Tag Archives: environment

Clean and Green

As a child, I hated cleaning day, but not for the reasons you might think. I disliked it because of the strong chemicals used to clean the house. The harshly strong scents of ammonia, starch, and chlorine bleach hurt my nose, gave me headaches, and caused skin rashes, but I didn’t connect my symptoms with cleaning products until I was an adult.

Most people don’t associate their home-sweet-homes with toxins but many homes are unknowingly filled with them. And many commonly used cleaning products are just as bad, if not worse.

For example:

  • Scented laundry detergent, fabric softener, and dryer sheets

  • Mold and mildew

  • Toxic gases from: carpeting and rugs, shower curtains, sheets and towels, and dry-cleaned clothing to name a few

  • Plug-in, spray, and other air fresheners

The library has many books to help you green your house for the environment and your health.

You can clean your house with borax, baking soda, lemon juice, and white vinegar. Even old-fashioned, been-around-forever Bon Ami cleanser is non-toxic or you can buy many of the green cleaning products available everywhere now in ready-made formulas including Seventh Generation, J.R. Watkins, and Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day to name a few.

For more ways to detox your home of harmful chemicals that cause allergies, headaches, and skin irritations, here are a few suggestions:


Toxic Free: How to Protect your Health and Home from the Chemicals that Are Making You Sick

by Debra Dadd-Redalia


Home Safe Home: Protecting Yourself and Your Family From Everyday Toxics and Harmful Household Products

by Debra Lynn Dadd


What’s in This Stuff? The Hidden Toxins in Everyday Products and What You Can Do About Them by Pat Thomas



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Living Even More Lightly on the Earth

“A truly good book attracts very little favor to itself. It is so true that it teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint…What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.”Henry David Thoreau, Journal

Author’s photo

I’m at it yet again! Seeking more and even better ways of reducing my carbon footprint on this precious earth. I wrote about this last year, but I wanted to tell you about some improvements I’ve made since then.

I’m vegan but I also began eating more raw foods this past summer, so I had a lot of fruit and vegetable scraps–peels, stems, bruised leaves, etc. My grandmother had taught me an old household trick of putting them in a bag in the freezer until trash day so that they don’t smell up the kitchen. Well, my refrigerator freezer is pretty tiny so that doesn’t always work for me–not to mention throwing away bags of frozen food scraps every week! And, since I live in an historic co-op, I cannot have an outside compost. My solution? An indoor food composter. It’s small enough to fit in my laundry room and the compost is ready to use within a few weeks!

Here are some other things I now do to help reduce my footprint as well:

What’s next? Stay tuned.

How about you? Got any more great eco tips I can use?

~Maria, who feels guilty that she drives to work–but, being from flat Michigan, is terrified to ride a bike in the ‘Burgh!


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Reduce, Reuse, and Then Recycle

Reduce, reuse, recycle. You’ve heard these terms before, right? But I’ll bet that the one you do most is recycle.  It’s the easiest, after all. But think about it. While recycling is good, not having much to recycle in the first place is even better.

I first started seriously thinking about these things when I saw the documentary, No Impact Man. There’s a blog and a book, too, about how one  man in New York City chose to live for a year with as little impact on the earth as possible. This really got me thinking about the many products I buy and how I could personally reduce my own carbon “footprint” on the earth.

So what does this mean? And how do you do it? You don’t have to be as drastic as No Impact Man but you can do some small things which, over time, might inspire you to do even more. Start by looking at the things you use and buy frequently.  Another good suggestion is to actually look at your trash. It sounds awful but you’ll get an idea of what exactly you are throwing away. For me, at one time, it was tissue. So I decided to purchase handkerchiefs (from a vintage thrift shop) and now that’s all I use. Another example, my husband started making our own peanut butter using bulk peanuts. Don’t want to make your own? Bring an empty glass jar or other container to a store with a bulk section (think East End Food Co-op or Whole Foods around here) and buy it in bulk instead. This way, you’re re-using the container and not creating waste.

Another great example is coffee. Who doesn’t love that the Main Library has a café? Well, instead of using a throwaway cup each time you get your fix, why not buy a lovely washable container with a lid (not to mention the very cool Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh name and logo on it in this case) and re-use it each time you buy a drink? Again, less waste.

Author's photo

Finally, another great thing to do is just to make your own products; I make most of my own personal care and beauty products  (body lotion, conditioner, toner, face powder, lip balm, deodorant, etc.) using recipes from  library books including Natural Beauty at Home and Natural Beauty from the Garden, both by Janice Cox. I store them in reusable containers and the bonus is I know exactly what ingredients are in them.

