Eco-Friendly Graduation Gifts for the Green Graduate

Graduation is a special time to celebrate the accomplishments of friends and family members. Why not honor their success with a green gift that is earth-friendly and useful too?

Keeping it simple

Organic Seeds and Gardening Books – Growing one’s own food is easier than most people know. Your grad will save on grocery bills and get enormous satisfaction in growing their own ultra-local produce. Territorial Seeds and Seeds of Change are great sources for seeds and organic gardening books like Grow Great Grub and Gaia’s Garden are excellent references.

Eco-Friendly Graduation Gifts
CC flickr photo courtesy of cheeseslave

Reusable Shopping Bags – Reusable bags are all the rage as disposable plastic bags are declining in popularity, due to the amount of waste they contribute. We particularly like the Baggu Grocery Kit and the Reuseit Earthtotes. Go buy a bunch of reusable bags and send your grad down to the local co-op in style. Continue reading “Eco-Friendly Graduation Gifts for the Green Graduate”

Your best green gift ideas

Gift

You’ve seen our green gift picks. But now, we’d like to see your green gift ideas!

What’s the best gift you’ve given or received?

Leave us a comment and let us know!

Be sure to tell us what it is, why you like it, and give us a link, if appropriate.

We’ll take our favorites from the comments and incorporate them into this blog post, improving it as we go. The idea is to end up with the best resource ever for eco friendly / green gifts.

Let’s please keep it reasonable. I’m hoping this won’t attract a bunch of spammy replies!

We’ll see if crowdsourcing the gift ideas works.

(Top photo credit: phaewilk from morguefile.com.)

Mulching with recycled rubber tires

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Photo courtesy of Vagawi

Every year, approximately 1 Billion tires are replaced due to wear and tear. Many of these tires end up in landfills, but the majority are burned or converted into Tire Derived Fuel. A growing number of tires are being recycled after they have reached the end of their useful lifespan.

Recycling tires is a tricky process, because tires are a hodgepodge of many different things:

A typical passenger tire contains 30 types of synthetic rubber, eight types of natural rubber, eight types of carbon black, steel cord, polyester, nylon, steel bead wire, silica and 40 different kinds of chemicals, waxes, oils and pigments. They typically contain 85% hydrocarbon, 10-15% iron (in the bead wire and steel belts) and a variety of chemical components.

Discarded tires are mostly inert, but their effects on the environment are largely unknown. When discarded in landfills, they pose a significant fire risk and they take up a lot of space. Even before they reach the landfill, a lot of tire rubber flakes off into the environment from normal wear and tear. The effects of this worn tire rubber haven’t been widely studied.

Old tires are a cheap and plentiful resource, so many different ideas have been proposed to put old tyres to practical use. In the 1970’s, several attempts were made to build artificial reefs out of discarded tyres. Those plans didn’t work out very well, because chemicals in the tires repelled marine life. Now, millions of tires are rolling around on the ocean floor and even causing damage to natural coral reefs.

More recently, tire recycling companies stepped in and found commercial uses for tire scraps. More than 80% of dead tires end up getting turned into Tyre Derived Fuel. When tires are burned along with coal and wood scraps, they can actually reduce emissions of some pollutants.

There are other uses for recycled tires – they’re used as an ingredient in road construction, as a replacement for pavement, to make rubber flooring, and as artificial mulch. A blend of liquid asphalt and “Fine Grind” tire rubber lasts about 25% longer than other road surfaces, which cuts down on maintenance costs for highways nationwide. Crumb rubber is also widely used on running tracks and playgrounds for children. It provides excellent cushioning and prevents injuries for children and adults alike. Rubber chips are also offered as mulch.

Rubber mulch is a controversial product. Some gardeners swear by it as a long lasting weed suppressant and low maintenance landscape surface. Other gardeners steer clear of rubber mulch, due to concerns about chemical leaching, fire hazards, and smell.

Here are some of the benefits of using rubber mulch instead of wood mulch:

  • More durable (rubber lasts 5+ years vs 1-2 years for wood mulch)
  • Uniform look and color
  • Does not attract termites or other insects
  • No risk of mold or fungus infestation
  • No effect on wood allergies
  • Resistant to flooding and high winds
  • Cushy and comfortable to walk on
  • Helps dispose of used tires
  • Here are some of the problems with rubber mulch:

  • Some brands contain metal wire or nylon scraps
  • Smells like rubber, especially on hot or humid days
  • Potentially flammable (but so is wood mulch)
  • Risk of chemical contamination
  • Breaks down into inorganic components
  • Heats unevenly in the sun, killing sensitive roots
  • May contain carcinogens
  • The jury’s still out, but recycled rubber mulch seems safe to use in certain applications. What do you think? Do you have any experience using rubber mulch in your garden or greenhouse?

