What’s Your Steel IQ?

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When artist Alli ReauVeau talks about steel, the medium on which she paints, she gets passionate. And one look at the gorgeous artworks she creates convinces us that steel is a perfect “canvas,” indeed. But there’s much more about steel that ReauVeau admires from a construction and architectural viewpoint — and she knows whereof she speaks.

ReauVeau is co-owner, along with her husband, Alan Bendawald, of Steel IQ™, suppliers of an environmentally friendly construction product called Bare Naked Steel™. ReauVeau serves as Education Specialist for the company, sharing the message that Bare Naked Steel is the best steel for construction, for architectural design, and for the planet….

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Top Ten Must-See Environmental Films

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There are some fantastic films on the environment, but it can often be difficult to find the truly great ones. To make your life a little bit easier, here is a list of ten fantastic, eye-opening movies for any individual passionate about saving our planet. 10. Tapped, 2009 Director Stephanie Soechtig’s examination of the bottled […]

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Notes from Minnesota: Return of the River Otter

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On a frigid February afternoon, I walked the path around the Mill Pond in downtown Austin, Minnesota. A recreational area with a bike path, skate park, and swimming pool, the Mill Pond was formed by damming the Cedar River in the early years of the city.

As I crossed a bridge spanning the river, movement out on the ice caught my attention. For a moment, it looked like a sheet of black tar paper, waving in a non-existent breeze, but a closer look revealed an otter! A big guy, he was greedily devouring a fish.

I pulled out my camera and began to shoot video as a second otter appeared from under the ice. This was the first pair I’d seen since those I’d observed in Austin’s Sutton Park back in the mid 1970s. After 35 years, the river otters had returned….

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Slow Death by Rubber Duck

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The information in Slow Death by Rubber Duck doesn’t make for relaxing reading, even though the authors, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, do a masterful job of translating statistics and technical data (sometimes very technical) into highly readable prose. The problem is, the book is about a very unsettling topic.

When I first received my review copy and read the introduction, I was struck by the experiment that forms the basis for the book: The authors voluntarily and quite deliberately exposed themselves to toxic chemicals — lots of them.

Now, why would these men risk their health by loading their bodies with toxins? Isn’t that irresponsible? I wondered. It sounded so dangerous. And, from the way they tell it, their families were none too thrilled by their participation, either….

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KSCA Would “Change the Paradigm” to Protect Kids’ Health

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When it was enacted in 1976, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) automatically assumed that some 62,000 chemicals were safe, even though their effects on humans had never even been tested. Equally scary, as each new chemical is introduced, the burden of proof rests on the EPA to show that a chemical is hazardous in order to restrict its use — and that, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “rarely happens.”

If enacted, the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act (KSCA) would change the process of approving chemicals for the marketplace in several significant ways. According to CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, in a recent television broadcast, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) will soon reintroduce the bill proposing KSCA, which would change “the paradigm from innocent until proven guilty to guilty until proven innocent, in the sense that [a chemical] has to be tested before it can actually come to market.” …

To find out more about the health risks facing our children from toxic chemicals and why KSCA should be enacted, interested persons are invited to attend Dr. Landrigan’s talk, sponsored by the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Title: “Children’s Health and the Environment: Target for Prevention”

Speaker: Dr. Philip Landrigan

Date: March 19, 2010

Time: 3:30 – 4:30, Reception to follow

Location: Livestrong Board Room, 2201 E. 6th St., Austin, TX

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Electronics TakeBack Coalition Promotes Producer Responsibility

February 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog, E-Stewards, E-Waste, EPA, Front Page, Recycling, Slideshow

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Our home stands on top of a toxic waste dump.

And if you’re stockpiling obsolete electronics in the house, so does yours.

That clunky old CRT computer monitor or TV that’s currently collecting dust in the basement, attic, closet, or garage contains anywhere from 4 to 8 pounds of lead. The new flatscreen LCD monitor you replaced it with contains far less lead, so you might think it would be safer for the environment.

Actually, it’s not…

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National Cristina Foundation — Connecting Used Technology to Worthy Recipients

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“The National Cristina Foundation (NCF) is a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to the support of training through donated technology,” says the organization’s website. In 1984, NCF co-founders, businessman David Bruce McMahan and special education instructor Yvette Marrin experienced an “aha moment,” when McMahan’s daughter, Cristina, one of Marrin’s students, suggested her father could provide the school with much-needed computer equipment. McMahan and Marrin made a critical connection between problem and solution that resulted in the establishment of the National Cristina Foundation.

They saw a way to address the convergence of several issues: managing the increasing stockpile of millions of obsolete computers, the benefit access to computers offers disabled and disadvantaged people, and the environmental challenge of responsible reuse and recycling of outdated electronics.

“We felt sure that computers coming out of their first place of use, where they were considered of little value, could be transferred to places where they would be of great value,” Marrin stated. Since that time, the foundation has worked to assure that no functioning equipment that can be repurposed is ever wasted….