There are many ways to reuse things. How about you? I’d love to hear your suggestions.



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Go Home Green!

Make your home Earth friendly every day.  Whether you are thinking of building, remodeling an existing home, or just need to clean up the one you have, the Library has resources that can help you green your home environment.

Build Green and Save Book CoverBuild Green and Save: Protecting the Earth and Your Bottom Line by Matt Belcher
Let this book show you how to select green building materials, make sure your construction activities are green, and explain the benefits of green building practices.

Big Green Book of Recycled Crafts book coverThe Big Green Book of Recycled Crafts: Over 100 Earth-Friendly Projects
Did you know you can fuse together plastic shopping bags and make your own reusable tote? Or that old blue jeans can be turned into at least 5 different crafts? These and other fun and easy projects are explained in this book, along with lots of pictures to guide you.

Home Enlightenment Made Easy: with Annie B. Bond
Watch easy to follow instructions on this DVD for making your own nontoxic formulas to clean your home, fabrics, and even your face!

Green This book coverGreen This!: Volume One, Greening Your Cleaning by Deirdre Imus
Room by room, this book deals with the dangers of commonly used household cleaning products and then gives greener, homemade cleaners as substitute options.

Practical Green Remodeling book coverPractical Green Remodeling: Down-to-Earth Solutions for Everyday Homes by Barry Katz
With useful information such as a simple explanation (and diagrams!) of how geothermal systems work and 10 ways to reduce your water usage, this book goes beyond the typical green building materials recommendations. But it has those too!

Easy Green Living book coverEasy Green Living: The Ultimate Guide to Simple, Eco-Friendly Choices for You and Your Home by Renée Loux
Every room in your house can get clean the green way. Even the laundry gets a makeover. The author includes advice on shopping green, light bulbs, and better choices for personal hygiene that will protect you and the environment.

Big Green Purse: Using Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World by Diane MacEachern
Change the way you spend money and change the world! You’ll get background information about how certain products negatively impact the environment and people, along with alternative options you can purchase to combat these effects.  You have the power!

Green Living by Design book coverGreen Living by Design: The Practical Guide for Eco-Friendly Remodeling and Decorating by Jean Nayar
Organized by area of the house and materials utilized, this book guides you through making informed decisions about remodeling and furnishing your home in an earth-friendly way.

Real Simple book coverReal Simple: 869 New Uses for Old Things
Not sure what to do with those leftover name tags? Use them to label your casserole dish so it comes back home after the potluck. This encyclopedia lists most common household items and ways they can be re-purposed.  You won’t ever need to throw anything away again!

Simple Steps to a Greener Home DVD coverSimple Steps to a Greener Home: With Lifestyle Expert Danny Seo
This DVD gives many “smart and stylish” suggestions for remodeling in an eco-friendly way.  

Your family, your home, and your Earth will thank you.

-Melissa M.

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Spring Fever!

crocusYesterday The New York Times published a lovely editorial praising the robin as the harbinger of spring. The editors wrote:

Somehow the robin stands for all the birds migrating now, the great V’s of geese heading north, the catbirds that will show up surreptitiously in a month. It also stands for the surprise of spring itself, which we had begun to fear would not arrive. We have all been keeping watch, as though one morning it might come sailing over the horizon. And now it’s here — the air a bit softer, snowdrops and winter aconites blooming, the bees doing their cleaning and the robins building their nests again.

As Denise mentioned yesterday, Sunday’s equinox marked the official beginning of spring, and in celebration I’m engaging in all sorts of seasonal activities. From watching the peregrine falcons at the Cathedral of Learning guard their newly laid eggs to checking up on what the fashion world‘s elite have in mind for post-sweater weather, all things spring have caught my attention. My reading taste has spring fever, too, and I’m checking out lots of books related to nature and the outdoors.

John Fowles The TreeThe other day I stumbled across John Fowles’  The Tree, a naturalist classic whose website describes it as a “moving meditation on the connection between the natural world and human creativity, and a powerful argument against taming the wild.” The newest edition boasts an introduction by Barry Lopez, whose own nature-oriented meditations I’ve recently enjoyed in magazines like Tricycle.

The Tree is light enough to bring it with me on walks, another favorite warm weather Wanderlust : a history of walking / Rebecca Solnit.activity of mine. In the fall, I moved into a new house, so I’m looking forward  to discovering the changes warmer seasons bring to my new neighborhood.  As I read Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking,  my mind can wonder about walking as I wander around.

