Thursday, October 28, 2010

Have a Green Mean Halloween !

There were a lot of firsts in our house this Halloween. It was our first Halloween celebration after moving from up north to Texas, for the first time we could trick or treat without covering up in layers of fleece and for the first time as a family we decided to Green our Halloween. Here are a few spooky green ideas to get you jump started.


· Avoid buying one time use cheap plastic items that will be trashed the next day, only to land in a landfill across town.

· Use pumpkin, gourds, squash which are locally available, think low carbon footprint, cheap and completely bio-degradable.

· Reuse household items such as old paper plates, milk cartons, boxes to make spooky décor that can be used this year and stored for the next. With dry branches from your garden, cereal boxes, black paint and little helping hands make your own black Halloween tree.


This one was challenging to say the least. It is probably impossible to steer your kids away from the aisles full of costumes attractively displayed in department stores, but do explore some creative options.

· Costume swaps are a great way to get more use out of the 'worn only one time a year' closet space-fillers. Check your neighborhood events - numerous organizations, groups and stores are supporting costume swap events.

· Use old clothes, cardboard boxes and a little bit of your personality to show off green, one of a kind costumes. My husband and I are working on being the Apple family - an iPod and iphone, a marriage made in heaven!


· Since Halloween is really all about the candy, it’s a great time to explore organic and naturally sweet options. Dried fruits, raisins, flavored pretzels, fruit bites are a few examples of adding a dose of health to the candy basket.

We are hoping that this first green Halloween in our house soon becomes an annual tradition!

To explore additional ideas and tip on this topic please visit the websites listed below.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Big ideas Small steps: Solar home installations

A couple months ago when my family moved to Texas we were excited about moving from the cold Midwestern climate to hot southern weather. Of course this was before we realized how hot, how really really hot the Texas summers can get. Once the realization sunk in, we wondered if the hot sunny weather could be used to our advantage. Maybe we could find cost effective solar applications that would lower bills, use the abundant free sun energy and help our family go green in the process. Then the next realization sunk in, solar and cost effective do not go hand in hand. Many families probably go through the same conundrum - Should we invest in solar, what technology is reliable, how does the ROI work and similar. So I decided to get a little help from experts and consumers to help my family and others think through this process. This is the first in a series of blogs on Living Green in Plano dedicated to Solar home installations.

What is Solar?

It is probably safe to assume that by now everyone has heard about solar and has pretty good idea how the technology works. But as a refresher lets go through a quick Solar 101.

Solar energy is derived from the sun and used in many different forms such as heat, light and electricity. It is available in abundance in most parts of the world, is clean, non polluting and renewable. Despite solar power technology being available for decades, it is only now gaining popularity as an alternative source of fuel energy to help reduce our dependency on other forms such as petroleum and oil. Solar power can be used directly through radiant heat or indirectly through photovoltaic systems that generate electricity to run other applications.

Despite all its advantages, solar power struggles from becoming main stream because of three main issues. Firstly solar power is an intermittent source of energy, meaning it is only available during day time directly from the sun. This means there needs to be a good way to store energy during the day time to use through the night. Secondly the technology is still not optimized for cost and efficiency that can be used for mass applications. Third the economics of using solar power may not always be justified, especially in areas where regular electricity and oil is cheap and there are no incentives to help home owners overcome the initial investment.

Solar Attic Fans

This is the first of the many small steps that people can take towards using solar power in their homes. Solar attic fan prices can vary from $300 to upwards of $500 and are available at big retailers such as Costco, Home Depot, Lowes as well as private installers.

The total cost of installation depends on the number of fans required and installation costs charged in your area. Product guidelines suggest that one fan can ventilate up to 1250 sq ft of attic space. Installation costs vary from $0 for a DIY homeowner skilled in carpentry to $50/fan for a handyman to upwards of $150/fan using skilled installation services. Like any home project there is always the tradeoff of saving money by doing it yourself versus saving time and doing it right by hiring the experts. Apart from using freely available solar energy, these fans help lower energy costs, remove moisture and provide ventilation in attics.

