Saturday, August 27, 2011

How to Compost

Add approximately 60% leaves or browns and 40% grass and food scraps
I grew up on a little farm (at least that is what my brother and I called it). We had sheep and goats, chickens, and turkeys and tons of gardens. In addition to the apple and plum trees that covered the property, my mom had vegetable gardens which produced enough for us to live off of. Nestled in the back of the property was the compost pile. My brother or I would collect the coffee grounds from breakfast and the veggie scraps from the day’s meals and take them up to the compost pile. That is where my contribution to the compost ended, I had no clue how the grounds and peels became lush compost (and to be honest as a teenage girl I didn’t really care). When I planted my own garden last year I had no clue how to fertilize it but I knew it could somehow be done with compost. So I looked it up and built myself a pile!

You know your compost is done when it is a lush dark brown color!

So how do you do it? If you have a large enough yard you can simply make a compost pile or construct a bin; our family uses an old wine barrel planter. If you don’t have room for a big pile or bin you can try worm composting (this is great for apartments).
If you have the room begin by looking for you location, you will want it to be a level, well drained surface. This can be in the sun or shade-I have read that you don’t want it to be in direct sunlight but ours is and as long as we make sure it stays moist it is ok.
Add approximately 60% leaves or browns and 40% grass and food scraps. Add water as you build up your pile. You want to make sure that the moisture is evenly distributed throughout your pile, and that it is about as moist as a wrung out sponge.
Now mix it up! Periodically you need to turn your pile, this adds oxygen which is needed by the organisms that break the matter down to survive. It also reduces the odor and break up the compacted material.
A worm bin is basically the same. Take a bin with a lid and drill some holes in it. Add some dirt and newspaper and then your worms. Feed your worm’s fruit, vegetables, cereals grains and other organic items. It is smart to cover the food with a newspaper or cardboard to keep the bin dark and moist, this will also discourage fruit flies.
You will know your compost is ready to be added to your garden when it is a lush dark brown color!
Here are a few things that you can add to your compost bin:
Vegetable peels, raw veggies, teabags, lawn cuttings, twigs, leaves, old flower, shredded newspaper, cardboard, junk mail, shredded documents, egg shells, coffee grounds, and lint from your dryer.
Make sure you do not compost meat, dairy products, laminated plastic (juice cartons and magazines) oils or fats.
Happy Green composting!!

Friday, August 26, 2011

How to recycle

Remember when you learned about the 3 R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle – in school? Did you realize then how important those three R’s would be later in life? Probably not! Most of us just learned it, and then poof, out of sight out of mind.
So…here is a refresher on how and what to recycle!
I love to recycle! But am I doing it right? Am I recycling enough or am I recycling too much?
An easy list of things to NEVER recycle – food waste (or items with food waste on them – make sure to rinse!), yard waste, disposable diapers, cloth diapers, plastic wrap, wood, cloth or clothing, trash. Plastic shopping bags typically cannot be recycled in the home containers, they need to be collected and taken to your local grocery store to recycle (they often have containers outside to place them in.)
Many city recycling programs have websites full of information that you can look up for how to easily recycle in your city. The information provided was found from my local waste management site, for California – so be sure to check your site for do’s and don’ts that may be specific for your area.
In Sacramento, all recyclable materials – plastic, metal, paper and more – can be put into one single bin because they have an innovative sorting technology that allows them to recover three times as much recyclable materials as they could previously.
I found a great do’s and don’t list at this link for my area -

