All posts by mre7x9

What the frack is fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing – the technical term for fracking – is a method of getting gas and oil from shale rock, that is, a sedimentary rock made of mud and minerals. First, a hole, called a “wellbore”  is drilled into the rock. Next, a high-pressure liquid –– usually a mix of water, sand and chemicals –– is injected into the wellbore to help the natural gas escape.

Okay, cool –– natural gas. That’s good, right?

Not quite.

Remember when we said the pressured liquid was a mix of water, sand and chemicals? According to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates, each fracking session can require anywhere from 2.4 to 7.8 million gallons of water. That’s 2,400,000 to 7,800,000 gallons.

Second, those chemicals required to frack? Yeah, not great for the environment (and, by extension, you). The chemicals used vary (fracking was protected under regulations imposed by Congress in the 2005 Safe Water Drinking Act). Those chemicals can easily flow into potable water –– i.e., the water that you consume –– and ultimately, into your body.

Since, again, the specific chemicals aren’t regulated, frackers are technically allowed to use chemicals like methanol (also found in: antifreeze, vehicle fuel), formaldehyde (a carcinogen, once widely used to preserve specimens in laboratories), lead (another carcinogen that can also cause neurological disorders) and naphthalene (yet another carcinogen, most commonly found in mothballs).

But…it’s safer than coal, right?

Again, not quite.

While burning coal isn’t great for the environment, burning natural gas –– that is, the product of fracking –– releases other gases like methane. So while it’s true, burning coal gives off twice as many carbon dioxide emissions as natural gas, methane traps heat more than 100 times better than an equal amount of carbon dioxide. So ultimately, these methane emissions negate any benefits you’d reap from producing and using natural gas.

Oh, and all that drilling required? Surprisingly, not great for the rocks. Fracking has been credited with creating earthquakes, including a 4.0 quake in Youngstown, Ohio on New Year’s Eve 2011.

In short, dear reader, hydraulic fracturing is a bad frackin’ idea.

sources:

  1. http://www.businessinsider.com/scary-chemicals-used-in-hydraulic-fracking-2012-3?op=1
  2. http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/home
  3. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/11/us-ohio-fracking-earthquakes-idUSBREA3A1J620140411
  4. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eqinthenews/2011/usc0007f7s/
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(Com)Post-It

Okay, so you’ve purchased your organic food, but now you have all these banana peels and other random food waste lying around. Ugh. Now what?

Remember when we talked about upcycling?

Did you know you can do that with food waste, too?

No, you can’t exactly make crafts out of food scraps –– or, at least, we don’t endorse it. But you can start a compost heap, which is still pretty cool (we’d venture to say it’s cooler. But who knows, maybe your eggshell jewelry collection is really taking off).

Now, what exactly is compost?

In essence, it’s a mixture of decomposed organic materials that can be used in organic agriculture as a fertilizer and soil conditioner. It can help control erosion and even as a natural pesticide for soil. 

Compost has four main components: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and water. The carbon and nitrogen come from things like leaves, food scraps, branches and coffee grounds. When you add water to this mixture and expose it to oxygen (that’s more or less a fancy way of saying “leave it outside”), the water and oxygen break down the contents of your pile and create compost. This creates humus (no, not hummus. Different thing. We’re fans of both), which can help retain moisture in soil and improve the soil so it can be reused.

Sometimes, fun things like earthworms and urine and human waste are added to the mix. If that sounds gross, just picture a landfill overflowing with food waste that could’ve been used to make more organic food –– yeah. Not a great alternative.

Now, why should you care about fermented food scraps?

Picture that landfill again. Pretty nasty, huh? Well, every time we throw things in the garbage that we could’ve recycled (or upcycled) (or composted), we’re adding to that pile of trash and increasing our carbon and methane emissions.

Composting helps to reduce that pile by finding a higher purpose for your food and yard trash. Instead of sending those leaves you so painstakingly raked to go sit in a landfill, why not add them to your compost heap? Add in the inedible pieces of the sustainably and organically grown fruits and veggies you used to cook dinner. With a little water, oxygen, and patience (and maybe even some cool additions, like cockroaches or larvae), you’ll have your very own compost pile.