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Basel Action Network — Part of the E-Waste Solution

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The Basel Action Network (BAN), is “a global toxic-trade watchdog organization” that works to prevent the dumping of used electronics from wealthy nations to developing nations. With so many companies and charitable organizations offering to collect your used computer, flatscreen TV, or cell phone, consumers are often lulled into the illusion that our used goods are going to be used for good. Instead, many of them end up dismantled, burned, and dumped in Ghana, China, Nigeria, and other developing nations.

BAN — named for the Basel Convention, the UN-administered agreement that regulates hazardous waste shipment — is the world’s foremost organization focused on confronting the environmental and economic ramifications of toxic trade. Working to prevent disproportionate and unsustainable dumping of the world’s toxic waste and pollution on the poorest nations, BAN actively promotes sustainable and just solutions to the consumption and waste crisis — banning waste trade, while advocating green, toxic-free design of consumer products….

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The Basel Convention — Protecting Developing Nations from E-Waste

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When industrialized countries began regulating the disposal of hazardous wastes in the 1980s, disposal costs skyrocketed. The cost-efficient solution they arrived at was “toxic trading” — the shipment of hazardous waste to developing countries and Eastern Europe.

International outrage from this practice resulted in the adoption of the Basel Convention, a UN-administered set of guidelines for controlling the movement of hazardous wastes across international borders. The Basel Convention ultimately banned the export of hazardous waste from richer countries to poorer ones….

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Computer Recycling – The Downside of Upgrading

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In an era when prices for goods are escalating while product quality seems to be decreasing (“they don’t make ’em like they used to”), electronics equipment is one bright spot on the consumer landscape. The products keep improving, and the prices keep dropping. That flash drive you’re carrying is about the size of a stick of gum, yet it has quadruple the storage capacity of the laptop you were using on the job ten years ago. With all these advancements in the computer arena, why not upgrade?

The downside of upgrading is disposing of all that old equipment. You can’t sell it, and you can’t give it away. Your local charities and schools won’t accept electronics donations — you’ve checked. So you make the environmentally responsible decision to recycle. Congratulations, you’re living green.

Or are you?

What if you knew that the obsolete cellphones, TVs, and computers you just recycled with a clear conscience are on their way to a “burn village” in China? …

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Brownfield Remediation Provides Local Opportunity

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Late this past fall, Cindy Quast, an environmental engineer with Stanley Consultants’ Iowa City Office, invited Blue Planet Green Living to visit a brownfield site. Quast, a 20-year veteran of environmental consulting, has been cleaning up brownfields for more than 10 years. Joe Hennager and I joined Quast at the western edge of Davenport, Iowa, for a quick course in Brownfields 101.

A chill wind cuts through my coat, and I instantly regret having left my gloves in the car. On the far side of the highway where we have parked, wetlands serve as a buffer zone for the Mississippi River. Eagles nest in the trees high above, soaring over the water to catch their food. A few feet from the busy highway on the near side, environmental engineer Cindy Quast is talking with two men. They stand at the bottom of a small hill that borders a long, private driveway.

One of the men, Wyatt McCain, is taking soil samples from the base of the hill. The other man, Daniel Cook, wears the uniform of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). We walk together to the far end of the driveway, where McCain begins sampling again. Quast and Cook take turns patiently explaining to us the work being done on the site and why it’s important.

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Naturally Clean – The Seventh Generation Guide to Safe & Healthy, Non-Toxic Cleaning

December 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Books, Chemicals, EPA, Front Page, Green Cleaning, Tips, TSCA

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When my kids were small, I wanted to give them a clean, healthy home to live in. Our home was clean, no doubt about it, but was it healthy?

Naturally Clean by Jeffrey Hollender and Geoff Davis (with Meika Hollender and Reed Doyle) debunks the myth that a clean home is automatically a healthy home. Cleanliness in itself isn’t bad (though it can be taken to extremes, according to Chapter 20), but the chemicals used in those cleaners can be deadly. “The decision to stop using synthetic chemical cleaners is one of the most important ones you’ll ever make for the health of your family and the safety of your home,” say the authors….

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Hope Springs Eternal for the Cedar River

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I remember the summer of 1967, when I fished the Cedar River for the first time, accompanied by my twin sister and older brothers. Against the backdrop of the Hormel packing plant, cane poles in hand, we caught bullheads, bluegills, and rock bass off North Main Street in Austin, Minnesota, population around 27,000 at the time. I also remember the dirty water and the smell.

That afternoon, a tired and hungry not-yet-seven-year-old, I sat at the supper table with questions for my parents: Why is the river so dirty? Can something be done about it? Why would anyone want to live in a town with a polluted river running through it? Does anyone care? They are questions I have asked repeatedly, since that first day of fishing over 40 years ago….

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My 5, Lauren Sullivan, Reverb Co-Founder

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In Friday’s post, Blue Planet Green Living talked with Reverb co-founder, Lauren Sullivan, about the Reverb’s work greening rock bands and connecting concert-goers with local nonprofits. Today, we asked her to answer two questions we like to ask our interviewees.
1. What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet?
2. If you had two minutes with President Obama, what would you say to him? …

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The Great Energy Debate Pop Quiz

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The energy issue is very confusing, and frankly, most of us will never catch up with the experts on all the details. Still, there are some basic facts that are good to know. Do you know them?