    Here’s another way you might want to consider to recycle old tires – they make great insulation for earth friendly homes. Crumb rubber also shows promise as a water filtering medium. In Arizona, state law makers are exploring another way to dispose of old tires: filling abandoned mine shafts to eliminate dangerous pitfalls. A few million years from now, who knows – those mine shafts might fill up with black gold!

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    Photo courtesy of Road Dog

    Get rid of metal staples and green your office


    Photo courtesy of
    littlenelly at Flickr.com.

    Staples really bite. If you’ve ever caught your finger on the teeth of a staple or ruined important documents with a hungry stapler, you probably don’t appreciate these sharp little metal doodads. Well, the planet doesn’t appreciate them either.

    Staples are wasteful and have a huge carbon footprint. The most common type of office staple is made with galvanized steel – that’s steel that’s been re-heated and coated with a layer of zinc. As you can imagine, this double heating process is a pretty energy intensive task. From mining and transporting ore, to smelting and forming the staples one at a time from wire spools, staples gobble up energy at every step of their production and use. This energy use causes millions of tons of pollution.

    Since staples are tiny, they rarely get recycled. In fact, they often increase the cost of recycling paper because they contaminate the recycling stream and can jam machinery. In paper recycling centers, the staples are pulled from the line by powerful magnets and screening filters, and then they’re thrown away as a recycling byproduct.

    So what does the office of the future look like? How do you bind pages together without using staples?

    Photo courtesy of
    gordasm at Flickr.com.

    Instead of adding a piece of scrap metal to your documents, a staple free stapler cuts a tiny strip of paper and then threads that strip through the other documents. No staples are harmed, and you’ll never be frustrated by a staple shortage. Unfortunately, there are some limitations to the technology. It only works on a small number of pages, generally 2-7 sheets of paper of normal thickness. So, unless you want to make a new “un-staple” every 5 pages in a document (and mess with offsetting those marks), these are best suited for short memos rather than binding training manuals.

    If your office uses a lot of short notes and you don’t want to waste time going to the office supply store all the time, perhaps one of these metal-free staplers is the answer. Otherwise, you might want to consider an older technology – the paperclip!


    Photo courtesy of
    sabor.tijuana at Flickr.com.

    Romantic and Green Valentine’s Day Tips

    Although Valentine’s Day typically looks like the Crayola factory exploded one day while producing red and pink crayons, we’ve decided to skip out on the mushy, glitter-covered card that is hard to recycle, flowers that can only die, and chocolates made with a mess of problems. This year for Valentine’s Day, we’re going green in our own practical way.


    Photo courtesy of Michael_L at flickr.com.

    Let’s start with the card. This should be easy since recycled paper is so in right now. Instead of stopping by the closest grocery store at the last minute on your way to see your Valentine, try going to a local paper supply or card boutique to find a card made from recycled paper.


    Photo courtesy of Mat_the_W at flickr.com.

    Or better yet, try making your own. Cut out letters and hearts from old magazines and paste them to some paper you have lying around. That way when your Valentine eventually tosses it, it will be easier to recycle.


    Photo courtesy of ever_moire at flickr.com.

    If you or your Valentine enjoys flowers, don’t buy flowers that are chopped off and stuck into a vase of death. Ok, we’re being a bit dramatic, but seriously, you spend loads of money on a bouquet of flowers that will only die. How does that make any sense? Try finding a florist that sends potted flowers (or even plants). If you can’t find one that does this in your area, consider delivering them yourself. Although your Valentine will have to maintain the plant, it’s a great way to keep them thinking about you at home or work.

    For a cheesier option, make a bouquet of fake flowers. When you give the fake flowers to your Valentine, tell them you will stop loving them when the last one wilts. (Let it marinate…) Get it? They won’t ever wilt because they are fake, so your love will last forever. (Disclaimer: We can not be held responsible for immediate vomiting reaction this may induce in either party, nor for a break-up in two weeks. That was your promise, not ours!) 

    Another option is to buy flower seeds or bulbs to plant in your garden or window box. Make sure to find a type of flower that will prosper in the coming season in your area.

    Photo courtesy of net_efekt at flickr.com.

