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Casey Composting Champions

Composting in the Cafeteria

by, Liz Rutledge, Founder, Sustainable Three, LLC

Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado is an inspiring example of how to compost in a school cafeteria.  With 600 students in the entire school, half of whom get what we used to call “hot lunch”, the cafeteria staff provides 300 lunches a day. 

Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado is a fine example of a sustainable school.

Meet Chef Ann Cooper.  She established the Chef Ann Foundation in 2009 to bring healthier lunches to schools in the Boulder Valley School District.  Chef Ann is passionate about getting kids to eat healthy, balanced meals.  “It starts with the school district’s Wellness Policy”.  Boulder’s is really strong.  She emphasizes the direct connection between healthy food and academic performance.  “We don’t give kids a choice about what they learn in the classroom.  Why would we give them a choice on the best, healthiest way to eat?”.

Chef Ann Cooper of the Chef Ann Foundation

The Boulder Valley Nutrition Services department provides ~14,000 meals a day with three kitchens for the entire school district.  Meals are primarily made from scratch (except rolls, flatbreads, etc.), but those items are sources locally.  They attempt to have mostly organically-grown food.  Milk is provided via dispensers with reusable cups.  Lemon-infused water is provided as well.  Cutlery is reusable as well as the plates and serving trays.  Plastic bags are the only landfill trash produced.

Plant-Forward Option with Locally-Grown, Organic Food!

Students are provided with guides on how to load their plates.  They have to have three components on their plates according to Federal regulations.  This includes ½ cup of fruit, ½ cup of vegetables, and eight ounces of milk.  At Casey Middle School at least, there is always a plant forward meal offered.  Posters with pictures show what a serving looks like.

Guides Help Students Load Their Plates for Ideal Nutrition

In Boulder Valley, the health initiative also includes composting in the cafeteria.  Composting is THE most impactful thing we can all be doing to help with carbon footprint.  After students finish their meals, they go to the dish washing station where they dump any uneaten food in a bin that weighs how much food waste is going to be composted.  Then, their trays, plates, cups and cutlery are washed before the next meal shift.

All trays, plates, cups, and cutlery are washed and reused.
Food waste and other compostables are weighed daily to keep track of the carbon offset.

Daily, the bins are put into a composting dumpster that is picked up by local Boulder’s Eco-Cycle where the food waste is converted into compost that helps with carbon absorption, putting nutrients back into the soil.

For more on composting, see some of my other blog posts on sustainablethree.com! Like basics of composting and why it’s important or how we off-set over 2000 pounds of compostable waste at Denver East High School’s After Prom!

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Street Fair Sustainability

Directional Sign Showing the way to the Sustainability Zone

by, Liz Rutledge

The Park Hill Home Tour and Street Fair just celebrated 41 years of sharing community, entertainment, good food and access to beautiful homes in one of Denver’s Sustainable Neighborhoods.  This well-established event involves people in the neighborhood opening their homes (usually between four and eight homes) as well as a street fair with up to 100 vendors, food trucks, drinks, live entertainment, as well as presentations.  Consequently, the Park Hill Home Tour and Street Fair is the largest fundraiser for the Greater Park Hill Community – an organization that supports the neighborhood through a monthly local newspaper, a food pantry and farmers market as well as many other events and services. 

Mindfulness about Our Community in Action

This year, I partnered with Becky Migas of B. Green Events to manage the sustainability aspects of this event.  It was a beautiful, sunny day…not too hot, not too cold and not a cloud in the sky.  As we set up waste stations around the parkway, 85+ vendors set up their tables and tents.  Bicycle bells chimed and the gentle hum of generators for the food trucks purred.

I have been involved in this event for seven years in various capacities. For example, our home has been on the tour and I have written up descriptions of the homes along with another local writer for years.  But, last year, I was invited to help with the sustainability efforts of the event and help with vendor registrations.  For the first time ever, we added electronics recycling.  It was an experiment and we had great participation, but it cost people money (about 50 cents a pound) and the fundraising aspect wasn’t as successful as we had hoped.  But, this year we had PCs for People accepting electronic donations for little to no cost and the Cherry Creek Rotary Club helped hugely to accept all the PCs, laptops, cables, TVs and more.  Last year, there was also a Sustainability Zone.

