Composting: A Fun and Easy Way to Help Save the Planet

by Peter Aronson

There are several ways to think about composting your food scraps. One way is to realize that by doing so, you are actually – honestly, truly – reducing your carbon footprint and helping fight climate change. 

Another angle is that it’s a fun family project that can include the kids and also help the environment – and probably raise a few nostrils along the way. The rotting banana peels, egg shells, leftover spaghetti and rotten tomatoes, mixed and moldering in a plastic container in your kitchen, can produce quite a mighty stink. But a mighty, worthy stink it is.

Because, and this is a third way to look at composting: By doing so, you’ll realize how much food you are wasting. It is staggering how much food we buy and never eat. Staggering how much food our country produces that ends up being tossed into landfills, where it contributes mightily to climate change  .That’s because we cooked too much food and had to throw away leftovers, or because the crackers or the cereal or whatever went stale in the back of the cabinet or because those hidden vegetables or fruit rotted in the fridge.

More than one third of all food produced in the United States is wasted – as in, never eaten, according to a 2021 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the ripple-down impact of this shortfall is truly devastating for our society, in multiple ways.

Not only is the food wasted never eaten in a world where there are hungry people everywhere, but the waste is having a devastating impact on our environment. Worldwide, food loss and waste represent eight percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, according to that EPA report. This figure is derived from all the tangential waste associated with food- the wasted water and fertilizer used to produce the food, the wasted packaging used to pack the food, the wasted transportation used to transport the food and the greenhouse gasses (methane) produced when the food rots in the landfill. 

According to studies, food scraps in a landfill produce 20 times the amount of methane as composted food scraps. And methane is quite dangerous. It accounts for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is bad enough – but it is 25 times as destructive as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, according to the EPA. 

No wonder, then, that experts say we need to stop wasting food. According to the EPA report, 492 to 1,032 pounds of food is wasted per person per year in the United States. Digest those numbers for a second: 492 to 1,032 pounds a year, per person, per year, of wasted food – equal to 35 percent of the U.S. food supply.   

As we try to break old habits and reduce our waste, we are fortunate that New York City has been rolling out more composting programs in recent months. In October, Mayor Adams and the NYC Department of Sanitation began in Queens the largest curbside composting program in the country. The program, available to everyone in the county of more than two million people, has been hailed as a huge success. More than 12.7 million pounds of organic waste has been collected in three months, far outpacing the 2.1 million pounds of waste collected in seven districts in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan, where residents need to opt-in and go through multiple steps to participate. 

The NYLCV calls on the Mayor to expand this program citywide.

And in the past few weeks, organized composting has arrived in upper Manhattan in the way of 45 Smart Compost bins placed on street corners. The orange metal containers, located in Morningside Heights, Central Harlem, East Harlem, West Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood, have a scanning link on the front and invite you to download the NYC Compost App with your phone in order to open the bins to dispose of waste. Accepted items include all food scraps – fruits, vegetables, meat, bones, dairy, etc. – and food-soiled paper and plants.

Again, composting can be a fun project for a family. Find a container in your house that has a sealed top and daily place your banana peels, apple cores, chicken bones, leftover or uneatable anythings (oatmeal, bread crust, egg shells, rotten tomatoes, etc.) and place them in a sealed container and periodically make a  trip to the composting bin.

“Since starting to compost I have become so much more aware of our food waste,” said Emily Russo, a Morningside Heights resident, who now makes daily trips to the composting bin on Broadway and 112th Street. “It feels truly empowering to bring our food scraps down the street and deposit it in the compost bin as part of a daily routine. And it has significantly lessened the garbage we dispose of. This feels like such a win-win!”   

And, an eye opener. It makes you sadly conscious of the food you waste, and how you can take steps to change a bad habit and help the environment. 

As New York City ramps up its composting programs, the city has organized dozens of food-scrap drop-off points throughout the five boroughs. A map of the locations can be found here. 

Fortunately, more and more communities around the country are focusing on the importance of composting. The New York Times recently wrote about a community in the Columbus, Ohio, area. 

These programs can’t come soon enough, as The Times also reported recently that in 2022, U.S. carbon emissions grew 1.3 percent from the previous year, even as renewable energy surpassed coal power for the first time in more than six decades.

With carbon emissions rising  and signs of climate change all around us, that makes sensible, sustainable food purchasing and composting all the more essential.

Green Tips: Holiday Gift Wrapping

The period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is full of holiday cheer, but it also marks the time when we generate the most waste: 25% more than during any other time of the year. Unsurprisingly, much of this waste comes from gift wrapping. With just a little extra thought, you can help make a huge impact in reducing waste. Check out this week’s Green Tips to learn how to gift wrap the eco way!

