Browsing Tag



Upcycling Design Challenge

September 5, 2013

UPCYCLING Design Challenge

Reuse! Reclaim! Upcycle! Sustainability is certainly value of ours, and we believe it’s an important value of our customers and community as well. We’ve all heard the popular saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” And we absolutely stand by that quote here at UncommonGoods because we  love all of our upcycled products we feature on our site!  We’re a fan of old things turned anew, from old records to bicycle tubes to recycled glass made into framed art, purses, or jewelry. Even though we already have a great selection of upcycled products, we are still searching for more fun and interesting items to feature!

If you have a special upcycled product design that you would like UncommonGoods to take a look at, enter into this month’s featured contest! You’ll have a chance to win $500 and a vendor contract with us.

To submit your upcycling designs and for the complete contest rules visit our Upcycling Design Challenge page.


Maker Stories

Finding Security in Reclaimed Art – Meet Sarah Nicole Phillips

May 30, 2013

After an overwhelming response in March, we decided to keep our Art Contest running all year round. With twelve months to send in artwork, I was worried that the well might run dry with new ideas and exciting designs. Our first month proved me wrong with a collection of amazing submissions.

Our interim art buyer Melissa chose Security Blue Grass from the top voted semifinalists for its aesthetic, originality, and use of reclaimed materials. Those three elements make its designer, Sarah Nicole Phillips, the ideal Uncommon artist. Meet our newest artist and help us welcome her to our vendor family!

What is one uncommon fact about you?
After high school, I traveled for two and a half years straight, during which all my possessions fit into a backpack.

When did you first realize you’re an artist?
I knew I had become an artist when I purchased a used 54” 5-Drawer Steel Flat File from a guy on Craig’s List, to store my art. In New York City, space is a precious resource so my bed is lofted on top of the flat files. I do not believe this sleeping arrangement has affected my dreams.

Where do you get inspiration for your art?
I draw inspiration from observing the tensions, conflicts and contradictions of contemporary life. I spend a lot of time consuming news media, but just as important is placing myself in situations where lives are smashing up against each other like crowded subways and commercial streetscapes at rush hour. I always carry a small notebook with me to jot down something I see, or draw something that catches my eye. I am conscious of the waste we create and how we manage it.

I have attended several artist residencies in bucolic, rural settings. These quiet places allow for ideas simmering on the back burner to boil over, but I need the background hum of a city to stimulate ideas for new bodies of work.

Describe your artistic process.
The process begins with me scribbling sketches in my notebook. Most of these sketches are fragments of ideas blurted onto paper and are never realized into final pieces. Once I hone in on an image I’d like to create into a collage, I make a full scale drawing that serves as an image template. I search through my supply of patterned security envelopes and select which ones I will use to construct the collage. I have several bankers’ boxes full of envelopes to choose from, sorted into categories according to imagery, color, tone, and other characteristics. The envelopes come from myriad sources; friends and family and sometimes strangers bring me discarded envelopes generated from their workplace or home office. I arrange a “dry assemble” before using adhesive to stick all the pieces down. The final step is to run the collage through an etching press to ensure the thousands of individual pieces are never going to become unstuck.

Describe your work space.
I have a bright, airy, live-work space on the edge of the industrial neighborhood of Gowanus in Brooklyn, NY. Source photographs and sketches are tacked onto the walls. I work sitting at a long table, and pin works-in-progress onto a big white wall that I can stare at, or glance at passively as I walk by to refill my coffee mug. My indispensable tools are a self-healing cutting mat, metal rulers and various cutting blades. The windows are open, as long as the wind isn’t strong enough to blow apart works-in-progress. Public radio or podcasts are always playing.

What advice would you give to another artist interested in entering one of our design challenges?
Submit work that you not only know is strong, but that you are genuinely proud of. If selected as a finalist, you’ll be discussing the design challenge with your with friends and colleagues; it’s much easier to talk about your work with enthusiasm when you feel truly engaged with the work.

The Uncommon Life

Celebrate Cycling for National Bike Month

May 17, 2013

Since May is National Bike Month, and today is is Bike to Work Day, we’re celebrating by sharing some stats about how our team gets our bike on.

In NYC, biking to and from work is among one of the regularities of city living. When the subway stations are too hot, humid and crowded during the summer, it’s not too uncommon to see bikers out enjoying the breeze as they cruise through the boroughs to work. Actually, NYC has ranked #7 on the Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities list and have you heard about the new Citi Bike Membership program? Awesome.