The demand for this fan has picked up tremendously in recent days, but long term consumer reviews are unavailable. We installed these in our home this summer and have seen significantly lower attic temperatures. Our household is excited about our first solar installation and looking forward to the next one.

If you have solar installation stories to share, please leave us a comment.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Electronics Recycling in Plano

Do you have valuable space in your garage, cabinets, or living area taken up by outdated and unused appliances?  Don't put them on the curb, recycle them!  eRecycler is a family run business that makes sure all your electronics are disposed of in an eco-friendly way.

Mark and I spoke with the team at eRecycler at the Green Expo and when we dropped off our outdated appliances, batteries, and CDs a few weeks ago.

From L to R, Chris Barfield, Gabrielle Bruns, and Lauren Bruns

At the Green Expo, Lauren Bruns (daughter of the founder of eRecycler, Bob Bruns) spent several minutes with us answering all our questions about how they recycle the electronics and the types of electronics they accept.  After hearing reports of electronics being sent overseas for recycling, I wanted to find out how eRecycler handled their items.  Lauren assured me that none of the items they get are sent overseas.  Also, they recycle every part of the electronics.  So what kinds of items do they accept?

(from their website)

Electronics Recycling 

  • Computers
  • Servers
  • Telephones
  • Cell Phones
  • Circuit Boards
  • Computer Drives
  • Cable & Wire
  • Pos Equipment
  • Mainframes
  • Networking Equipment
  • Printers
  • Test Equipment
  • Uninterruptible Power Supplies
  • Monitors
  • Security Equipment
  • Lab Equipment
  • Video Equipment
  • Batteries
Metals and more
  • Aluminum
  • Stainless Steel
  • Lead Batteries
  • Copper
  • Server Racks
  • Circuit Boards
  • Memory
  • Processors
  • Electric Motors
  • Switching Equipment
  • Valves
  • Brass
  • Cardboard
  • Corrugated Box
  • Paper
  • Plastics

When Mark and I dropped off our items at their Petal Street location near 635, we spoke with Debra Hamilton.  Debra told us that when they receive items, they determine if local charities need the items (like used TVs for shelters).  If so, they give them away.  Then, they sell any usable items on their ebay store.  Everything else gets broken down at their facility and recycled locally.  They even do data destruction.  

There is so much more information on their website,  Check it out and clear up your electronic recycling the eco-friendly way!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Consuming Less Stuff

First, I want to give a big shout out to Beth Terry ( and her post, Earth Day 2010: Buying Green vs. Being Green.  In it, she talks about a subject I have come to feel strongly about - that consuming more than we need is not good for the planet, whether the products are considered eco-friendly or not.  I know that being a consumer is linked with being patriotic in the U.S., but that seems like an outdated and unworkable mindset to me.  I don't want to be called a consumer.  I'm so much more than what I buy.  How about calling everyone Contributers, implying that their unique personalities, gifts, and talents contribute to our society and our world in a positive way?  That feels much more uplifting and inspiring to me.

So in honor of Earth Day (which was Thursday - but really, every day is Earth Day right?), here are a few ways Mark and I have been consuming less stuff we don't need.  I encourage you to comment with your list as well.

1.  We use baking soda for deodorant, cleaner, in our homemade detergent, and cooking.  One recyclable cardboard box instead of many different plastic containers.

2.  I've stopped using shampoo and any hair products, and my hair looks better than it ever has.  (More on that in a later post).  This cuts out shampoo, conditioner, hair wax, and mousse, all of which were in plastic containers.

3.  For our wedding registry, instead of asking for stuff, we asked for well-wishes.  If someone wants to give us a gift, we've asked that they contribute the money they would have spent on a blender toward our European trip.

4.  I'm making my wedding dress out of material I found at goodwill for $15.  It's coming along really well.  You can check out the progress at the Laughing Princess Sewing Diary.