Simple is Better

One easy way to cut down on waste is to avoid over-wrapping your gifts. Your recipient will appreciate simply wrapped gifts just as much as intricately wrapped ones; the gift itself doesn’t change, after all. Here are a few tips:

  • Ditch the bows and ribbons.
  • Avoid using metallic and foil wrapping paper, as these cannot be recycled. 
  • Address the gift (i.e. To: Sally / From: Doug) directly on the packaging instead of using a sticker or name tag.

Upcycling is Okay

Rather than buy new wrapping materials, you can make your own by upcycling other items which would otherwise go to waste. The best part about these wrapping materials is that they cost you nothing!

  • Read the newspaper? Why not give it a second life as wrapping paper! It looks especially festive when the paper is colored in. Recruit a youngin’ to help!
  • Decorate paper bags from stores or deliveries. Better yet, use this DIY stamp roller.
  • An old shipping or shoe box can be a great way to package a gift.
  • Use an old sweater to wrap a wine bottle.
  • Make tins from old paint cans.
  • Upcycle empty candle containers by removing the wax. You can then glue unused wrapping paper to their sides, creating a festive jar. Great for holiday cookies!
  • Reuse wrapping paper. From envelopes to shipping insulation, the potential uses are endless.

Consider Wrapping Paper Alternatives

Wrapping paper is inherently wasteful. Most of the time it gets ripped through and discarded. However, there are many alternatives that can be used over and over again.

  • Package gifts in paper bags stuffed with tissue paper. These materials can be reused to wrap other gifts later.
  • Use the manufacturer’s packaging. Did your package ship in a box? Use it! Did you buy your gift in person? Don’t be afraid to use the retailer’s bag! You can even decorate the box or bag yourself for some heartfelt homemade gift packaging.
  • Replace that bow with a fallen conifer branch or pinecone.

If none of these ideas work for you, get creative! Any homemade gift wrap will be appreciated as thoughtful, and don’t be afraid to tell the recipients of your gifts why your gift wrap is different and how they can cut down on the waste.

Thank you for reading this week’s Green Tips! We hope you have a safe and happy holiday season!

 

Eco-Friendly Heating Tips for Winter

The world news about climate change can be overwhelmingly negative at times. But it’s important to keep in mind that if every person focuses on reducing their carbon footprint, collectively we can have a big impact.

“Every one of us can help limit global warming and take care of our planet,” the UN’s ActNow website states. “By making choices that have less harmful effects on the environment, we can be part of the solution and influence change.”

So with cold weather here, we need to talk about reducing our collective carbon pollution by using less energy for heat.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that 13 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from homes and businesses, including heating. Additionally, 25 percent of carbon emissions come from use of electric power and roughly 25 to 40 percent of U.S. homes use electric heat.

With that said, it’s clear if we reduce winter heating use, we will collectively reduce our carbon footprints in a meaningful way. Here are some suggestions:

  • The obvious one. Lower the thermostat. The National Park Service suggests lowering it 3 degrees Fahrenheit in winter (and raising it 3 degrees in summer).
  • We all have ugly sweaters in our drawers–this is a great winter to start wearing them…indoors! Using programmable thermostats can help with keeping the thermostat lower.
  • Use less hot water by taking shorter showers, installing a low-flow shower head, and washing clothes in cold or warm water instead of hot. 
  • Weatherproof your windows; install double-pane windows.
  • Install insulation.
  • Consider solar or other sources of renewable energy. 
  • Use a more energy-efficient heating/cooling system.
  • To learn about all the options that might be available and beneficial to you, schedule a home energy audit. To learn more about audits, click here. Depending on where you live, to schedule an assessment, you may need to Google: schedule home energy assessment [input town, city or state where you live]

More resources:
The National Park Service has an excellent article about reducing greenhouse gas emissions at home. 

The UN’s ActNow program stands for the principle that everyone can make a difference, that everyone, particularly citizens in advanced countries, must adjust their way of life to reduce their carbon footprint. This is essential as we strive to cut emissions by half by 2030 and to net zero by 2050. UN’s ActNow & UN’s facts & figures  

The state of Massachusetts has a very active energy conservation program and offers helpful tips.

It’s important to keep in mind that every bit of energy conservation helps. Let’s make a habit of it.

 

Tips for a Green Holiday Shopping Season

In keeping with the holiday spirit, we are offering tips on how best to shop for family and friends, while also giving back to the environment.

A good way to do this, as we move collectively towards a more sustainable and equitable future, is to consider the carbon footprint of whatever you are thinking of buying.

