Tips for an Eco-Friendly Road Trip

September 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Blog, Front Page, Green Living, Slideshow, Sustainability, Tips, Travel

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Western Road Trip by Isabelle Guarella

Enjoy an eco-friendly travel adventure with tips about keeping a small footprint on the road. Photo: Pmorici via Creative Commons

If you love taking to the open road for a driving adventure, but you worry about your carbon footprint, we have some top tips on how to enjoy a road trip of the eco-friendly variety. From how to travel to where to stay, with this guide you’ll be on the road to your dream green trip in no time.

Eco-friendly cars

If you don’t own an electric or hybrid car, there are many rental companies who provide eco-friendly vehicles. If you’re going on a long trip, a hybrid car is, perhaps, your best option. Powered by both electricity and fuel, a hybrid car, like the Toyota Prius, won’t require constant charging, but will significantly reduce your fuel emissions.

You can also adapt your driving style in order to drive in a more eco-friendly way. Changing gear sooner and braking and accelerating less harshly will all contribute to minimizing your carbon footprint.

Eco-driving is now taught in driving lessons in the UK, and has been a part of the driving test since 2008.

The Ploo

If you’re going really green and opting for a camping trip, the ploo is the eco-friendly way of going to the toilet. This simple yet effective invention has a reusable and easy to assemble seat, lined with a biodegradable bag, which you can dispose of afterwards.

Perfect for festivals or camping in the great outdoors, the ploo is eco-friendly in every way. Not only does it avoid harsh chemicals found in port-a-loos, but the seat is even made from recycled cardboard. Each ploo comes with 10 bags so you’ll never be caught ill-prepared in an emergency!

Where to Eat

It may be tempting, after a long day of traveling, to stop off for dinner at the nearest restaurant. Instead, find a nice picnic spot and opt for a homemade meal made with organic produce. This way you’ll be eating food free from chemicals and won’t be contributing to a restaurant’s carbon footprint.

You could also take refillable flasks with you in order to avoid purchasing drinks in plastic bottles and creating uneccessary waste.

Where to Stay

“Green” hotels are becoming increasingly popular with with eco-savvy travelers. The management of these hotels make a conscious effort to conserve water, energy and reduce waste. These environmentally friendly hotels provide the comfort of your own room as well as peace of mind.

Green hotels are also often surrounded by lush green trees and foliage, adding an extra dimension to your eco-stay.

Taking the Kids with You

If you’re traveling with the kids, get them to look out for wildlife. Make it into a game where they have to spot as many animals as they can. By doing this, you’ll introduce them to the natural world, and can teach them about having respect for the environment.

You can also get the kids involved in recycling on your trip. Ask them to sort everything in to different coloured bins. Turning recycling into a game will hopefully help them to remember to sort their rubbish.

There are plenty of things you can do to make your road trip eco-friendly. Whether you’re planning to go with family or alone, being a green traveler has never been easier. So pack up your supplies and get out there, because you’ve got some exploring to do!

Isabelle Guarella

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Isabelle Guarella is a blogger who loves to travel. You can find more of her writing over at

Build or Remodel Your Home with Eco-Friendly Products

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Consider concrete countertops for a low-cost option for eco-friendly building or remodeling. Photo: © Elenathewise -

Consider concrete countertops for a low-cost option for eco-friendly building or remodeling. Photo: © Elenathewise -

If you’re lucky enough to have the time and money to build your own home (or more likely, have it built by others), then there’s absolutely no reason you can’t get the greenest house in existence, thanks to building companies that specialize in just this sort of construction.

Whether you’re interested in building a green home from scratch, or you’re looking to renovate the home you already own in a way that is in keeping with your environmental sensibilities, there is an increasingly wide variety of eco-friendly products to help you meet your goals on the home front.

The first thing you should consider is concrete, an incredibly green product which has an amazing array of uses. For example, you know it is poured to create the foundation of a home, but did you know that insulated concrete forms (which are fire-, water-, and insect-resistant) can be used as a framework for your home instead of wood?

And stained or polished concrete can provide beautiful flooring and countertops, as well as molded furnishings. If you’re pleasantly surprised by this news, just wait until you see the price tag. It’s generally far less than standard materials, although the price could go up, depending on the customization options you choose.

And since your renovations projects could include knocking out walls and putting in new ones, think about greener options for drywall, such as EcoRock, which has won several awards for its eco-friendly properties. Not only are 85% of the materials used to make this drywall recycled, but it also requires 80% less energy and produces 90% less CO₂ in the manufacturing process. This is one of those items that sounds too good to be true but isn’t, for once. And just so you know, removing interior walls is a great way to let more natural light into your space (and reduce energy usage).

Consider, too, reclaimed woods. Like concrete, this eco-friendly alternative to buying brand-new hardwoods could meet many of your building needs while reducing your cost and your carbon footprint. Not only can recycled and reclaimed woods be used throughout the building process, but they can also account for many interior dressings, from flooring and railings to cabinetry, decorative woodwork, and even furnishings. It’s a great way to fill your home with warm hardwoods without denuding any more forested lands or going over-budget.

