Author Archives: erutledge

To Compost or not to Compost?

by, Liz Rutledge

Yimby Compost Bin

i Compost in the works!

I don’t know about you, but I cannot stand the smell of a stinky garbage bin.  All that rotting food gives off such a nasty stench.

One easy way we’ve lowered  our family’s carbon footprint is to start composting. And, as an added benefit, we no longer have the smelly trash issue.

I was shocked to learn that 1/3 of what goes to landfills is compostable.  Have you thought of reducing the amount of waste your household contributes to the landfill? Landfills emit methane as well as Carbon Dioxide and other gasses*.  Methane is a gas that is 20+ times more damaging to the Ozone Layer and traps up to 100 times more heat over a 5-year period than Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

Some cities, like our city of Denver,  have composting programs, which is a great option if you are not a gardener or if you rent an apartment or condo where composting is not allowed. You can reduce your trips to the dumpster and reduce your contribution to the landfill.

If you have your own property or rent in a property that has a community garden or landscaping, you can have your own compost!  Even if you live in an apartment, you can (usually) still have a worm farm.

Our family has been composting since 2000.   I can tell you that I do not miss having to go to the garden center and buy heavy, bagged-in-non-biodegradable-plastic bags.  Putting peelings and such in our kitchen collector bucket is a very natural action now and taking it out to the compost bin in the alley is just “something I do” as I head out for the day.

One of SustainableThree.com’s offerings is helping with compost start-up. After a brief interview, I can help you find a composter in your budget and a collection bucket for your kitchen. Then, it’s just a matter of collecting the right materials and giving it a weekly or bi-weekly stir. We set up the composter and get your composter cooking. If you want to learn the setup process, we can work together. Or, I can set it up and give quick instructions on how to maintain it. Once it’s set up, keeping it going is easy – just feed it and stir it regularly.

Sign up for a Composting Consultation and you’ll receive my “Composting Made Easy” guide FREE

Sign up here  for more information:

Building a Compost Bin

Building a Composter is Easy

*Methane and carbon dioxide make up 90 to 98% of landfill gas. The remaining 2 to 10% includes nitrogen, oxygen, ammonia, sulfides, hydrogen and various other gases. Landfill gases are produced when bacteria break down organic waste. (Source: https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/outdoors/air/landfill_gas.htm)

I like to keep things simple (easy as 1-2-3), but if you want  more detailed information on composting, here are some resources:

http://eartheasy.com/grow_compost.html

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/panning-black-gold

earth911.com/home-garden/composting-how/

onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/basic-composting-secrets/

planetnatural.com/composting-101/

Compost=Black Gold

Black Gold

Ways to a More Sustained Planet

Earth-Day-2014

Commit to recycling three items a day

Ride your bicycle three times in a week instead of driving

Eliminate three (or more) toxic chemicals from your home

Off-set three driving trips

Off-set three flights using a carbon footprint calculator

Donate $3 or more to an environmentally-focused charity

Pick up three pieces of litter a day

This is just the beginning.  There is much, much more to come!

Cutting Carbon: Interview w/Max Tyler

Colorado House Representative (Retired), Max Tyler

Colorado House Representative (Retired), Max Tyler

What inspires you to be environmentally conscientious?

“Here in Colorado, I’ve seen changes outdoors backpacking and mountain climbing. I’m seeing that pikas are disappearing because their life zone is moving above a livable climate. I don’t see as many camp robbers and other birds as I used to see. In 1981, I had my honeymoon in St. John in the Caribbean and the corals and fish were spectacular. Went back 10 years later and they were already disappearing. Now when I snorkel, I see that it’s been decimated. About half of our coral reefs are dying now.

Also, in Glacier National Park 37 years ago, the glaciers were spectacular. Since then, I’ve seen pictures and hope to go back this year to it see in person. But from what I have seen, the glaciers are basically gone. Looking at science was a true wake-up call. James Hansen’s (NASA) models are the scariest by far.  His recently published work is terrifying – catastrophic destruction of Antarctic shelf. Leading to sea level rise. Think Miami underwater.”