Look at you, shrinking your carbon footprint and reducing methane emissions from landfills! Now you have some cool compost you can use to grow more things. You go, Footprint Mag reader!

Certified Organic, Certifiably Confusing.

Picture this: a shopper, traversing the aisles of her local grocery store with every intention of purchasing organic food –- how hard can it be?  Everything’s labelled so nicely…

But after a few minutes, our plucky shopper’s head is swimming, inundated by “USDA Certified Organic”s, “100% All-Natural”s, “Safeway O Organic”s, and a plethora of other labels. What does it all mean? Which ones are real, what means what, why is buying organic so. hard.?!?

Never fear, Sustainability 101 is here. Go grab some popcorn, kids –– we’re gonna be here for a while.

First off,  just what is “organic food?”

According to the US Department of Agriculture, “organic crops” are processed without  “irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, [or] genetically modified organisms,” and “organic livestock” is livestock raised in a manner that “met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics or growth hormones, used 100% organic feed, and provided animals with access to the outdoors.”

Now, in the words of Morrissey, “What difference does it make?”

First, there’s the obvious: it’s grown without harmful chemicals and hasn’t been made into a teenage mutant ninja vegetable –– trust us, you don’t need that in your system. Stick to getting super powers from eating sustainably farmed nutritious foods.

Also, from an environmental standpoint, when we buy foods farmed organically, we’re supporting sustainable agricultural practices. The pesticides used in non-organic agriculture contaminate the soil and water supply, and they can even cause crops to become disease-resistant –– gross, huh?

(We think so, too).

“Okay, Sustainable Godmother, that’s great, but how do I know the foods I’m buy are really organic?”

Foods that meet these criteria feature a green “USDA Certified Organic” logo on their labels:

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Now, what about brands with enticingly organic-sounding names like “Safeway O Organic” and Giant’s “Nature’s Promise?” Rule of thumb: guilty until proven innocent. Often, these brands aren’t really organic; brands often use words like “all-natural” to cash in on consumers’ increasing desire for organic food, even when their products aren’t organic in the slightest. Check for the green label to see whether or not they’re legit.

Now that you know the benefits of organic food –– and how to outsmart clever marketing ploys –– go forth and veg(gie) out.

Hitting for the (Up)Cycle

Okay, so we’re going to go out on a limb and assume that you have a basic understanding of what recycling is. But what about its cooler cousin, upcycling, and its ugly stepsister, downcycling?

Ahem.

Upcycling is a form of recycling in which the recycled materials are used to make something new. Instead of being broken down into less valuable materials, upcycled objects are repurposed as other, more practical things.

For instance: let’s say you have a two-liter bottle lying around. You could put it in the recycling bin, where it’ll go to a recycling plant and get broken down into its base materials and made into a lesser-quality product –– in other words, you could downcycle it. Or, you could upcycle it by converting your empty Coke bottle into a bird feeder, a planter, or even a toilet water saver contraption! 

Cool, huh?

We think so, too.

Now, about this “downcycling” stuff:

When things get downcycled, they’re broken down and made into new things –– for instance, plastics are made into other plastics. Sounds great, right? In the short run, it’s great: you’re keeping materials out of landfills. But in the long run, the resulting recycled materials are of lesser quality. Things can only be downcycled so many times before they can’t be downcycled any more, and they become useless and end up in –– you guessed it –– the dump.

Downcycling also requires more resources than upcycling –– think about all the energy it takes to break down those materials. Kind of defeats the purpose, huh?

Don’t get all down in the dumps (haha) yet, though. Here are some simple ways to become an upcycling pro:

Got an empty toilet paper or paper towel roll? Use it as a seed starter pot to grow your own garden! 

Empty bottles lying around? Make them into lanterns, vases, or even planters!

Not sure what to do with last weekend’s aftermath? Here are some ideas for upcylcing tin cans and plastic cups (wash ‘em out first, though…).

Ultimately, the goal of upcycling –– or any type of recycling, for that matter –– is to lessen our impact on the environment to preserve our limited natural resources. The more we reduce, reuse and (up)cycle, the better care we can take of the planet.

So give cast-off materials new life and help save the Earth in the process –– new, handmade things today for a more sustainable tomorrow.