Washington(GGM) Analysis | March 19, 2021 byNoreen Wise
With thecircular economynow in full swing outside the United States, it becomes that much more clear just how many everyday items cannot be recycled. The reality is alarming. We’ll never reach zero waste unless we find innovative solutions to meet this imperative.
Further, even the plastics that can be recycled, often aren’t. Many items become litter or are tossed in a landfill. It takes 450 years for plastic bottles to decompose and 50 years for tin cans. Plastics breakdown into microplastics, which, unbelievably, land in our food supply as a result of their microscopic size slipping through water filters. On average, we humans eat 100 bits of microplastic with every meal. Microplastics cause toxicity that negatively impacts our life history.
Recycling existing plastic is highly beneficial. But, the following is a list of common plastic packaging/ additional items that cannot be recycled:
plastic single use shopping bags
plastic film wrap
frozen food bags (nearly all vegetables are sold in non-recyclable bags)
cereal box liner
granola bar, candy bar and nearly all snack items wrappers
any plastic containers that can’t be cleaned, ie toothpaste tubes
The heart of the matter. After a year of Covid and staying home, who’s pumped to go out and live? Surely, the vast majority of us are. So, let’s factor the health impact of plastic into our decision making, for surely it will have health consequences. We must be more cognizant of all the plastic we consume.
Loop, Returnity and Share Pack – companies that enable consumers to conveniently return packaging either by dropping off at targeted locations, or sending back in company provided totes
Plant based packaging – plastics made from plants
Edible packaging – typically this is seaweed, hopefully they’ll soon find additional alternatives
Plantable packaging – contains seeds so the packaging can be planted after use
Compostable plastic alternatives
Minimal packaging design
Upcycled or recycled packaging
What you can do about this. Consumers have the power to change the world by how we shop. Sustainable packaging solutions are here. All we need to do is grow the demand by purchasing the products and posting about it through social media. We must be motivated to seek out the brands packaged in recyclable material such as paper and thin cardboard, and use our wallets to influence corporations like Heinz and Coke to invest in overhauling their plastic packaging or lose their customers. If we all refuseto buy particular brands because of the packaging, corporations will make the change.
Laundry detergent sheets wrapped in paper instead of the big plastic jugs
Washington(GGM) Analysis | March 5, 2021 by Pamela Scaiff (Canadian)
When was the last time you reached for a paper towel to clean up a mess? Has COVID got you using more? How much do you pay for paper towels each week? Each month? Each year? Or in a lifetime? Do the personal finance math and then the ecological math and you may find yourself questioning whether paper towels really add quality to your life! Did you know that Americans use more paper towels per capita daily than either of their neighbours?!
My daughters, 29 and 26 years old, never had their gorgeous baby faces wiped with paper towels, their spilled milk mopped up with paper towels, or their bedroom windows cleaned with paper towels. In 2021, they never think to buy paper towels for their own homes. Oh, the power of motherhood to plant sustainable living habits into future generations! Muahahahahahaaa!!!
I think I am a bit weird, but I find the commercials for paper towels as morbidly fascinating as zombie shows. Just as I wonder how zombies can keep walking when they have no blood circulating to keep the muscles working, I wonder how come people reach for paper towels when they can use a kitchen cloth to wipe up a mess?
The heart of the matter. In order to wipe dirty faces, mop up messes, and sop up bacon grease, Americans use 8.5 million trees per year plus 144.5 million gallons of water per year, to manufacture the paper towels they consume, according to The University of Minnesota, the EPA, and Statista. Add this loss of natural resources to the consumption of fossil fuels used to make paper towels, wrap them in plastic, and transport them to the local store might give some folks pause for thought. Is this use of resources worth it when there are easy, cheaper alternatives?
Back in the 1980’s, paper was already an environmental issue, so my husband and I decided to kick some paper habits out of our lives. The easiest was paper towels. Heck, we could save money and the environment! A win-win, as far as we were concerned!
We had a stack of rags and made more from old towels and shirts.
Peter, the fastidious window cleaner, felt that paper towels were still the best for not leaving streaks on windows and mirrors. That was then. I used to clean the windows with rags and then polish them with newspapers as the ink really made the glass shine! Ok, so who am I kidding… I probably only did this once as Peter was passionate about clean windows so this chore rarely fell to me. Now, microfiber cloths work as well as paper towels. And now that Peter and I are friends, not husband and wife, I have to clean my own darned windows!
Sometimes, I wistfully dream of paper towels when cooking bacon, but less so now that my daughter’s boyfriend introduced me to baking bacon and letting the fat drip away! I have a special cotton tea towel that I have been using as my bacon degreaser for years, but washing it was annoying… so baked bacon it is! (And yes, not cooking bacon at all would be the better decision… one transition I have yet to make.)
Window cleaning and bacon degreasing used to be the only two tasks when paper towels seemed better than rags; today, microfibre cloths and baking are better than paper towels.