Of course, it’s important to act in a responsible manner when purchasing any goods, including those for home-building purposes. This means opting for construction operations that used locally sourced materials (rather than having items shipped and creating an alarming amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the process). Contractors who embrace eco-friendly practices are also a must.

And when it comes to putting the finishing touches on your space, install products that help you to conserve energy (alternate energy systems, energy-star heating/air and appliances, tankless water heater, etc.) and water (low-flow toilets and aerated faucets, for example). Every little bit helps to keep the environment clean, and a comprehensive plan allows you to add to the value of your home while potentially having a significant positive impact on your utility bills.

Evan Fischer

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Evan Fischer is a contributing writer for Morrison Hershfield, a leader in innovative, eco-friendly and cost-effective engineering projects.


Torie Halbert – Designing for Eco-Conscious Luxury

Halbert uses reclaimed wood and other repurposed materials to design luxury rooms like this one. Photo: Courtesy To the T. Interiors

Torie Halbert, a finalist on Home & Garden Television’s Design Star and owner of To the T. Interiors, has a favorite tip for redecorating in an eco-friendly way: repurposing. Reusing old furniture and materials is not only environmentally friendly, she says, “It’s also stylish.”

Torie Halbert, eco-conscious designer. Photo: Courtesy To the T. Interiors

In 2009, the Houston native finished in the top four of HGTV’s Design Star reality show. Halbert has received multiple honors from PRISM, Parade of Homes, Houston’s Best Awards, and was named 2009’s Most Dynamic Woman in Houston. She works as a custom home designer and strives to be environmentally conscious with her designs.

“I like to use elements my clients already have,” Halbert says. “That’s something I’m known for.”

One of her favorite elements to re-use is wood, because of its versatility. She loves to find unique ways to use wooden kitchen cabinets in other parts of the house. Halbert has also reclaimed wood from barns and old buildings to use as flooring in a home re-design.

The acclaimed designer often repurposes chairs and mirrors in her projects. She points out that chairs can be re-upholstered in unique combinations and be a great feature piece in a space.

Halbert typically designs luxury homes, but works with Ashley Furniture once a month to give deserving budget-conscious families a home makeover. Even when designing for clients not on a budget, she still enjoys refinishing and repainting existing pieces.

The elegant flooring design features faux stone (made from crushed aggregate) used on walls up to the ceiling and recycled materials used in medallion on the floor. Photo: Courtesy To the T. Interiors

“Then you’re really customizing something,” she explains. She prefers the uniqueness of pulling together a variety of older items to buying coordinated pieces at a store and simply setting them up. “Plus, everyone likes to save money,” she says.

Halbert was inspired to be eco-friendly because, in her ten years remodeling houses, she’s seen the massive trash bins outside.

“That huge dumpster is going off to the landfill and it pulled on my heart. That was many years ago. You’re just inspired, and you want to do more of that,” she says, referring to reducing the waste produced when remodeling.

The inspiration led her to endorse Nature’s Carpet. Instead of bland designs, the eco-friendly company stays on trend with various patterns. Halbert partnered with Nature’s Carpet for their Houston launch a few months ago. They offer products that are 100 percent biodegradable, made from renewable resources, and are LEED compliant.

Halbert describes her time on Design Star as a “culture shock” — she’s always lived in Texas, and the show is filmed in California. She describes her designs as traditional, old-world, and country. In California, however, the designs are very modern. The experience influenced her to incorporate more color in her remodels.

Her strongest influence comes from Ralph Lauren’s interiors. “I’m very much a Southern designer,” she says. “And his interiors are rustic and lodgy.”

A seasoned designer, Halbert uses her style and expertise to speak to young, future interior designers. She talks to them about easy ways to be eco-friendly, like incorporating bamboo and using paint that does not have volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

As someone who typically designs luxury homes but who is also environmentally conscious, she has a unique perspective on living fabulously while being responsible.

“You can go green and still look polished and high end,” she says.

Brigette Fanning

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

My 5: Gary Sutterlin, Breeze Dryer, CEO

September 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog, Front Page, My 5, Slideshow


Gary Sutterlin, CEO of Breeze Dryer, with his wife, Gayle. Photo: Courtesy Gary Sutterlin

Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) asked ecopreneur Gary Sutterlin two questions we ask all our interviewees. Sutterlin and his wife, Gayle, are the owners of Breeze Dryer, the North American distributors of Hills Hoist and other Hills clothes-drying solutions. Following are Sutterlin’s responses. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

My 5

BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to protect the planet?

In order to protect the planet, we need to begin to live our lives with a focus on our impact on this earth.

  • Consumers need to begin to understand where and how goods make their way to the store shelves.
  • We need to buy quality over quantity, with a focus on sustainability.
  • The items we do buy need to be readily recyclable.
  • Teach our children the importance of treading lightly on the planet to ensure it to future generations.
  • Finally, people need to understand that every little step they take does make a difference. Change is made not only through large acts, but much can be accomplished by numerous small acts uniting.