In the Zone

This year, in the Sustainability Zone, we had several vendors educating fair-goers about bees with Vine Street Farms, reducing packaging and exploring refill options with Joy Fill, how to get around town without using a car with the Northeast Transportation, getting help tuning and optimizing your bicycle with Bikes Together, how to reduce our harm to the coral reefs with Coral Reef Restoration Panama, and how to live more sustainability and lower our carbon footprint with Sustainable Three and B. Green Events.  We had a “Minute to Bin It” challenge where players had to correctly put the right item in the right bin within 60 seconds, articles about our previous waste diversion projects, like East High School’s After Prom event last spring and guidance on how to reduce waste to the landfill – one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gasses.

10 Factors that made this a Sustainable Event

  1. ALL vendors were required to use certified compostable ware (cups, plates, cutlery, etc)
  2. Vendors had to provide proof that the serving ware was compostable.  And, if it wasn’t, they had to replace the items or leave (thankfully, everyone complied and no one had to leave)
  3. Waste stations were positioned all over the event to make it EASY for attendees to deal with their waste, minimizing contamination and littering
  4. Volunteers were trained to sort, collect, weigh and empty the waste bins into their appropriate wheelie bins (provided by neighbors)
  5. Neighbors provided Recycling, Compost and Landfill bins to minimize cost and eliminate the need for expensive and unsightly roll-away dumpsters
  6. Educational pieces were sprinkled throughout promotional materials (posters, programs and on the web site)
  7. A Sustainability Zone was established and managed providing fun and education for attendees
  8. Electronics recycling was available for little to no charge on the day and volunteers from the Rotary Club managed it so our team could focus on the Sustainability Zone and waste management.
  9. People were encouraged to walk or bike to the event and the homes on the tour (free bicycle parking available at all homes and the street fair)
  10. Denver Water had their truck there to provide water for patrons – either using their own water bottles or compostable cups
Puttin’ it in the correct bin!

Then, the Skies Opened up…

The event was well attended and the weather held out until the very end when we did our waste sorting and weighing (so we can report back to the Greater Park Hill Community and have baseline numbers for future years).  As we were sorting and cleaning up, the skies opened up in a deluge, which made it challenging, but we still think we got accurate numbers.  Once all the numbers were in, we were proud to report an 82% diversion rate!  The next morning all the recycling, compost and trash was collected by Denver Waste Management.  PBS was there the next day filming for a documentary that will air at the end of October/early November.  Neighbors who had donated their bins for the day received their bins back empty (for the most part) AND, best of all, there was NO waste remaining on the parkway (something that neighbors have complained about in the past).

It was a satisfying experiment and provides hope for future events.

It’s the choices we make in our daily lives that can make little shifts in this adventure called climate change.

Denver Water Truck dispensed 94 gallons of water to people in their own reusable bottles or compostable cups diverting ~750 plastic water bottles from the waste stream
Becky Migas of B. Green Events calculated our waste diversion results

Even more ways to Support Sustainability

As we learn and gradually change our habits, we can make a difference in other, more impactful, ways too:

  • Support the bigger players where there is more impact
  • Support businesses and organizations that are focusing on sustainability
  • Donate to non-profits like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, The Nature Conservancy, NRDC, and other organizations doing the work.
  • Pressure businesses to move towards more environmentally-friendly ingredients and practices
  • Boycott businesses that are still doing things that damage our environment and our health
  • Sign petitions and lobby

Reading blog posts like this one can help keep you educated.  You can make tweaks in your habits.  But, to make a more effective impact, think bigger and put some of the pressure and responsibility on the companies and organizations that have the power to make big changes towards sustainability.

