Archive for March 2014 | Monthly archive page

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You Can Help Save The Bees,  In Four Simple Steps

Written by EcoWomen Board Member Allyson Shaw

With the first days of spring, soon come the baskets of fresh strawberries, bundles of artichokes, brilliant flowers,  and piles of bright, leafy greens. But with the spring bounty comes a startling statistic: according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one of every three bites of food we eat is dependent on pollination from honeybees. And as every beekeeper knows, the bees are in an imminent crisis.

Heidi Wolff, a George Washington University alumna, began keeping bees when she was 17 years old. She says it was the “golden age” of beekeeping.

“You just put them in a box and let them do their thing,” Wolff said.

But just over the past decade, beekeepers have reported an annual loss of 40 to 50 percent of their hives – some have even lost 100 percent. Wolff says she now must feed her bees supplements and constantly check in on them.

While the exact cause of the population collapse is unknown, scientists believe it is a combination of pesticides, disease, poor nutrition, habitat loss, and inbreeding. In particular, more and more studies are now pointing to a certain class of insecticides, neonicotinoids, as a leading cause of bee death. Unlike other pesticides, “neonics” are absorbed into the plant and stay in the plant throughout its life.

Fewer bees means smaller harvests and higher food prices. Last June, Whole Foods partnered with The Xerces Society to show us what the grocery store would look like without honeybees. Our fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are in danger! Luckily there are ways you can help:

Plant things bees like!

It turns out, Washington, D.C. in an excellent home for bees. Wolff said urban bees are often healthier than their country counterparts because city bees can find a wider range of nutrition in a smaller radius. This spring, consider adding one of these native pollinator-friendly plants to your window box:

  • Coreopsis (Tickseed). This lovely daisy-like flower is drought resistant, hardy and easy to grow. It is a great source of protein-rich pollen for passing pollinators, since it has a long bloom time: from June to frost.
  • Passiflora (Passion Flower). This beautiful hanging plant grows like crazy in a pot or in the ground. It is the host to several pretty butterflies and is a very interesting nectar source for passing pollinators. It’s Wolff’s favorite flower!
  • Check out the Center for Food Safety’s handy list of plants for more options!

Use natural pest remedies

Homeowners can sometimes use more pesticide per square foot than farmers, Wolff said, because people “go wild with the Raid.” Neonics are used on common agriculture seeds, like corn, but can also be found in household pest-control products. Please refer to the Center for Food Safety’s list of products that include neonics and avoid those products — instead, you can utilize plants that will help control pests naturally:

  • Lavender smells lovely and also repels fleas, moths and mosquitos.
  • Basil is said to repel thrips, flies and mosquitoes.
  • Catnip can keep away flea beetles, aphids, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, ants, and weevils.
  • Tea tree oil has been known to repel mosquitoes, lice, ants, and many other insects that bite.

Support local farmers

As if you needed another reason to buy local, organic produce! Small-scale farmers are more likely to use integrated pest management strategies, Wolff said, in lieu of neonics.

Call for action

You can sign the Center for Food Safety’s petition to tell the EPA to immediately suspend all outdoor uses of neonicotinoid pesticides. You can also join their BEE Protective Campaign to make change in your community by encouraging your city, municipality or county to suspend neonics until proven safe.

What will you do to save the bees? 

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Does your furry friend have an outsized carbon pawprint?

Written by Caroline Selle, the Zero Waste Girl

Each morning, as the cats wind around my legs and meow for their breakfast, I wonder exactly how much damage their canned cat food is doing to the earth. I make every effort to keep my own life sustainable, my carbon footprint low, but I adopted two carnivores.

Dogs can be vegetarian, but cats can’t. They need taurine in their diets, an amino acid that only comes from animals. Forget species: most pet food is problematic anyways. In fact, according to Robert and Brenda Vale, authors of Time to Eat the Dog? The Real Guide to Sustainable Living, a medium-size dog is worse for the environment than an SUV. The worst part of the impact comes from diet. Cats, in comparison, are kind of like a Smart Car. They’re not guzzling gas, but they’re still emitting CO2.

