogged.  If the flame is uneven or yellow, turn it off and carefully unclog it with a pin or an unfurled paper clip.

-Calibrate your oven (see below).

-Don’t preheat, even when baking.  And don’t repeatedly open the oven door to check cooking items.  Both waste heat.  If you have an oven with a glass door, peek through there.

-Like your refrigerator, the oven door has a seal.  Make sure it’s tight and not sagging, and that the door hinges are in good working order.

-Don’t overuse the self-cleaning feature (don’t use it more than once a month), or you’ll waste the energy you were hoping to save by having it.  Place a sheet pan in the oven to catch drips and grease so you won’t even need to clean.

-If you turn on the oven, fill it up.  Use that heat to bake/roast/broil more than one thing at a time.

-For more information, check out the following websites: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy: ACEEE.org; ConsumerEnergyCenter.org; HomeEnergy.org; EnergyStar.gov.

Calibrating an Oven

Ovens often run too hot or too cold.  To fix this, you can adjust your own cooking to match however your oven seems to go, you can get a thermometer, or you can “calibrate” it (fancy for fixing it).  This is easiest to do with a digital stove – follow the instructions in the manual.  For nondigital ovens and/or if you don’t have the manual, Google the instructions for your make and model.  The process can be overwhelming for the un-handy, so call in a repair person or a handy friend if needed.

Q&A: Dishwashers Vs. Washing By Hand

  • August 25, 2011 8:06 pm

THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,

What is your take on washing by hand and using a dishwasher??

Thanks, Meika

THE ANSWER:

Meika,

Thanks for your question.  The pros and cons of dishwashers have been debated down to the very last droplets of water, but at the end of the day they are more environmentally friendly than washing by hand, even if you factor in the energy used to manufacture and run the machine.  Here is an excerpt from Planet Home re the eco-friendliest way to wash dishes:

Running a dishwasher filled with scraped–not rinsed–dishes using eco-friendly detergent free of chlorine and phosphates is preferable to washing by hand, especially if the machine has a good Energy Star rating and you don’t use the energy-draining heated dry option.  Only run the dishwasher when it is totally full (although be sure you’re not blocking the water or aeration methods with any dishes, or they won’t get clean).  Face everything inward.  Enzymes in detergent are there to eat off scum.  If you have over-rinsed your dishes, they will have nothing to work on and will therefore dull the surfaces.  Get to know your dishwasher: Does it have a heater or a fan?  Does it have a grinder?  Operate accordingly.  Don’t put everything under the sun in a dishwasher.  Opening the door a crack after the washing cycle is complete will help the dishes air-dry more completely, but it will also increase indoor air pollution.  Fragrances and chemicals (including chlorine) in traditional auto-dishwashing products get turned into vapors when the machine heats up, and so do the pollutants (possibly chlorine or chloroform, maybe radon) in municipal water.  We breathe these vapors as they vent out of the machine during the washing cycle, making dishwashers a major source of indoor air pollution.  Minimize the danger by using a natural (chlorine bleach-free) detergent and by not opening that door until the machine has had a chance to cool off.  Giving the racks a shake will help get the residual droplets off the dishes.  Keep in mind that your municipal water supply will likely provide your machine with chlorine anyway.  A whole house water filter will reduce some of the worst vapors, as will keeping your kitchen well-ventilated.  If your dishes aren’t getting as clean as you’d like them, try using less detergent if you have soft water and adding a natural rinse aid if you have hard water.  This keep minerals in the water from redepositing on your dishes.  You can buy a natural version, or simply use white vinegar.  If you’re in the market for a new dishwasher, consider stainless steel interiors, which retain heat and reduce noise.  They also don’t off-gas (i.e., release fumes from the plastic) when heated to very high temperatures.

Hope this helps!

Best,

Alexandra

What You Don’t Know: Energy, Water, And Laundry

  • July 27, 2011 8:55 am

How often do you think about the environmental impact of your dirty clothes?  Believe it or not, about 90 percent of the energy used associated with doing laundry is just making water hot!  The other stuff like making detergents and the actual energy used by the machines accounts for only 10 percent. Fascinating, no?

When you reach for the hot water button on your washer, it’s hard to conjure up the image of a coal-fired power plant and the pollution it creates, but try to connect those dots. Picture greenhouse gases and the mercury residue in our waterways and seafood.  Although we may be home alone washing doormats, jeans, and rags, our actions always ripple out and affect the world beyond our walls.  Washing in cold will reduce that impact and minimize your dirty laundry’s footprint.  Here’s a little  excerpt from Planet Home about cold water washing:

By using cold water, you will also reduce your indoor air pollution: heating water blasts volatile chemicals, including chlorine in municipal water, into your breathing space.  If you’re using heavily fragranced conventional synthetic detergents, all of those vapors are also released when heated.  Cold water is truly all you need to clean, and some natural detergents are specially formulated to remove soils and stains in it.  Cold also prevents stains from setting, colors from bleeding and fading, and wools and silks from shrinking.

No one needs scalding water; you just wind up cooling it with cold – a big waste of energy.  Set your furnace lower – 125 degrees fahrenheit will suffice – and you’ll use less hot water when you choose warm on your washer.  If you have a choice, an on-demand or tankless water heater is best, followed by a high-efficiency gas version.  With electric, the heater itself is efficient, but the production and transmission of energy is not.

Another great way to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint is to air dry–outdoors or inside.  Using natural elements–sun and air–makes sense for so many reasons:

-It’s gentler on your clothes, provided you don’t leave them in the sun for too long (your colors will fade).

-It’s extremely environmentally friendly–dryers use 10 to 15 percent of domestic energy in the United States.

-Sunshine is great at killing bacteria, fungus, and mold–no chemical disinfectants needed!

-Indoor racks can help humidify dry indoor spaces, a big bonus come winter in my apartment.

Unfathomably, many municipalities and condo or co-op associations have banned laundry lines. If you’d like to sign a petition allowing line-drying where you live, go to www.right2dry.org.