2 Minutes with the President

BPGL: If you had two minutes with President Obama, what would you say to him?

My conversation with President Obama would be frank and to the point. I would discuss his energy policy and ask him to do more.  We need to change our focus from fossil fuel to renewable energy.  We need to seriously invest and stimulate more research in the field of solar and wind.

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Breeze Dryer – Eco-Friendly Solutions for Drying Your Laundry

Gary Sutterlin, CEO

Breeze Dryer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

The Green Garmento – An Eco-Friendly Dry Cleaning Tote

Jennie Nigrosh demonstrate two ways to use The Green Garmento. Photo: Courtesy The Green Garmento

“Using The Green Garmento for your dry cleaning is similar to the reusable totes movement, which started as something grocery stores were offering and has changed the way people do their grocery shopping,” says Jennie Nigrosh, president and co-founder of The Green Garmento.

Nigrosh’s product is a dry cleaning bag that consumers use over and over again, both as a hamper at home and as a way to transport their dry cleaning without plastic bags. “Way beyond the fact that we have an interesting product that helps make life easier, helps to organize your closet, and helps you be green all at the same time,” Nigrosh adds, “it’s a new category.

Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed Nigrosh by phone from her California office to learn more about The Green Garmento as well as its acceptance in the dry-cleaning world and in homes around the nation. — Julia Wasson

The Green Garmento hangs from a hook for space-saving laundry storage. Photo: Courtesy The Green Garmento

BPGL: When you call The Green Garmento “a new category,” what do you mean?

NIGROSH: Bringing reusable totes to the grocery store has become a really important part of the routine that people are becoming more and more committed to. We would like our product, The Green Garmento, to represent the same kind of category growth. You can now treat your clothing the same way that you treat your groceries.

BPGL: It’s hard for people to begin a new habit. Even now, many people who own the reusable grocery totes forget to take them to the store. How will consumers remember to use The Green Garmento for their dry cleaning?

NIGROSH: The cool part about our product is that it’s already a hamper. So you don’t have to remember it. Your dry-cleaning clothes are already in your reusable bag, which you’re then bringing to the dry cleaner. The most important part about The Green Garmento is that it’s truly becoming a way of life and not just a product that’s going to help you go green or save on plastic. It really is going to change the way you think about your dry cleaning routine.

BPGL: How are you spreading the word about The Green Garmento?

NIGROSH: We are reaching out to two groups. We have an entire website devoted just to dry cleaners. And then we have a website that is devoted to consumers. Within our dry cleaning website, we actually have another website which is in Korean, because there’s a huge number of dry cleaners in the United States who are Korean speaking.

BPGL: When you launched your product, did you focus first on consumers or on dry cleaners?

NIGROSH: We launched to the dry cleaning industry first, at trade shows and in dry cleaning publications. We wanted to help them understand the product and be able to implement it into their system before we introduced it to consumers.

For our first year in business, we met with and marketed to various dry cleaners. And that’s been great for us. They taught us a whole new language! We come from a different industry — the entertainment industry. We went to our first dry cleaning convention in Long Beach, California, and we thought we would really come up against resistance. Instead, all of a sudden, we had mentors helping us learn how dry cleaning works, helping us introduce it to other dry cleaners, and explaining how we would be able to reach their customers. It was very enlightening for us.

We realized, my husband, Rick, and I, that this was a good place for us. People are nice and helpful, and they understand that this is a good change. And not only does it help the dry cleaner go green, or send a green message to their community that they’re doing the best that they can for waste elimination, but also it saves them money on those single-use plastic bags. At the same time, they can either sell or take a deposit on The Green Garmento. So they’re going to improve their cash flow as well.

The Green Garmento will soon release an Eco Hamper Stand for convenient laundry storage. Photo: Courtesy The Green Garmento

BPGL: Why did you pick polypropylene for your bags, rather than canvas, cotton, or nylon?

NIGROSH: We did research and talked to some dry cleaners about using cotton. The amount of water and natural resources it takes to wash a cotton or canvas bag is huge. We’re talking about in some cases, thousands of bags at a time. This can be very cumbersome for dry cleaners’ systems. When cotton bags get wet they are very heavy and it takes a lot of energy to dry them. And over time, cotton gets moldy, and it rips. Dry cleaners have tried cotton laundry bags in the past and they just don’t hold up and are very expensive.

We also wanted a bag that would be water resistant and slightly weatherproof and breathable, because there are often chemicals in dry cleaning. The Green Garmento allows the clothes to breathe, unlike single-use plastic.

The other reason was, the polypropylene bags are already branded and proven to be an eco-friendly choice at the grocery stores. You go to any grocery store, and their reusable totes usually are polypropylene. The reason for that is that they’re really easy to care for. They wash really well.

And they’re inexpensive. We wanted a bag that we could price accordingly. If we had a cotton or canvas bag, it would be in the $30.00 range. Ours are a $10 retail item, and the dry cleaners are paying less than that, because they buy them in bulk.