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Composting – Plain and Simple

by, Liz Rutledge

The official definition of “Composting” sounds, well, pretty gross.

According to Dictionary.com, composting is:

noun

a mixture of various decaying organic substances, as dead leaves or manure, used for fertilizing soil. A composition; compound.

verb (used with object)

to use in compost; make compost of:to compost manure and kitchen scraps.to apply compost to (soil).

verb (used without object)

to make compost:Shredded leaves will compost easily.

But, here’s what I’ll tell you…Mother Nature has her way. Naturally, bio-degradables break down, get eaten, processed and regurgitated as amazingly nutrient-rich stuff.

If you compost, your contribution to the landfill will decrease DRAMATICALLY. And, thanks to city-wide composting programs like the one in Denver, it’s super easy. If you don’t have such services, perhaps you can ask your landlord or apartment complex to set up a small tumbler composter – reducing the impact space-wise and reducing nasty smells, waste to the landfill and more!’

A fellow green thumb contributed this fantastic guide to composting if you want to get started. Check out Kevin Rodrigues’ article on How to make your own Compost.

Raised garden beds recently installed at Newport Street Retreat by Denver Scout Troop 62

This week, Sustainable Three will be setting up composting at Newport Street Retreat in Denver (home of Sustainable Three). Now that they have raised garden beds, thanks to Denver Boy Scout Troop 62, they will have beautiful vegetation growing to help support their Dinner Church on Thursdays. Who knows what this will grow into, but they will need a composting system for peelings, leaves and other garden waste. That will, in turn, become nourishment that will go back into the garden.

Watch for my blog series on composting in the coming weeks!

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¡Viva Vanilla!

By Liz Rutledge

On Day 3 of our Reefs to Rockies exploration of Mexico, we toured a vanilla plantation in Guiterrez Zamor (about a four hour drive north of Veracruz).  A lovely señora, Sylvia (with our guide Jorge’s translation), explained in loving detail how the vanilla plants are grown, harvested, beans processed and sold.

When we arrived in our 18 person van, we unloaded and walked up a steep walkway past beautiful murals and cypress trees stretching towards the heavy, grey sky.  The vanilla plantation was founded by “finca” (estate boss) Orlando Gaya who immigrated to Mexico from Italy in 1873.  Since then, the plantation has been operated with organic quality and purity as the highest priorities.

When we visited the orchid museum in Coatepec, we learned that vanilla is an orchid (which means “testicles” because of the shape of the bulbs).  The two vanilla orchid plants grown at the Orlando Gaya Vanilla Plantation are Planifolia and Pompona.  Planifolia’s flavor is a bit bitter, but the aroma is like chocolate.  Whereas Pompona smells like prunes and tastes sweet.  Vanilla likes to grow on two types of trees: Phichoco with its red seed pods (which we saw at the botanical gardens outside Coatepec) and the pequeena (a.k.a. Mexican bamboo).  They can also grow on coconut trees (or Erythrina lanceolata) Sylvia described the vanilla plants as the “princesses” and the trees they like to grow up as the “princes”. They have a very mindful, symbiotic relationship in which the female vanilla plant nurtures the
protective male trees.

These vanilla plants are very sensitive and will actually switch genders if they are exposed to too much stress.

As we walked further along the path, we saw the shade houses where these plants are painstakingly nurtured and tended.  These plants have become extremely high maintenance over time and must be hand pollinated one flower at a time.  The tenders use a thin bamboo stick to spread pollen from one bloom to the next and it takes about a month to hand pollinate 6,000 plants.  They say that these vanilla plants have become “lazy”.  The hope with some of the experimental plantings at this vanilla plantation is to make these precious plants more resilient.  Interns are working to assist in this process.

The vanilla orchid, once planted, takes 2 ½-3 years to produce flowers.  Then, once pollinated, the flowers take nine months to produce the vanilla pods/beans.   Only the healthiest are harvested and as the workers find fungus, worms or other disease, those plants are sterilized to prevent the spread of the disease.