You might wonder what to do with the paper towel alternatives. Under my bathroom sink, I have a bowl for dirty rags, hankies, and dinner napkins which makes about a quarter laundry load each week. They get washed, usually with towels on a hot wash. By washing rags, I have one less kitchen bag of trash going to the curb each week.
My rags take up less space than a two-roll pack of paper towels. My garbage bins are lighter. My purse is heavier. My house is just as clean!
Buy only paper towels made from recycled paper as at least you will save trees.
Bamboo paper towels are reusable and cost effective but they are transformed into rayon through a toxic process and are not compostable once they become rayon. So although they are an alternative, be aware of this eco-trap.
Reduce the number of paper towels you buy.
Notice when you use paper towels. What else is nearby that you can grab to wipe up that mess? Becoming aware of our habits is the most important step in any transition.
Start stockpiling rags made from old clothes.
Purchase some good quality microfibre cloths and learn to take care of them.
Feel good about reducing your paper towel consumption and share that feeling with your friends and neighbours! It is in the discussions that seeds of change are planted.
The environmental effects of paper production include deforestation, the use of enormous amounts of energy and water as well as air pollution and waste problems. Paper accounts for around 26% of total waste at landfills.
Spending the past nine months in Canada during Covid, all in on sustainability immersion, taught me a lot. In fact, I’ve completely reinvented myself in such a short period of time. The most startling aspect of my metamorphosis was understanding how easy it is to live sustainably when everyone in a given community is doing so. Stronger together. My bud, Canadian sustainability guru Pamela Scaiff, is the master of sustainability and has been my supreme guide for the past four months. I’m thrilled that she agreed to share her wisdom with all of us.
The heart of the matter. The Guardian reported back in 2015, that adopting to the circular economy lifestyle of refuse-reduce-reuse-upcycle-recycle-rot (a few more buzz words will be added soon, I’m sure) will reduce carbon emissions by 71 percent by the year 2030. This seems absolutely mind-blowing after a year of intense, sustained wildfires, horrific freeze-outs in warm weather states, and endless flooding up and down the East Coast. Seeing 71 percent cut in carbon emissions in black and white a few years ago, published on a highly regarded news site, stopped me in my tracks and inspired me to jump into this new world.
How do we all transition to a sustainable life? Pamela Scaiff shares her notes so we can follow along the same simple and easy trail of transformation.
PAMELA SCAIFF: Somewhere along the way, I transitioned from Eco Warrior to just me getting on with life and loving it. I have spent the last 35 years transitioning to sustainable living… a fancy phrase that means that my family and I have been developing habits that have reduced our contribution to pollution.
Cleaning windows with paper towels to using rags and newspapers.
Blowing my nose with paper tissues to using handkerchiefs.
Drying my clothes in the dryer to hanging them up to dry.
Cleaning with a variety of chemicals to cleaning with vinegar, baking soda, and murphy’s oil.
Buying food to growing some of it.
Not noticing packaging to reducing the packaging I buy.
Buying plastic bags to using reusable bags.
Buying plastic reusable bags to buying natural fibre reusable bags.
Pulling weeds to cultivating them.
Putting out a full bin of recycling garbage to celebrating when there was nothing to put out!
Using disposable menstrual products to discovering the joy of the Diva cup… and then hitting menopause!
Buying strawberries all year long to enjoying them seasonally.
Housing a food morgue, otherwise known as my freezer, to managing the contents so they got used.
Combing through malls to abandoning them for the consignment and second hand shops so I could get better clothes!
Buying stuff to sharing stuff.
Buying stuff to trading stuff.
Buying food wrapped in plastic to making the bread, yogourt, and cottage cheese from scratch just to avoid the garbage.
Wrapping gifts in gift paper to presenting them in pretty scarves.
Buying gifts of stuff to giving experiences.
Using my dollars for products that were designed for the dump to participating in the closed loop economy.
Drinking coffee in a disposable cup to bringing my own cup to the coffee shop.
Loving a huge mug of tea to savouring a small cup of a fine brew.
Buying Easter chocolate rabbits to making them — to reduce the impact on the environment.
Thinking about buying disposable diapers to choosing cloth instead.
Tripping over too many plastic bottles in the shower to eliminating plastic in the shower.
Hating garbage day to celebrating it.
Dealing with kids who were anxious about the future to watching kids embrace transition to sustainable living.
Composting in my garden to vermicomposting in the house.
Buying all my plants at a garden centre to sourcing them from a variety of people… and seeds.
Looking at my black thumb to wondering how it became green.
But the biggest transition was realizing that each little thing I changed along this journey of 35 years, eventually faded into the background and just became a habit that I no longer think about. Each little habit took effort and mindfulness and commitment at first. Then, without me noticing, there was no excitement or discipline to continue. I just do things differently because I have been doing them for years, now. Not every transition has been sustained or successful. However, most have! My most important take-away is that perfection is not the goal. Everyone transitions differently.