There were a lot of reasons why we chose polypropylene: cost effectiveness, water resilience, breathability. It was already branded green. And it takes much less natural resources to create the bags. It’s also made from the byproduct of oil, so it’s eco-friendly insomuch as what would normally become garbage from oil being refined gets turned into a resin, and then into a pellet, and then into material. It’s a repurposed product and a totally recyclable one.

BPGL: I’ve heard that polypropylene is not easily recyclable. Does your local recycler take it at the curb?

NIGROSH: Yes. We actually work with our local garbage recycling company, Crown Disposal. They have already signed on to say they will recycle The Green Garmento. just as they would plastic. The interesting part is, we’ve yet to have to recycle many in the two years since we started.

We have a program that you can send your bag back if it’s damaged or lived a full life. You pay to ship it back, but then we’ll give you a discount toward a new bag, and we’ll recycle it for you. And we do that no matter what the quantity. We do that with our dry cleaners as well.

BPGL: That’s wonderful. You’re doing the take-back program that everybody is trying to get the computer manufacturers to do.  Congratulations.

NIGROSH: Thank you. It’s a lot easier than taking back a computer. But I appreciate that.

If we have some bags that are misprinted, or have pockets that are a little wonky or stitching off but still usable, I donate them to charity. We wrote a really fun “blogmento” and sent it to our Facebook and Twitter followers asking for people to suggest their favorite charities that can use our all-in-one garment bags. From this, we learned about three organizations we haven’t worked with before. We sent out about 800 bags in a week to a homeless shelter in downtown L.A. called People Reaching Out (PRO), a second-chance clothing drive called Desert Best Friend’s Closet and a cool organization called Trash For Teaching.

We’ve also donated to a woman’s charity called Dress for Success. They give women a chance to re-enter society after being in a shelter. They have boutiques and help women to shop for the right clothes for interviews and such. I think a really important part of that is to have something to protect those clothes.

If we have any bags that really can’t be used, I repurpose them. We cut them up, and they become my paperless press kit cover. So I’ve got hundreds of little CD pouches that we use to send press kits to the media. And then if they don’t want to use it as their CD pouch, it’s a great little makeup case or change purse. So, we’re doing the best we can to not let this stuff go to waste.

Safely and easily transport your dry cleaning by using The Green Garmento as a duffel bag. Photo: Courtesy The Green Garmento

BPGL: Describe what happens to The Green Garmento when it goes to the laundry.

NIGROSH: When you take The Green Garmento to your dry cleaner, it gets checked in with your order. Depending on how the cleaner identifies your clothes — a lot of them will use bar codes or a ticket that they’ll staple onto your clothes — they can do the same thing to the bag to keep it as part of your order. It gets checked in as a non-revenue item, meaning it stays with your order, but it doesn’t get processed. The Green Garmento is not dry-cleanable. Though we’ve tested them, and they can go through the cleaning process, we don’t recommend it.

The dry cleaner doesn’t have to process it or clean it or anything. They put it in a place so that when your order comes back, they find the bag. They can write on the ticket, “Came with a bag,” or “Customer brought their own bag.” Then it’s ready to go.

The other great thing about this fabric is that it’s not a natural fiber, it’s not going to absorb a lot of moisture or get really dirty with your dry cleaning (which hopefully is not too terribly dirty anyway). It’s kind of up to you and your dry cleaner whether you decide to wash the bag every single time or you ask if they will put it through the wash. When it does get washed, they just use a cold cycle, gentle detergent, and no dryer. It’s a very quick, easy process.

BPGL: I understand that some dry cleaners have their own bags. How does that work?

NIGROSH: Dry cleaners work differently, depending on how they process their clothes. Green Apple Cleaners is a large, eco-friendly dry-cleaning chain that has a big plant in New Jersey and dry cleaning stores all over Manhattan. They don’t let the customer have their very own bag; they have many thousands of bags rotating. So the customer brings in a bag, and they get back a clean bag. Green Apple does wash their bags.

But I have other dry cleaners that say, “The customer and I worked it out. They don’t need to wash it every single time.” That’s the beauty of this bag. It’s saving water. It’s saving power. And it’s a reusable tote for your clothes.

BPGL: I can see where it would make sense for the dry cleaner to have their own supply that they rotate and clean themselves. I gather they ask the customer to pay a deposit on it.

NIGROSH: Dry cleaners all over the country brand The Green Garmento with their logo. Then they introduce it to the customer and take orders.

Some cleaners sell the bags or take a deposit. And there’s a reason for that. It helps the customer get excited and committed to the program. If you’re getting something for free, you might forget about it. If you’re paying for it, you’re going to be part of the program and look forward to using it instead of plastic.

We have another good-size dry cleaning chain called Flair Cleaners. It’s one of the prominent cleaners here in Los Angeles. Flair bought 1000 bags, and sold all but 3- or 400 within a couple of weeks. They immediately ordered another 3,000 or so bags. So his customers are loving them. One of his stores is in Santa Monica, near the ocean, where people are really cognizant of plastic waste, because marine life is so affected by it.