James Hansen Global Warming Study

“Science says climate is changing. We are causing it. We need to fix it. Climate change is the biggest moral crisis since dealing with slavery. We need to reduce carbon emissions in the next 5-6 years or 25 years from now there will be a huge stress on human civilization.”

What would you say was your biggest role as State Representative?

“I’ve always been interested in clean air and clean water…and being able to enjoy the wilderness. House Bill 1001 (2010) was the keystone of my work. Every session since that legislation passed (1001) in 2010, I’ve been working on bills to cut carbon directly (utility), changing mobile (more efficient vehicles), cut carbon footprint of building. I’ve gotten ideas on how commercial PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) can be more eco-friendly.

During my tenure, we put out the most aggressive electric vehicle tax credit in the country. I received a $6,000 tax credit (refund) for purchasing Chevy Volt (Which is a plug-in electric with an auxiliary gas engine that runs as a generator to charge the battery)/45 miles/day average range). [The all-electric Chevy Bolt has an approximate range of 230 miles per charge]. It’s more efficient and less polluting than a gas powered vehicle. That’s even taking into consideration that the vehicle may have been produced in an electric (coal fired) factory.”

What other steps have you personally taken to reduce your carbon footprint?

“We have super insulated our house, and installed a high performance boiler. We have a swamp  (evaporative) cooler instead of a traditional air conditioner, but the insulation has made it so we don’t run the swamp cooler any more. We have a shares in a community solar garden, bi-weekly recycling (recycle four times what we put in the landfill).  My wife is a gardener and we compost regularly. I am the Transportation Energy Committee Chair. And, I am going to the Rocky Mountain Institute’s eLab‘s Accelerator Event in Sundance, Utah in a couple weeks. They are working towards 100% renewables.”

What do you see as Colorado’s biggest environmental challenge?

“Cutting carbon emissions.

Big name companies like Google, Apple and other big name companies are committed to converting to renewable energy. So, Colorado should work towards that, too.

(Note – this was concerning the REA’s not Xcel or Black Hills. Including it either makes things a bit confusing or requires substantially more explanation).  Stationary sources of carbon emissions are one of the biggest challenges (top 10 are power plants. The next 10 big emitters include cement plants, landfills, gas plants).”

How can the average Coloradoan improve our environment?

“Focus on the big picture. Push political systems to start dealing with it properly. We are in dire straits at the National level and playing good defense the State level. Locally, we can have a huge impact. Push city councils and county commissioners to make a difference. Recycling, saving energy is good, but we really need to take the big steps to have a serious impact. Biggest impact is to cut our carbon emissions.

Our #1 issue is cutting carbon emissions.”

Food as Fuel – Green Smoothies

 

Green Smoothie

“I will not eat them, Sam I am!”**

Have you ever said that you hate green vegetables?  Or, vegetables in general?  My kids have had this challenge.  It’s just a color like red, purple, blue or brown.  Green food has gotten a bad rap over the years.  But, the fact is, we should be eating mostly vegetables in all colors of the rainbow.

The great news is that thanks to the invention of the blender and some incredible creativity on the part of those who thought to put green veggies in with fruit, fruit juices, yogurt and such, you can ingest your veggies with ease and best of all – it tastes delicious!

Enter the green smoothie.  It may not look like something you want to drink and it certainly won’t taste like a chocolate shake, but you can learn to love it!

A green smoothie consists of:

*two to three (or more) types of fruit

*a cup or two of green vegetable (spinach, kale, collard greens and such)

*liquid (water, milk, almond milk, coconut water, etc.)

*optionally, a “boost” (protein powder, almond flour, chia seeds, peanut butter, etc.)

Blend and serve.  Too easy!