My family embraced transition, but one day I was told: Mum, if you dare transition away from toilet paper, you will have gone too far. (Secretly this is a plan for the future, but for now, don’t tell them.)
Remember learning to ride a bike? Do you remember how much you wanted to do it but you fell off and got lots of bruises? And how about the adrenalin of pedalling like a maniac and not falling off for the first time? Oh, and hopping on the bike to go to school or go see friends because it was easier than walking? At some point, riding a bike just became something you did naturally.
Transitioning to sustainable living is like learning to ride a bike — it takes work and boy is the adrenalin rush fun! Eventually, each little habit will feel as natural as riding a bike.
Thank you, Pamela! That was excellent. We look forward to learning more of your secrets so we can Build Back Better and reach the targeted 71 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2030.
Pick one or two easy daily habits to begin with to build your confidence in how easy sustainable living is.
Refusing paper towels is one of the suer quick transitions. You can save a lot of money. One roll of bamboo lasts a year.
Saving kitchen scraps in compost bins is also a simple way to become an overachiever and feel great about sustainable life.
Gifts wrapped in scarfs is another basic that saves so much money, you feel incentivized to transition quickly.
Be sure to pass along Pamela’s tips to your neighborhood friends. When you’re surrounded by others doing the same thing, it creates positive, forceful energy that gets you from point A to B that much faster.
Be sure to check back each Thursday for more on how to Build Back Better with sustainable living.
Wildfires are unpredictable, destructive, and, in recent times, more common. Among their many victims is the soil. Soil forms the foundation of our food chain, and so is of primary importance. Cristina Santin and Stefan H. Doerr conjure up a graphic image for us: Soil is the “living, breathing skin of the Earth.” It’s an image to keep in mind when considering how the land recovers from a fire.
What’s the heart of the matter? According to Santin and Doerr, fires affect soil in different ways, depending primarily on the temperature of the fire. At lower temperatures, fire reduces the microbial biomass that releases carbon dioxide and plant nutrients into the soil. It destroys seed banks and fine roots. At higher temperatures, the chemicals in the soil, like the pH, change. This impacts the stability of the soil and its ability to absorb water. All of these lead to the increased likelihood of soil erosion.
As often happens, a storm comes on the heels of a fire, dramatically increasing the danger of mudslides and debris flows. Even months after the fire, burn-scarred areas are threatened. Big Sur, experienced this recently as a portion of scenic Highway 1 near a burn-scar was washed out after a torrential rainstorm. While there are some benefits to natural soil erosion (adding essential nutrients to streams and rivers) with the advent of climate change and its extreme weather events, soil erosion has become a problem. Crops suffer as the nutrient-rich topsoil gets washed away, leaving exposed bare mineral soil that water cannot penetrate. This means less carbon for plants and less carbon stored. Fires also create the opportunity for aggressive invasive species to take root, harming native plants and causing soil damage.
How does this impact you? This issue affects our farmers more than any other population, and thus our food supply. The fields that grow our food are essential to our survival. Additionally, millions of tons of stored soil carbon are released during a wildfire. We simultaneously lose billions of trees that store carbon, creating a devastating long term effect. The path to restoring both the soil and the trees begins with soil health recovery. We need to take immediate action to prevent excessive soil erosion resulting from raging wildfires and devastating storms. Many universities and governmental agencies have joined in the effort, conducting research, reestablishing habitats, and keeping the public informed. But restoring the soil takes time, maybe even years. Throughout history, maintaining our food supply has been paramount. In modern times, we must also work to protect our resources. Restoring natural habitats strengthens the soil, allowing it to absorb and store carbon, a critical step toward meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
What can you do to help? If you’ve been affected by fires and soil erosion, there are a multitude of resources available to help you recover and restore your environment, a few are listed below. Fortunately, revegetation may occur naturally after the fire. However, it is important to protect the soil as quickly as possible after a wildfire. The Forest Service has a few tips:
Mulch to establish ground cover to reduce the risk of soil erosion.
Build back the soil structure by reseeding native grasses to hold the soil in place and add nutrients and carbon back into the soil.
Create barriers with straw wattles, sandbags, silt fences, or straw bale check dams to prevent further erosion.
Avoid introducing non-native species which damage the soil and harm native plants.
Continued vigilance is required to prevent aggressive invasive species from taking over after a fire. According to the National Forest Foundation, they will continue to be a threat until native plants, trees, and shrubs are established.
Take preventative steps to protect your soil from eroding.
Add groundcover to secure and improve the soil.
Plant diverse native species of plants, trees, and shrubs.
Work with local organizations to add native trees, plants and shrubs to public spaces.
Pay attention to changes being made in your area, and make your voice heard.