If a dry cleaner has questions about how to implement The Green Garmento, we have set up a mentor program. We’ll couple them with an appropriately sized dry cleaner that works similarly as they do. I’m not going to put a mom-and-pop with my Green Apple store. I’m going to put them with another mom-and-pop, so they can discuss how to start our reusable bag program.

BPGL: What was your motivation for manufacturing The Green Garmento?

NIGROSH: My husband is 6’4″, and he had a job where he had to wear clothes that had been dry cleaned every, single day. He had a suit-type job, and they had to use the longest dry cleaning bags on his clothes. So our closets had oceans of this disgusting plastic. We would actually get in arguments about what to do with it. And it would take so long in the morning to take off all the plastic, the twist ties, the shoulder covers. It just seemed like such a waste.

Just to rewind for a minute, my dad owned a cardboard recycling plant. He recycled paperboard and corrugated cardboard to make recycled paperboard. We were one of the first families I’d ever known that actually, actively recycled. We would have to save all of our newspapers, and we would go to our neighbor’s house and get their newspapers. It was very old school, the way we helped him gather paper for his plant. Back in the ’70s, recycling wasn’t so prominent as it is today. I’ve always been very cognizant of waste. It was always top of mind.

At one point, I was working for an eco-friendly printing company, called, and I was at an eco-fair where there was a woman selling a cotton, upside-down laundry bag to use for dry cleaning., We bought a couple (very expensive – about $60.00) and took it to our dry cleaner. The cleaner said she’d never accept a cotton bag, because it wouldn’t really protect the clothes, and they were too expensive to purchase for her customers.

Used as a garment bag, The Green Garmento brings your dry cleaning home safely and stores it in your closet for later use. Photo: Courtesy The Green Garmento

We went to the bag lady and asked her if we could help her create a more user-friendly bag. She had little interest in changing from expensive cotton. We then did a little research and found another company had a lapsed patent on a similar bag from the early ’90s, but it never worked – it was probably before its time. So we realized, This is going to happen. And we thought, There has to be a better way. Let’s see what we can do.

BPGL: I think you‘ve created a very useful and serviceable bag. I found the one that I received from your publicist to be very sturdy and versatile. How did you decide on the features of The Green Garmento?

NIGROSH: We started asking the different dry cleaners, “What would you like to see in this kind of bag?” We couldn’t have designed it with them in mind without their input. So we met with quite a few dry cleaners. They said, “Having a side zipper is very important, if we can’t use see-through plastic, one of the most important things is for customers to be able to see their clothes.”

You also have to have the straps and the handles. I’m a city girl, I grew up just outside of Boston, so I really wanted it to be easy for people who were going to be on subways or ride a bike. Another really important aspect was for it to be able to hang upside down on a laundry hook over the door. Again, I’ve always lived in apartments, and if you don’t have space for a big sorting hamper for all of your clothes, it’s nice to be able to hang it from a hook and get easy access to it.

BPGL: I’ve seen in a lot of your advertising that people put these on a type of stand, but I don’t see it on your site for purchase.

NIGROSH: We haven’t launched it to the public yet, but we launched it to the big stores who were interested. This is sort of paying homage to my dad, who is also helping me with the design. He’s 83, and he sells machines that make eco-packaging.

So, we are creating an Eco Hamper Stand, made of 100% recyclable content. It’s incredibly lightweight, durable and really affordable. It will have many applications!

They’re going to be in different colors to match the bags. We recently sold our bags on QVC, and we’re excited to introduce the QVC audience to our Eco Hamper Stand when it’s ready for market.

BPGL: A recyclable stand is a great idea. Did you come up with that, or did your dad?

NIGROSH: I did. And then I call my dad a million times a week with questions. He actually flew into Chicago to The International Housewares show we were attending so that he could visit us and take a look at the hamper stand. He said, “No, no, no, you’ve got to do it this way,” because we had our prototype there. He’s a pretty brilliant dude, and it was really neat to get his input on it. It’s an important project for me, too, to get that out there as soon as I can.

The other thing we’re offering is an over-the-door hook in recyclable stainless. So, now, you can get a lovely metal hook to go with our bags.

BPGL: I love what you’re doing and your motivation for doing it.

NIGROSH: If you enter into something thinking you’re only doing it to make money, I just can’t imagine that’s ever going to work out for you.

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The Small Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a free sample of the product described in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.

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Julia Wasson

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How to Build a Compost Bin in Your Own Backyard

Build this simple, yet sturdy, compost bin in a couple of hours. Photo: J Wasson

Build this simple, yet sturdy, compost bin in a couple of hours. Photo: J Wasson

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and you’ve decided that your family needs a compost bin in your backyard. You could go out and buy one of those really nice, plastic-barrel ones, the kind that sits on a fancy rack and rotates with a spin of the handle. But you don’t have to shell out a couple hundred dollars or experience the frustration of trying to assemble it when you get it home. Build your own. It’s less expensive, relatively simple to construct, and — as important, in my mind — easy to disassemble and repurpose if you ever want to. And it takes you one step further on your green living journey.