My biggest inspirations have come from the following cookbooks:

Deceptively Delicious by, Jessica Seinfeld (the comedian’s wife)

http://www.doitdelicious.com/cookbooks/deceptively_delicious

Nourishing Meals by, Alissa Segersten & Tom Malteerre, MS, CN

http://www.nourishingmeals.com/

Simple Green Smoothies by, Jen Hansard & Jadah Sellner

You can sustain your health easily with one nutrition-packed “perfect food” green smoothie every day.  To make it easier, you can prepare the ingredients in the single serve blender cup or a Mason (or similar) jar.  Just put the ingredients in – all except the liquid and refrigerate (for up to a week).  When you are ready to make your smoothie, pour in the liquid (water, coconut water, almond milk or other dairy-free milk, or milk) and blend.  Too easy!

 

**From Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs & Ham”

electronically Love Our Planet

 

What do you think of when you think of Valentine’s Day?  It’s a day of love.  In addition to loving the humans in our lives, what can we do to Love Our Planet?  We can electronically Love Our Planet (eLOPE) by taking action on-line as well as in the real world.

 

We can eLOPE in all sorts of ways…

Off-set your carbon footprint:

COOL Effect (https://www.cooleffect.org/) facilitates projects with a mission of carbon offset that also have the benefit of helping people and the planet.  Select a project that speaks to you here.  They also have a fantastic video about endangered snowmen: https://youtu.be/FX37zuHcwXM

Plant Trees – Virtually!

Many organizations will plant trees for you.

A Living Tribute (https://www.alivingtribute.org/) will plant a tree or multiple trees in memory of your recently deceased or in honor of someone.

Get Social!

Follow environmental organizations on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

Ceres @CeresNews

GreenAmerica @GreenAmerica

Many organizations will Tweet news and suggestions on actions you can take to offset your carbon footprint.

These have on-line carbon footprint calculators and programs to offset carbon impacts:

Carbon Fund  @Carbonfundorg

The Nature Conservancy  @nature_org

Ceres @CeresNews

CO2Balance.com – Provide carbon offset calculators, carbon offsets go to renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reforestation projects.

Conservation International – Has a Personal Carbon Calculator. Carbon offsets help protect the roughly 832,000-acre Makira Forest in northeast Madagascar.

MyClimate UK – Carbon offsets purchased go toward energy efficiency projects, and renewable energy.

Solar Electric Light Fund – Purchased offsets go toward installation of PV solar lighting in villages that currently use diesel or kerosene.

TerraPass – Makes is easy to use offsets purchased to go toward wind energy, biomass, and industrial efficiency. TerraPass is one of the most well-known and respected carbon offset provider in the world.

The Carbon Neutral Company – Offers access to advice, verification services, project funding, and routes to market for small-scale carbon projects generating regulated credits and credits matching requirements of the CarbonNeutral protocol.

Declutter:  Clean out the green way

Happy New Year!

This is a great time of year to de-clutter and clean out unwanted items to have a fresh start to the new year.  Many people make resolutions and start new habits (like eating healthier or exercising more).  Why not use the momentum January gives us to start a new sustainable habit?

Here are some suggestions:

Start Donating Unwanted Items to Charities

Establish a “de-clutter area” in your home  (like in a hall closet or mud room).  Once a month (or more often if you like), deal with those items you no longer want by either donating them to a local charity (like Goodwill, The Salvation Army, ARC).  Many charities will do porch pick-up for items making it easy peasy.  This win-win habit is also a tax-deductible donation.

Other organizations will even take some hard-to-recycle items.  Here are some examples:

The Art Garage in Denver, CO – accepts toilet paper paper towel rolls, often not recyclable bottle caps/lids, yogurt cups, Styrofoam, egg containers, paint and other items.

R.A.F.T. (Resource Area For Teachers) – Accepts many items and uses them to support teachers in their classroom art projects.  Click here for a list of accepted donation items.

Your local elementary school may also accept such items for craft/art projects.

