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To Dishwasher or Not?

A little boy unloading a dishwasher

In 2000, I did something not most people do. I read my dishwasher’s user manual…cover to cover. I wouldn’t have thought that doing that would have such an impact on my life, but it did. I learned how to properly load a dishwasher and learned it so well, I can load any dishwasher now and pack it to the gills and the dishes (pretty much, mostly) always come clean. It saves time, water, energy and detergent to have this important skill.

The most important thing to know is that you do not need to clean your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. If you’re trying to be more green, this is simply wasteful. Most dishwashers today are energy efficient and designed to save water. They are also very efficient at cleaning dishes – if you know how to load the machine.

Having said all that, I learned it is important to get STARCH and EGG off dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. So, scraping rice, bread crumbs, pasta and such off before putting dishes in the machine helps. Also, rinsing egg yolk off with cold water is important so it doesn’t get cooked on by the machine. Just a quick rinse gets most pasta, egg and tomato sauces off to the point that the energy and water efficient machine can take it from there.

Then, if dishes are loaded so the water can get to them, they come clean. So, the art is in the loading. Dishwasher user manuals come with a diagram, but the gist is…load glasses, bowls, etc. face down towards the sprayers. More dirty dishes should be near the middle of the spray jet fan. Glasses and dishwasher-safe plastics should be on the top rack and plates, cutting boards, pots and pans should be on the bottom.

As for detergent, Trader Joe’s dishwasher tabs get a good rating on’s web site and do a good job. Seventh Generation’s powdered dishwasher detergent works well. You don’t need super strong detergents to get the dishes clean.

Here are more suggestions on detergents from EWG’s web site:

Two ways to save extra energy are to run the “eco/light” cycle and skip the heated dry.

If you want to get into the nitty-gritty details about how much water and energy is used, I’d recommend reading this article:

Except that she’s using Cascade and Rinse-Aid products, I find this video helpful:

The tip about running the water to hot and the disposer (to clear the drain) before starting the dishwasher is a great tip which I do because it helps the dishwasher do a better job. I disagree with her about sharp knives. I put them in the top rack, sharp side down and they come clean and don’t get damaged.

Some say to hand wash dishes to improve immunity. It can also be meditative to wash dishes by hand. Personally, I do a bit of a hybrid as there are always dishes that need to be washed by hand…like delicate glasses and some pans that simply do not fit once the dishwasher is loaded.

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Getting Your Garden to Bed

Garden to Bed for Fall, Harvest

Each autumn, there is a harvest.  Harvest of food, harvest of grades, harvest of family time.  It’s a natural process.  Animals do it by instinct.  Plants and trees do it automatically.  If we follow nature’s rhythms, we naturally feel a sense of needing more down time and rest in autumn.

Putting your garden to bed is also a natural process.  Plants have done their jobs producing food and, when they have finished, they naturally go inside.  Their leaves turn brown and fall off, their stems dry up.

All that is involved is harvesting any last fruits or vegetables and then use large pruners or shears to cut down the plants.  Then, spread them evenly like a blanket and that’s it!

The remains will naturally break down over the winter and in the spring, you can mulch it all into the soil.  Easy peas-ey.

Herbs can be dried.  Simply cut them, bind them with twist ties or string and then use clothes pins/pegs to hang them from hangers in your kitchen, laundry room or garage.  Once dry, you can put them in jars and use them for recipes or teas.

Too cold for your tomatoes?  Green tomatoes can be ripened by putting them in brown paper bags in a pantry, garage or mud room.

For more detailed information on how to put your garden to bed check out these links:

We could all take advice from nature…go inside, get retrospective and introspective.  Rest.

It’s only natural.

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Leave Your Leaves

Leaf Recycling Made Easy

Leaves are falling like crazy where we are right now.  It’s Autumn…when the trees have absorbed all the nutrients they need and take that inside to prepare for winter.  When the leaves’ job is finished, they naturally fall to the ground.

Don’t burn those leaves!  Burning leaves contributed to air pollution.  Instead, rake them up and put them in bags in your garage or the back of your yard or garden.  When you start your compost pile in the spring, you can use those leaves to get it started and continue to “feed” your compost throughout the winter and into next summer.

Fallen leaves carry 50-80% of the nutrients a tree extracts from the soil and air.  These nutrients include carbon, potassium and phosphorous.  So another great option is to mulch them into your lawn in the fall.  They will do their work over winter and help your grass health.

Mulching your leaves and spreading them over your garden limits weed growth and adds organic matter and protects the soil.  It’s like a blanket for your garden to keep it warm through the winter!