The spell of the sensuous : perception and language in a more-than-human world / David Abram.One book that’s inspired many a musing since I read it is deep ecologist David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, a philosophical reflection on the ways nature may have shaped humans’ linguistic and perceptual evolution. In lyrical, moving prose, Abrams imagines our place in nature as participatory and reciprocal–both seeing and seen, feeling and felt–by the network of animals and landscapes we’re part of.

Springtime inspires my political activity as well. The more time I spend in our beautiful habitat, the more I appreciate and want to protect it. Locally, concerns about the environmental effects of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale and uncertainly about how our state’s elected legislature will handle it motivate me to stay informed about the subject and tell my state representatives how I feel.

In terms of my personal habitat, I’m preoccupied with all of the possibilities for a raised bed garden I’m planning. To prepare, I’m consulting every gardening resource I see (including my wise coworkers), and tomorrow I’m attending Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s free lunchtime lecture about rain barrels and rain gardens.

Reading, walking, gardening, and generally growing give me plenty to do as the days lengthen. I hope spring fever also brings you lots of ways to spend your ever-increasing hours of sunlight!


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A Well-Fueled Debate: Natural gas drilling in your backyard?

Marcellus Shale Gas Play, Appalachian Basin

Source: Energy Information Administration based on data from WVGES, PA DCNR, OH DGS, NY DEC, VA DMME, USGS, Wrightstone (2009). Only wells completed after 1-1-2003 are shown. Updated March 17, 2010. (Click image to go to EIA site.)

Natural gas drilling has become a hot issue recently in Pennsylvania, even as close as Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood and the Powdermill Nature Reserve.  The question of whether or not to drill raises a number of political and personal concerns as abstract as the economy and as immediate as the water we drink.

On one hand, companies and individuals could make substantial profits. Communities could benefit from job creation and funds from leases and taxes. On the other, they risk costs to enviromental and public health. Natural gas could bridge the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, since it releases 25% less carbon than coal. Extracting it, however, could also result in lasting damage to watersheds and public drinking water, and the people and wildlife who depend on them.

Typically, proponents of drilling include the companies, people, and organizations who hope to profit from the wells. Opponents include people wary of the risk to the environment and the danger of disasters. Recent accidents related to extractive industries have populated headlines with stories of  the catastrophic BP Gulf Oil spill, last Wednesday’s Clairton County coke works explosion, the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion, and natural gas-specific incidents like the Clearfield County shale well blowout and an explosion at a two-day-old gas well near Moundsville, WV.  Given these events’ casualties and devastating impact and the many questions related to drilling, many politicians and citizens are calling for more studies, cautious timelines, and regulatory legislation before new drilling endeavors proceed.

The source of the gas is the Marcellus Shale formation, which extends about 1 to 2 miles below the surface of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. This shale contains natural gas. Break the rock, and the gas releases. Recent advances in drilling techniques have made accessible areas where drilling was previously too expensive. That means that areas above the Marcellus Shale are now appealing drill sites, and companies have been approaching landowners–even in highly-populated areas like Pittsburgh–for permission to drill below their properties.

To extract the resources, drillers combine two techniques. One is horizontal drilling, which makes more shale accessible than the old drilling technique. The other, and the more controversial, is hydraulic fracturing (also called hydrofracturing, water fracturing and fracking). In hydraulic fracturing, drillers blast a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the shale to fracture it, releasing the gas into a pipeline. The fracking process raises the most alarm among those opposed to shale drilling because of the chemicals in the frac fluid. In response to public concerns, in June the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a list of the chemicals involved in fracking. Many are hazardous. Residents of Dimock, PA claim that methane released in a nearby drilling operation poisoned their well water, and some evidence suggests that fracking can also contaminate groundwater, but companies and government investigators maintain that the cause of such pollution is unclear. An article from The New York Times presents a thorough, well-balanced analysis of the many facets of the natural gas debate in Pennsylvania, including the influence of the region’s coal-mining history, the industry’s past in Texas, and New York State’s recent natural gas debate.

A source anyone reserching shale drilling is likely to come across is Gasland, an impassioned and controversial TV documentary that has sparked many people’s interest in the discussion of natural gas drilling. While the industry issued a rebuttal to the film’s claims, and some critics disagree with its approach, Gasland’s website does offer some informational material and advice about activism, and the film certainly appeals to the emotional side of the debate. (To get an idea of the radically different spins put on the issue, compare the Gasland site’s description of the fracking process with this one from an industry coalition.)