Start recycling plastic bags

Many grocery and super stores recycle clean, dry plastic bags.  Many people recycle their plastic grocery sacks (“t-shirt bags”), but did you know you can also recycle other plastic bags from packaging (and inflated “plastic film” (deflate first)), cereal box liners, frozen food bags and more?  Some stores do not put them in obvious places, so it would be an extra bonus to encourage your local store to put the bag recycling container in a very obvious location.

Start reusing containers when you shop

Level 1  – Start buying in bulk.  Briana Ryan has some suggestions on how to ease into buying food in the bulk section here.

Bulk Food Shopping

Bulk Food Shopping – Photo Credit: Briana Ryan

Level 2 – Reuse plastic containers like this

Reusable Plastic Container with Lid

Reusable Plastic Container with Lid

Level 3 – Bring your own (clean) Mason jar (pre-weigh using a kitchen or postal scale and write the TARE weight on the jar in permanent marker)

Bulk Food Mason Jars

Bulk Food Mason Jars

CHALLENGE:  Post a photo of your new commitment for 2017 and tag #SustainableThree

&/OR Tweet about it @SustainThree

Litter, Litter on the Ground…

Litter, Litter on the Ground…how long ’til you are found?

Litter

Paul Lewis…litter louts

Post Halloween candy wrappers are scattered on the ground about this time of year.  On the walk to my daughter’s school, I frequently see plastic sandwich baggies or granola bar wrappers.  (Funny, because I thought we ended littering in the 1980’s).  I usually pick them up, but sometimes it becomes an overwhelming task because there seems to be no end to it.  I have taught my children that they should pick up litter and put it in its proper place (the recycle bin if it’s recyclable, the garbage if it’s not).  But, once I (or they) pick up the litter, it is our responsibility to take care of it.

What does litter have to do with sustainable living?

Well, beyond the pure aesthetics, it can contaminate soil and water.  Especially if it seeps into the water table as well as clog storm drains and cause flooding.

On land, litter can smother plants, start fires and harm or kill animals. It also attracts rats and harmful bacteria.  On roadways, it can cause automobile accidents and injuries.  Like when people throw cans (or their fast-food restaurant waste) out their car window.  When litter (such as plastic straws and six-pack rings) end up in the ocean, it is devastating to marine life. Cigarette butts are terribly toxic.

Clean up efforts cost millions of dollars – so taxpayers are ultimately affected by litter in one form or another.  In a landmark study by Keep America Beautiful found that 85% of littering is attributed to individuals.

For our own part, we can be responsible about our own waste.  And…as you are walking around  – whether it be a parking lot, sidewalk, beach or mountain trail – pick up litter you see and dispose of it properly.  We can carry around biodegradable bags in our pockets or purses or backpacks and collect items in them until we can get it to a proper receptacle.  We’ll feel better for having done something good and the world will be a more beautiful place.

For more information on this topic, see these links:

http://education.seattlepi.com/littering-affect-environment-6802.html

http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/behavior_change/case-study-how-we-changed-behavior-littering

Take Action!

Keep America Beautiful has heaps of research about littering, but also ways you can get involved:

https://www.kab.org/resources/end-littering

Save Water, Time and Money – Part 3

by,

Rob Rutledge

City sustainable development concept illustration

Another step deeper in the exploration of SmartSprinkler controllers:  again, the goal is to save water, time and money but not have a dead lawn or landscaping.

By focusing on the residential products, since I don’t have 24+ zones, I get down to a list of a few manufactures whose products I will choose from. Rachio, RainMachine, and Cyber Rain (residential). The Cyber Rain controller has some good functionality, but its price tag of $500 will eliminate it from further consideration since competing products are $200 or less and provide virtually the same functionality. Several municipal water systems offer rebates up to $100 for WaterSense controller, which helps lower the price, but not enough to bring $500 units back into consideration. Rachio and RainMachine both have very good reviews on Amazon, which is important as there is nothing quite like getting feedback from hundreds or thousands of existing customers. Additionally, both controllers have open APIs that allow for IFTTT (If This Then That) control and therefore access from devices like Amazon’s Echo (a.k.a. “Alexa”). Alexa is by no means a smart home controller, but until I take that leap it is nice to be able to control my devices all via voice.
It appears as though you can’t go wrong with either of these controllers. The RainMachine controller offers control from the unit itself, which could be helpful. It also has the option to not use its cloud service. However, Rachio recently released its 2nd generation controller which very clearly address feedback provided by customers. In addition, they are taking steps to ensure customers are happy with their purchase, and publicly standing behind their product will make the difference for me to give it a try. I have no doubt that even with extensive research, I may need some post sales support, and that gives Rachio at edge for me. After installation and usage, I will report back on progress.