For example, if you want to buy someone a beautiful sweater made in Italy, think about the cost to the environment of shipping that sweater thousands of miles. Shipping by truck, train, plane and/or ship produces carbon emissions; as a general rule, the further the trip, the more carbon emissions are produced and released into our atmosphere.

You can do this simple exercise with any present, whether it’s clothing, a house gift, specialty food or the latest gadget. The cost of shipping products and food accounts for approximately 15 percent of all carbon pollution in America, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Keeping that in mind, here are our shopping tips for this holiday season:

  1. Buy local. This will reduce or eliminate much of the carbon footprint caused by shipping, and it will also support your local merchants. You can also use reusable shopping bags to reduce waste! Read more here about why it’s important to shop locally;
  2. Avoid large, big-box stores. Most of their products are made overseas, often in Asia, and they travel many thousands of miles to their destinations. Also, these stores often use hard-plastic shell wrapping. We want to curtail their use;
  3. Gift an experience: Instead of buying things, buy someone a wonderful experience, like tickets to a show, a concert or a sporting event;
  4. Buy someone a membership to a gym or a museum or subscription to a magazine;
  5. Make a charitable gift in someone’s name;
  6. Try making something yourself. Buy local ingredients in your neighborhood and bake something delicious. Knit a scarf. Everyone loves fresh baked goodies or homemade gifts;
  7. If you do buy or make a gift, use sustainable wrapping paper, such as old newspaper or recycled paper … or no paper at all;
  8. If you receive a gift that is replacing something only mildly or gently used (clothing) or something that can be refurbished (electronics), think about donating the old item to charity. Remember, old electronics can be recycled, for parts or the actual device.    
  9. If you do buy a gift, think of shopping at your local thrift store. You’ll be amazed at the beautiful clothing and jewelry you can find by “thrifting”;
  10. If you prefer not to thrift, then think about shopping for ethically-sourced, fair-trade products, whether online or in a store. Some online options:  

Clothes

  • Pact organic, carbon neutral, Fair Trade Certified
  • Vermont FlannelGOTS Certified Organic Cotton, made in USA
  • Harvest and Mill grown and sewn in USA, 100% organic cotton, carbon neutral

Beauty Products 

  • 100% Pure nontoxic, cruelty free, vegan, eco-friendly packaging and shipping
  • Clover by Clove and Hallow cruelty free, vegan, Certified Net Plastic Neutral, child labor free supply chain
  • Booda Organics organic, non-gmo, vegan, cruelty free, Fair Trade Certified
  • Nourish Organic certified by the USDA National Organic Program, cruelty free, Fair Trade Certified

Chocolate + coffee 

  • Equal Exchange – coffee and chocolate, Fair Trade Certified
  • Alter Eco – chocolate, Fair Trade Certified, regenerative agriculture, organic, carbon neutral
  • Theo – chocolate, Fair Trade Certified
  • Higher Ground – coffee, Fair Trade Certified, organic

 

We hope these suggestions help. We wish everyone a peaceful, healthy and wonderfully sustainable holiday season!

 

Green Tips: Eco-Friendly Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Check out our tips below to find out how to make this holiday season more eco-friendly.

Travel smart 

  • Not surprising, Thanksgiving travel has a larger carbon footprint than the dinner itself. If you have to travel for Thanksgiving, try to avoid using your gas-powered car for long trips: try carpooling with family or friends or renting an electric vehicle (EV). There are an increasing number of EV charging stations throughout the country. 
  • Using public transportation is a great eco-option. Look into traveling by bus or train if you’re destination is close enough. 

“Green” your plate

  • The carbon dioxide emissions from raising, transporting and cooking a 16-pound turkey equals the combined emissions from nearly all dinner sides, as well as the apple pie! In general, meat and animal products have a larger carbon footprint than plants, so consider introducing more plant-based options this holiday. 
  • Avoid food waste by saving leftovers and putting on your plate only what you will eat. Americans throw away an astonishing 200 million pounds of turkey every year! Make sure you have enough containers to hand out to family and friends so everyone can take home leftovers. These eco-friendly Tupperware containers are a great option!
  • Buy a locally-raised turkey! This is beneficial for a number of reasons: for one, transportation emissions are lower for local turkeys. Additionally, visiting a local farm to buy your turkey supports the local economy, and you can inquire about the use of sustainable or organic farming practices. 
  • Shop at a local food market for all other Thanksgiving food necessities. Locally-grown fruits and vegetables are fresher and more nutrient-dense than the supermarket alternatives and will be a delicious addition to your holiday. 

