Posts tagged “composting

THE DIRT ON SOIL how carbon farming can save our planet

Do you ever feel like the planet is going to hell in a handbasket, and there’s nothing we can do about it?
Like you just want to throw in the towel, recycle your recycling bin and hit the drive-thru (in an SUV) for a factory-farmed burger (with a side of pesticide fries) and a hormone-laced milkshake (in a BPA-lined cup)?

I know what you mean.

It’s hard to stay positive in a climate of deniers and doom and gloom.

But before you trade in your Prius, take five minutes to watch The Soil Story. Finally, some good news about reversing climate change!

It turns out the soil—the very skin of our planet—could also be the answer to saving the planet.

That’s right….soil.

It’s not sexy but it’s effective, it’s gaining momentum and it just might give you reason to be optimistic again.


The carbon balance

We know carbon is a leading cause of global warming, right?

Well, it’s actually not that simple. The problem is not carbon itself, but too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

There has always been a delicate balance of carbon in our air, our soil…and in ourselves. After all, carbon is essential to life.

The problem starts when that delicate balance gets thrown off, as it has since the industrial revolution.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 1.47.05 PM

We humans have upset the balance by extracting too much carbon out of the ground, where it’s been minding its own business for millenia. Burning coal and oil, as well other practices like industrial farming, spews millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every day and speeds up global warming. Conventional farming alone emits a whopping 15-30% of annual global CO2 emissions—yikes!

So do we have to burn fewer fossil fuels? Do we have to change the way we produce our food?


But even if we halted all emissions tomorrow, we’d still have to figure out a way to restore balance to the carbon equation.


The dirt on soil

The question is: How do we get excess carbon out of the atmosphere, where it’s polluting our air, killing our oceans, and heating up our planet—and get it back into the ground, where it belongs?

Answer: Carbon farming

Carbon farming —also called regenerative agriculture—is a method of farming that actually sinks carbon back into the soil. Carbon farmers use carefully planned grazing and compost instead of machines and chemicals. They work the land gently to avoid rustling up carbon stores. They increase crop diversity and crop rotation. They plant more trees and cover crops.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 3.18.27 PMThen all those happy plants do their little photosynthesis dance, capture atmospheric CO2 in their leaves, and pump it back into the ground.

Carbon farming also creates healthier soil that can grow nutrient-rich crops faster and hold more water—a win-win for farmers, the economy and every person who needs to eat. Which is like, um, every human on this planet.

Healthy soil and healthy plants! Mother Nature’s little carbon redistribution system. So simple and natural, we don’t even need to develop any fancy pants new technology. We can do more carbon farming right now.

And we are, on a small scale in local areas. But to make a real impact on CO2 levels, carbon farming needs to go global, stat.


Want to give carbon farming a boost? Here’s what you can do right now:

  1. Learn more  If you have four minutes, watch Soil Solutions to Climate Problems narrated by Michael Pollan. Or pick up a copy of The Soil will Save Us for more in-depth scoop.
  2. Buy organic  Organic farming and carbon farming have a lot in common, like composting, crop diversity, and more responsible use of the land.
  3. Start composting  Carbon farms use compost to enrich the soil and increase plant production. If you’re not sure how to start, or what you can toss into the bin, my blog on compost can help.
  4. Go grass-fed  Not only is grass-fed meat and dairy healthier for you, it’s better for the environment than industrial-farmed varieties.
  5. Get grassroots  Support your local carbon farming initiatives. Buy their organic produce and products. Support government policies that help organic and regenerative farming practices.
  6. Spread the word!  Because cooling the earth, creating a climate of hope, and renewing our will to save her….could be a simple as the soil.

The will to act is a renewable resource.

~ Al Gore in The Case for Optimism in Climate Change


GOING ZERO WASTE how low can you go?

Zero Waste Home US ORIGINAL

Bea Johnson knows a thing or two about vinegar.

She uses it as a window cleaner, laundry freshener, drain opener, weed killer, insect repellant, and stain remover. She even used it instead of conditioner until her husband got a tad tired of her smelling like vinaigrette.

You see, Bea is one of the leading proponents of the Zero Waste movement.

The Queen Bea of Zero Waste, you might say.

bea johnson

bea johnson

When her inspiring story started in 2006, she was living the American suburban dream in a 3,000-square-foot home filled with trinkets and trivia, driving (a big SUV) everywhere yet getting nowhere, consuming a lot…yet not quite fulfilled.

Now she lives in a small cottage with just the basics, gets around town on two wheels instead of four, has time for simple pleasures with her family, and has never been happier. Her story unfolds like a fable, as a Sleeping Beauty gradually wakes up to the toll the American Dream takes on our relationships, ourselves and our planet.

On Bea’s blog  and in her new book, Zero Waste Home, she chronicles her trials and tribulations of reducing waste and simplifying her life. She talks about her almost obsessive efforts to eliminate waste, and eventually finding her way back to reasonable and sustainable solutions for her family.

Her blog and book are amazing collections of all the things that worked for her, and we learn so much about creative solutions for the home, office, garden, personal care, even while traveling. Here we can find ideas for fresh and timeless home decor, creative alternatives to traditional products, the best places to buy bulk (there’s even an app for that), and the art of refusing freebies and other un-necessities.

Bea does an amazing job of keeping Zero Waste approachable. Notice I didn’t say ‘attainable’. Because she is the first to point out that Zero Waste is not an absolute – “shit happens” and to make waste is to be human. The great thing is this book passionately reminds us that we get to decide how much each of us makes.

Bea’s lifestyle might seem rash to some readers (charred almonds for eyeliner!) but not extreme enough to others (yes, folks, she does use toilet paper, albeit the recycled, unbleached kind). But there are hundreds of simple and creative tips in this book that anyone can use – the harried mom, the hardcore environmentalist, and everyone in between.