The newer 19 to 25-year-old workers at the vanilla plantation get on-the-job-training as they are taught to pollinate, investigate, nurture, pick, inspect, separate, process and package the vanilla pods.  Separation happens along a long conveyor belt and the pods are divided into hierba “grass”, pezon “nipple”, quebrados “broken”, and entero “complete”.  The less perfect ones are used for ice cream and other vanilla products where appearance is not as important.  Every step along the way, they are making sure it is a good, disease, pest and chemical-free product.

Once picked and separated, the beans are dried on mesh racks, put in a sort of “sauna” for three days, then dried further over the course of six months in a large room, regularly inspected, wrapped in blankets and kept safe.  Once they are perfectly ready, they are divided yet again by level of quality and processed into bags of seeds, powder, pods, etc. and “vaulted” in stainless steel boxes behind cages, in a building with bars on the windows and electrified wires.  Finally, the vanilla is inspected in a laboratory for a final inspection.  At US$5/vanilla bean, we can now understand why they take such painstaking care to protect them.

After touring the processing facility, we were given a sample of a drink made with equal parts vanilla liquor and sweetened condensed milk (and ice) called beso totonaca (from the name of the Beso Totonaca Kingdom).

As you would expect, our tour ended in the gift shop where they sell many vanilla products (extract, beans, candles, ice cream and a liquor (Xanat is a brand they sell here)).

A good Mindfulness practice includes gratitude so it is good to acknowledge and thank the vanilla and its tenders for the patient process which it goes through to arrive in our chocolate chip cookies, cakes, coffees, ice cream and more.

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Bringing Mindfulness Home

Sometimes it is a bit challenging to practice mindfulness at home with your family.  But, sometimes it’s also as simple as adding in a new ritual.

It can be starting a habit of one minute of gratitude and/or kind thoughts after you get in bed.  Or, taking a Mindful minute of deep breaths before you start to go to sleep.  Using calming music or a Mindfulness app can be beneficial before sleep as well.

Here are some apps I recommend to our mindfulness students:

There are more listed here:

Top Meditation iPhone and Android Apps

and

here:

Free Mindfulness Apps Worthy of your Attention

But, the reality is, you don’t need to install and app or listen to a YouTube video to practice mindfulness.  All you need is your lungs and they are free and they are always with us.

Bring it to the Table:

Another option is to create some routines around shared meals.  So, at the family dinner table, you can take a minute to breathe before beginning the meal.  Or, everyone can take turns saying one thing they are thankful for that day.  Setting the expectation that everyone is to focus on the person speaking is another way to be mindful.

Children, but humans in general, thrive on routine.  So, creating a regular mindful activity can really benefit our children, but ourselves as well.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.  It doesn’t have to be “perfect”.  Just give it a go!

 

If you want to dive deeper, here’s another great article about mindfulness apps:

How Do Mindfulness Apps Work?

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CHALLENGE DAY 21

HAPPY EARTH DAY 2018!

Today’s challenge is to slow down…

…is there a way you can create more time to allow to make your lunch? 

Make your own bread, jam or yogurt?

How about just taking some time for self care?

Life today is busy and stressed for most people.  I don’t think we are on this planet to live busy and stressed.

Mindfulness about ourselves, our community and our planet means taking the time

to “look around once and a while or you might miss it ” (in the words of Ferris Bueller)

Ferris Bueller Quote

So, today, can you take some time and go for a walk? 

Observe birds chirping, the color of the sky, the color of the grass. 

Have you seen bees yet this season?  They are critical pollinators for our food sources. 

Can you sit and take 10 minutes to focus just on your breath?

Can you lovingly make a meal for yourself and your family?

Can you make time to bake a loaf of bread with care?

That is all.

Just slow down today.

And, enjoy.

Thank you to all of you who participated, took a look and asked questions or made suggestions.  This has been a fantastic journey!

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CHALLENGE DAY 20

Today’s challenge is to D.I.Y.