I’m always looking for reasons to avoid buying anything new, especially new plastic things. I like to use old stuff when I can; it’s eco-friendly and helps create a sustainable lifestyle. Better yet, I prefer to make my own. But I have to be careful to not get carried away. I tend to over-design, and then over-build, so my projects end up costing twice as much and taking twice as long as yours might. Most people build their compost piles with four stakes and some chicken wire wrapped around the outside. That’s an option, of course, but it’s not raccoon-proof, and that was my first requirement.

Essential Requirements

Well, anyway, I had this compost design in my head for about a month, and I finally got around to building it. First, I listed my essential design requirements:

  1. It has to keep the raccoons out. The patriarch of the local raccoon family and I have had an ongoing battle over my trashcans for 5 years. Right now, I have about 10 bungee cords on every trashcan, but he still figures out how to get inside them and spread the contents all over the place. So, from now on, no more food in the trash cans. All food waste goes into the compost bin, and that bin has got to be tough. It has to have a cover that this miniature Houdini cannot lift, pry off, or dismantle (I fully expect to see him down at the local hardware store buying a jack hammer) while, at the same time, allowing a normal-sized adult human to open the lid and dump in our food waste. <strong></strong>

    This bin is sturdy enough to keep even the most determined raccoon out of the compost. Photo: J. Wasson

    This bin is sturdy enough to keep out even the most determined raccoon. Photo: J. Wasson

  2. It has to last. I don’t want to have to rebuild it every spring because it collapsed when a leaf fell on it. I would like it to outlive me. This is just my theory of construction. A few extra materials and a bit more effort now mean I can forget about it later
  3. It has to be mostly enclosed. For one thing, I don’t want to have to look at it. To me, there’s something less-than-attractive about maggots, flies, and worms romping through rotting food. I know they’re all necessary for a compost pile, but they’re not too pretty in the middle of a flower garden. And for another, if it’s too open, the compost will dry out, slowing the decaying process.
  4. It also has to have openings. Bugs, snakes, and spiders have to be able to get in or out. Worms need access from the bottom. And I want rain to fall into it from the top, because moisture helps the whole process move along.
  5. It has to be easily dismantled. Once a season or so, I’ll need access so I can stir the contents. And once a year, I’ll remove the good soil from the bottom.

Getting Started

Once I decided on my essential requirements, I went looking for the supplies I needed. First, I looked in my yard and garage to scavenge any useful materials. The rest, I purchased at my local lumberyard for less than $100. (For items I already had, I’m giving an estimated cost.)

  • 56 – 8 inch x 8 inch x 8 inch concrete blocks @ $0.95 each (on sale). (I had to bring them home in two loads to save the shocks in my Prius.):   $56.00
  • 2 – 8-foot 2” x 8”s of green-treated wood @ $5.50 each:   $11.00
  • 1 roll of chicken wire fencing, 4 feet x 10 feet:   $8.00
  • 2 pull handles (scrounged from my garage):    $10.00
  • 2 door hinges (also free from scrounging):    $10.00
  • Assorted nails, staples, screws (again, stuff I had around):   $3.00
    TOTAL:    $98.00

Of course, I also had the shovel and hoe to level the soil in our flower garden. These would be additional costs, if you don’t have them already. I also take it for granted that I have a drill, a circular saw, sawhorses, levels, a square, a staple gun, tin snips, and a tape measure to accomplish the rest of this project. If you don’t have these tools, you can rent them at your local rental store — or borrow them from a willing neighbor (but be sure to return them promptly and in great condition if you want your neighbor to remain willing).

A word of caution: If you don’t have basic carpentry skills, you may be better off buying that big plastic barrel that comes in a kit. Handling a circular saw or a drill can be dangerous. You don’t want to end up composting a body part.

The Process

  1. Choose the location. You’ll need to do this before you run off to the hardware store, of course. I chose to locate the box in the center of a flower bed, along a length of wood fence, where I could plant some taller flowers next season to hide it. You can build your compost any size. My surface space was about 48 inches wide by 40 inches front to back. I calculated the number of blocks this would take before making my purchase. If you want a larger or taller box, buy more blocks.
  2. Prepare the ground. It took me about 20 minutes to level the ground. You must start with a flat surface. Use your level to check it. Tamp it lightly. We’re not using any mortar between the blocks, so, if your blocks are set on any slope, they will not stand. Start building. I set the bottom layer of blocks in place, in a rectangle, side by side, with the flat surfaces of the blocks to the inside. I continued to lay the next two layers of blocks on top of those. All that took about another 20 minutes. Note that I don’t recommend using any mortar, so the blocks can be freely removed from any or all sides. Be aware that the blocks will eventually settle, tip, and separate, especially if you only put a light piece of plywood on the top as a cover (which is an option). If you choose the lid design that I used, it will be heavy enough to help hold the blocks in place for a considerably long time.