Links in this post connect to many articles and resources. For more information, also see NPR’s informative series discussing shale drilling. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette lists all of its coverage related to local natural gas issues. The PA DEP also offers several fact sheets about Marcellus Shale drilling on its website. Recently, the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments developed a data-sharing tool called Fractracker to “provide citizens with a common place to share their experiences regarding natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale play.” The CLP Reference Department has compiled a comprehensive list of printed, audiovisual and web resources about energy, which is sure to be helpful to informing your opinion about natural gas drilling in PA and elsewhere.

Our city and county governments are currently planning their responses to demands for shale drilling in our community. Please do what you can to become informed and active. Whatever your stance on drilling, our drinking water, environment, and neighbors who work at these sites are too precious to take this issue lightly.



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Mind Your Water! (And Ours Too…)

Water DropletThis summer CLP is having a lecture series about water conservation.  We have partnered with some wonderful organizations to bring in speakers to talk about different aspects of this topic. 

The Black and Gold City Goes Green speaker was here on June 15th and gave us ways to personally use water more responsibly to have a positive impact on the Pittsburgh area.  If you missed this talk, try these books to guide you on your way to better use of our most important liquid natural resource…

The Green Blue Book: The Simple Water-savings Guide to Everything in Your Life by Thomas M. Kostigen –  This book spells it all out.  It lists exactly how much water is used to grow, manufacture, and accomplish everything that we humans consume, use, and do.  Want to know how much water is used to grow raspberries versus blueberries?  What about making an eraser or a pillow?  How much a commercial hot tub requires every time it is filled?  All of this and more, including a quiz for figuring out your water footprint, is included in this book.

Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground edited by CleoDam with water behind Woelfle-Erskine, July Oskar Cole, and Laura Allen – This book is a collections of stories, first of the history of water over usage and how we got to where we are today, and then of how people in various areas have started grassroots campaigns and plans for water conservation in their locations.  Hopefully you’ll be inspired by their stories to make a change of your own in our community.

On Saturday, July 17 from 3:00-4:00 PM, Juliette Jones, Education Specialist of Sustainable Programs at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, will speak about water conservation as it relates to your garden and lawn care.  Learn about particular plants, ways to landscape, and other methods that can help you reduce the amount of water you use.  If you are interested in this topic, try these items…

Energy-Efficient and Environmental Landscaping: Cut Your Utility Bills by Up to 30 Percent and Create a Natural, Healthy Yard by Anne Simon Moffat, Marc Schiler, and the Staff of Green Living –  Examples of energy efficient landscapes for every type of climate are included in this book, along with a whole chapter on low maintenance water efficient landscapes, and basic landscaping design planning.

Flood waters on signRain Gardens: Managing Water Sustainability in the Garden and Designed Landscape by Nigel Dunnett and Andy Clayden – This idea generating book starts with an explanation of why rain gardens are a great idea, moves along to design plans and site surveying, and then finishes with a water saving plant directory so you can select the plants, grasses, shrubs, and trees for your water efficient garden.

Renovation Nation: Learn How to Save Water, Save Money with Steve Thomas – This DVD shows ways to collect rainwater, and other green household innovations.

Then, on Tuesday, July 20 from 6:00-7:30 PM, representatives from Nine Mile Run Watershed Association will be here to tell us about the importance of watersheds and how we can keep our local watershed healthy.  For more information on this and other water related environmental issues, check these out…

Dry Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America by Chris Wood – Chilling examples of how the impending water shortage will affect communities on our continent are laid out in this informative book. Did you know that eventually the US will be getting less water but Canada will get more?  The political impact of this water crisis is also explored.

From the Bottom Up: One Man’s Crusade to Clean America’s Rivers by ChadWater with dead trees Pregracke – This man’s journey to clean up the Mississippi reads like a Mark Twain adventure.  Starting with only his resolve to make a difference, he eventually received the support of the river folk as well as the media and even corporate sponsors.  His tale of change is inspiring to say the least.

Water, The Final Resource: How the Politics of Water Will Impact on the World by William Houston & Robin Griffiths – The authors in this book examine the reasons for the world’s water challenges, identify actions that help change the expected future outcomes of water shortages, and examine how this will affect relationships between countries around the world.

All of these lectures will be held in the Quiet Reading Room on the First Floor of the Main Library in Oakland.  For more information call 412.622.3151 or visit the events page at http://www.carnegielibrary.org/events/.  We look forward to seeing you, and our water resources do, too!


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