We are super addicted to packaging in modern society.  The item we are really purchasing is sometimes wrapped in plastic and again in a plastic container.  And, again, plastic (although recyclable in most cases) is not biodegradable.  So, today I’d like you to invite you to make something on your own that you normally buy in a container.

Try making your own.

Here are some examples of products you can make at home:

bread, yogurt, jam, frozen fruit, juices, granola, trail mix, tea, nut butters, canned veggies/fruit, household cleaners

To make this easier, I am providing a couple recipes, but feel free to do your own research and get creative!

When I was growing up, my mother made her own bread, refried beans, cookies, cakes, etc.

As I’ve become a mother, I’ve learned about canning, juicing and making my own household cleaners and tea.

Yes, it’s more time consuming than just running to the store.  But, can you turn it into an exercise in Mindfulness?  Being aware that by making your own bread, you know where the ingredients came from, you know how it was handled and prepared.  And, you can put the love in!

I keep a little spice container by my cooktop labeled “LOVE” and as I am cooking, I sprinkle a little into the dish I am preparing.  It’s technically empty, but it is a reminder to get present to what I am doing and be Mindful of my current activity.  Sometimes I’m in a rush and forget.  But on those days, the meals are definitely not as delicious to my family or myself.

(I’m not making this up…)

Is THIS why your mum’s meals taste so good?

One of the world’s best chefs says you can taste the love in really good food

How does one put love into their cooking?

COOKING WITH LOVE VS. HALF-ASS COOKING

As always, if this challenge does not work for you today, please do one of the Optional Challenges today!


Here are a couple recipes to get you started (hopefully with ingredients you already have at home):

 

 

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CHALLENGE DAY 18

Clean up Your Cleaners

Today’s Challenge is to find out if your dry cleaning service is “green” (if you have your clothes dry cleaned).  This should be as simple as a phone call or Internet search.

What does that mean?

Dry cleaning chemicals have historically tended to be highly carcinogenic (psst…that means they cause that nasty thing called CANCER).   

Articles like this one about PERC are disturbing to say the least:

https://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20100209/dry-cleaning-chemical-likely-causes-cancer#1

(If you don’t want to read the article, let me sum up for you:  PERC (which is short for a chemical I cannot pronounce (perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene).  It has been found in the air, water, people’s blood and breast milk.  It most likely causes cancer and brain damage.  IF that is enough to get you concerned, have no fear.

One helpful choice is to have your items washed and pressed at the cleaners instead of dry cleaned.  With skilled technicians and the most up-to-date machinery, wet cleaning can be as safe and effective as dry cleaning.

100 Percent PERC Free

However, you may have some clothes that have to be dry cleaned.  Thankfully, many dry cleaning companies have switched to more eco-friendly practices.  I would highly recommend you follow some of the guidelines below (see links down further) to find out which chemicals your dry cleaners are using.

You could try one of these searches to find one near you:

Eco-Friendly Dry Cleaners Search

or

Green Dry Cleaners Search

If you already take your clothes to a “green”/eco-friendly dry cleaners, ask if they have a reusable garment bag option.  Our local dry cleaners offer a service with a one-time investment in a reusable garment bag.  That way you aren’t getting those plastic dry cleaning bags that you have to then deal with (hopefully) responsibly.  If you have a bunch of those plastic dry cleaner bags and hangers, most dry cleaners will recycle them, so you can add dropping them off to your next combined errands trip. 🙂

Also, when you take your clothes to the dry cleaners, it is helpful to have a dedicated bag in which to take them.

If you don’t dry clean any of your clothes, then today you can do one of the Optional Challenges!


For more on dry cleaning and PERC, check out these links:

Dirty Laundry Should I give up dry cleaning?

(One of the links was broken in this article, so I found this: Alternative Solvents: Health and Environmental Impacts and am going to take it to my local dry cleaners and ask which products they use).

This is a simpler (and prettier) breakdown of dry cleaning chemicals that may be used by your dry cleaners:

What Chemicals Are Used in Dry Cleaning?

