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.

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

tires-tyres-vagawi-fl
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!

    tires-oil-derrick-and-solar-panesl-road-dog-fl
    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.