    And then there’s the much-desired-but-frequently-loathed Valentine’s Day chocolate. An easy way to show your Valentine you really care is to NOT purchase the chocolates in the gross, heart-shaped boxes that are glued to the hands of a poorly-made teddy bear. (harsh, but true) This year go for something less traditional and more supportive of the economies in need with buying fair trade chocolate(s). TransFair USA’s website has a helpful Where To Buy section that helps you find several fair trade products in any state, making fair trade chocolate easy to find! Also try looking for organic chocolate like that from Terra Norstra Organic or Dogoba Chocolate (both of which also happen to be fair trade).

    And lastly, if all this seems too hard to do this late it the game, consider doing your part by staying at home for dinner. Cook up a romantic dinner (it doesn’t have to be complicated) for you and your Valentine, watch a cheesy romantic movie (there are too many to link to) and share a bottle of organic wine.

    Recycled Wine Barrel Furniture

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    Our quest for unique eco-friendly gifts continues as the holidays grow near! Ok, sorry to even mention Christmas in November, but if you’re like me, you’ll be too dang busy over the next few weeks to do a good job looking for unique gifts, so we hope to do some of the work for you.

    First on the plate this week is this cool recycled wine barrel lounge chair, available from UnCommonGoods.com for around $165.00. It’s made from salvaged oak wine barrels and works great indoors and out. I’m getting drunk just looking at it!

    Makes a great gift for the eco-friendly friend or for yourself!


    Product Review: Coffee Sock

    The Coffee Sock is a cloth coffee filter that is an eco-friendly replacement for paper coffee filters. I recently purchased a Coffee Sock for my personal 5 cup coffee maker. Although up until now I’ve been composting my unbleached coffee filters, I figured I’d give the Coffee Sock a try.

    I’ve been very pleased with the result. Although the Coffee Sock required a bit of care and maintenance, I’ve found that my coffee actually tastes better than with a paper filter. This is the most surprising thing about my experience.

    I was also surprised to read that the life expectancy of my coffee sock is only about 4-5 months or so. This is ok, though, as the manufacturers have made a great effort to make the materials 100% biodegradable.

    Overall, for $4.99, I’m very pleased with my Coffee Sock. It’s eco-friendly and has actually improved the experience of my morning ritual.

    Thumbs up!


    Green is Sexy?

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    Green is Sexy is an interesting website with tips and some very practical info for those looking for ways to improve the environment. But what’s up with the “sexy?” Well, let’s hear it from the site’s authors:

    Green is sexy came about when three friends realized that exchanging quips & tips on ways to make an impact on the environment was becoming daily conversation. They decided that, with a little bit of research and some help from their friends, they could spread the word to all sorts of people and really make a difference. green is sexy is about tiny changes, big impact. Why sexy? Because being informed is sexy. Being responsible is sexy. Being eco-friendly is sexy. Making a difference is sexy. Green is sexy. We invite you to become part of the green is sexy community by helping us change the world one day at a time.

    For the frugal environmentalist, they have an interesting set of tips called “Money Savers” which I found to be quite handy.

    Enjoy, you sexy beasts!


    Hot Green Handbag

    Practical environmentalists can declare their love for the Earth and for fashion following the U.S. release of British designer Anya Hindmarch’s “I’m not a plastic bag” bag.

    This anti-excess statement is available online for $15 at www.anyahindmarch.co.uk, or at select Whole Foods stores on the East Coast.

    A Today Show blogger reports that she talked with a couple girls who’d traveled to NYC from Taiwan to buy the bag.

    Hmmm… flying to NYC from Taiwan to buy a plastic bag replacement? I’m not sure they were doing it for the Earth.

    Nevertheless, replacing, reusing or recycling plastic bags is without a doubt good for the environment.

    Today Show “Green” Garden Products Video

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    Lou Manfredini from House Smarts TV recently talked on the Today Show about environmentally friendly lawn equipment. Among the products mentioned are reel mowers, compost bins (like the Tumbleweed Composter shown above) and manual cultivators. Lou says,

    Compost is a natural way to fertilize your vegetable or flower garden. You can send less into our landfills and more back into the earth with the use of the Tumbleweed Composting bin. This unit makes it easy to keep the compost well aerated. You can use kitchen scraps, leaves or whatever can be loaded and turned to speed up the process and help you feed your garden naturally. It sells for about $200.

    He also mentions lawn aerating shoes, and the Scotts Classic reel mower as earth friendly tools for the lawn and garden. The video, while a bit cheesy at times, is well worth checking out. Just click the link above and follow the video link on the MSNBC website.


    Ant Invasion? Dr. Bronner is Here!