Talk about the environment

  • Consider using mealtime to discuss environmental issues that are important to you. Wonderful veggie recipes, hydro-power innovation, and new types of EV models are always great conversation starters! 
  • Make sure you come prepared with statistics or tips when informing family members of sustainable practices or pressing environmental issues. For example, did you know that Queens has a new curbside composting program?     
  • Don’t forget to give thanks to the planet that sustains us … even better when sharing gratitude with loved ones! 

Thanks for reading this week’s Green Tips. Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

A Voter Guide for the November Election

It is more important than ever to vote this election day. Voting is one of the most efficient ways to support the environment by supporting candidates who have strong the environmental records or have prioritized the environment throughout their campaign. Here we have a guide for how to vote in the upcoming election on November 8th. 

The deadline to register to vote in the general election is October 14th, and you can find information on how to register to vote here. Even if you are not registered under a particular party, you are still able to vote in the general election. Make sure you are registered and all set to go on November 8th! 

Vote early for this primary election between October 29th-November 6th! If you vote early you can skip long lines on election day, and can get voting out of the way! Detailed information on how to vote early is listed here, on the website Vote Early NY. 

Absentee ballots are another option for people who will be out of their county on election day, or who are worried about the transmission of infectious diseases such as Covid-19. For those who are planning to vote via absentee ballot, the deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail is October 24th. You can request an absentee ballot in person at your local Board of Elections until November 7th. In order for ballots to be valid they need to be dropped off at your local Board of Elections or your polling site by November 8th at latest, or postmarked by November 8th if mailed in. If you plan on requesting an absentee ballot, please note that voters who have requested an absentee ballot will no longer be able to vote with a polling machine on Election Day, but they will still be able to vote in person using an Affidavit ballot at their polling place. More information on how to vote via absentee ballot is available here, or on the New York Board of Elections website. 

Another thing to note for this election is the propositions to vote on on the back of the ballot. This year there is one Statewide Ballot Proposal to vote on, but there may be local proposals on your ballot based on where you’re area. Make sure you are aware of each proposition that will be on the ballot ahead of going to vote! 

If you plan to vote in person on election day, check to see if your polling place has changed using this website, and set a reminder for yourself to vote on the 8th! 

Use this link to find a list of candidates endorsed by the New York League of Conservation Voters, and happy voting!

Green Tips: Eco Friendly Halloween

Halloween is right around the corner, and as you decide how you would like to celebrate, we wanted to remind you not to forget about the environment! Check out our tips below for easy, cheap, and fun ways to lower your eco footprint this spooky season! 

Costumes:

  • Buy a costume made from eco-friendly materials. Many store-bought costumes are often made of non-recyclable petrochemical-based plastic and synthetic fibers or contain flame-resistant chemicals. Those Halloween costumes can include one of the scariest plastics – polyvinyl chloride (PVC) – a soft plastic and known carcinogen that releases harmful toxins. Avoid these toxic Halloween costumes and opt for a green costume made of natural fabrics and materials. Some examples include hemp, linen, organic cotton, soy cashmere/silk, and wool. 
  • Buy second-hand. Thrift stores are great places for costume inspiration! Consignment shops sell previously loved Halloween costumes in all sizes. Buying second hand is a fabulous way to keep clothing out of landfills and it also saves money and supports local charities, like the Salvation Army. 
  • Make your own costume. Instead of buying costumes that you may never wear again, try making your own costume. See what you can put together from what you already have in your closet. Using your own clothes reduces waste and can result in super creative costumes. Read about some ideas here or here.
  • Donate your Halloween costume. After you are finished with your Halloween costume, you could donate it to a charitable organization as opposed to throwing it out in the trash after only one use.

 

Halloween Parties:

  • Green your Halloween party. Halloween parties across the U.S. generate tons of avoidable waste through plastic cutlery, cups, and plates. You could use regular plates during your party, or you could buy biodegradable ones. Another fun idea is to use candles instead of lights at your party. This will create a spooky atmosphere, as well as save electricity. Remember to always keep an eye on your candles and never leave them unattended! 

 

Trick or Treating:

  • Green the candy giveaway. When giving out candy, use treats or candy with the least amount of packaging, or you could use the treats or candy that contain recycled packaging. You could also use eco-friendly candy to hand out to trick-or-treaters, which can be found at local organic grocery or food stores. 
  • Green Trick or Treating. Stop using plastic materials to collect candy. Instead, use a reusable bag already in the house, or consider using a pillowcase while trick-or-treating. Another tip for green trick-or-treating is to walk around while trick-or-treating as opposed to driving from house to house.