Here is an at a glance view on items that you can and cannot recycle
· Corrugated cardboard (boxes)
· Magazines
· Office paper (all colors)
· Newspapers
· Paperboard (cereal boxes)
· Paper cardboard dairy/juice cartons (in limited areas only)
· Unsolicited direct mail (even window envelopes are okay)
· Phone books
· Aluminum cans
· Foil and aluminum bakeware
· Steel cans and tins (rinsed-out soup cans, veggie cans, coffee cans, etc.)
· Wire coat hangers
· Empty aerosol cans
· Clear glass (rinsed mayonnaise containers, pasta sauces, pickle jars, etc.)
· Brown amber glass typically used for beer
· Green bottles typically used for wine
· Plastic containers can often be recycled but make sure it’s clean! Does that peanut butter jar still have some remnants sticking to the side? Don't recycle it until it's clean!
· Plastic products labeled Code 1 and Code 2 are widely accepted at recycling facilities. These typically include soft drink and soda bottles; plastics from cereal boxes; containers for salad dressing, vegetable oil, and peanut butter; oven-ready meal trays; butter and margarine tubs; and containers for laundry detergent and some household cleaners.

· Waxed paper
· Food-contaminated paper (such as a cheese-encrusted pizza box)
· Mixed metal and paper (like stapled paper – just remove the staple and the paper can be recycled)
· Food-contaminated metals (like a half-eaten can of beans – rinse out the beans and the can is good to recycle!)
· Automotive parts
· Plumbing parts
· Paint cans with wet or dried-on paint
· Electronics
· Any glass contaminated with stones, dirt and food waste
· Ceramics, such as dishware, ovenware, and decorative items
· Heat-resistant glass, such as Pyrex
· Mixed colors of broken glass
· Mirror or window glass
· Metal or plastic caps, corks or lids
· Crystal
· Light bulbs
· Cathode-ray tubes (CRTs) found in some televisions and computer monitors (See our Other Waste section for how to properly recycle electronics)
· Municipalities differ on whether to accept products labeled with Code 4 and Code 5. These typically include squeezable bottles, bread wrappers, frozen food bags, dry cleaning bags, yogurt containers, syrup bottles, ketchup bottles, some straws, and prescription bottles.
· Plastic grocery and produce sacks are commonly, but not always, made from plastic types 2 or 4. These bags are often collected in barrels at grocery stores.
· Plastic products labeled with Code 3, 6, or 7 are less-often accepted for recycling. These typically include window cleaner and dishwashing detergent bottles, some shampoo bottles, cooking oil bottles, clear food packaging, plastics used in most blister packs, disposable coffee cups, polystyrene, plastic egg cartons, aspirin bottles, and compact disc cases.
Some interesting facts about recyclable materials (visit for more information)
Paper production represents 1.2% of the world’s totally economic output yet it makes up more than 40% of landfills!
The scrap value of the 36 billion aluminum cans Americans discarded in one year alone was about $600 million. Apart from the economic impact, the environmental savings of recycling metal are enormous. Recycling steel and tin cans, for example, saves 74% of the energy needed to produce them in the first place.
Glass is endlessly recyclable, and most glass bottles and jars produced in the United States now contain at least 25% recycled glass – which also requires 75% less energy to produce than glass made from new materials. One important thing to keep in mind as you recycle glass is that even small amounts of some materials (like ceramics) mixed in with glass can contaminate entire loads.
Did you know that every year we produce enough plastic film in this country to shrink-wrap Texas? Or that Americans discard 38 billion plastic water bottles every year? While plastic offers the advantages of being flexible and lightweight, manufacturing it consumes fossil resources and contributes waste to our environment. One important thing to keep in mind as you recycle plastics is that cleanliness is essential. One dirty product, or one with food waste still in it, can contaminate an entire bale containing thousands of pounds of collected plastics.
I found that I am actually over-recycling. I need to be better about rinsing all food waste from containers prior to recycling. I didn’t know that a single piece of contaminated recyclable material can ruin an entire bail of recyclables! I would hate to be the cause of that! I also need to check the number better on my plastic containers. I love to recycle! And I love that my recycling bin fills up more quickly than my garbage bin! Happy Green Recycling!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Farmer's Market