So how can we make our pets more sustainable?

Let’s start with food.

No matter how I budget, there’s only so much of my salary I can afford to spend on sustainably sourced pet food. Plus, my cats like the cheap stuff. Friskies generates more meows than Dave’s, so we’ve settled on Iams, an in-between brand I can still pick up at the local grocery store. None are particularly great options. Purina touts its sustainable practices, but it’s owned by Nestle. I feed the cats a fixed quantity of wet food along with an open supply of higher quality and more eco-friendly dry food.

Vets generally agree that wet food is healthier for pets. If your budget stretches a little farther than mine, you might consider buying dehydrated food, which has a lower carbon footprint when shipped. It’s rehydrated by adding water at home. And if you’re really into getting high quality and eco-friendly food for your pet, you can make your own.  Unfortunately, it’s time consuming and expensive.

My favorite place to find a balanced blend of sustainable and healthy food is the Big Bad Woof, a local pet store chain with locations in Maryland and DC. The employees are always helpful, and there’s a good selection of brands at a variety of price points. The store carries supplies for all common household pets, including birds and small rodents.


If you’ve ever cared for a kitten, you know a balled up piece of newspaper can be just as engrossing as a fancy, ten dollar toy. Cats love boxes. Anything lying around the house. My kitten chases bouncy balls and a laser pointer, and anything tied to a swinging string.

Your cat might chatter at the birds and squirrels outside, but keep them indoors. Not only will the pet avoid being hit by cars, getting into fights with other cats, and a variety of nasty diseases, you’ll keep the predatory instincts in check. Cats are reportedly responsible for billions of small mammal and bird deaths each year.

Dogs, similarly, can be entertained without spending much money. Plenty of parks allow canine companions, and there are several hiking trails in the area that do as well. There are also quite a few companies making more sustainable versions of dog toys, in case you want to pick up something more durable for your pet to chew.

Some smaller pets, like hamsters, enjoy playing in old paper towel or toilet paper tubes.


The stinky part, and the least exciting part of owning a pet. For cleaning up after a dog, some stores and online outlets sell biodegradable doggy bags. In theory, the whole thing degrades in the landfill. Since most landfills are too tightly packed to allow for much biodegradation, I’m a fan of using plastic newspaper bags, tortilla packaging, or anything else that might end up in the trash.

Cat waste is a more serious problem. About 2 million pounds of litter head to landfills each year. Clay litter (the most popular kind) is strip mined, but it lasts longer and contains smells better than many other options. One alternative is pine pellets, but many cats don’t appreciate the change in texture. Some people toilet train their cats, but my supposedly fastidiously clean animals prefer to use the toilet to drink. The lid stays closed now.

Any animal could, in theory, have its waste composted – but not for any compost you’ll put on edible plants. Plus, there’s the smell to contend with. Small animals that live in wood shavings, like hamsters, produce less waste and therefore less smell. If you’re comfortable composting, go for it! (But keep it very, very separate from anything going near your food).

Can we really shrink the pawprint?

In the end, pets don’t create as much of an environmental challenge as humans. It makes more sense to address our own shortcomings first. However, if you really want to make your pet’s life more sustainable, start with food. Go to your local pet store and talk to some experts. When it comes to toys, reuse, reuse, reuse. And, well, waste is difficult. Composting is probably the best option, but it comes with many challenges.

Finally, this wouldn’t be a piece about responsible pet ownership without a disclaimer at the end. Spay and neuter your animals. Puppies, kittens, and other baby pets are cute, but there are already too many animals without homes.

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This Year,  Make A Cheers To Green Beer

Written by EcoWomen blogger Dawn Bickett

St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching. But this year, instead of celebrating by stockpiling shamrock accessories, join DC EcoWomen in lifting a glass to green breweries across the country!

The brewing process can be resource intensive —  using large quantities of water and electricity. One recent study found that a single liter of beer takes between 60 and 180 liters to produce. But change is brewing among many beer brands. Breweries across the US are finding innovative ways to lower their environmental impact — and yours — while still making a tasty product.

