In advance of the ninth Living Green Festival, which will focus more on health and wellness aspects, The Post and Courier gathered seven fairly common trends related to lowering our individual toxic loads and creating a softer footprint on our increasingly imperiled planet and community.
While Charleston County Environmental Management, the premier sponsor of the festival, is working hard to expand its composting efforts, we all could ease their burden by creating compost in our own backyards.
Nathan Burnell, who revamped the former Cycles Compost Charleston to Compost Rangers, says there is an increasing interest in composting by individuals, based on the numbers of questions he gets at the farmers markets at Folly Beach and James Island.
He urges people to use kitchen scraps and yard material, such as grass clippings and leaves, and “layer it like lasagna.”
Periodic turning will provide much-needed oxygen to the pile
A top layer of clippings and leaves will deter pests like flies.
“The key to good compost is air,” says Burnell.
Burnell says composting is possible regardless of space, from worm bins to multiple bins, and cost.
He has long salvaged shipping pallets and created “compost cubes” by attaching four with screws.
Want a free crash course in composting? Join Compost Rangers for “Compost Daze” volunteer work days 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on the second Saturday of every month.
While many have known about the power that indoor plants have in filtering indoor air pollutants for more than three decades, interest continues to grow in the Lowcountry.
In the 1980s and 1990s, NASA researchers discovered that certain houseplants can reduce indoor pollutants by 87 percent within a 24 hours period. Some of these pollutants cause eye, nose and throat irritations, headaches, dermatitis, respiratory diseases and even neuropsychological problems.
Jenalee Thompson and Ann O’Leary, who work in the tropical foliage house at Abide-a-While Garden City in Mount Pleasant, are regularly asked for recommendations on which plants are best.
“There’s always been an interest (in plants that clean air), but there’s definitely a resurgence lately,” says Thompson.
Thompson says the combination of people moving into new homes (that “new home smell” is usually airborne toxins such as formaldehyde and benzene) in Charleston and health- and eco-conscience millennials seem to be part of that interest.
Among the rock stars of indoor plants, as identified by NASA researchers, are peace lily, English ivy, variegated snake plant, spider plant and red-edged draceaena. The only drawback is that some of the plants are toxic if eaten by pets.
Abide-a-While gets so many inquiries that it has come up with a list with which plants do what and if any precautions should be taken.
One note that O’Leary made is that one plant for a house is not enough. NASA researchers say one plant is needed for every 100 square feet of home or office space.
Once again, what’s usually good for Earth is good for you and your loved ones.
As demand for organic cotton, hemp and other more sustainable, U.S.-made materials grows, the cost is going down and the availability is going up.
One of growing number of innovative entrepreneurs, Sleeping Organic, has a storefront on Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant and a manufacturing warehouse in North Charleston. Originating as Palmetto Mattress in 2008, the business started getting more involved with creating products in 2011 when it became Sleeping Organic.
The company, which does 80 percent of its business online, obtains organic cotton from a Greenville mill, wool from Montana and California and latex from natural rubber sources from equatorial regions, such as southern India.
Sleeping Organic’s Brandon Maxey says many seek out their products due to allergies caused by toxins in furnishings, such as fire retardants in mattresses and other furniture.
Maxey says the wool in its bedding products passes stringent fire standards, which includes a 30-minute blow torch test.
“Wool is the natural way to do it,” says Maxey.
Of course you do; it’s the Lowcountry.
One nontoxic way of killing them, along with fleas, ticks and slugs (and unfortunately spiders and other beneficial insects), is with diatomaceous earth.
The white-ish rock powder is made up of the fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae and has a number of uses (including tooth paste and metal polishes) and as a “mechanical insecticide.”
Diatomaceous earth is not poisonous, but it can cause irritation if breathed directly. Microscopically sharp, the powder works by cutting the exoskeletons of insects and dehydrating them. It is not harmful to mammals and, in fact, food-grade diatomaceous earth is gaining interest as a dietary supplement.
Between furniture made from wood from endangered rainforests and/or is made and shipped from eastern hemisphere, tables, chairs, dressers and bed frames can create unnecessary strain on the planet’s resources.
The Sustainable Furniture Council urges using or buying reclaimed wood for furniture and avoiding the use of new teak, mahogany and other fragile tropical and subtropical regions, such as the Philippines, Indonesia and South America.
They also urge people to opt for fast growing woods, such as bamboo and mango, from sustainably managed forests.
Among the local craftsman creating beautiful furniture from reclaimed wood is Landrum Tables.
Capers Landrum Cauthen, founder and owner of Landrum Tables, says the wood he collects often has a background story, a history, that he often can recite.
“It (making furniture out of reclaimed wood) is something I believe in.”
Few think that how they do their laundry has an impact on the planet, but it does for a range of reasons, from energy consumption to what ends up coming out of the sewer pipe, namely phosphates.
To shop for more eco-friendly detergents, look for labels that indicate a product is readily biodegradable and phosphate-free, and made from plant- and vegetable-based ingredients (instead of petroleum-based), which means they’re healthier for the planet, from production to rinse cycle.
These are often gentler on skin, too.
Other alternatives include soap nuts, which are made from certain tree seeds, produce a soapy substance when they come in contact with water and can be composted after being used up.
As for washing machines, front-loading washing machines (also sometimes called “horizontal axis” machines) bearing the Energy Star logo typically use between 18 and 25 gallons per load, compared to 40 gallons for older, top-loading machines.
And while few don’t hang clothes out to dry anymore, the 88 million dryers in the United States are causing a toll with each emitting a ton of carbon dioxide a year, according the Duke University Center for Sustainability and Commerce.
So it may be time to think about that old-school clothes line.
For those looking into flooring, more alternatives are available as well.
The most earth-friendly carpeting uses recycled fibers, as manufactured by eco-friendly companies like Forbo and Interface. “Green carpeting” uses nontoxic glues and low-VOC padding, which is much better for you, your indoor air quality and the environment.
The demand for salvaged wood such as from abandoned barns and warehouses is growing as well, as much for its beauty as for being eco-friendly.
Among the local companies doing so is Encore Architectural Salvage Co., which reclaims lumber from pre-1920 structures, so it’s “antique grade.”
“It’s beautiful wood. It’s heart pine and oak, some cypress. It all tells a story. It all has it’s own character. No two pieces, tables, floors, are the same. So it’s unique and special,” said manager Julie Gibbes in an interview last spring.