True or false? When it comes to global warming and air pollution, nuclear power is one of the most dangerous forms of energy.

Not true. The accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island left lots of people worried about nuclear plant safety, but if you’re worried about climate change, nuclear power is one of the least dangerous forms of energy we have. Generating electricity from nuclear power releases virtually no carbon dioxide (the major green house gas) into the atmosphere, and it doesn’t cause air pollution either. …

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Book Review – Who Turned Out the Lights? Your Guide to the Energy Crisis

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Being an environmentalist means I have to choose from a million aspects of concern, direction, and interest. Planet Earth is facing a flood of problems, too many for one writer to assimilate, even for one magazine. For me, there is too little time to read about all the daily assaults on our planet, let alone verify the data in print; seek out authorities on the subject; interview them; type, edit, and post their points of view.

Being a journalist, as well, compounds the problem. Now, it is just as important to seek the opposing opinions and compare conflicting scientific data. Every topic has many angles, often many points of view, and frequently, two polar-opposite conclusions.

The fact that I try to keep an open mind on these issues is exactly why I like this book. The writers, Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson, have tried to present both sides of every energy issue, or at least, remain neutral in their presentation. The book gives “just the facts,” not opinions, and provides extensive end notes for the reader to verify all sources. …

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Retail Food Safety – Who’s Minding the Meat?

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According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the operations typically conducted at point of retail sale include breaking up of meat shipments, cutting, slicing and trimming of carcasses, grinding, freezing, and packaging for individual sale. All of these operations offer plenty of opportunity for bacteria to be fruitful and multiply.

Of all the cuts of meat we buy, ground beef represents the highest potential health hazard. To begin with, ground meat is subject to the greatest amount of handling, which increases the risk of exposure to contamination. In addition, ground beef frequently combines meats from countries whose regulatory standards differ from our own.

But should that really pose a problem? …

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Soil Is a Finite Resource – Once It’s Gone, It’s Gone for Good

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I asked Angie Tagtow, a registered dietitian who serves as a Food and Society Policy Fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy out of Minneapolis, to speak to the issue of soil quality in farmland. Tagtow previously served 10 years at the Iowa Department of Public Health. This is Part Two of a two-part interview.

TAGTOW: Having a registered dietitian talk about environmental resources and natural resources conservation is a little bit of an anomaly — I am often drawn to the work of Sir Albert Howard, Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry and Fred Kirschenmann. But the justification is there, because if you don’t have a healthy environment, you’re not going to be able to produce healthy food.

For me, the connection to soil started on our property more than 15 years ago. We live north of Elkhart, Iowa, and when we bought the property, we didn’t have the means of taking care of it. So we continued to cash-rent it to the farmer who sold it to us. Over the years, we noticed that we had a tremendous amount of erosion. We had flooding. We were witnessing a lot of destruction that we were not prepared to observe. …

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Do You Know Where Your Flushes Go?

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Iowa alone has in excess of 600 unincorporated communities without adequate — or, more often, any — waste water treatment systems. Estimates by the American Water Works Association indicate that upgrading these Iowa communities to the same standard as a facility like Iowa City’s would cost in excess of $1 Billion. Yep. That’s one Billion dollars. Fat chance of that happening in this economy.

But that may not be the only option, according to Craig Just, adjunct assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa. Just is spending a rainy afternoon explaining an alternative system to a group of interested environmentalists.

Just and a team of university students have constructed a micro wetlands site on the grounds of Iowa City’s South waste water treatment plant. “Wetlands provide natural waste water treatment,” Just says. “If you don’t put too much [nitrogen and phosphorus] in, the system works by itself. It’s a slow process, but an effective one, until the numbers become overwhelming.” …

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Wilson’s Apple Orchard – Eco-Friendly Farming Yields Bumper Crop of Family Fun

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Drive a little more than 4 miles north out of Iowa City on Highway 1. Turn east down Dingleberry Road for a little less than a mile, and take a right down an unpaved road. Soon you arrive at Wilson’s Apple Orchard, a local Iowa City landmark that you won’t soon forget. Ask just about anyone in the Iowa City – Solon area, and they’ll tell you about a family outing they took to Wilson’s when they were kids, about their own child’s recent preschool field trip, or a romantic apple-picking outing with their date. Young and old, Wilson’s Apple Orchard figures into the fond memories of generations of Iowans.

Paul Rasch bought the grounds from previous owners, Robert “Chug” and Joyce Wilson, last year. When asked about the environmental practices he is putting in place in his new venture, Rasch comments that there are three main environmental concerns associated with farming: manure, erosion, and pesticides. Wilson’s Apple Orchard has no livestock, so manure is not a concern. Rasch does no tilling, so the soil is stable. That leaves only pesticides to deal with…

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