Big Sur just lost a section of its famous coast-hugging highway, and it’s not the first time. The super-scenic roadway boasts magnificent views of giant Redwoods to the east and bluest of blue Pacific Ocean to the west. Drivers struggle to keep eyes on the road as the jaw-dropping views captivate their passengers. Being perilously close to the edge of the continent, though, has its dangers. Two recent catastrophic breaks in the road resulted in sections of the highway plunging into the Pacific, hundreds of yards below. Scientists and residents are finding connections between climate change and the damage done to their beloved two-lane road.
What’s the heart of the matter? The beginning of this story is the summer of 2020, when the Dolan Fire burned over 125,000 acres just east of Big Sur. Burn scars near the area can still be seen. Stripping the area of forests, shrubs and ground cover, the fire left the area vulnerable to soil erosion. Add into the mix a fierce rainstorm which dropped 16 inches of rain in the area. The catastrophic destruction of a 150-foot section of Highway 1, near Big Sur on January 28, 2021 was anticipated by officials. Acting out of caution and no doubt previous experience, Cal-Trans spokesperson Jim Shivers noted that 40 miles of the highway had already been closed in anticipation of mudslides near the burn scar.
How does this impact you? We have cause for concern. A “slip-out,” the Los Angeles Times noted, happens when the soil surrounding the road is so full of water that the force of gravity wins and the road falls down the cliff. The “atmospheric river” that triggered this most recent slip-out was basically a moving column of water vapor that brought extraordinary amounts of rain to the coast. According to the Guardian, the amount of rain that dumped on the central coast last week was double the amount the area had, on average, all month.
Place the massive rain event in a burn scarred area, as this one was, and the road had no chance. In burn areas, heavy rainfall causes debris flows that rip up vegetation, choke pipes, and chase people from their homes. There are long-term consequences, as well. Post-fire landslides are a danger for years after the fire. And according to the U.S. Geological Survey, debris flows that happen over a longer period of time result in root decay and loss of soil strength. The soil has little chance of recovery between weather emergencies.
This recent Big Sur slip-out demonstrates the tragic but logical chain of events that resulted in the highway crashing into the sea:
In recent years Californians have seen more evidence of climate change. As high winds and dry vegetation become more common, firefighters can expect to be called into action in any season of the year. Aggravating the situation, some sources, such as Jay Lund writing in the “California WaterBlog,” predict a multi-year drought for the state in the near future. Any one of these events, by itself, poses serious threats. Taken together, they point to the need to act now.
What can you do to help? Climate change affects all of us. You’ve no doubt experienced surprisingly destructive wind, rain, tornadoes, or hurricanes. Snow storms in May. Rising water levels. We know the signs. With science back in fashion, one thing you can do is advocate for change. Stay informed about legislation you can support at the local, state and national levels. Communicate your support for climate change policies. And, as always, remain committed to making a difference by living and modeling a sustainable lifestyle.
If you live in a fire-prone area, remove dry brush that fuels fire
Foster lush native trees, plants, and undercover to anchor the soil
Connect with neighbors and friends about ways to slow climate change
Volunteer with a local organization working for change
What can be done about climate change? A lot! Many of us are busy making significant changes in our everyday habits to become more sustainable and lower our carbon footprints. However, there are a few tricks that have yet to be applied on a grand scale, and now’s the time.If you compost, you are part of a growing wave of people concerned about soil health. Because soil stores a significant amount of carbon, keeping it there is vital in the fight against climate change. This is especially significant in agriculture, with its vast acreage. Soil, not to be confused with dirt, is an ecosystem in itself, with millions of microbes and insects which are responsible for plant growth. Maintaining a natural, undisturbed balance in the soil’s ecosystem leads to a higher level of carbon storage as well as strong, healthy crops. “No-till” farms help make this happen. They are an arrow in our quiver of weapons to fight climate change.
What’s the heart of the matter? Tilling the soil began thousands of years ago, with the invention of the plow. While many iterations of the basic plow emerged over the centuries, the technique’s harmful consequences have only recently become common knowledge. Tilling the soil disrupts its natural covering, leaving it more susceptible to erosion by wind and water. It releases carbon into the air and kills the really important microbes and insects in the soil’s ecosystem. The good news is that no-till farming avoids these damaging outcomes. It’s a technique being used by conservationist farmers doing their part to cultivate healthy, carbon-rich soil.
Great civilizations such as Greece and China suffered the consequences of soil erosion due to poor soil cultivation. In ancient Greece, it has been found that soil erosion increased dangerously only after the introduction of the plow. In ancient China, it was deforestation that led to the flooding of vast swaths of land and tragic consequences for towns and villages. Time and again, despite attempts to curb soil erosion by terracing and contour plowing, societies’ destructive practices slowed or stopped crop production. Societies were weakened and left vulnerable to invasions. Growing populations were forced to migrate to new lands. Civilizations collapsed, directly or indirectly, from poor soil management.