Do you OSHA?  Then, here’s a lengthy read for you:

REDUCING WORKER EXPOSURE TO PERCHLOROETHYLENE (PERC) IN DRY CLEANING

And, finally, now that the Chemistry lesson is over, here’s a good quick read for a laugh:

https://www.fashionstork.com/blog/10-dirty-secrets-your-dry-cleaners-know-about-you/

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CHALLENGE DAY 15

Today’s challenge is to start composting – or at least look into it.

Part 1 of this challenge  – instead of putting your peelings and other food waste in the bin, save it for this one day and see how much you would divert from the landfill, then consider starting composting at home or with your city’s composting program (where available).

Maybe keep the peelings and such in a bag throughout the day and then weigh the bag at the end of the day.  Take a photo of it and share it on social media.  Then, if you multiply that times 365 that’s how much your household is contributing to the landfill each year.

Part 2 of this challenge is to actually start composting. If you have five to 10 minutes today, research what it would take to start composting.  So much of what ends up in the landfill is wasted food.  Something like 40% of food in America is thrown away.  Composting not only diverts food from going to the landfill, it also nourishes the soil making it healthier for growing more healthy food and the cycle continues.  So, you can find out if your city has a composting program.  Or, if you have the ability and space to have compost in your own yard and start a garden this summer, this is a good time to get it started.  Feel overwhelmed by the idea of starting your own compost?  SustainableThree.com offers consulting services for this very thing.

 

If you already compost, congratulations! 

You can either take the day off or do one of the Optional Challenges today! 

Thank you for reducing your waste!

 

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CHALLENGE DAY 14

Create a Car Kit!

Today’s challenge is to set up a car kit to make zero waste shopping and such easier.

It could be as simple as:

a cardboard box,

a reusable coffee mug,

reusable drink bottle,

reusable straws and cutlery,

cloth napkins,

A to-go/take-away kit

a few Mason jars,

mesh bags for shopping

for produce and such,

and 5-10 reusable shopping bags.

We found this great suggestion on Instagram, but you can do any format that works for you:

View this post on Instagram

CAR KIT: being prepared is probably my biggest trick to maintaining as zero waste as possible. while I keep my reusable bags by the front door so I can remember them before shopping trips, I also have a mini kit in my car in case of emergency. reusable canvas tote, burlap sack, three produce bags, two mini cloth bags, one large and one small jar, a tiny jar, reusable coffee cup, measuring cup, spork, bottle opener, cloth napkin, little cardboard roll with yarn, twine and rubber bands. How do you prepare for ZW emergencies on the go? . . KIT DE COCHE: estar preparado es probablemente mi mayor truco para mantener cero desechos como sea posible. mientras guardo mis bolsas reutilizables por la puerta de entrada para que recuerda antes de ir de compras, también tengo un mini kit en mi automóvil en caso de emergencia. bolsa de lona reutilizable, saco de arpillera, tres bolsas de tela, dos bolsas de tela mini, un frasco grande y otro pequeño, un frasco chiquitito, taza de café reutilizable, taza medidora, spork, abrebotellas, servilleta de tela, rollo de cartón con hilo y bandas de goma. ¿Cómo te preparas para las emergencias de acero basura? . #goinggreen #ecofriendly #ditchplastic #incaseofemergency #zerowastehome #reusables #zerowaste #nontoxicliving #sustainableliving #lifewithoutplastic #goingzerowaste #vidasimple #basuracero #residuocero #ecologico #cerodesperdicio #fueraquimicos #ceroresiduo #natural #encasodeemergencia #sindesperdicio #sostenible #productosnaturales #vidanatural #cerobasura

A post shared by Heidi Violet (@zerowastechica) on

…from ZeroWasteChica (Instagram)

This is a really great break-down:

https://www.tinyyellowbungalow.com/zero-waste-on-the-go-kit/

(see this blog featured image)

 

And, here is a great solution for your purse, back pack or carrier bag:

Photo: BeZero.org

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