     Mitered corners give the lid a more finished look. Photo: Joe Hennager

    Mitered corners give the lid a more finished look. Photo: Joe Hennager

  3. Build the lid. I decided to go for the deluxe lid, so I cut the 2 x 8 for the back anchor board and the front face board, both at 46 inches in length. Then I mitered the corners for the front board. I wanted a cleaner look than just toe-nailing a right-angle joint. I then cut the two 31-inch side boards. I matched up their mitered corners on the front to the matching 2 x 8, and on the back to a 2 x 4 that I ripped from the remaining 2 x 8 stock. To assemble the frame, I toe-nailed all the pieces together with some 8 penny galvanized nails and set all the mitered corners with some four inch coated deck screws, just to be safe. Cutting all the pieces took less than 20 minutes, and assembly took another 20.
  4. Attach the hardware. I screwed the door hinges on the back and the pull handles on the front of the lid frame. I laid the whole contraption in place on top of the blocks, placing the last two blocks on top of the back anchor board, and flipped the lid open.
    I cut the chicken wire to fit using a tin snips, then stapled it into place on the underside of the lid. I tapped the staples down with a hammer to make sure the raccoons couldn’t get the tips of their little crowbars under it. I made sure the sharp tips of the chicken wire were also hammered flat to not scratch any skin when the lid was opened and closed. Attaching the hardware and chicken wire took another 20 minutes.

So, it took me a little over an hour to get two loads of blocks home from the lumberyard, and another two hours of building. For about $100 worth of materials, I now had my first compost. It’s a little sturdier than most I have seen, but remember, I have Guido, the 80-pound raccoon to deal with.


Besides being extra strong (and foiling even the cleverest local raccoon bandit), this compost bin is extremely flexible. If the pile of decaying matter isn’t shrinking fast enough, I can turn one or more of the lower-level concrete blocks a quarter turn and allow more air to enter the box. This should cook the contents a little faster if things begin to fill up too fast. And, if we have a lot more yard waste or food waste than I anticipate, I can easily add more layers of blocks to the top of the box. Since the lid isn’t screwed into the blocks, it’s a simple mater to remove it and then replace it on top of the new layers.



Cardboard scraps add carbon and reduce the smell of your compost. Photo: J. Wasson

The process of composting needs air, water, carbon, and nitrogen. The carbon is the dead, brown, dry yard waste, and the nitrogen is the green yard waste and food scraps. You want to have a balance of the two. If you find you are putting in too much food waste, and your compost pile is beginning to smell, just add some shredded paper, cardboard, straw, or fall leaves. These will contribute carbon and air space to the mixture. And don’t forget to stir the mixture every month or so with a pitch fork (or a shovel if you don’t have a fork).

Anyway, the important thing here is not what your compost box or bin looks like, it is that you get some kind of container and start using it. Composting your food waste and yard waste should become as natural as recycling your plastics, tin cans, paper, and glass.

Composting helps reduce the tonnage that goes into landfills, provides a home for many creatures, builds your lawn and garden with amazing nutrients, and gives you the sense that you are giving something back to your good earth.

As we learn more about our compost, we will be passing it on. And, as always, your tips and suggestions are welcome.

Joe Hennager

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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Green Festival in Chicago May 16, 17

Chicago's Green Festival will have something for everyone. Photo: Courtesy Green Festival

Chicago's Green Festival will have something for everyone. Photo: Courtesy Green Festival

If you’ll be in Illinois this weekend, head on over to Navy Pier to attend Chicago’s third annual Green Festival, May 16 and 17. Billed as the “original green consumer living event,” the weekend will provide “a vision of a cleaner, more efficient future for American businesses, homes, and lifestyles.”

The event is jointly sponsored by Global Exchange and Green America (formerly Co-op America), both of which are “dedicated to environmental and social justice.” The Green Festival provides a forum to learn about “sustainable solutions for successful communities and a healthier environment.” Regional groups contributing to the program include BIG: Blacks in Green™, University of Illinois Extension, The Field Museum and Local First Chicago.

Two more Green Festivals will take place later this year in Washington, D.C., (October 10 and 11) and in San Francisco (November 13-15). Earlier Green Festivals were held recently in Seattle (March 28 and 29) and Denver (May 2 and 3). In 2008, more than 125,000 people attended the festivals in total.

Kevin Danaher, Co-Founder of Global Exchange and Executive Co-Producer of Green Festival, describes the Green Festival’s purpose as “to share with local communities the importance of living socially responsible and environmentally conscious lives.” He adds that the Chicago festival focuses on “the realities of going green and how to incorporate it into a daily routine to see results in health, finances, and local environment.”

According to a press release from the Green Festival, the Chicago festival will include “eco-insight into the transitioning economy, growing consumer consciousness and evolving environmental policy with over 125 visionary speakers, 350 local and national green businesses, and dozens of community and nonprofit groups. All exhibitors must meet strict standards set by Green America, guaranteeing the highest level of social and environmental responsibility in all participating organizations. Every element of each business is thoroughly vetted to ensure authentic sustainability.”