5.  We've stopped using paper towels and toilet paper (more on that in a later post as well).  This saves trees and the plastic these products are usually packaged in.

6.  We make our food from scratch instead of using pre-packaged meals.  Our diet has greatly improved, our fridge looks like a beautiful garden, and we spend time in the kitchen cooking together now, which is really enjoyable.  No plastic, no preservatives, no mysterious chemicals and other ingredients.  All yummy goodness.

7.  We've cleaned out our house and donated the things that didn't have meaning or use for us anymore to Goodwill. This allows us to see what we already have so we don't buy things twice, we've discovered all sorts of treasures, and we have a greater appreciation of our space.

8.  We furnished our apartment with awesome used furniture from Craig's List.  I think it's a great idea to buy used items.  Technically, that's still consumerism, but I think it's better to use what has already been created than use up new resources to create the same thing.

9.  We created a virtual Save the Date and Invitation Video for our wedding.  No paper (and many of the fancy invitation papers are not recyclable), creative and fun, original, and totally free.  By the way, the link to the invitation video sends you to our wedding website, where you can read about how Mark and I met and how he proposed to me.

I'm not anti-consumerism, I'm just not for the needless buying and shopping for "stuff" that is so encouraged in the US. Like do we really need 20 different household cleaners, or can we use items we already have in our home to create great eco-friendly cleaners?  Do we need to use ziplock bags, which are not recyclable in my city and are plastic and quickly thrown away, or can we use reusable containers?  Do we need to use up a hundred paper napkins, or can we use cloth napkins?  Do we need our cookies individually wrapped, or can we buy them all in one bag?  These are questions I've asked myself and continue to explore in different areas as Mark and I are changing the way we live our lives.

What are your ideas?  In what ways are you consuming less and living greener?

(This article is also posted at

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Live Green Expo

Hello Everyone,

Earlier this week, Mark and I attended our very first Green Expo!  We were both very excited about it and were able to learn a lot and meet great people while we were there.

First, we had a great conversation with Suzanne Sutton, who works for The Chiapas Project.  She had a table to collect old cell phones and ink catriges.  There were postage-paid plastic bags on the table that you could take home, put your phones in, and ship them to their organization.  The phones that have value are sold to refurbishing companies who then sell the phones to emerging markets.  The phones that don't have value are recycled.  The money generated goes to provide microloans to women in poverty in Chiapas, Mexico.  The small loans are enough to help them get started in their own business, like "raising animals, growing fruit or weaving fabric" (from the Chiapas Project pamphlet).  The income they generate from their business allows them to provide for their family's needs.  I asked Suzanne if there was an alternative to the plastic bags because we're going a year without using new plastic.  She asked where I lived and said she would personally come by my home to pick them up.  Now THAT's a woman who believes in what she's doing.

Our next great learning opportunity was at our local Allied Waste table.  Allied Waste is the company Plano uses to handle the recycling, landfill, and city composting programs.  We asked them many questions.  Here are just a few of them:

Are ziplock bags recyclable?

Even if we take the zipper off?

Is it true that you should take the tops off the plastic bottles before recycling?
This one is tricky, according to Brenda, who was the woman who graciously answered a list of our questions.  If the recycling facility workers see a bottle with a cap on, they will unscrew the caps.  Otherwise, they go to the buyer for those plastics, and the buyer has a laser that chops off the top part of the bottle.  (We weren't clear on whether it was then recycled or not).  However, some buyers will not take plastic bottles that have lids on them.  If you unscrew the lids, the caps may fall through the filtering screen at the beginning of the process, meaning it will not get recycled.

I was kind of bummed when I heard this because I had just recently posted that they couldn't be recycled with the lids on, which I now understand is not the whole truth.  It seems like it's iffy either way.  The best option, my friends?  Not buying plastic bottles, of course!