The human impact on soil has a long, destructive history, and not much has changed. In recent history, an entire industry developed around artificially improving depleted soil. Using a variety of chemicals on soil across the agricultural fields of the U.S. and beyond “led to an unprecedented increase in food production, but also contributed to global warming and the pollution of aquifers, rivers, lakes, and coastal ecosystems.” And so, the rise of the no-till movement.
How does no-till farming help you? It’s clear that not plowing the soil has impressive advantages for the health of our planet. In addition, no-till farming practices benefit the farmer as well. No-till farms:
leave stored carbon in place, where it can do its job in the soil ecosystem.
preserve the soil cover, allowing water to permeate the soil and reducing erosion.
diminish the amount of pollution streaming into nearby rivers and lakes because of improved absorption.
create a healthy soil ecosystem that grows stronger over time to produce healthy crops and prevent disease.
decrease the need to irrigate because water evaporates more slowly from an untilled field.
What can you do to help keep carbon in the soil? In the past 300 years, we’ve degraded our soil by 50%. Something must be done to reverse the trend. While no-till farming practices will not solve all of our climate issues, they can make a difference. For farmers with lots of acres or just one, consider making the change to no-till farming. Check out the resources to learn more. (Some are listed below.) You might not be a farmer, so what can you do? Educate yourself further about no-till farming practices. Be an expert who influences others; engaging in conversations is the beginning of change! Locate and support local farmers who practice no-till farming, and share the contact information with your neighbors. In the meantime, continue your day-to-day sustainability practices like composting, recycling, and upcycling. We are all in this together, and it will take all of us to make a positive change.
Learn more about no-till farming practices.
Support your local no-till farm.
Use no-till practices in your yard.
Reduce your carbon emissions by walking or biking.
Saving a forest is big news these days, and just what we need to energize us. Each day, we practice sustainable living – reusing, reducing, recycling, upcycling. Every bit helps ward off climate change. So when IKEA buys a gigantic forest, saving it from development, and promises to manage it sustainably, we have reason to celebrate. We have a partner that values the science behind climate change and is willing to invest in the future. IKEA’s recent purchase of 10,680 acres of Georgia forest, and its commitment to maintain it responsibly, lend hope to all the eco-warriors out there fighting the good fight.
What it’s all about?
The Altahama River Basin, home to IKEA’s new forest, holds the largest free-flowing river on the East Coast, according to the Georgia River Network. IKEA’s purchase secures the future of a native longleaf pine forest and the threatened gopher tortoise. Once covering 90 million acres, the longleaf pine forest has been diminished to a mere 4% of its original size, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Development and agriculture are two of the reasons for the decline. The Ingka Group, IKEA’s parent company, bought the 10,680 acre forest from the Conservation Fund, which is famous for buying and protecting large swaths of working forests. (So far, the non-profit has saved more than eight million acres of land in the U.S.) The land purchased by IKEA is subject to the Conservation Fund guidelines that preserve and protect the land. According to the agreement, IKEA promised to
keep the land intact (no selling off parcels for development).
restore and preserve native species (like the longleaf pine and the gopher tortoise).
grant public access to the land for hiking.
Why is this significant?
Buying forests isn’t new for IKEA. It’s built into their Swedish DNA: more than half of Sweden is covered in forests. Ingka Group owns roughly 613,000 acres of forest in Europe and the U.S., including Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, and Georgia. It makes sense – right? . . . a furniture company investing in a resource vital to its economic success. What makes this different is that while IKEA plans to use sustainably-sourced wood from the forest, it has vowed to do so responsibly. The company is legally bound to manage the land according to strict, eco-friendly guidelines, but it’s also part of their long term business plan. Striving to be a sustainability leader in the world, IKEA set a goal to be “climate positive” by 2030. They are actively pursuing this goal by switching to electric delivery vehicles and building a circular economy in which used furniture is returned for repair and reuse. The values espoused by the Ingka Group (found on its website) support their mission:
Caring for people and planet
Renew and improve
Different with a meaning
Give and take responsibility
Lead by example
IKEA’s commitment to environmental leadership sets a standard for corporations worldwide. Its care for the forest and surrounding habitat, together with its savvy business plan, make IKEA a model for other companies. Working together with organizations such as the Conservancy Fund, companies large and small can follow the path IKEA has ventured out on.
The planet is the ultimate beneficiary. The forest will continue to thrive as a natural habitat for the longleaf pine, the gopher tortoise, and the more than 350 plant and wildlife species that live there. Hikers and naturalists will breathe in the fresh scent of the pine trees and try to spot a gopher tortoise. In the long run, all of us benefit as the forest works its magic to mitigate climate change.
What else can we do?
Having a big, impressive leader doesn’t let us off the hook. Every person can contribute to the fight against climate change. Knowing there are companies like IKEA working for change, we might be motivated to add our voices to the mix. Being knowledgeable about climate issues and active in the local community, each of us can make a difference.