Jessica McDonough, Associate Art Director, on a cruise.

Here are some quick facts about UG bike riders:

How we get to work.

Lee Griffin, Operations Manager, walking his bike through the warehouse to his office.

The time we spend riding to work.

Mindy Wilson, Human Resources Manager, gives biking a thumbs up.

Who’s biking by department.

And the top three UGooders (combining commute in miles, commute in minutes and frequency) are…

#3 – Laura Frost, Customer Service Assistant Manager
8 miles, 60 minutes, Average of 4 – 6 times per month

#2 – Erin Fergusson, Senior Manager – Merchandising
8 miles, 40 minutes, Average of 3 times per week

And, our #1 bike commuter is…
Dave Bolotsky, Founder and CEO
8 miles, 35 minutes, Average of 3 – 4 days per week

The Uncommon Life

How UncommonGoods Celebrated Earth Day 2013

April 23, 2013

One of the most inspiring things that gets me excited to come to work are the people that work here, but mostly their passion, enthusiasm and spirit to be part of something great.

I’m the first person (or maybe second, next to our security guard) that all new team members meet when they walk in on their first day. One of the questions I am always curious to ask is “so what brought you to UncommonGoods?” And the most popular replies include something with “B Corp,” “Better to Give” and “sustainability.”

When I sat down with the HR Manager (my boss) a few weeks ago, it didn’t take us too long to map out how the UncommonGoods team could participate in Earth Day. We knew that with our team members’ dedication we could accomplish anything… So that’s why we presented Earth Week. Why NOT celebrate the Earth for more than one day?!

With Earth Week, we presented five day’s worth of challenges for our team members to partake in, and on the fifth day, we would celebrate our efforts, encourage lasting green-behaviors and feast over our accomplishments!

We didn’t necessarily set specific days for each task, but allowed team member’s to work at their own pace. Here’s how our week panned out.

#1 – Ride your bike to work or walk from the 45th Street station
Goal: 10 bike riders and 20 walkers

This was by far the easiest goal for our team member’s to reach. We have many people located close to our headquarters in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, so commuting via a green mode of transportation is pretty popular every day. Not only did we have our usual bikers participate, but we also had teams walk to and from the subway station together. Almost all exceeding our set goal of 45th Street (we are located at the 59th Street subway stop).

Marketing Associate Rocky Taft and Merchandising Associate Ne’Quana Rollings having fun on their commute to 36 Street

Little did these guys know, they weren’t the only ones that went the extra steps! (From left to right): Cassie Tweten Delaney, Community Moderator; Abi Treut, Marketing Assistant; Rachel Goldstein, Inventory Planning Analyst; Jason Gomer, Purchasing Associate

#2 – Bring in your #5 plastics to recycle through our Take-Five-Drive
Goal: 20 recyclers

NYC has some great recycling programs and anyone can contribute by donating their unwanted #5 plastics to a participating Whole Foods. This plastic is the thicker more durable kind used for yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, aerosal caps, etc. This plastic is recycled for use as a material for every day products, including toothbrushes (my boss’ personal fave).

Although we aimed high with this goal, we landed a bit short of reaching 20 recyclers, however, we had some great donations including deli containers and pill bottles, and we emptied our break room cabinets of unwanted take-out containers, which we are bringing to the recycling center later this week.

#3 – Help weed tree beds and plant flowers around the Brooklyn Army Terminal
Goal: 30 green thumbs

UncommonGoods resides in the historical Brooklyn Army Terminal, which was built in 1918 and was the site of Elvis Presley’s deployment to Germany in 1958 (hence the photo of The King in the lobby). One thing this industrial atmosphere lacks is a lot of green space.

Similar to what we did last Earth Day, we had over 30 volunteers take two hours out of their day to weed tree beds and plant flowers around the trees within and around the Brooklyn Army Terminal. We also watered and mulched around the trees that we planted bulbs around last year – hopefully we will see those beauties sprout within the next few weeks!