If you’ve ever wondered whether going green is attainable and affordable, you’ll find the answers here. The show will include the most innovative ideas and products you can find on the eco-friendly scene, as well as speakers who will talk about environmental and social justice issues. Watch for presentations like these:

  • “25 Years Later, Justice for Bhopal,” survivors speak out
  • “Environmental Justice,” with youth community organizer Marisol Bacerra
  • “Greening the Disability Community,” with Ayo Maat
  • “An Edible Education Round Table,” with famed chef Alice Waters
  • “Building Community solutions for Native Nations,” by Laura Bartels
  • “Green Fixes for the Economic Mess,” featuring Alisa Gravitz, Executive Director of Green America

Attractions for All

On the show floor, you’ll find a sustainable marketplace featuring top-notch fair trade and eco-friendly wares from local and national vendors. At the Green Home Pavilion, you’ll be able to participate in a variety of workshops in which you can learn diverse skills and techniques, such as how to do an energy audit in your home or how to set up a compost for your apartment.

The festival isn’t just for the older generation. It’s got features designed specifically by and for youth. Young adults will find entertaining and informative exhibits, games, and workshops presented by their peers. Your little ones won’t be left out, either, as the Organic Valley Green Kids’ Zone provides fun activities for the younger set.

Small Carbon Footprint

Having participated in a number of trade shows in my career, I can testify to the huge environmental footprint and waste that occurs with every show. Not so with the Green Festival, as it’s organizers have been walking the talk by modeling environmental and social leadership since its inception in 2002.

Historically, the festival has reused, recycled, or composted 97 percent — or more — of the waste generated by the show. Responding to the Festival’s commitment to a small carbon footprint, USA Today called the Green Festival a model of “how it should be done.”

If you arrive on your bike, you’ll get a discount on admission as well as free valet parking for your carbon-free transportation vehicle. In addition, the Festival team is providing carbon offsets for the entire event, including for the staff and organizers.

Go Green and Save

As we endeavor to illustrate by example in Blue Planet Green Living, going green is “Earth Wise. Money Smart.” And that’s exactly the message that the Green Festival is working to convey. As Gravitz says, “In addition to providing the Chicago community with exciting and relevant programming, we will also provide perspective on one of the most pressing issues of our time: economic stability. Through the many talks and exhibits at the Green Festival, participants will be able to learn how to go green in their careers, investments, and lifestyle. Going green is a commitment that will add up to big savings for your wallet and the planet.”

Speaker Highlights

You won’t want to miss the opportunity to hear from this year’s list of outstanding speakers:

  • Amy Goodman, award-winning journalist, host of Democracy Now! and co author of The Exception to the Rulers and Static
  • Alice Waters, renowned chef of Chez Panisse in Berkeley
  • Paul Stamets: Mycologist and mushroom cultivator from Fungi Perfecti, a family-owned, environmentally friendly company specializing in the use of gourmet and medicinal mushrooms to improve health
  • John Perkins: Founder and board member of Dream Change and the Pachamama Alliance, and author of best-selling Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
  • Alisa Gravitz: Executive Director of Green America and Executive Co-Producer of Green Festival
  • Kevin Danaher: Co-Founder of Global Exchange, Executive Co-Producer of Green Festival, and Executive Director of Global Citizen Center
  • Damali Ayo: Activist and author of How to Rent a Negro
  • And more!

Program Highlights

The event will provide a wealth of entertainment and information, including:

  • Organic Valley Green Kids’ Zone
  • Youth Unity
  • Community Action Center
  • Green Home Pavilion
  • Fair Trade Pavilion
  • Music Stage Featuring Local Acts
  • Socially Responsible Investing
  • Natural Food, Beer & Wine
  • Eco Fashion
  • Eco Tourism
  • Green Careers
  • E-waste recycling


Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Avenue, Chicago
Saturday, May 16: 10:00AM – 7:00PM
Sunday, May 17: 11:00AM – 6:00PM
$15 for two days/$10 for seniors, students, and all who arrive by bicycle or public transit

Free Admission: Children 18 and younger, Green America or Global Exchange members and volunteers, those who bring three or more books to donate to BetterWorldBooks

Friends of the Green Festival

With a donation of $75 you’ll receive:

  • Full Green Festival admission
  • A coupon for two free drinks at the Organic Beer & Wine Garden
  • 20% off at the Green Festival Store and the BetterWorldBooks Book Store
  • An exclusive tour of the Greening Operation at Green Festival – witness how we achieve 95% resource recovery
  • A visit with Alisa Gravitz of Green America and Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange, and receive an autographed copy of their books: The Green Festival Reader and Building the Green Economy
  • Regular Executive Producer Updates about the Green Festivals from Global Exchange and Green America

For more information on Chicago or any other Green Festival event, visit:

About Green America (formerly Co-op America)

Green America is a national nonprofit organization founded in 1982, providing the economic strategies, organizing power and practicing tools for businesses and individuals to address today’s social and environmental problems. Its Green Business Network is the largest national network of businesses screened for their social and environmental responsibility.

About Global Exchange

Global Exchange is a membership-based international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world. Since its founding in 1988, Global Exchange has successfully increased public awareness of root causes of injustice while building international partnerships and mobilizing for change.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)