We also learned the big role that education plays in recycling.  It's not as easy as getting new equipment and using it.  The public has to be educated that another recycling option is available, what materials are now recyclable, and how to prepare the material for recycling.  So much great information!  Mark and I are both so thankful to the people at the Allied Waste booth for taking time to answer all our questions.

There were so many other cool things at the expo, too, like the bio-diesel truck and the green housecleaning booths.  There was also wonderful live music and a step-by-step composting tent.  A huge thank you to all the hundreds of volunteers who made the Expo possible.  If you didn't come, you really missed out on some great information.

As great as the Expo was, I feel there is room for improvement.  I was pretty disappointed when I saw that one of the sponsors was Culligan water company.  Throughout the expo, there were large bottled water stations for people to use for free.  When I turned around, there were at least 10 water fountains not being used.  I'm surprised the city would even let Culligan and the other water companies there, some of whom had signs implying that public water was bad and unhealthy, at a city-sponsored event.  Plano has excellent water.  Water in plastic bottles?  That's just tacky.  That plastic will be around forever, whether it's recycled or not.  It's just tacky and not good for the environment at all.  If you want to know more about the history of bottled water and its effect on the environment, check out the this video, from the Story of Stuff.

Also, at the concession stands, there was a fridge filled with plastic soda and water bottles to choose from as well.  Plastic plastic plastic.  It's just crazy, especially at a green expo.

Maybe you're thinking, "Isn't plastic recyclable?"  Plastic is downcycled, which means it reduces in quality every time it's recycled.  It's also using up a lot of energy to turn it into something new.  If all the bottles were made out of recycled plastic, that's great!  It creates a market for recycled products and uses the material that will be around for over 1000 years anyway (none of the plastic ever created has biodegraded yet, so 1000 years is a common guess, but we don't know if it ever will).  All the plastic that's ever been made is still here, whether in oceans, littering the ground, in landfills, or being recycled. What's convenient about a bottle of water, whether it's recycled or not, that you will only use for an hour but will be around for generations to come?  Nothing.

Despite my disappointment with the plastic water bottles, Mark and I had an awesome time, we learned a lot, we met a lot of great people, and we're so glad Plano decided to host a Green Expo and make it free for everyone to attend.  

Did you go to the Expo?
What did you learn?
What was your favorite part?
Share your comments!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pictures from the 2010 Live Green Expo!

The Live Green Expo was a new and exciting experience for many people this weekend, including me! Here are some pictures from this fabulous event!

I hope you had as much fun as I did! My favorite part was the eco-friendly fashion show. That newspaper dress was AWESOME!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Things to Know Before the Expo (only 8 days left!)

(from City of Plano press release April 9, 2010)

The Live Green Expo, presented by the City of Plano, offers North Texans a few important reminders to consider before the big event. The Live Green Expo will be held from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Apr. 17 at Plano Centre located at 2000 E. Spring Creek Pkwy. in Plano.

As always, the Live Green Expo and parking are absolutely FREE! General parking for the event is located at Collin College at Jupiter Road and Spring Creek Parkway (2800 E. Spring Creek Pkwy.). Shuttles run every 15 minutes from Collin College parking areas to Plano Centre. Shuttle service is available all day. Parking for volunteers, officials, media, special guests and the handicapped is located in the east parking lot of Plano Centre. Entry to the east parking lot will require an event pass. No general parking is available at Plano Centre. General parking is conveniently located across the street at Collin College.

Water stations, sponsored by Culligan, are located throughout the Live Green Expo event area. Remember to bring your reusable water bottle and enjoy FREE water all day. The water stations are easy to find, just look for the Zero Waste stations.