As a resident and chef in California, I feel privileged to have the amazing opportunity to work with some of the best farmers on the planet, the product these guys produce and the impact they have on the planet in incredible.
The farmer’s market day for my family is my favorite day of the week. I get to spend time with my son and wife at this really cool place that has all kinds of amazing looking food. At the same time I also get to instill the fun factor of local food in my son’s life which will benefit him in the long run. I feel it is important for children of all ages to understand that food comes from the earth and not a box. As if the day isn’t already awesome, I also get to have a positive impact on the environment by not using a company that ships food across the world using non recyclable storage containers and fossil fuels. You may say that your small farmer’s market cannot feed the whole city, but if each town would embrace the fact that these amazing farmers will go from town to town bringing their product to you it could – it can’t get much easier than that! For me, it’s a double whammy, I get to bring great food home to cook for my family and make new connections with local farmers for my restaurant.
Cooking from the farmer’s market is a great way to challenge yourself to learn new recipes for your repertoire and experiment with new and different flavors. Even as a professional chef, I am surprised by new and different foods each time I visit the farmer’s market. I deal with food every single day, and I love finding new things that I never knew existed. I also love having the opportunity to talk one-on-one with the farmers to see if they grow a specific item that I have used in the past, it is a great circle of education for both of us.
The farmer’s market isn’t just about the produce. You can find the most amazing honey, talk to the bee keeper and find out what kind of flowers the bees pollinated. Depending on the nectar the bee found, each variety has a different flavor, who knew that honey could have different flavors, amazing! You can also find the freshest, local cheese, like Nicasio Valley , they rear their own dairy cows to make their cheeses (are you kidding me, that is sweet!) There are also specialty vendors that do pickling, dried fruits and nuts, local and organic meats and fishes, I mean come on – who wouldn’t want to partake in these fresh and flavorful treats.
Now, you might say that sounds expensive and it can be. But no different than the money we have to pay to keep our parks clean from non-recyclable litter, the city dump, waste management and even medical costs from future health complications. Eating naturally can bring a new meaning to a happy green life.
- Mike

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

UnPaper towels

Unpaper towels are a cloth alternative to paper towels. But do they really do as good of a job? Are they really better for the environment? Can they really save you money?
Paper towels have been around since 1931. And one of the main impacts they have on the environment is that they have to be disposed of, after just one use. Yes, there are many ‘more absorbent’ paper towels that make it so you can use less sheets to clean up a mess, but you are still posed with the problem of having to throw them away after each use. Yes, there are brands that use a significant amount of recycled paper to make them, but you are again stuck having to throw them in the garbage.
It is easy to grab a towel to dry wet hands, clean up a messy counter and even as a napkin at dinner. But how many towels does this add up to? Let’s calculate the amount of paper towels that the average household uses in one year. An average household uses approximately 4 rolls of paper towels in a week. That ends up being 208 rolls of paper towels in a year, or approximately 17,472 paper towels (84 2ply paper towels per roll). This adds up quick, not only in trash but also in money spent from your family’s budget. An average 2-ply roll of paper towels is $1.95 per roll, this equals $405.60 spent on paper towels in a year. WOW, there are a lot of other things that I could use an extra $400 for! It adds up quick if you multiply this across the country. It is estimated that over 2.5 million paper towels, or 29,762 rolls, or $58,036 worth of paper towels are thrown into our landfills in just one year!
Paper towels not only affect our budget and our landfills, but there are also manufacturing processes that make them hard on the environment. Most paper towels are made from paper pulp, which is extracted from wood or other fibrous crops. They are often bleached which has a very harmful bi-product, dioxin, which is linked to birth defects and cancer.
There are some non-paper alternatives to paper towels that can be just as easy and sanitary to use. In many public restrooms, hand blow-dryers are present which are easy to use and efficient at reducing the amount of paper towels used. But it is not easy to have one of these installed by every sink in your home, and they obviously wouldn’t work to clean the counters. The easiest solution for at home is unpaper towels. They are made from many different fabrics: cotton flannel, Sherpa, terry and other fabrics are both absorbent and great at cleaning messes. With an unpaper towel you can often rinse it out and use it for multiple cleanings before having to throw it in the wash. They work great for all of your household cleaning jobs from counters, to windows and mirrors!
This is how we do it in our house. I have a stash of about 40 unpaper towels (toweleze) and a kitchen wetbag that we use to store the dirty ones in until wash day. I have them all stacked up in the kitchen drawer next to the sink. When you have a mess, you simply grab one out of the drawer and clean it up and depending on how big the mess is you can rinse it out and use it again and again. We also keep a small stack of them in the bathroom next to the sink for hand drying. I use my toweleze to clean the counters – and they really do a great job! I am able to clean the entire kitchen with just one towel! Much easier than the 10 or so paper towels it might take to do the same job. They are also great for washing the dishes – I prefer using ones that have a terry cloth on one side for this type of job as it adds some extra scrubbing power! I use them for many other jobs around the house: dusting, cleaning mirrors and windows, cleaning dirty faces and hands, even in the bath as a washcloth!
After my kitchen wetbag gets full, usually about 3-4 days of towels, I simply add them to my regular load of dirty towels for the week. So I am not even doing an ‘extra’ load of laundry! When they come out of the dryer, I just stack them up (no folding) and put them back in their drawer. It is as simple as that!
If each family made the switch to unpaper towels think of how many we could save from our landfills! Making the switch one family at a time does make a significant impact. If you decided today to start using unpaper towels, you could save yourself over $400 each year! And you would be taking out over 17,000 towels from the landfill.
- Kristin