Lee Griffin, Area Operations Manager

Giovanna Rosario, Warehouse Team Lead; Kris Keenan, Merchandising Associate

David Anderson, Inbound Operations Coordinator; Nicole Wang, Accounting Assistant

Ray Franco, ITC Associate; Jackie Robinson, Warehouse Associate

Matt Monsees, Marketing Analyst; Matt Disla, Warehouse Team Lead; Morgan Tanner, Production Manager

Lauren Negron, Drop Ship Associate; Jazmin Abreu, Warehouse Associate

#4 – Go to the local greenmarket and earn a $10 reimbursement
Goal: 10 veggie lovers

A task too easy to be considered a challenge!

Another great thing about living in NYC is the array of green markets in every other neighborhood, every other day of the week. The accessibility to local, fresh fruits and veggies is just another perk of city life.

Our team member’s beat this challenge and many of them are wearing the title of “veggie lover” with pride.

#5 – Bring your own non-disposable place setting to our company lunch
Goal: 50 UGooders

On the final day, we asked all team member’s to bring a plate, cup and cutlery to our monthly company lunch, in replace of our sustainable disposable products. It was great to see our break room sink piled over in dishes and the bathroom sinks filled with soapsuds (despite our maintenance team’s short grumbles).

For this Earth-inspired company lunch, we chose to go all vegetarian and local as a direct effort to minimize our carbon footprint. We (my boss and I – foodie connoisseur and foodie novice) traveled to our favorite Brooklyn spots to fill the Mediterranean-inspired menu: Damascus Bread for pita and falafel, Sahadi’s for fresh feta and hummus, and Tanoreen for the main course of mini pies and vegetarian eggplant.

On the day of the event, we set out a Flower Wreath of Wishes for our team member’s to dedicate to Earth Day 2013. They were asked to write out a promise on a flower petal and place them on the wreath, which will soon be hung in our community break room as a reminder.

Kira Snyder, Marketing Analyst

Some of the most inspiring promises our team member’s made were:

“I will plant a tree.”

“I will request fewer samples from vendors.”

“I will try to use cloth diapers for Ben for at least one week!”

And one of my faves…

“Vegan for life!”

With another Earth Day in the UncommonGoods books, I am already pondering up ways for the team to celebrate in 2014. Have any suggestions? Share your thoughts below!

The Uncommon Life

Help Us Let State Officials Know that NY State’s Min. Wage is Not Enough to Live On

February 6, 2013

Dear New York State UncommonGoods Customers:

As you know, UncommonGoods, since its founding, has pursued the goal of running a sustainable business. We seek out goods that are handmade, recycled and organic, and print our catalogs on recycled paper approved by the Forest Stewardship Council.

But to us, “sustainability” means more than just being “green.” We believe true sustainability starts with integrity in everything we do. Being a founding member of B Corporation is one example of that philosophy. So is our Better to Give program. Integrity and care in our dealings with you, our customers, is another. And so is providing a living wage to our employees.

At UncommonGoods, we pay all our workers, including people who are just here for the holiday season, well above the minimum hourly wage. That’s because New York State’s current minimum wage, $7.25/hr, is too little to live on.

I, along with 80% of New York State voters, feel strongly that all of our state’s workers must be paid a fairer wage, asap. We’ve gone 6 years with zero increase. 19 other states have higher minimum wages than New York. If minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since 1970, it would be $11.15 an hour.

A vote about raising New York’s minimum wage, and automatically adjusting it to inflation, is coming up soon in the New York State government. Signing one of the below petitions could truly make a huge difference to a great number (hundreds of thousands) of your fellow New Yorkers.

I’ve written up my thoughts on the issue in this piece:

If you agree, please let our state officials know that New York State’s lowest-paid workers need a raise to help get them out of poverty.

Business owners, sign this one. (The signatures of business owners will have the most impact on our politicians.)

Individuals, sign this one.

Thanks for reading, and, I hope, for signing. Please share this message with other NY State businesses that you think would want to support this.

Dave Bolotsky
Founder and CEO, UncommonGoods

If you would like to do more, contacting your local state senator will have a real impact:

Find my New York State Senator:
(Enter your address and it finds yours.)
You can also Google “Twitter Senator (add their name)” and find their Twitter feed.
Ditto for Facebook.
For example:

To contact the Governor:
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
Tel: (518)474-8390

If you’re interested in reading more about minimum wage, this website is chock-full of clear and understandable information:

The Uncommon Life

Environmental ABC’s: 26 Ways to Go Back to School Green

September 6, 2012

It’s back-to-school time, giving us an excuse to get all educational on you, with tips and ideas about how you and your family can live green this fall. Parenting–and teaching–innately imply thinking about the future, and eco-sensitive lifestyles help ensure that the years ahead will be bright for today’s children. In that spirit, we present to you our ABCs of going back to school in sustainable style.