Save Water, Time and Money – Part 2

by,
Rob Rutledge

http://s3.amazonaws.com/digitaltrends-uploads-prod/2014/06/Screen-Shot-2014-06-04-at-3.15.24-PM.png

Smart Water Control – iPhone

Continuing the exploration of Smart Sprinkler controllers:  The goal is to save water, time and money but not have a dead lawn or landscaping.

There are many Smart Sprinkler controllers, and many definitions of what makes a sprinkler controller ‘smart’.  For instance, simply attaching a moisture sensor or rain sensor may qualify for some definitions of a Smart Sprinkler Controller.  However, I would like to think we can do better than simply attaching static sensors.  Therefore, I will limit my evaluation to those controllers that get weather data wirelessly and allow for control via mobile phone and computer, as well as allow for more intelligent watering by inputting landscaping and/or sprinkler information.  After all, I would like to think that better decision could be made rather than just automating the same binary decision of watering or not watering.  The final requirement is for the smart controller to adhere to the watering limitations of my water provider.  With these in mind, I return to the extensive list of Water Sense Smart Sprinkler Controllers.  Since most, if not all, of these controllers involve using the service associated with the controller (other than RainMachine which has a hybrid option), it seems as though there should be some consideration of the stability of the company.  After all, it would be unfortunate to make the investment in time and money to acquire and setup the controller, only to have it revert back to a normal controller or worse stop working all together due to the company providing the service going out of business.  Several of the companies are private, which limits the amount of due diligence that can be performed, so instead I will use longevity and multiple product offerings as a proxy for stability.  This is, of course, flawed.  But the best that can be done without extensive effort.  This only eliminates one that I thought looked intriguing, Skydrop.

 

Save Water, Money and Time – Part I

by,

Rob Rutledge

dreamstime_s_26939355

Part I

My water usage and associated bill is about to go up.  It happens every year.  In the next several months, my water bill will more than double, costing me an extra $40 or $50 each month.  I want to continue my Smart Home exploration of options, but not necessarily limit my options if I come across something even easier than smart home solutions.  For instance, the vast majority of my extra water usage is based on maintaining the plants and grass around my home.  I will focus on this aspect of water saving for now, but I also realize there might be some options to further reduce my water usage inside my home.  Although we have already used low flush toilets, low flow shower heads and better dishwasher usage.  Thankfully there is good information to leverage through programs like Water Sense, an EPA program that certifies products which save water, from 20% to 50%.  The technology portion of Water Sense narrows down the discussion to the areas that are of most interest to me, the sprinkler related savings opportunities.  Again, I need a criteria to go about selecting what options I want to explore.  I will use the same criteria as I am using to curtail electricity usage:

  • Easy to understand and install myself
  • Proven benefit for my environmental impact
  • Financial benefit of reduced monthly bills (at least during the summer)

Given those criteria, there are two options that seem most appropriate to explore.  Rotary Spray Heads (Nozzle), and Smart Spinkler Controllers.  The Rotary spay heads deliver water in a stream instead of a mist and therefore reduce lost water due to evaporation and wind blowing the water where it isn’t needed.  Smart Sprinkler Controllers use better information about your landscaping and external factors (like weather forecasts) to make better watering decisions.  Rotary Spray heads are valuable, but not nearly as interesting to explore here as Smart Sprinkler Controllers, so that is what I will focus on here.