Pre-register to learn how to make a rain barrel. The Rain Barrel Workshop (available for Plano residents only) provides the opportunity to learn all about rain barrels and participants take home their own 55-gallon rain barrel. The class is available at the Live Green Expo. Pre-registration is required and is easy to do online. There is a $20 registration fee. To register, visit
Interested in starting your own grassroots environmental movement? Pre-register for Conversation Café and learn more about local foods, a farmers market, zero waste at public events, eliminating polystyrene and plastic containers at restaurants, organic composting, and recycling opportunities for people in multi-family residences. Register at or contact

The Live Green Expo initiated a recycling collection for new and gently worn athletic shoes for the people of Haiti last month using social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The “Shoes for Haiti – Healing with a Sole” shoe collection campaign has shipped over 5,000 shoes to Haiti since its inception. The largest one-day collection event is at the Live Green Expo. Collection containers are located at all the shuttle stops in the parking areas at Collin College.

Be sure to bring your plastic shopping bags to the Live Green Expo and exchange them for a FREE reusable bag at the “Got Your Bags?” booth in the DIY Room. Recycling plastic shopping bags is good for the environment, reduces landfill waste and the material is used to make things such as lumber for park benches and playground equipment. Don’t forget to pledge to remember your reusable bag when you shop and always recycle plastic shopping bags at your local retailer.

For more information about the Live Green Expo, visit

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Simple Steps Series: Reusable Water Containers

Going green can seem like an enormous task to some people. It's not always an easy choice to make because it seems so huge. Just trying to sort your recycling for the city can sometimes be a bit confusing; an entire green lifestyle is something else altogether.

Enter the Simple Steps Series. Going green can be a lot easier if you just take small, simple steps forward. My husband and I are taking these steps together in our first year of marriage, hoping to grow greener and greener as we go along.

Simple Step 1: Get a reusable water container

I drink a lot of water, whether I'm working out, working around the house, or just plain at work. When I'm on the go, I need a water container of some kind to come with me. Like most people, I was originally drinking out of plastic water bottles; I would buy them, drink out of them, and toss them. Later, thinking I was doing something good, I started to reuse plastic water bottles. This was a bad idea because the more reuse they get, the more likely they are to collect bacteria (yuck).

So, obviously, you don't really want to be drinking out of the plastic water bottles that come from the grocery store or vending machine. Yes, they can be recycled, definitely, but there are greener (and healthier) options. Originally, I thought a reusable plastic bottle would be good, but, geez, more plastic? There's got to be a better choice.

Enter the metal water bottle--aluminum or stainless steel. They don't break easily, and with a quick wash, they can be used again and again. They can also be used to make a fashion statement if so desired. The above picture is the bottle I ended up getting from Dick's Sporting Goods. There were so many options though: colors, patterns, causes, sports teams, the list goes on.

So if you're a big water drinker like me, your first green step is to purchase a metal water bottle. They're not too expensive, and they last as long as you need them to. It'll be your first simple step to a greener life.

Joel Salatin to visit Plano

The night before the Live Green Expo Joel Salatin will be in Plano at the Art Centre of Plano talking food and farming.

Tickets are limited and priced at $50/person or $80/couple. Food will be served, created completely from the North Texas food shed and made by local chefs.

Contact Tiffany Stephens by Monday, April 12, by phone at (972) 796-4264 or by email at

Proceeds will benefit the future Plano Farmers Market featuring local providers. Check it out!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fix A Leak Week - Plano Offers Free Resources for Residents

Did you know that minor water leaks account for 1 trillion gallons of water wasted each year?  That's why the city of Plano is sponsoring "Fix A Leak Week", offering free tips and water conservation items for Plano residents to help them save water.  As a resident, you are eligible for the following items:

Low-Flow Shower Head

A self-cleaning shower head featuring a non-aerating spray means less temperature loss and big hot water energy savings. Easy to install!

How do you know if you need a new shower head?  I found a handy dandy video with an easy tip on how to determine if your shower head needs an overhaul.