Art. Let’s start with something wondrous: Fabulous art–made from garbage. Some of the best art in the world today is being made out of trash. Check these out:

Inspiring, right? Talk to your school’s art teacher to see if they’d be into working on a trash art project. (There’s a good chance they already are.)
For art-making at home, keep a scrap paper bin of paper that’s printed on only one side. Kids can doodle, or do multiple drafts of drawings or paintings on the scrap paper. When they want to make a keeper version, that’s the time for the “good” paper.

At UncommonGoods, we love unique and beautiful works of art made from recycled and reclaimed materials that would otherwise have ended up as plain old garbage.


Bike, walk, skateboard, scooter or ride the bus (or a horse!) to school instead of driving or even carpooling. Kid energy is a renewable resource. UncommonGoods employees are encouraged to use bikes as transportation, and we offer several convenient, effective and cool bike safety items.


Copy machines: Do you really, truly need to make a hard copy of that document? If you absolutely must, use both sides of the–ideally, recycled–paper. In fact, how about making double-sided printing and minimal ink use the default settings?

You could also buy refillable cartridges containing bio based, sustainable inks (like soy). If for whatever reason that’s impossible at school or work, at least try to recycle your used ink cartridges.


Disposable items are uncool. Whenever possible, buy re-useable items. Tossing disposables into a recycling bin is at best, a very pale green: It takes energy to recycle and re-manufacture things, and if you throw them away after only one use, a lot of that energy has been wasted.
Prime culprits of back-to-school disposability crimes include:

  • Pens. The ballpoint pen was invented in 1938. In 2005, Bic celebrating selling its 100 billionth pen. 14,000,000 BIC Cristals are sold a day. And that’s just one brand. Six billion pens are thrown away every year in the US! 

Buy a refillable pen. Metal ink refills can be recycled. Vintage advertising pens are nostalgic, super stylin’, and the sins of their manufacturing are in the past. UncommonGoods’ selection of refillable pens ranges from funky to girly to sporty to arty.

  • Coffee cups. Americans buy 14.4 billion cups a year of coffee in disposable cups, which take energy, trees and water to make and transport. It’s not only styrofoam cups that are an environmental disaster; because the paper kind are lined with plastic, they can’t be recycled either. Get a mug.

You could go crazy upscale and get a cup decorated with  24 karat gold, blue cobalt, and diamonds. 

Or get an equally covetable but rather more sensible one.

  • Razors. Cut out (yep, we went there) disposable razors. Each year, Americans buy, use, and toss two billion razors and the packaging they come in. Instead, how about trying a solar-charged electric shaver, or at least, an Energy Star model? Electric shavers do use energy, but not water. A recycled razor is another possibility; one brand is made of recycled yogurt containers. The blades in the (disposable) cartridges can be kept sharp much longer by using a razor-saver gizmo.

If you’re feeling a luxe goth vibe, we’re pretty sure that our skull razor is the coolest thing going.


Opt for Don Draper’s safety razor (they use recycleable metal blades) and you’ve got an excuse to buy a retro-hip shaving brush. (The gratuitous photo of shirtless Jon Hamm is here for strictly educational purposes only, honest!) But whatever you do, don’t shave in the shower–especially women, who have the most acreage to denude. As this Slate article informs us, “Shaving for 10 minutes with a typical 2.5 gallons-per-minute shower head, you’d waste more than 24 gallons of hot water, 4.1 kilowatt-hours of electricity, and 5.3 pounds of carbon dioxide in your warm, misty tub. It would take less than three days of shaving to account for the energy you’d use by shaving in the sink for an entire year.”

E-waste. Americans junk 30 million computers every year (those are circuit boards in the photo above). Add phones, TVs, DVD players, etc. to that list and you’ve got about 3 million tons of dumped electronics a year in the US alone. Not only does this waste reuseable materials, but 70% of the dangerous heavy metals in landfills come from all that e-junk. But it’s becoming easier and easier to reycycle old electronics, as governments require manufacturers to take them back. Here are some links to help you find e-waste collection sites.

A protective sleeve or case will help keep your mobile phone, laptop, tablet or e-reader from getting broken or wet and then sent to an early grave.