 

Pumpkins:

  • Better use of your holiday pumpkins. It’s not too late to buy pumpkins! Try utilizing your local farmer markets when picking a pumpkin this year. Instead of throwing out your pumpkin once Halloween is over, roast the seeds from your pumpkin or make pumpkin pie to create delicious food!
  • Composting/Recycling. If you are going to get rid of your pumpkin after the season, don’t toss your Halloween pumpkin in the garbage – compost it!

 

We hope you enjoyed this week’s green tips and have a safe and happy Halloween!

An Electrifying Week for New York

Did you hear that? We didn’t think so. It was the hushed sound of hundreds of electric cars, buses, boats, and even lawn equipment out in full force across New York for National Drive Electric Week, a yearly campaign to raise awareness of the many benefits of all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. 

In Drive Electric Week events in Buffalo, Schenectady, and Bedford, the NYLCV was on hand educating the public about electric vehicle incentives and green energy resources, meeting with elected officials, and talking about the progress that has been made and the work left to be done in order to electrify New York’s transportation sector. There were test drives, charging stations, e-scooters, e-bikes, e-backhoes and other electric transportation in action. There were games, prizes, music, and an energy that suggested the EV movement is here to stay.

“It is no longer a question of if we make the transition to electric vehicles, but when,” said NYLCV President Julie Tighe addressing a crowd in Buffalo. New York has made big investments in charging infrastructure–there are now around 2000 public charging stations in New York State, with many more on the way. Then there are the EVolve NY fast-charging stations, where any electric vehicle can charge up in as little as 20 minutes.” 

The NYLCV also took the opportunity to highlight the inroads the state legislature made in the 2022 legislative session, including the requirement that all new school bus purchases must be zero-emission starting in 2027 and all school buses statewide must be 100% zero-emission by 2035.

Then on Thursday, like a bolt of lightning, game-changing news struck when Governor Kathy Hochul announced she would be directing the State Department of Environmental Conservation to take major regulatory action that will require all new passenger cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs sold in New York State to be zero emissions by 2035. This is a crucial regulatory step to achieving significant greenhouse gas emission reductions from the transportation sector and is complemented by new and ongoing investments, including on electric vehicle infrastructure and zero-emission vehicle incentives. It came on the heels of Governor Hochul’s announcement that more than 100 Evolve NY high-speed chargers have been installed across the state.

In her remarks, Tighe noted that there was work to be done before the Electric Vehicle market can truly take off. “While the infrastructure is being put in place, and while the private sector is beginning to see the writing on the wall, we need to do more,” said Tighe. “The market needs to open up further, and to do this we must allow direct-to-consumer sales of Electric Vehicles–it’s a policy that unites environmental, consumer, and free-market interests and is shown to be instrumental in increasing sales at no cost to the taxpayer.”

How to Stay Cool – Sustainably

New York is experiencing one of its hottest summers on record. Even though we’re a month away from the Fall season, temperatures have continuously reached almost 100° in some parts of the State. We can attribute the recent scorching summers to climate change and the damage human impact has had on the environment. While an extremely hot day is not only unpleasant, it can be dangerous to human health. It is important to stay cool and take care of yourself and your loved ones on extremely hot days.  

 

There a number of things you can do to stay cool during the last few weeks of summer, while keeping your eco-footprint in mind. Below are some suggestions on how to stay cool while minimizing your impact on the environment:

 

  1. As the temperature falls overnight, try keeping cool by opening windows instead of using your AC unit. ACs are crucial during summer especially if you’re in a warmer part of the state like New York City. However, mass use of ACs can significantly strain the electrical grid and cause power outages which can be very dangerous in hot climates especially for vulnerable communities. 
  2. You can also opt for using a fan instead of turning on your AC. To enhance the cooling power of the fan, you can place a wet towel or bucket of water in front of the fan. 
  3. Unplug your appliances when they’re not in use. Make sure to unplug everything you’re not using during the day or while you sleep to lower your energy usage. Not only will this help with grid capacity, but will also lower your electric bill- a win-win! 
  4. Take advantage of green spaces in or around your neighborhood. Green spaces often provide shade and are able to absorb heat, leading to cooler temperatures than areas without green space. Check out this article about how green spaces can help with cooling temperatures. 
  5. Another thing you can do is place your houseplants in front of windows that get a lot of sun to absorb some of the solar energy. *Disclaimer, before you put your plants in front of your windows to absorb sunlight, make sure their species are able to do so without harming the plant itself. 

As we continue to experience scorching summers, it is crucial that we make changes in our everyday lives to lessen our impact on the environment. Doing so can stabalize summer temperatures and reduce the risk of heat waves and extreme storms. 

 

We hope you found this week’s green tips useful.  Stay cool! 

 

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