This is great for me, a Plano resident, right?
Yes and no.  Yes, because just the other day, as I was having a long, hot shower, I wondered if our apartment  had low-flow shower heads installed.  I was going to look into the issue with my fiancé, Mark, so we could conserve water.  However, have you heard that we're not buying any new plastic this year?  When I ran into the kitchen to tell Mark we could get a low-flow shower head, he promptly asked, "Is it made of plastic?"  I reminded him of how much water we could save.  He said, "But plastic lasts forever.  Is it made from recycled plastic or metal?  If not, is it really worth creating a new piece of plastic that will last forever?"  No, definitely not.  So, I called the Municipal Center of Plano to find out if the shower head is made of plastic.  It is.  Ugg.  No new shower head for me, at least not a free one.  What are my other options?  Well, thankfully, I did the test from the video and found out I don't need one, but there are many ways we can reduce our water usage without getting yet another plastic product.

  • Get wet, turn off the water, get soapy, turn on the water to rinse.  This technique is used on naval ships and by Ed Begley (smile) and drastically cuts down on water usage.
  • Cut down on how long you shower.  I don't know about you, but I'm not a 5-minute shower person.  I could easily cut several minutes off my shower time to save water.
  • Share a shower.  Have a special someone in your life?  Sharing a shower isn't just romantic, it's the green thing to do (wink, wink).
Toilet Leak Detection Tablets
Use dye tablets to check for a leak in your toilet tank. It’s easy and could save you money.  Here are a few other ways to help you conserve water:
  • When it's time to replace your toilet, purchase a dual-flush or high-efficiency model.
  • Don't use the toilet as a trashcan or ashtray.
  • If you're really feeling green, get a human composting toilet or make your own!  Lots of resources are available online (by the way, if you do this, please let me know how it goes).
Toilet Flapper
Water treatment processes, toilet bowl cleaners and high water pressure cause replaceable parts to disintegrate in your toilet. If you get black “goo” on your hands when you touch the flapper, it needs to be replaced.

Simply visit any Customer and Utility Services counter from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, to pick up these items. Locations include the Municipal Center, 1520 K Ave. (between 15th Street and 18th Street) or the Joint Use Facility, 7501 N. Independence Pkwy. (adjacent to Davis Library).  Retrofit items are provided FREE to Plano residents by the Sustainability & Environmental Services department. 

For more water conservation tips, visit  
And of course, come to the Live Green Expo on April 17, 2010!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Do you know what the largest source of litter is?

According to the Keep America Beautiful Campaign, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing education and volunteer opportunities to help create a cleaner environment, cigarette butts are the number one source of litter.  While smoking has decreased 28% in the past 10 years (Source), only 10% of cigarette butts are disposed of properly, which leads to a big litter problem.  Most smokers don't realize the environmental impact of cigarette littering because cigarette butts are small enough to seem insignificant (Source).  However, cigarette butts are made of cellulose acetate, which is a form of plastic that doesn't biodegrade easily.  Cigarette butts that are littered on the street or in planters end up being washed into the gutters.  Then, they enter our water system and often get washed from our streams into the ocean.  Also, small animals often mistake cigarette butts for food and can end up choking or suffocating on them.  I was inspired to write this article after a trip I made to the library yesterday.  As I was getting into my car, I saw a black bird with a cigarette butt in its mouth.  :(

The Positives
  • Public receptacles for cigarette butts are becoming more common.
  • Smoking is becoming less common.
  • Cigarette manufactures are looking for ways to produce environmentally-friendly cigarette butts.  Philip Morris, a cigarette manufacturer, sponsors the Guide for Cigarette Litter Prevention on the Keep America Beautiful website.
  • You are reading this article, so now one more person is more aware.  

So what can we do?  
  • If you smoke, place cigarette butts in proper receptacles, including pocket ashtrays.  
  • Most people who smoke don't realize the impact of cigarette butts on the environment, so you can help educate the people you know who smoke.  
  • Learn more about the environment.  Knowledge of our current environmental issues usually leads to caring about our environment and wanting to make positive changes.
For more information about this issue, check out Bill Nye the Science Guy's video.