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    I’ve heard that mint is a natural repellent for ants, so I tried out Dr. Bronner’s Organic Peppermint & Mentha Arvensis Castille Soap to treat a serious ant problem we’re having.

    Seems the little buggers like our kitchen scraps we have set out to take to the compost pile. We tried it out (diluted) and it works great. It seems to actually kill them on contact, too. I tried Dr. Bronner’s out on cockroaches and it works the same. We poured it directly on the cockroaches after they crawled up a drain at night, and within a few seconds they were dead with their legs sticking up in the air. It’s organic, smells great, and kills ’em dead!

    Dr. Bronner. you’re my hero. You’re right up there with Dr. K!


    Bats Provide Natural Pest Control

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    Here’s a tip for all you gardeners and friends of nature.

    Bats are critters that help to control populations of insect pests including blood sucking mosquitoes. Yes indeed, while vampire bats do exist, the real blood suckers have been and always will be mosquitoes. Get bats to help you keep your yard mosquito free! Bats will also munch on gnats, flies, etc.

    The great thing about bats is that they typically leave beneficial insects like lady bugs, praying mantis, etc. alone. Bats are harmless as long as you don’t mess with them. You can actually encourage their presence in your yard with a bat house. If you have a water feature in your garden, they’ll be more likely to come to your home. However, you can always set out a bird bath with water to get them to visit.

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    You can use this cool bat detector to determine if there are bats in and around your yard. This gadget also lets you listen to them.


    Socially Responsible Easter Gifts

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    Easter is on the way. Another excuse to spend money on cheap crap and yummy sugary snacks! Or, if you’d like to try something a little more socially responsible, check out these unique Easter basket gifts from Heifer International.

    Heifer’s “baskets” are actually gifts of livestock, chickens, sheep, geese or rabbits, given to needy families.

    A great gift idea from a well established NGO. Here’s a little info about Heifer’s work if you’re not familiar with what they do:

    This simple idea of giving families a source of food rather than short-term relief caught on and has continued for over 60 years. Today, millions of families in 128 countries have been given the gifts of self-reliance and hope.


    Product Review: Equal Exchange Organic Chocolate Minis for Easter

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    These organic dark chocolate minis from Equal Exchange are a perfect treat for those who want just a little chocolate to nibble on at a time. They are 55% Cocoa and have a very rich flavor. Not too sweet and not bitter either.

    I had them out in a little bowl for guests to our house and they were consumed very quickly! They make great party favors as well. We’ve got several birthday parties coming up so I’m thinking of stocking up on more. They’re also perfect for the coming Easter holiday.

    Instead of mass produced sugar gunk, try out these organic, Fair Trade chocolates and this Kid’s Chocolate Garden Seed Kit to stuff their Easter baskets.

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    Here’s a list of the Ingredients for the chocolate:

    *Organic cocoa liquor, *Syramenaâ„¢ Organic Raw Cane Sugar, *Organic cocoa butter, *Sucanatâ„¢ Organic Unrefined Whole Cane Sugar, Organic ground vanilla. Cocoa 55% min. (*Fair Trade Certifiedâ„¢)


    Solar LED Clip-on Landscaping Lights

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    Landscape lights can end up using a lot of energy if you have a big path you’d like to illuminate. So, consider going solar for your landscaping. Solar e-Clips are just the thing if you want to light pathways up to 70 feet long with pure solar energy! They get all their power from a separate “solar rock” which you can place away from the lighting set. This means the lights themselves can be in a shady area while the solar collector is in a sunny spot.

    The manufacturers designed these lights so that you can clip them onto things like “Snapedge paver restraint, Edge-Scape, eaves troughs, coiled garden edging, wood fencing or simply spike directly into the ground.” You can purchase a 14 or a 28 light set depending on your needs. I love the idea of landscape lighting that does not cost me a penny beyond the purchase price of the product! Well, maybe a few replacement bulbs, but that’s about it! Any other LED or outdoor solar lights to recommend? Please let us know what’s worked for you!


    Be My Green Valentine

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    Hmm…a “green valentine.” Is that a valentine with food poisoning? Or a friend who’s green with envy over your hot date tonight? No, no dear readers, we’re talking about green as in environmentally friendly! That’s right, we’re here to tell you that today, you, yes you! (put down that fist full of Snicker’s bars and listen, for the love of God!) can celebrate an eco-friendly Valentine’s Day.

    How? By following our handy tips!