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Carbon footprint

I ran the calculations for my household’s carbon footprint and I am very ashamed. It is bad. Before I tell you what it is, I will make you a promise that we will change it. We will make the changes necessary to cut our co2 emissions because if we don’t we are contributing greatly to the destruction of our earth. Ok here goes, my household carbon footprint is 49 tons of co2 a year. According to the EPA that is equivalent to 115 barrels of oil.
What the heck am I taking about? Let me explain. Scientist have been keeping detailed records of the climate since the 1860’s with that data they are able to see that in the last 100 years the world temperature has raised by .6 degrees Celsius. Paeoclimatologists (scientist who study climate change though out the ages) can look at ice and trees to see what the climate was like in the past before we were keeping a record of it. Scientist look at all of this information and can make predictions about what will happen to our planet. So what does this have to do with co2 and a carbon footprint? In the past 100 years when scientist noted a raise in worldwide temperatures they also noted an increase in co2 emissions, the two are connected. The more carbon dioxide that we produce the more the climate can rise which can cause heat waves, a raise in sea level, the destruction of habitats. The Environmental Defense Organization estimates that climate change puts 20 % to 30% of our world species at risk of extinction. We are already seeing species being affected, like polar bears, who were added to the Endangered Species Act list in 2008. It doesn’t just affect plants and animals, the raise in temperature can affect humans health, the spread of disease, even our air quality. The list of potential impacts that the rise in climate can have is large and scary.
So what can we do? Lower our carbon footprint. Look at the things in your life that produce carbon dioxide and stop using them, if that isn’t possible try using them less. Here are a few suggestions:
Use and electric mower instead of gas, start a compost pile, plant a tree, buy locally grown produce, only use your dishwasher when it is totally full, plant a tree, stop using plastic water bottles, take a direct flight when flying, pack lighter when flying, buy seasonal food, eat one less serving of meat a week, read your newspaper and magazines online, bring your own mug to starbucks, use a slow cooker or crock pot to make food, only boil one cup of water at a time instead of a full pot, only heat the room you are in, drive below the speed limit, re use ziplock bags, and collect rain water to water your garden.
To see what your household’s carbon footprint is check out the Marion Institutes Carbon Calculator at
I will keep everyone updated on our family’s efforts in lowering our carbon footprint. I hope that a year from now our footprint with be below the national average!!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Party time