Another option is to using city-wide leaf recycling or composting programs.

One example is Denver, CO’s Leaf Drop Program:

Denver Leaf Drop

Try this link as a launching point and keep those leaves out of the landfill:

Google It!

Here is another read about leaf recycling:

5 DIY fall landscape tips that will save you money


Don’t know what to do with your Halloween pumpkins?

You can cut them up and add them to your compost.

You can peel them, cut them up and freeze them for later. Or, roast them and puree them for soups or pies.

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Earth-Healthy Holiday Travel

The holidays are upon us…perhaps sooner that we thought they would be.  By Halloween, retailers have holiday decorations up and winter coats line the racks in place of swim suits.

Many of us have to travel to see our loved ones for Thanksgiving and that poses its own set of challenges when trying to live more sustainably.

I just went to Chicago for my sister’s 40th birthday party.  I got a great fare, a ride to the airport from my ever-supportive hubby, smooth sailing through security, picked up on the far end and very little stress.

As I went through this process, I became the observer like a private investigator or secret shopper.  How much fuel was burned on our way to the airport?  How much does the plane use?  Where can I recycle and what items are accepted?  What food will they serve on the plane and in what packaging?  Does the airline recycle?

As part of this experiment, I brought my own silicone-covered glass bottle and sipped the water in it on the way to the airport…thereby hydrating my body for the plane ride.  By the time I got to security, I had finished the water since it had to be empty to go through the security scanners.  I packed very lightly so I didn’t have to check a bag and put the empty bottle in the bottle holder on my backpack before putting it on the conveyor belt on its way to the x-ray machine.

In my small purse, I brought along my empty reusable coffee cup and lid along with a cardboard sleeve.

Although I was relaxed on my way to the gate, I actually was running late for the boarding procedure.  So, on the other side of security, I quickly filled my bottle with filtered water at a bottle filling station next to the restrooms and drinking fountains.  By bringing my own bottle, I not only saved a plastic bottle (which won’t biodegrade for 450) years from hitting the landfill, I also saved anywhere from $2.00 to $5.00.

Once seated comfortably on the plane, I settled in with my book until we were at cruising altitude when the flight attendants came by with drinks.  I asked the flight attendant if I could use my own cup for a cup of coffee and she happily complied.

I feel better having used my own cup and bottle knowing that I saved a plastic water bottle from ending up in the landfill or recycled (which uses energy) and saved about $8.00 not having to buy overpriced water and coffee at the airport.  I will run those cups through the dishwasher which will be run anyway (full and using environmentally-friendly dish-washing detergent).

As for the fuel?  I can off-set that using an on-line carbon footprint calculator like one mentioned in my previous blog, here.

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Cycle Up Your CDs

What to Do with Your Old CDs and DVDs

Most people these days use iTunes, Pandora, Spotify or the like to get their music.  But, what if you used to be a big CD collector?  Ever subscribe to that BMG Music Club?  If you’re like many people, most of your CDs are collecting dust somewhere in your home.  But, they don’t exactly bio-degrade, so what should you do?

Here is the guide to finding uses for your old CDs and DVDs:

1.  If they are playable, consider selling them and get paid! If you have the original case and insert, they are worth cash!  You can sell them at retailers like:

Stores like Twist and Shout will buy your CDs, DVDs and Games

Deluttr has a web site and an app. Using the app, you can scan the bar code on your CD case and easily enter your CDs into their system for payment.  You get about $0.40 per CD, but if you have a large enough quantity, you could get paid a decent amount for decluttering!

Game Stop will accept old video games

You could try to sell them on eBay or Craigslist or NextDoor and get ca$h.

2.  If your CDs or DVDs have passed their playing lifespan (too scratched or smudged to play), there are literally endless ways to re-use them:

  • Even if you don’t think you are crafty or creative, there are limitless creative possibilities on the web. Check out some of these links for ideas:

CD UpCycling

Google Images for CD Recycling

Pinterest for CD Recycling

Tumblr for CD Recycling

  • Personally, I use the CDs as labels for my crops in my garden. This has two benefits.  It creates an interesting way to label plants AND it scares birds away so you can enjoy more of your bounty!

Write the name of the plant you are growing with a permanent marker on the back side (the shiny one) of the CD

Attach the CD to a stick using a screw or glue or zip strip or twist tie.

Put the stick in the ground in the row where your plant is growing.

  • Places like R.A.F.T. (Resource Area for Teachers) will use your old CDs in craft projects for teachers, schools and participants in their programs. You can donate all sorts of items to them and even get a donation receipt.