Food. There are so many good, green food habits to teach your kids. Perhaps the primary lesson should be about wasted food.

Just kidding. Not that kind of wasted.

We Americans waste around 40 percent of our food. The average American throws away 33 pounds–about $40 worth–of edible food each month, according to a report the Natural Resources Defense Council put out in August. That’s about 50% more than in 1974. (And we know it’s not because we’ve gotten better at portion control.)

When people talk about becoming less dependent on petro-fuels, they don’t usually think of food as part of that. But growing, transporting, packaging, selling and buying what we eat uses a ginormous amount of oil. (And fertilizer, pesticides, and water.) The NRDC estimates that approximately 25 percent of the freshwater and 4 percent of the oil Americans consume goes to edible food that’s thrown away. On top of all that, a whole lot of greenhouse gases are produced during the food cycle.

There’s also all that food packaging to consider: Every year, the average American child generates 67 pounds of trash from their school lunches. That’s 18,670 pounds per year from the average elementary school. (NY State Dept of Environmental Conservation).

As Dana Gunder, agricultural environmental specialist at the NRDC put it, “No matter how sustainable the farming is, if the food’s not getting eaten, it’s not sustainable and it’s not a good use of our resources.”

It’s very possible to quickly change this for the better. A public awareness campaign in the United Kingdom called “Love Food Hate Waste” has reduced household food waste by 18% in only five years.

A simple way to do your part to reduce waste while also ensuring that your child is eating healthy, is packing their lunches yourself in an appealing lunch bag made of recycled materials. You can also use cloth napkins and refillable beverage containers–lightweight, collapsible, BPA-free models might be best for kids’ lunches.

Whenever possible, eschew (see what we did there?) single-serve portions: ugh, all that disposable packaging! And don’t forget that in addition to their nutritional benefits, fruits like bananas, apples and oranges come with all the packaging they need.


Green(er) tools for school.

Avoid backpacks and school binders made of nylon or new plastics, especially PVC vinyl. Not only is it not recycleable, but some of the most dangerous environmental contaminants, including dioxins (known carcinogens and hormone disruptors, and the most toxic synthetic chemicals) are released during its manufacture and disposal. It’s worth searching for non-toxic binders, and easy to find bags made from recycled or natural materials.

Personalized backpack patches,  painted backpack,  homemade drawstring backpack

Better yet, find a gently used vintage one. I’m a lifelong thrift store cruiser, and those places always have plenty of new-looking backpacks and messenger-type bags for sale, just begging to be creatively personalized. If you’re artsy, it’d be a snap to paint a great-looking, unique backpack; sewers of even modest skill could make one from the fabric of another vintage item, like a skirt.

If you use “office” machines at home, choose Energy-star rated ones, and be sure to schedule regular maintenance for maximum energy efficiency. And it’s now possible to buy folders and binders, pushpins, rulers, scissors, paper clips, crayons, correction fluid, glue, pen and pencil holders and cases, desk organizers, and laptop sleeves made of recycled/recycleable/biodegradable/nontoxic materials.


Habits, like recycling, or searching for green alternatives, are easy once they become automatic. Teach kids (and pets, if you can…) to turn out the lights when you’re the last one out of the room; turn off their computer when they’re done using it; turn off the tap while they brush their teeth.


Inventory. Know what you already have before you go shopping for school supplies, clothes, backpacks, etc. It’s so tempting to buy scads of new, shiny pens and notebooks when they’re on sale, and parents tend to over-buy at back-to-school time. Pull out last year’s extras to save money and waste less.


Jobs. Green ones. Meaningful employment is one of the main reasons people go to school and get an education in the first place, right? Lots of interesting and fulfilling jobs are popping up in the fields of sustainability and environmentalism. Inspire your kids by talking with them about the possibilities. For teenagers and college students, there are internships galore.
Many colleges and universities throughout the U.S. now have an “Office of Sustainability” or a less formal task force, through which students can become involved in greening their campus. A geographically diverse sampling:

A few resources to help find green/environmental/sustainability internships:


Kvetch. And vote. It’s never too early to teach your kids that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. (OK, we take that back. It is sometimes too early.) Help them understand what democracy is and the effectiveness of action within it. Teach them about the history of environmentalism (maybe brush up on it yourself, first) and how people got together to push for societal change.


