Archive for May 2019 | Monthly archive page

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By Maggie Dewane, US Communications Manager at the Marine Stewardship Council

A friend recently asked for advice on composting in a city. I was a little embarrassed to tell her that I had no advice to give! My mom composted in our family’s backyard when I was a kid, but since moving out of the house and having only lived in apartments and cities, I assumed it couldn’t be done (easily) without a backyard. Realizing I must have assumed wrongly, I set out to investigate and here’s what I learned.

What is compost?

Compost is organic matter (mostly food scraps, leaves, twigs, etc.) that has been allowed to decompose and can then be used as nutrient-rich garden soil. The process of composting requires keeping the organic matter in an enclosed space (sometimes in a bin or a partitioned-off section of yard) and then, with proper management, supports the material so it may break down naturally, effectively becoming repurposed or reused existing, albeit discarded, material. There are many resources to teach you how to compost.

Why is it good?

Americans produce an average of 5 pounds of waste per day, around 30 percent of that is compostable food waste. By composting the material that would’ve otherwise been discarded, you’re keeping waste from landfills that can be reused in a positive and eco-friendly way! For example, if you’re an avid gardener, it will save money on fertilizer costs. If you live in a city, you’ll be part of growing contingency of cities that collect compost and reuse it for specific projects or outsource it to communities that want or need the soil for agriculture. Whether in your backyard or in a city, compost reduces the amount of methane gas emitting from our landfills, which is a greenhouse gas contributing to the overall warming of our planet.

How is composting normally done?

There are a variety of composting techniques from compost tumblers to vermicomposting (using worms that eat the material and break it down into soil, also requires the most effort  and maintenance) to pick up services and drop off locations, which are useful for city-dwellers like myself.

A useful rule of thumb when composting is, “If it grows, it goes [into the compost pile].”

Specifically:

  • Fruits
  • Veggies
  • Plants (dead flowers, weeds, grass, etc.)
  • Eggs and eggshells
  • Breads and grains
  • Paper towels and napkins
  • Uncoated paper cups and plates (meaning they don’t feel waxy to the touch)

Less desirable compost items include dairy and meat products. While these items will decompose, they may invite unwanted creatures or molds into your space.

Composting in a city

First, get yourself a bin (Planet Natural has some options at the bottom of their page here) to keep your compost in – one that you can tuck into a cabinet or under your sink. If you stick to the above list of compostable items, the bin won’t smell awful, but a lid will be useful to contain any wafting as well as any unwanted pests commonly found in cities.

One neat bin option I’ve found is GreenLid (available on Amazon). The bin comes with a sleek reusable lid while the bin itself is made from recycled cardboard and can be thrown directly into a compost pile or reused if it’s relatively clean.

For city dwellers, the next step is to find out if your municipality offers a compost pick-up service.

See if your city or town picks up compost bins here.

If your city doesn’t, here are some alternative options:

  • Find out if your apartment complex or building has a rooftop or community garden. If so, it probably has a compost pile. If not, suggest starting one!
  • Sign up for Share Waste. It connects people who want to compost but can’t (because of their living situation or if they’re on vacation) with people who have compost bins.
  • Utilize your local farmers market. A lot of weekend farmers markets have compost tents. Take a walk through your local market to see if it has one (and buy some fresh, local produce while you’re there!).
  • Contact your city council and ask them to consider implementing a program that would collect compostable material from residents.

Like most efforts to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle, composting takes time and research, but it has benefits that can serve you, your community, and the planet, so why not give it a try!

Here’s more information from the US Environmental Protection Agency on composting.

Maggie Dewane is the US Communications Manager at the Marine Stewardship Council. Previously, she was the Press and Communications Officer to the Environmental Investigation Agency. She also worked for the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the United States Senate. She has a Bachelor’s from Seton Hall University and a Master’s from Columbia University. Her hobbies include painting, writing, traveling, soccer and camping and hiking with her dog Argos. 

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By Deyala El-Haddad, DC EcoWomen member and Liveamongchic blog author

Going outside for a walk or hike and getting some fresh air can positively impact your mental and physical health and science has told us that being outdoors and in nature can significantly improve your overall health and happiness.

Here are a few benefits to being outside and surrounding yourself with nature:

  • Being outside and in nature can help decrease stress and anxiety.
  • Going for walks in the sunshine can increase your intake of vitamin D, which can reduce symptoms of depression.
  • Being outdoors in natural light can help regulate your body’s natural clock, which in turn improves sleep patterns.
  • Being in nature can help ground you in a meditative state by being present and in the moment.
  • Going on long walks and hikes can help reduce high blood pressure and can improve blood circulation, digestion, sciatica, and overall health and well-being.

Finding the Time

This all sounds great, so why not step outside and enjoy these benefits? We tend to focus so much on our day-to-day tasks that we forget to check in with ourselves and connect with nature. We tend to make excuses for ourselves as to why we don’t go outside and we’re all guilty of saying things like: “I’m too busy” or “I’m too exhausted after a long day of work.” If you’re too busy or crammed at work, try to schedule 15-30 minutes a day for walking around outside. This could be at the beginning of your lunch break, towards the end, or after work to unwind.

One other thing that I’ve noticed that I’m guilty of doing is spending too much time on my iPhone, social media, games and gadgets. I end up spending so much time without even realizing that I just scrolled for a good 20 minutes! That could have been time spent walking around outside! We are so busy with our gadgets and technology that we are forgetting the outside world. A good solution is to unplug or limit your screen time. Go to your phone settings and set time limits for how long you can use an app per day.