Support companies working toward sustainability
Up your game on reducing, reusing, recycling and upcycling
Stay informed about positive changes being made in your area
Join one of the many organizations that are planting trees and promoting sustainability
Some people fall easily into the “dog people” category, some into the “cat people” one. If you are not either of those, you may be a “worm person.” Even if you love dogs and cats, you might be surprised to discover the advantages of worms for your lifestyle and your garden. Though not cuddly, worms make great pets. They don’t smell, they are clean, and they don’t have to be fed every day (or even every week). Worms don’t disturb the neighbours. They have a symbiotic relationship with insects. Worms don’t need pet sitters when you go away for a month. Even if you don’t need a new pet, the advantages of worms are worth investigating.
Friend or Slimy Bug?
According to Pamela Scaiff, a Canadian sustainability expert, worms are both the perfect pets and partners in growing an eco-friendly garden. Pamela, who’s been living a sustainable life since 2010, recognizes the value and fun of raising worms. (She calls her worms Bruce, after the “Monty Python” philosophers sketch where all the professors are called Bruce.) Worms are a natural way to fertilize plants and aerate the soil without harming the ecosystem. Because living sustainably, in harmony with nature, is our goal, worms are the way to go.
What are the benefits of worms?
The principle advantage of worms is the natural fertilizer created by worm castings. Pamela calls this “the uppity word for worm poop.” This “black gold” yields nutrients that create strong and healthy plants and provides a viable alternative to harmful chemicals. At the same time, worms aerate the soil, allowing the roots of your plants to easily absorb the nutrients necessary for healthy growth. A secondary advantage, according to Pamela, is that worms are fascinating. From starting the bin, to adding the worms, to harvesting the casings, the journey is engaging and fruitful.
Check out worms’ other benefits:
Increased soil nutrition from worm castings rich in nitrogen and adding four times the phosphorous that’s normally found in soil
Improved drainage and water storage, helping alleviate drought and extreme heat conditions
Water infiltrates the soil more easily
Plant roots often descend lower and reach more water and nutrients
Improved soil structure
How can I get started? Following simple guidelines will help you create and maintain healthy worm bins. Pamela began with a very small collection of Red Wiggler worms and worm cocoons and has had great success. She created an expert list of steps to get you started:
•Location. First, decide where you are going to keep the bin – indoors or out. If you live in a cold environment, indoors is best. (Be selective about what you add to it, though, to avoid odors.)
•The Container. Get a ratty old Rubbermaid tote — not the big kind, but the smaller one. Red Wigglers are surface dwellers, which means they are happiest just below the surface, not down deep. Drill air and drainage holes all over the tote, including the lid. (Pamela’s worms don’t escape because they don’t like light and also her bin is not toxic – so far).
The Habitat Ingredients. Pamela recommends the following generally agreed upon ingredients for your bin:
•Browns: To keep your bin balanced, absorb liquid, and cool, you need bedding (carbon). Pamela uses shredded newspaper, egg cartons, coconut coir, manure, and more.
•Greens: Add food scraps (they don’t have to be green). But be mindful about what you use. Brassicas like broccoli and kale cause odors. Acidic food such as onions and citrus upset the worms.
•Grit: Grit helps worms digest. Some (but not all) possibilities include sand, used coffee grounds (no longer acidic), and ground eggshells (they can’t use the shells otherwise.)
•Water: Pamela advises, “Goldilocks style: too much and the bin goes anaerobic, starts to smell, and all kinds of bugs flourish. Not enough and your worm castings dry out and become useless.”
•Compost: Add a handful of compost to inject helpful bacteria into your bin and get it working.
•Worms: Many different varieties of worms will work. Pamela prefers red wigglers. Earthworms are an option, but they are not as productive as the red wigglers. They also escape more often.
Feeding your Worms
Pamela feeds her worms 2 – 4 times a month, and only when there is no food or almost no food left. You may need to adjust the time period as your worms grow. Be careful not to overfeed them, or it will be too much to process before it gets smelly or hot.
Here is Pamela’s formula, in her own words:
Bedding: I rip up newspaper and egg cartons.
Greens: Apparently, the worms love avocados and bananas. So, I chop up banana peels, gleefully much the brown bits of avocados… and freeze them. The freezing helps speed up the decomposition by breaking membranes. Only at this stage will the worms be able to eat them. I have added science experiments from the fridge.. mouldy berries, for example, but nothing cooked and no meat.
Grit: I mix into the food a handful of used coffee grounds and ground egg shells. I got an old coffee grinder off my local buy nothing group, so I grind shells as I collect them.
Water: This took me some time to figure out – how to feel the right amount of water. But the next day, I lift the lid. If I suddenly see lots of white bugs or worms climbing the sides, I keep the lid off and let it air out. I often have a large piece of paper over the castings.