3.  The last resort is recycling. Because CD plastic is a #7 type, it is not usually accepted in your local curbside recycling program.  Here are some other options: has a recycling locator for all sorts of items as well as great advice on what to do with CDs (& their cases)

You can also try CD Recycling Center of America

Or try Recycle Now

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As a Courtesy to the Next Passenger…

As a Courtesy to the Next Passenger…

Thinking about our planet as we would like it to be for future generations

From a very young age, I was motivated by the signs in airplane restrooms that say “As a courtesy to Next Passenger May We Suggest That You Use Your Towel to Wipe Off Water Basin.  Thank You!” to clean up after myself.  Now, as an adult, I don’t think twice about using my towel to wipe off the counter and basin before returning to my seat.

Isn’t that how we all should be thinking about our planet?  We all share it, after all.  We all use the ground to walk on (bike on, drive on, …), grow food on, live on….  We all use the water to hydrate ourselves, wash ourselves, our dishes, our clothes, care for our plants, …..

When going into any restroom, isn’t it so much more pleasant to see a clean, dry counter and a floor that isn’t covered with paper towels?  It takes virtually no extra time to pick up a paper towel off the floor and put it in the trash can/rubbish bin before washing hands and then using the paper towel to wipe off the counter (or, on an airplane, wipe out the basin)…and then put the towels in the waste bin.

This isn’t necessarily a sustainability topic, per se, but it touches on an attitude.  An attitude of caring about how enjoyable our environment is.  Thinking about the next passenger is similar to thinking about future generations being able to breathe clean air, drink clean water, have fewer health challenges, allergies and such.

Along with multi-purposing your paper towel, it’s a good idea to use less…one paper towel instead of five when drying hands saves trees as well as waste in the landfill.  Saves water, too!

Here’s a shocking statistic:

“To make one ton of paper towels, 17 trees are cut down and 20,000 gallons of water are consumed. Every day, over 3,000 tons of paper towel waste is produced in the US alone. Decomposing paper towels produce methane gas, a leading cause of global warming.”


Sustainable Three Challenge:

Try up to three alternative ways to dry your hands after washing them.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Use ONE paper towel.
  2. Air dry.  Sure, it takes longer, but it uses zero towels.
  3. Try PeopleTowels:
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Easy D.I.Y. Sustainable Gift Ideas

You can make gifts with very little expense and effort and the thought that goes into them is more sane as well as more conscious:

Here are some ideas:

Make “Rice Pillows” or “Rice Socks”:

Do you have mis-matched socks in your home?  This is a perfect use for them!

If you can sew or have old (clean) socks, these are super easy to make.

Take a clean sock and fill it 3/4 of the way full with rice…you can add several drops of your favorite essential oil to make it smell nice.

Tie a tight knot at the open end

Make a nice card with directions:

(something like…)

“This rice pillow will soothe aches and pains, be a comfort for an upset tummy, keep your feet warm on cold nights, ease a headache, help you relax and more!”

You can decorate it with permanent marker or buttons.

Here are some more detailed directions on how to sew your own:

You can also make hot chocolate or cookie mix in canning jars.  You can wash, sanitize and re-use spaghetti sauce or jam jars, nut butter jars and more.

Pinterest has a plethora of ideas:

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Shopping More Sustainably

Shopping More Sustainably

Have you had enough of the holiday shopping craziness?  There are more sustainable ways to shop for your friends and family.

In America, we just celebrated Thanksgiving.  The day following Thanksgiving is called “Black  Friday” for retailers.  They offer incredible deals (50% off or more in most cases) only on this day to move their bottom line to the black from the red…hoping for a positive cash flow and to end the year in a better financial state.

This involves getting up early, being away from family, and has led to some pretty crazy situations where there are crowds of people all trying to squeeze through the store doorways in search of the limited number of televisions on sale.

A more sane and eco-friendly way to shop for your loved ones is to take advantage of the many on-line deals rather than be in the mob scene that is Black Friday.  Many offer deals on “Cyber Saturday”.  Great deals can still be found and items shipped and wrapped preventing injury and trauma.

Shopping More Sustainably:

Even better, you can choose gift ideas that align with more sustainable living:

Here are some examples: has gift ideas

Take Part has a sustainable shopping list:

Mashable has some suggestions here:

You could go second-hand…often second hand shops have items that have never been used and still have the tags attached:

The Junior League:

Or, you can buy gifts in people’s names with organizations you care about:

Here are some ideas:

Heiffer International:

The Nature Conservancy

World Wildlife Fund

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Ways to a More Sustained Planet

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!

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To Compost or not to Compost?

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’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.

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:

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

Compost=Black Gold

Black Gold

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