Try a few of Bea’s tips this week. You might discover for yourself that ‘less’ is truly ‘more’….

What is Zero Waste?  A philosophy based on a set of practices aimed at avoiding as much waste as possible. In the manufacturing world it inspires cradle-to-cradle design, in the home it engages the consumer to act responsibly.” { (c) Zero Waste Home}

Why you should consider it.

  • Less garbage in landfills.
  • Fewer toxins in the air, soil and water.
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Less time spent cleaning and curating your material stuff.
  • More time spent with friends, family and experiencing stuff.

A random sampling of Bea’s Zero Waste tips:

  • Welcome alternatives to disposables. Swap paper towels for reusable rags, swap sandwich baggies for kitchen towels or stainless containers, drop garbage liners all together (wet waste is mostly compostable anyway).
  • Buy in bulk or at the counter, bring reusable bags (for dry goods), jars (for wet items such as meat, deli, cheese, peanut butter) and bottles (for liquids: oil, soy sauce, shampoo).
  • Refill your bottles with bulk shampoo and conditioner, or use a shampoo bar. Instead of hairspray, switch to lemon water in a spray bottle. To go longer between washes, substitute dry shampoo for cornstarch (in bulk).
  • Use 100% recycled and unbleached toilet paper individually wrapped in paper,
  • Do laundry once a week using a bulk laundry detergent, full loads, and cold water cycles as much as possible. Savon de Marseille, dishwasher detergent, lemon or vinegar work great on stains.
  • Use bulk liquid castille soap as a dish/hand cleaner, baking soda as a scrubber (in a stainless Parmesan dispenser) with a compostable cleaning brush (a wooden one with natural hair). Purchase dishwasher detergent in bulk.
  • Use refillable pens, piston fountain pens, mechanical pencils, refillable white board markers and donate extra office material (paper, pencils) to your public school’s art program.
  • Start your personal junk mail war, cancel your phone directories, and sign up for electronic bills and statements.
  • Only shop for clothes a couple times a year to avoid compulsive buys.
  • Buy second-hand clothing.
  • Find creative ways to decorate your table with few napkin folding tricks, discarded leaves/branches from the yard, or just seasonal fruit.
  • Hostess gift: Bring a jar of a homemade consumable, or your favorite bulk item wrapped in Furoshiki.
  • Give the gift of an experience as a birthday present.


What are your tips for Going Zero?


WHY SHOULD I COMPOST? And what the heck can go into my bin?




In my next few blog posts, I’ll be addressing some of my readers’ most burning green questions.

Susan asks:

Do I really need to start composting? I feel like I should be doing it, but I don’t really know what is safe to throw in the bin. So I’m just avoiding the whole thing.

I hear you, Susan and you’re in good company. Lots of people who are going green haven’t made the leap to the compost pile.

There’s a reason why composting is the last of 4R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and ROT). It has a bad rap of being intimidating, way too much effort, and, well…kinda gross. Very few people would say they dig the scent or sight of freshly decomposing organic matter.

But I assure you these are merely psychological barriers. If you compost right (and right away) it can be easy and pretty much odor-free.

So Susan, my answer is YES! Composting really does make a huge dent in the amount of garbage we humans create. YES! It’ll be easy for you to start. And YES! You won’t believe the stuff you can compost – like egg shells, dryer lint, even your morning coffee grounds.

Just read on…


  • It’s easy. You have to throw your garbage somewhere. Why not toss it into the compost pail instead of the garbage can? Just keep both bins right next to each other in the kitchen.



  • It’s the ultimate form of recycling. As your food scraps and other cast-offs break down, they make a really rich soup that can go back into the soil, nourishing the earth and the next generations of plants, animals and people.
  • It keeps your garbage lean and mean. The average person tosses 4-5 pounds of waste into the garbage every day, and at least a third is stuff that could be composted. Our landfills are overfull, and we’re running out of places to stash all that trash. You can make less garbage by composting!
  • It helps the Earth keep its cool. When you toss into the compost instead of the trash, all that organic matter breaks down aerobically (with oxygen). If it went to the landfill and got buried under piles of other garbage, it would decompose slowly and anaerobically (without oxygen). This creates tons of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming. So by composting you’re reducing the amount of methane in the atmosphere, and keeping the planet cooler.

HOW DO I COMPOST? It’s as easy as 1-2-3

Screen shot 2014-04-08 at 11.45.45 AM1. Get a kitchen bin. You don’t need fancy bags and deodorizers or any bells and whistles if you empty and rinse it every day. This here’s my compost pail – just a step-open mini garbage can from the hardware store.

2. Fill with compostables. (see WHAT CAN I COMPOST? below)

3. Empty daily. If your town collects compost, just dump it into your “yard waste” bin.  Cities and towns all over, from San Francisco to New York City are starting municipal compost collection programs. If you’re not sure about your town policy, call your refuse company and find out. If they don’t collect compost yet, start a petition and get them on the bandwagon!


A lot more than you think.

Kitchen food scraps, of course, but here are other compostables that may surprise you:

  • pizza boxes
  • dust bunnies
  • paper towels and Kleenex
  • abandoned Halloween candy
  • egg cartons (the paperboard kind)
  • Q-tips (the ones with a paper stick)
  • balloons (the latex kind)
  • plants and flowers that are past their prime
  • newspaper

For an entertaining and exhaustive list,  check out Care2.


If you’re still not ready to make the leap to composting, but you want to make a move in the green direction, try buying kitchen trash bags that are biodegradable. That way, your compostables that go to landfill can get a fighting chance at breaking down faster. Green Legacy is my personal fave, because they’re strong, and they wait to break down at the dump, not in your kitchen.

What are some of your composting trials and tribulations?




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