Here — in no particular order — is a glimpse of just a few of these eco-brewing pioneers:

New Belgium Brewing

The makers of Fat Tire and 1554, among other beers, New Belgium’s Colorado brewery was the first to offset 100% of its emissions with renewable energy credits. It is also an expert recycler! New Belgium diverted 99.9% of its waste from landfills last year.


Brewery Vivant

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Brewery Vivant is the first brewery in the country to be LEED certified. It’s beer is a bit hard to come by in DC, but look for it if you’re visiting the Chicago area.


Full Sail Brewing

Full Sail Brewing is one of the most energy efficient breweries out there — from small changes like upgrading light fixtures, to saving the company 20% on energy consumption by changing its operating schedule.  It also houses it’s own water treatment facility and has one of the lowest water-used:beer-produced ratios in the country.


Peak Organic Brewing

This brewery’s name, Peak Organic Brewing, gives away one of its biggest claim to fame: all of its ingredients are FDA certified organic. The brewery also prioritizes local ingredients as much as possible, meaning a smaller carbon footprint in every bottle.

Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada produces its own energy. It’s brewery facilities in Chico, CA get 20% of their power from 10,000+ solar panels and 40% from 2 hydrogen fuel cells on site.

Via Sierra Nevada

Is your favorite eco-friendly brew missing above? Please leave a comment to add it to the list. And of course, don’t forget to have a green and great St. Patrick’s Day!

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Meet The Woman Behind The Josephine Butler Parks Center

Written By Alexandra Gilliland

This April, EcoWomen and its founding chapter, the DC EcoWomen, will be celebrating its 10th Anniversary, and holding an amazing 10 Year Gala to commemorate this occasion! There can only be one place for the location: The Josephine Butler Parks Center.

The Josephine Butler Parks Center is the perfect location for the event. Not only, is it a gorgeous piece of 1927 Renaissance revival architecture, designed by George Oakley Totten Jr., but the center’s mission is to advance the revitalization of diverse community green spaces across the metropolitan area. This alone would make the location great for the event, but what really makes this location ideal is that it was named for one of Washington D.C.’s very first EcoWomen: Josephine Butler.

Here’s a little bit more about the woman behind the park…

Josephine Butler was born on January 24, 1920. The daughter of sharecroppers, and the granddaughter of slaves, Butler would grow into one of D.C.’s most respected community leaders. At a young age, Jo (as she was known) suffered from typhoid fever. To receive medical treatment, Butler moved from the sharecropper farm, where her father worked in Brandywine, Maryland to Washington, D.C. There she would flourish into one of D.C.’s greatest advocates of social initiatives.

Butler had the admirable habit of turning every instance of her life into a cause to champion. She began a career in laundry, and was able to organize her fellow workers into the first union for black women launder workers. This would be the start of her life-long commitment to labor unions and women’s rights.

Following the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling, she helped to lead the effort to peacefully integrate the white-attended John Quincy Adams Elementary School and the black-attended Thomas P. Morgan Elementary School in 1955. The neighborhood of Adams Morgan, a combination of the schools’ names, now stands as a reminder to honor racial and cultural differences.

Continuing her trend of turning life’s instances into causes to champion, after a bout with tuberculosis in the late 1950s, Butler became a volunteer for the D.C. Lung Association. There, she would become the association’s community health educator, where she would educate thousands of children on the hazards of air pollution, long before air pollution was became a prominent environmental or health concern.

Community was especially important to Jo Butler. She believed children needed a safe outdoor space to develop community. To help create this type of community, Butler campaigned for the revitalization of the Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park. This area had previously been known as one of the most violent parks in the Washington metropolitan area and as a breeding ground for vandalism and drug dealing. Butler and fellow community organizations worked tirelessly to transform this park. They organized nighttime patrols to combat crime, planted trees to beautify the property, and held community arts and educational programs in the park for residents. Gradually the park became the sort of community that Butler had envisioned. In 1994, Butler and the other members of the Friends of Meridian Hill (a community organization partnership) received the National Partnership Leadership Award from President Bill Clinton, to recognize the work that they had done to transform this once crime-ridden and dangerous park into a safe community park that is used and enjoyed by the local residents.