More Worm Wisdom
To fluff or not to fluff – there is some debate. Pamela fluffs her bin about once a month. Not only because it is fun, but also because it allows her to see if the bin is too wet or too dry and to check for uneaten food and changes in the population.
Don’t worry about the worms overpopulating. According to Pamela, worms self-regulate. They stop reproducing if there are too many of them, if it’s too dry or too wet, or if there is not enough food. If the conditions are right, they can double their population in 60 days.
You might notice other bugs in your bin. Don’t overthink this! A healthy bin is an entire ecosystem. Pamela explains, “The worms need other bugs that are also decomposers to start the process. Basically, the other bugs and bacteria are food processors for worms.” Pamela was vigilant in identifying the bugs, so as to avoid a bug problem in the house, but, in the end, they were all so happy that they got to stay!
You may wonder how to harvest the castings without losing the worms. Pamela has two suggestions: Feed only one side of the bin for a month; the worms will all migrate to that side. Alternatively, put a basket in the middle and only place the food there; the worms will hang out with the food while you gather the castings. Be careful! Castings and cocoons look remarkably alike.
Have fun setting up your bin.
Buy, find, or trade for worms.
Dump the worms on top of the habitat and watch them immediately start burrowing.
Watch your worms grow.
Harvest the “black gold” add to your plants – indoors or outside.
Sustainable farming methods form one of many paths toward reversing climate change. Through informed decision-making and perseverance, every person can increase their sustainability factor and make a positive change for the planet. Shrinking our collective carbon footprint begins with each individual making conscious choices to achieve balance and harmony with the planet. Elevated beds for growing fruits and vegetables is one step in this direction.
Why Elevated Beds?
According to sustainability expert Stephen Santangelo, there are vast benefits to this type of farming. Stephen relies on science-based resources to inform his decisions as he creates rich, healthy soil that increases the nutrients in his crops and adds beneficial carbon to nature. These advantages might spur you on to switch to elevated bed farming, especially if you are growing food for family sustainability rather than monoculture development.
According to Stephen, advantages include:
Promoting beneficial bacteria & fungi for rapid microbiotic growth
Developing plant hormones & enzymes
Cover crop specificity
Mulching for nitrogen/carbon ratio
Wondering where to start?
The research Stephen has conducted and his experience are valuable to those who want to follow his lead into the world of raised bed farming. When Stephen and his wife, Lori, began farming as a lifestyle choice, like most of us, they planted straight into the ground. They soon discovered that the clay earth and slate in the soil was not favorable for producing a wide variety of crops or providing high nutritional values. Stephen explains that clay locks up many of the needed minerals essential for productive crops. This interferes with beneficial bacteria and fungi from doing their jobs.
In raised bed gardens, you can solve this problem by using healthy soil. Stephen explains, “In just one gram of the best garden soil are millions of living and vibrant organisms all creating a balanced micro-cosmos.” The microbes metabolize nutrients which are then carried to the roots and fed to the fruit. If the soil contains clay and slate, water can’t be absorbed, which causes root foods to rot. Having lots of healthy microbes helps aerate the soil, fight disease, and gets rid of the need to till the soil.
Mineral balance is critical to the success of your raised bed garden. Stephen and Lori found that the soil in their geographical location lacks selenium and magnesium, both of which are needed for proper growth of plants. This creates problems for other minerals. The minerals work together to grow healthy crops. Elevated beds make it easier to achieve just the right balance of minerals. There are a range of mineral tests available for purchase. Decide if you need to know all of the minerals or just the most common ones.
pH balancing is another consideration. One of the benefits of elevated beds is that you can control the pH balance of each crop. Balancing the pH is critical to plant growth and it is also good for the soil. Stephen says it beautifully. “Soil is a living world of many intricate life forms to sustain numerous living organisms.” You can buy inexpensive pH tests to do yourself or find local resources such as agricultural extension offices or colleges.
Disease and weed control are also important factors to consider with elevated beds. Stephen warns that factors such as high humidity, rain, and extreme temperature changes increase the chances of disease. One important weapon to fight disease is having the right balance of minerals and pH. Secondly, Stephen recommends placing elevated beds far enough apart to prevent harmful bacteria and fungi from hopping from one bed to another. As organic farmers, Stephen and Lori, do not use chemicals to thwart harmful agents. Not only do chemicals kill the harmful agents, they destroy the helpful ones, as well. Organic farming practices preserve the soil and contribute to the overall health of the crops and the planet.
What difference will you make?
Your choice to engage in sustainable farming practices is a gigantic step towards shrinking your carbon footprint. Stephen and Lori have become 97-98% food sustainable through developing an awareness of soil fertility. They have set the example for us! Stephen’s insight on soil health is the foundation of sound, productive agriculture that we can all practice. A healthy global ecosystem in which thoughtful agriculture and land-use practices cool the planet, are all part of what even a single family can achieve. Using science-based research and time tested practices, we can move toward a more earth-friendly and productive approach to farming. In Stephen’s words, “Dedication and a sincere approach to farming are factors which encourage biological diversity, creating a living ecosystem for our flora and fauna to flourish in harmony.”