    First off, check out Lighter Footstep’s Guide to a Green Valentine’s Day. There are five great tips here on alternatives to buying blood diamonds and slave labor chocolates. What else? Organic wine, organic flowers and hand-made recycled Valentine’s Day cards are also in there.

    Next, check out these reviews of Organic and Fair Trade Chocolates. This will help you pick the tastiness guilt free chocolate on the market.

    And finally, pick up the telephone and call around to restaurants that offer organic and locally purchased veggies, grains, meats, etc. While this may be hard in the dead of winter, you can still avoid those nasty chain places. Don’t even think about fast food you fool! You can also get off your fat bum and cook up some healthy local organic veggies! And go for a hike, walk, or bike ride afterwards!

    Have a happy day! Besos y Abrazos para todos!


    Earthtoys February Alternative Energy Emagazine

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    Earthtoys February Alternative Energy Emagazine is now up. As always there are great articles about alternative energy technologies, green building, and alternative forms of transportation. You’ll also find an interesting article about how to grow houseplants to filter the air in your home or office.

    I also wanted to put up some interesting comments from the ezine’s publisher:

    In the State of the Union Address, there was much talk about Alternative and Renewable Energy … which is great. Our news page contains press releases from many energy related associations discussing the speech and debating it’s relevance …some positive and some negative reactions.

    My two bits worth is this: Any serious discussion about Alternative Energy is good … but so far I’m not seeing enough action resulting from all the discussion. We need solutions to the energy problems we are facing and they must range from small inventions to mega-projects. Everyone needs to be engaged in applying the solutions to everyday life. There are many products out there already that work. Lets start promoting their use and generate some cash to build more. We do not need to reinvent the wheel … just start rolling it and having fun with it.

    Down with the study groups and up with the EarthToys!


    Valentine’s Day! Yikes!

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    Valentine’s Day is here! And oh crap, all the stress of buying presents for Christmas is back. Stupid holidays! Won’t they just go away!? On that note, I heard a great quote the other day:

    “It’s better to give a rock out of love, than a diamond out of obligation.” Don’t know who said it, but it rings true around this time of buying stuff for you sweetie.

    Speaking of sweeties, if you’ve got a granola-munching sweetie with a sweet tooth, I have a suggestion. The other day I sank my teeth into Equal Exchange’s Organic Milk Chocolate! And oh, man! This is some tasty stuff! Sweet and creamy goodness that is also fairly traded. I checked out the ingredients and I think what gives this chocolate its winning flavor is the organic ground hazelnuts. It also has a minimum of 38% organic cocoa, which means this milk chocolate is very chocolaty.

    You can also check out Equal Exchange’s Specials for this most chocolaty of holidays.


    A Bitter Harvest for Valentine’s Day?

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    I don’t want to ruin anyone’s Valentine’s day, but since this site is about (among other things) protecting the environment and making informed decisions about what you buy, I figured I better mention something about the chocolate industry before the Valentine’s Day chocolate consuming orgy begins. You owe it to yourself to be as informed as possible and make responsible decisions when purchasing chocolate for your sweetie. That’s why you should read Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet, by award winning author Carol Off. This book is about the history of the chocolate industry and it contains lots of interesting and shocking information. Here’s a sample of an editorial review:

    Off shows that, with the complicity of Western governments and corporations, unethical practices continue to thrive. Bitter Chocolate is a social history, a passionate investigative account and an eye-opening exposé of the workings of a multi-billion dollar industry that has institutionalized misery as it served our pleasures.

    Here’s some info from a Treehugger.com review as well:

    This book is important if you care about the people who make what you eat, and if you care about justice and the treatment of children. It is not perfect- there is a section about the death of a Canadian journalist that goes on far too long, while the coverage of the development and expansion of the fair trade movement is far too short. It completely ignores the impact of farming and drying methods and other developments that would interest TreeHuggers, because it much more a book about war than it is about chocolate. However I will never look at the stuff again without thinking of the blood count in it.


    Energy Star Light Fixtures and Fans from Westinghouse

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    Wise homeowners throughout the U.S. have been saving significant amounts of money on their energy bills by switching to compact fluorescent bulbs. You can save even more money by converting your light fixtures to Energy Star certified products. Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. The program helps you save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices.

    These excellent Energy Star light fixtures and ceiling fans from Westinghouse meet the strict energy efficiency guidelines set out by the Energy Star program. They use compact fluorescent technology and additionally, the ceiling fans are designed to move air 15% more efficiently than a standard ceiling fan. The collection includes both outdoor and indoor lighting fixtures.

    There are lots more Energy Star Certified products out there for your home. Please read more about the Energy Star program here.