It is birthday season here at A Happy Green Life, in the next month we will be celebrating both of our husband’s birthdays and three of our kids’. While planning my family’s parties I realized that while I am an expert at planning a rockin’ party I have no idea how to throw one that is ecofriendly. In our family we have three birthdays within two weeks so we are strapped for cash. I needed to figure out how to go green without spending too much money, so I turned to the internet. Instead of ordering invitations like I usually do I sent our guests all e-vites from For my hubby’s party we created a Facebook event and had all of our friends reply online. I love invitations, I am always looking for the cutest ones that I can use for my kids’ parties but I am pretty sure I am the only person at the party who pays attention to them. Think about how much paper is wasted from the invitation, envelope, and stamps; by using online invitations you can cut out all the waste.
I found a great site called Green Party Goods that sells everything from party decorations to forks and plates all of which are ecofriendly. They have great biodegradable plates made from bamboo and utensils made from potatoes or corn! I decided to look for paper products that were made from 100% recycled products, these use 97% less carbon dioxide and 95% less water (try Seventh Generation products, their napkins are made from at least 50% post-consumer products).  For my husband’s party we decided to cut our paper all together and plan on using our cloth napkins and our regular dinner plates!
When it came to decorations I was a bit stumped. My three year old loves balloons but everyone knows they aren’t ecofriendly, right? Wrong! I found out that latex is a natural product made from rubber tree sap. It actually breaks down, they are 100% biodegradable!! What about streamers and banners? Why not use fabric! Having a best friend who makes cloth diapers comes in handy sometimes, we can just cut out streamers and banners from the excess fabric we have. We can even select fabrics with patterns to match our party theme! If you aren’t creative check out the felt banners at Green Party Goods. You can use them again every year!!
Last but not least were the goody bags. How many plastic bags jammed full of candy and cheap plastic toys have my kids taken home over the years? Tons!! The toys are used for approximately one hour and then everything ends up in the trash can, they aren’t very ecofriendly. There are tons of ideas online for great ecofriendly goody bags. My daughter decided that she wants a Popsicle party this year so we are giving each of her guests Tovolo Ice Pop Molds (they are reusable, nontoxic and very cute!). My sons says he is too old for goody bags but came up with a ton of great ideas: reusable bags (made from fabric), recycled crayons melted down into cool shapes, homemade bubbles, homemade chalk, little plants or even seeds!
I will be honest with you, when we set out to make our parties ecofriendly we were a little apprehensive (my husband actually rolled his eyes at me) but it didn’t end up being that hard. There was a recyclable, biodegradable option for all of the products that I needed to buy. I spent more time making my decorations but it will be worth it next year when I have stuff already made to use!!
We will be having these parties soon so wish us luck! And send any ecofriendly party ideas you have our way!!

Friday, August 19, 2011

the beginning of a happy green life

By 2009 Kristin and Amanda had careers, homes, husbands and our first babies. We realized that we needed to start making decisions that would help our families live happy lives that they could afford. Kristin decided to start cloth diapering to save money, it didn’t take long for her to realize that her decisions had an impact on the environment, soon her eyes were opened to other reusable products that would save her money and help the environment. By 2010 Kristin had opened a cloth diaper company that specializes in custom designed diapers and also carries eco friendly products like all natural laundry detergent and unpaper towels.  Amanda grew up with a very eco-conscious family but as she began to start her own family, making eco-friendly decisions was not as important.  Amanda was working towards getting her master’s degree in politics when she took an elective environmental studies course. This reintroduced her to principles that had been important to her family growing up and she decided to change her degree to environmental studies.  She realized that her family needed to make some changes. She began cloth diapering, recycling and purchasing the family food from the farmers market and butcher.
As we began changing our lives to be greener we realized how much money we were saving and how significant of an impact we were making. We also realized how many people thought that going green was difficult and expensive. It became apparent that while going green was becoming more popular it still had a bad rep for being too extreme for the average family.
So, we decided to make a blog. We would experiment with different ways of going green, some would be difficult big changes (like eliminating paper products) and some would be simple like turning off the lights when they left a room. This is our adventure in living a happy green life, we hope you enjoy reading about our journey!
We look forward to any suggestions for living a happy green life that you want to share.  Please email us at or