Balance and harmony are themes that resonate throughout the sustainable farming process. With this in mind, consider how you can add balance to your life by living even more sustainably:
Create a raised bed garden to begin producing your own food
Reduce waste by creating compost from your kitchen scraps and add it to your raised bed garden
Access scientific research (via text resources or podcasts) to increase your understanding and awareness of our carbon footprint
Share your sustainable farming practices with friends
Washington(GGM) Analysis | January 22, 2021 byNoreen Wise
It’s a brand new day, filled with so much hope. We have a new administration, expressing a multitude of positive and inspirational words of wisdom and transformative goals, as well as outlining the steps forward that will lead us toward the achievement of these goals. It all begins with each of us participating.
The importance of participation in our democratic form of government—of the people, by the people, for the people — cannot be overemphasized. It should be one of the main takeaways of the very dark, oppressive and traumatic last four years that we’ve just survived. Majority participation is what led to a successful outcome. Let’s absorb and wrap our minds around this reality. We must promise to never forget that participation is everything in a democracy as we enter these green fields of hope.
Build back better. We’ve heard this message repeatedly for the last nine months. But, how about if we do more than just build our economy back better. How about if we build our lives back better too. This means trying to regain our physical and mental footing, which will result in us being that much healthier, happier and stronger.
Gallant Gold Media’s Hill Report is very excited to announce the Sustainable Living Build Back Better Guide, a weekly article featuring tips provided by sustainable living guru, Stephen Santangelo. Stephen will share the how to’s of lowering our carbon footprints and improving our own health and happiness. It’s highly probable that Stephen’s insightful knowledge will also provide us with that many more economic opportunities. Sustainable living saves participants a lot of money.
Stephen and his wife Lori, launched into the all-in sustainable lifestyle scene by making the bold decision to relocate from Southern California to Kentucky. Stephen explained that the price of land in Kentucky for farming was that much less expensive than Southern California. In fact, the California price for the same amount of land was prohibitive.
What is sustainable living? Sustainable living is a circular economy lifestyle with a goal of zero waste that includes all the common buzzwords that flood Instagram, and other social media platforms daily. A series of small, seemingly insignificant daily choices and habits, that collectively, if we all participate, will lower carbon emissions dramatically. Additionally, these same small, daily choices will restore our environment, reduce global warming, and reverse climate change. This includes everyday decisions such as:
Reusable shopping bags
Reusable drink containers, especially when stopping at Starbucks
Composting kitchen scraps
Applying the compost to our soil
Growing our own food as much as possible, ie herbs, fruits and vegetables
Run full loads of laundry
Air dry laundry
Bamboo paper towels that can be washed and dried quickly, one roll can last an entire year
And so much more
Stephen and Lori are overachievers on many of these levels, particularly food sustainability. Stephen explains that they’ve always been health conscience and raised their children that way. They’re now 97-98 percent food sustainable, and never eat out. This is mind boggling. The photos of their gardens are an amazing example of what appears to be relatively achievable for all of us. Such an inspiration. Stephen assured me that healthy soil is a big deal and he’ll provide tips in the upcoming weeks. His farming schedule is as follows, in his own words:
From April – October, 4-12 hours per day.
From November – March, virtually none…
…the soil has been prepared and fed in late October, and the microbes do the rest.
How does this benefit you personally? Not only does sustainable living restore the environment, improve our quality of life, and lower our carbon footprints — which again, if we all participate, will dramatically reduce carbon emissions, and thus reverse climate change — Stephen enthusiastically explains that there are numerous additional personal benefits. These benefits have significantly improved Stephen and Lori’s well-being, most notably health and fitness. After suffering through a year of Covid, isn’t that what we all want? To be healthier. Thankfully, Stephen has agreed to share his wonderful health and fitness tips in the upcoming articles.
Stephen and Lori have become so connected to the earth through farming, that Stephen digs extensively into the scientific research side of things. In fact, Stephen emphasized at the very beginning, that he’s all about science, and that all of his habits and routines have been acquired through intense investigating. His scientific research list is 32 sources long. Stephen’s knowledge is so deep and broad that writing this brief pilot article was daunting.
The next steps:
Stephen advises that the very first thing we need to do is admit that we have to make lifestyle changes.
Additionally, Stephen points out that there’s science behind sustainable living lifestyle choices, especially as they pertain to farming, nature, health and exercise and it’s important that we take the time to read up and do the necessary research. Science based podcasts can be very informative as well.
Print the above sustainable living list and check off each item daily until each becomes habit.
Be sure to check back next Thursday for the next Sustainable Living Build Back Better Guide with Stephen Santangelo.