The Best Home Decor That Doesn’t Ruin The Environment

Read the full story in Fast Company.

In the fight against climate change, every action helps, especially the everyday choices you make at the cash register. A study published earlier this year in the International Journal of Environmental Policy and Decision Making found that consumers are becoming more conscious about the carbon footprint of their products they buy and use. Considering that the building industry is responsible for over 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions and on top of that there’s the carbon footprint of all the stuff you buy to fill those buildings, now’s a great time to buy products that are friendlier to the environment at some point in their lifecycle, whether its in how they’re made or how they perform.

10 smart salting tips that protect Minnesota waters

Via the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Although this is targeted toward Minnesota residents, the suggestions apply more broadly.

As Minnesota endures heavy snowfall and bitter cold temperatures, most of us will rely on a crucial tool to clear the roads and sidewalks: salt. It is estimated that we toss more than 350,000 tons of salt on the metro area roads annually.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MCPA) recommends a low-salt diet for our lakes, streams, and rivers. Rock salt, which contains chloride, is the most commonly used de-icer. But, much like table salt, rock salt’s benefits are peppered with danger. Salt helps keep our roads free from ice and safe for drivers, but can have the opposite effect on the nearby environment. Its public safety benefits come with environmental drawbacks like polluted waters and poisoned aquatic wildlife. Governor Mark Dayton has declared a Year of Water Action in Minnesota, which makes this winter an ideal time to learn more about the impact of salt on Minnesota’s lakes and streams.

How does salt get into the water?

The primary source of chloride, particularly in urban areas, is salt applied in the winter months to roads, parking lots and sidewalks. A secondary source of chloride, particularly in more rural areas, is water softeners.

The state of Minnesota has thousands of miles of roads to maintain and managing ice and snow is necessary to the safety of residents. The use of salt, primarily sodium chloride, is currently the common method for ice control during the winter. However, when snow and ice melt, the salt goes with it, washing into our lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands and groundwater.

Why does it matter?

High levels of salt can be harmful to fish and other freshwater aquatic life and can also negatively affect infrastructure, vehicles, plants, soil, pets, wildlife as well as groundwater and drinking water supplies.

Roughly 75% of Minnesotans rely on groundwater for their drinking water. The MPCA has found 30% of the shallow monitoring wells, often in urban areas, have exceeded the state standard for salt levels. As water moves from shallow to deeper aquifers, the salt contamination could penetrate our sources of drinking water.

Once in the water, chloride becomes a permanent pollutant and continues to accumulate in the environment over time. The only known method of removing chloride in groundwater and wastewater is through reverse osmosis, which can be a costly and challenging large scale treatment process.

What is happening with salt in the water?

There are currently 47 waterbodies in Minnesota that tested above the water quality standard for chloride, with 39 in the metro. An additional 39 surface waters in the metro are near the chloride standard and many others are unknown. The data show that salt concentrations are continuing to increase in both surface waters and groundwater across the state.

How can you make a difference?

How can we protect our waters, maintain safe roads in the winter and have desirable water in our homes? Currently, there are not environmentally safe, effective and inexpensive alternatives to salt. However, we can reduce salt at the source through smart salting application strategies. Smart salting will also save money as well as reduce damage to infrastructure, vehicles, plants and water supplies.

Each person contributes to the attitudes and practices that have created a high and steadily growing volume of salt to be used each year. Shifting public attitude toward more sustainable salt application is required to meet demands. You can do your part to prevent chloride pollution by following these simple tips.