Locations

We also feel so overwhelmed by living in a congested city filled with commuters, buses, cars and buildings that we don’t know where to get that nature fix. A few things you can do is look up parks, hikes or trails near you on Google maps! You could walk around your neighborhood before or after work and plan to visit a trail or little park close to your home or work. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could do a hiking trip to Shenandoah National Park or to the Blue Ridge Mountains during the weekend with friends and family.

A few great hiking trails and nature walks that are within a 20-mile radius include:

  • Long Bridge Park
  • Windy Run Park
  • Potomac Overlook Regional Park
  • Bluemont Park
  • Tuckahoe Park
  • Theodore Roosevelt Island
  • Great Falls
  • United States National Arboretum
  • Gravelly Point

Making it Fun

  • Bring your headphones and listen to music, a podcast, NPR or even an audio book.
  • Bring a friend, your kids, or work buddy!
  • Pay attention to your surroundings and appreciate the little things like clouds, trees, flowers, insects and small animals.
  • Keep a step tracker and see how far you can go!
  • Do an art walk and take creative photos of interesting plants along the way.

Safety Tips

Remember to wear sunscreen, bring water and snacks, wear good gripping or hiking shoes with ankle support, go with a buddy, don’t touch any plants or ivy and don’t turn up your music too loud!

Happy hiking!

Deyala El-Haddad has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science and is a firm believer in environmental preservation and conservation. Some of her previous environmental work includes interning for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond. Her experience spans within non-profit organizations as well as government contracting services. In her spare time Deyala enjoys hiking, traveling, yoga and blogging for her website liveamongchic and for DC EcoWomen. 

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By Angela Trenkle, technical writer and DC EcoWomen member

Throughout the DMV metropolitan area, there are different organizations that give people the opportunity to learn about conservation, restoration, and the natural world that we are lucky to call home. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the Smithsonian Institution – an organization that is easily recognized when mentioned. What’s not always known, however, is the amount of work that goes on behind-the-scenes and that it’s easy for people to get involved.

My work with the Smithsonian Institution spans a decade and includes three institutions – the Natural History Museum (NMNH) in downtown D.C., the Environmental Research Center (SERC) south of Annapolis, and the Marine Station (SMS) in Fort Pierce, Florida. At each of these institutions, I had the incredible opportunity to work with different organisms that the general public does not always get the chance to see during their visit.

My work included, but was not limited to, curation and collection management of invertebrates and insects (specimens only a handful of individuals could see), and live aquatic organisms that were used for research purposes to answer scientific questions. I also cared for animals, both aquatic and terrestrial, that the public could learn about and see.

When I’ve shared these experiences with people, one of the first questions they often ask is, “how did you become involved?”. They’re always surprised when I tell them it’s a lot easier than they’d think!

One of the overall goals of the Smithsonian Institution is education and they are always looking for volunteers to help in different capacities, whether its for a long-term commitment, a short-term commitment, or for a day.

Smithsonian Natural History Museum

At the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, the opportunities to volunteer are split into two different categories: behind-the-scenes and public engagement.

The behind-the-scenes category gives volunteers the opportunity to help on projects out of the public eye, whether it’s assisting with data entry, cataloging museum specimens, or researching scientific literature.

The public engagement category gives volunteers the opportunity to inspire the museum’s visitors by allowing them to teach visitors about the natural world. Volunteers in the public engagement category get to work with live insects and butterflies in the butterfly pavilion and insect zoo. They can also showcase different objects in the Ocean Hall, the Hall of Human Origins, and Qriuis – a section of the museum that is dedicated solely to visitor enrichment and education.

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

At the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the opportunities to volunteer are split into two different categories: citizen science and environmental education.

The citizen science program allows volunteers to help SERC researchers on projects that are going on in the field or in the lab. These projects can include work with mud crabs, river herring, and environmental archaeology.

Volunteers in the environmental education category can teach school groups, which gives students the opportunity to connect with the natural world around them. Volunteers in the environmental education category get to lead canoe trips, run different environmental stations (seining, oysters, plankton, etc.) for field trips, and develop educations materials, among other activities.

Smithsonian National Zoo

At the Smithsonian National Zoo, there are opportunities to volunteer in several categories, such as education, zoo support, and special events.

Volunteers in the education category can learn about the ins and outs of different exhibits throughout the zoo. They can then pass this knowledge onto the zoo’s visitors, which come from around the world.

The zoo support category gives volunteers the opportunity to work with staff behind-the-scenes and assist with animals. Zoo support volunteers can care for animals in different places around the zoo and assist with research projects that are taking place at the time of volunteering.

Finally, the special events category provides volunteers with short-term commitment opportunities. These volunteers can come as little, or as often, as they wish, whether its just for one event or for multiple. Some of the events that these volunteers can assist with include ZooFari and Zoolights.

These are just a few examples of ways that people can help with the Smithsonian. By taking the time to volunteer with this organization, people can learn, pass on information to others, grow and make a difference in the natural world. I hope you consider volunteering!

Angela is a technical writer in Maryland with a scientific background. Preserving the natural world is an important goal for her and she plans to use what she has learned over the years to help do her part in restoring local watersheds for future generations to enjoy. In her free time, when she isn’t found exploring the world of aquatic biology, she enjoys acting in musicals, running, reading, writing, and traveling to new places.

 

Photo Credits: Corey Cavalier CC BY 2.0, Quadell CC BY 3.0, and Judy Gallagher CC BY 2.0.