Laundry. Living green sometimes takes a little extra effort, but occasionally it’s less work, rather than more. Here’s an example: don’t wash your clothes and bedding so often. You can tell when fabric needs cleaning: it’s either dirty or…fragrant. If neither is true, skip the wash.

Set a family laundry schedule and stick to it. Getting the whole family on board could avoid unnecessary runs of your machines for a basketball uniform or dance costume. When you do wash, use natural and non-toxic soaps, and line-dry whenever possible. In the summertime, use the great solar dryer in the sky. In the wintertime, damp articles of clothing hanging indoors are electricity-free humidifiers.

UncommonGoods offers a nicely designed indoor clothesline, as well as this aroma-tastic natural laundry soap. It’s packaged as a manly item, but who doesn’t like “rich smelling sunflower, coconut and rosemary oils”?

Stunningly beautiful clothesline photos to inspire you, collected by Pinterest-poster Mei-Mei:


Meat. Eat less of it.

Issues of morality and health aside, meat is simply far less energy-efficient and far more polluting than non-animal sources of protein. Audubon magazine: “The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that livestock production worldwide is responsible for a whopping 18 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gases–more than all the cars, buses, planes, and trains in the world combined.” Nathan Fiala, a doctoral candidate in environmental economics at the University of California-Irvine, estimates that to produce 1 pound of beef, 15 pounds of carbon dioxide are created.

According to Department of Agriculture estimates, it takes about 15 pounds of feed to make 1 pound of beef, 6 pounds of feed for 1 pound of pork and 5 pounds of feed for 1 pound of chicken. Even farmed fish eat up to 5 lbs of wild-caught fish per pound that we can eat.

That doesn’t even take into account the energy and other costs of raising, butchering, packaging, refrigerating and transporting. For instance, according to the Worldwatch Institute, producing one pound of beef can use up 50,000 liters of water.

Children will love the following info-tidbits about the inevitable noxious “output” of so many animals: Massive amounts of #s 1 and 2 from pig factory farms leak into nearby water supplies. Burping and farting livestock produce 16 percent of the world’s annual production of methane, which is 23 times more powerful as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide (CO2). So. You can start small by participating in Meat Free Monday, the worldwide campaign of the cute Beatle. Or start big and do the opposite: eat meat only on Mondays.


New. Old is the new new. If vintage clothes are cool enough for super-rich and fashionable movie and pop stars, it’s possible that your kids (and you) could deem them adequately fabulous. They require zero energy and resources to make, because they’re, y’know, already made. We did a little searching and found these adorable clothes that we thought were perfect for back-to-school.

1960s snap-front western shirt,  vintage dress and sweater,  Garfield brand vintage polo shirt,  1960s plaid skort / culottes

Then there are clothes made from recycled or salvaged fabric and fibers. They’re green no matter what color they are.

UncommonGoods Recycled Bridesmaid Dress Skirt and Recycled Cat and Owl Scarves


Organic foods don’t pollute our environment with toxic pesticides or petroleum-derived fertilizers. They usually (but not always) take a lot less energy to grow, too. You’ve probably had your fill of info about eating organic, but perhaps your kids are interested in growing it!

It’s tough to make a living as a small organic farmer, but the non-financial rewards are inspiring more and more young people to give it a whack. If your teens or college students would like to taste life on the chemical-free farm, here are some resources to help them find a volunteer or paid position–maybe next summer?


Paper. You already know that paper requires the death of innocent trees (and destruction of animal habitat). But you may not know about the rest of paper’s massive environmental impacts.

Paper milling is one of the most energy and pollution-intensive industries in the world, emitting lethal chemicals into the air, water, and when the 12 million tons a year of paper solid waste are disposed of, the earth. Some of them stick around for a very long time and gradually enter the food chain. Others deplete the ozone layer. As if that’s not bad enough, its manufacture uses more water per ton of product than any other industry.

The good news is that making new paper out of old is energy-efficient, cost-effective, uses far fewer resources, and obviously, reduces the amount of waste. While it takes from 2 to 3.5 tons of trees to make 1 ton of virgin paper, a ton of recycled paper can make nearly equivalent amount of new, while using only 10 to 40 percent of the energy, less water, and far fewer chemicals. Buying recycled paper is voting for more recycling.