Winter Safety – a few ideas to reduce salt use

  • Support local and state winter maintenance crews in their efforts to reduce their salt use.
  • Work together with local government, businesses, schools, churches and non-profits to find ways to reduce salt use in your community. Shovel. The more snow and ice you remove manually, the less salt you will have to use and the more effective it will be.
  • 15 degrees F is too cold for salt. Most salts stop working at this temperature. Use sand instead for traction, but remember that sand does not melt ice.
  • Slow down. Drive for the conditions and make sure to give plow drivers plenty of space to do their work. Consider purchasing winter (snow) tires.
  • Be patient. Just because you don’t see salt on the road doesn’t mean it hasn’t been applied. These products take time to work.
  • Apply less. More salt does not mean more melting. Use less than 4 pounds of salt per 1,000 square feet. One pound of salt is approximately a heaping 12-ounce coffee mug. Leave about a 3-inch space between granules. Consider purchasing a hand-held spreader to help y9ou apply a consistent amount.
  • Sweep up extra. If salt or sand is visible on dry pavement it is no longer doing any work and will be washed away. Use this salt or sand somewhere else or throw it away.
  • Hire a certified Smart Salting contractor, visit the MPCA website for a list of certified contractors: https://www.pca.state.mn.us/water/training
  • Watch a video. This video, produced by the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, provides tips to homeowners about more environmentally friendly snow and ice removal: Improved Winter Maintenance: Good Choices for Clean Water
  • For more information about Governor Dayton’s Year of Water Action, visit mn.gov/governor.

As Composting Gains Popularity, Cities Struggle to Meet Demand

Read the full story in Governing.

Curbside composting programs have doubled in the last five years, from around 100 communities in 2011 to at least 198 across 19 states today. Indeed, according to the U.S. Composting Council, those numbers don’t even tell the whole story. In lieu of curbside composting, dozens of municipalities have formalized drop-off programs for residential food scraps, and entrepreneurs offer curbside subscription services that, in some cases, have grown as large as 4,000 households.

Green Clean Homes boss steers clear of what’s toxic

Read the full story in the Gainesville Sun.

For the business to reach its potential, Held said she needs to educate more people about the health risks of conventional cleaning products. Despite Gainesville’s reputation as a green community, she said many customers insist on using conventional products.

Shoppers must use their purchasing power to lead green products revolution

Read the full story in The Guardian.

It’s easy to imagine the battle for greener chemistry as a titanic struggle between goliath industries and sprawling governments, with consumers watching from the sidelines as their lives and health hang in the balance. But this perspective – and most stories about toxic chemicals – ignore a key part of the equation: consumer demand. For all the much-discussed push of government policies and industry innovations, it’s the pull of consumers and the market that ultimately fuels the biggest changes.

Illini Gadget Garage hours and upcoming events

Received via e-mail from my colleague Joy Scrogum:

I wanted to make you aware of the fact that the collaborative repair center for personally owned electronic devices, the Illini Gadget Garage, is officially open to the public this semester. Renovations to make the space ADA compliant were completed at the beginning of the semester, and the students have been hard at work making the interior more welcoming. Open hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 AM to 1 PM and Wednesdays from noon to 3 PM. We’re located at 1833 S. Oak St. in Champaign, just north of Hazelwood Drive. See http://tinyurl.com/guv4n9z for a map. For general information on the project, including volunteer, sponsorship, and educational opportunities, please see our flyer at http://www.sustainelectronics.illinois.edu/IGGflyer.pdf.

We were pleased to have the opportunity to spread the word about the project at the recent Campus Sustainability Day Celebration, and also have a couple of upcoming events this month. Next Saturday, November 12 from 11 AM to 2 PM, we’ll have our ‘grand opening’ and you are invited to stop by and learn more about the project, services and volunteer opportunities. We have 10 slots available for one-on-one troubleshooting and repair during the event, so registration is required. Please fill out the information on the online sign-up form to the best of your ability so the repair crew may be better prepared to assist you. If your response to this form is received and slots for this pop-up clinic are full, the Gadget Garage team will contact you regarding a time you might come into the shop on campus at a later date. Similarly, if the assigned time they provide doesn’t work with your schedule, they’ll provide options for you to visit the campus space or another pop-up instead. Click here for the Facebook event. See http://www.sustainelectronics.illinois.edu/grandopening.pdf for the event flyer.

We’ll also be part of Urbana’s America Recycles Day event at the Anita Purves Nature Center on Saturday, November 19, from 11 AM to 3 PM. See https://www.facebook.com/events/1812556538979989/ for this event on Facebook, and http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/blog/2016/11/04/illini-gadget-garage-at-america-recycles-day-event-nov-19/ for more information, including the link to the online sign-up form for one-on-one troubleshooting at that event.

We hope you’ll be able to join us at regular open hours or one of these events. If your department or organization would like to host a pop-up clinic in your building, please fill out our online form to indicate your interest and we’ll be in touch to schedule your session.