The most toxic chemicals involved in paper making – the various types of seriously carcinogenic chlorine used for bleaching, which produce, among other things, deadly dioxin (as we mentioned in letter “G,” above, the most potent carcinogen known)–aren’t necessary. There are plenty of non-toxic chemicals that can whiten paper, including the same stuff that’s in Oxy-Clean.

Not all paper has to be white, anyway–paper towels, and toilet paper, for instance. Avoid using bleached paper products whenever possible. Buy non-bleached brands instead.Processed Chlorine-Free

When you do buy bleached paper, choose chlorine-free brands; specifically TCF (Totally Chlorine-Free) or, best of all, PCF (“Processed Chlorine-Free”). The latter is a lousy name for a good product; it refers to papers that contain a minimum of 30% post-consumer recycled fiber, have not been re-bleached with chlorine-containing compounds, are made in mills without outstanding environmental violations, and use TCF virgin pulp (when virgin fiber is included in the paper) that did not come from old growth forests. (Don’t be confused by ECF, “Elementally Chlorine-Free, which uses other types of chlorine, just not its “elemental” form.)

The Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA) certifies all of this. You can use the Paper Calculator to figure out the environmental impact of various kinds of paper, and look up every possible sort of paper on Conservatree, in order to find green paper brands. You can even buy recycled sticky notes!


Questions are the starting point of changes. Moms and dads, encourage your children to ask questions about the family’s new habits and ask them if they can think of new ways to decrease the family’s ecological impact. You might be surprised by their answers.


Read. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s magazine, Conservationist for Kids, covers a wide range of topics that are fascinating to kids, written just for them, and accompanied by great photos. All past and current issues are available online.


Statistics. We know we’ve flooded you with facts here. But they’re meant to inform, not overwhelm. Negative statistics can make one feel powerless and discouraged. But you yourself, reading and practicing a few (or a lot) of these green ABCs and sharing them with friends, who share them with their friends, and so on, could start generating statistics we all like a lot better. Yes, really.


Think (it only takes a moment) before you buy or use anything and everything. That’ll give your mind a chance to recall some of the tips and factoids you’re reading here (and elsewhere).


Unplug electronic gadgets and appliances when not in use, due to…


Vampire power. Also known as “standby power,” this is the electricity used by many electronic devices, chargers, appliances, and equipment when they’re switched off, but not unplugged. The name comes from those black power supply cubes; their metal plugs are like fangs, sucking power out of your walls.

Depending on how much electricity costs where you live and how many devices you have plugged in, trickles of vampire power can really add up. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy’s joint Energy Star program estimates that “the average U.S. household spends $100 per year to power devices while they are off (or in standby mode). On a national basis, standby power accounts for more than 100 billion kilowatt hours of annual U.S. electricity consumption and more than $10 billion in annual energy costs.”

As you can imagine, the billions and billions of devices sucking electrical “blood” out of the world’s power grids collectively waste a tremendous amount of electricity. And because most energy plants emit a great deal of carbon dioxide (one of the major culprits of global warming) and sulpher dioxide (which causes acid rain), plus various other pollutants, eliminating vampire power with smart power strips, etc. is a no-brainer.


Water. Most Americans have never had to give water a second’s worth of thought. This summer’s drought, however, has caused many of us to begin waking up to the reality that water is a limited resource. How about trying to use less? It’s painless, once you start paying attention.

Some simple ways to conserve water: If you’re a gardener, grow plants that thrive in dry environments. Notice when you’re using running water’s physical force to push food off plates or dirt off of whatever, and begin using elbow grease instead, cleaning with a brush or rag–with the tap turned off. In fact, start paying attention every time you turn on a tap or shower. How long does the water really need to be running? During the hectic morning rush, setting a timer for morning showers will limit bathroom time per family member while saving many gallons of water.


Xx.  We hope you don’t think we’re fresh, but…here’s a smooch, for getting your green on.

YRecycling symbol tattoo,  glitter green platform disco shoes,  eco-mack daddy vegan fur hat and vest, recycling symbol nail art

You’re a shining star
No matter who you are
Shining bright to see
What you could truly be

–Earth, Wind, and Fire

(Set a good example!)


Zzzzz. It’s easy to drift away from the great schedule that you started at the beginning of the school year, but keeping bedtimes early means fewer lightbulbs burning in the night. Besides, Benjamin Franklin says it will make you healthy, wealthy and wise–and he was not only one of our Founding Fathers, he’s also the Father of Electricity!

He also said the words we’d like to close with:

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn.

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