A holistic activist, Butler fought for a sustainable community way before it was trendy. She dedicated her life to economic, environmental and social justice, and believed in the self- determination of all. She was a true DC EcoWoman, a lover of the great outdoors, and a believer that change can happen with hard work and passion.

The festivities, including a keynote speaker, a silent auction, a DJ, unlimited beer and wine, and even a signature cocktail(!),  will take place on April 24th Josephine Butler Parks Center. Get your ticket today!

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Buy “Cleaner” Body Soaps and Lotions

Written by guest blogger Brenna Mannion

If the body care aisle at my local CVS is any indication, we all must smell amazing. Soaps, body washes, and body lotions come in every scent (and color) imaginable. In the roughly 100 years since Palmolive and Ivory became two of the first mass-produced soaps available in the US, the amount of body care products on the market has increased thousands-fold. With new ingredients and products hitting the shelves almost daily, and knowing the FDA has little control over what manufacturers put in their products (covered in my last blog), here are a few tips to identify what ingredients to avoid while shopping for soaps and lotions.

Soap and Body Wash

Soap making in its purest form, is combining fats, lye and water to create saponification. This makes something akin to the bars of soap you buy in the supermarket. However, in an effort to create very cheap product, the fats used in soap production can now include animal fat byproducts from slaughtering facilities, and the like.

We've come a long way

Usually, if a soap is very, very inexpensive, it was probably made using sodium tallowate (aka, tallow…which may sound familiar) and can be contaminated with other harmful chemicals. Vegetable fat based soaps, soaps with coconut oil, glycerin, etc, listed as the first ingredients are a good alternative – and those ingredients are also moisturizing. Often they have very little unnecessary additives. Which bring us to body washes and shower gels, soap’s very unnatural cousins. To achieve the foamy lather so many consumers correlate with cleanliness, manufacturers almost exclusively rely on sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS. SLS is a known irritant and should be avoided. This is also true for liquid soaps.Body washes that tout their moisturizing properties, use petrolatum or other petroleum bi-products, which just give the illusion of moisture – and sit atop the skin’s surface, keeping water and other impurities trapped in your skin.

Allow me to quote the best movie of the last decade: “You smell like a baby prostitute.” When did we decide it was appealing to smell like “scarlet blossom” or “twilight woods”? I don’t even know what those smell like! The harsh dyes and synthetic fragrances found in those products are irritating.

A good rule of thumb would be to avoid any body wash that is brightly colored and strongly perfumed, as they are often chock full of other unnatural ingredients. Oh, and anything with glitter.

To add an environmental bent, remember these products don’t magically disappear after they wash down the drain. They pass through a wastewater treatment plant, and can sometimes flow into the nearest river, lake or ocean.

One good example: You know those little plastic beads you find in some face and body washes (“Exfoliate!”, “Bursts of freshness!”)? Well, recently, there has been wide media coverage about how those microbeads in your body wash are being found in waterways across the country. Plastic microbeads are as small as sand, but much less dense, so they pass through traditional water treatment processes and can become coated in other contaminants once in the waterway. Due to their miniscule size, the microbeads are easily incorporated into the food chain. Which means fish you eat, eat them. Amazing to think your Olay Body Wash has consequences all the way in the Chesapeake Bay or the Great Lakes.


Spring is mercifully on the horizon in DC. Which gives little solace to those of us fighting dry, itchy skin for months on end. That being said, some of the things we spread all over our body under the auspices of “moisturizing” boggles the mind. Lest you get disheartened, of all personal care products on the market, lotions probably offer the widest range of safe, natural alternatives. It helps that tons of natural ingredients can offer superb moisture properties, like colloidal oatmeal and shea butter; naturally derived fragrances, like vanilla, lavender, and sandalwood are in demand and smell amazing. The easiest way to shop for lotion is to avoid the following:

  • Petrolatum or mineral oil (Canada recognizes its organ system toxicity – and it is highly prone to contamination by potent carcinogens such as PAH)
  • Preservatives known to be carcinogenic and toxic (BHT, ethyl-, methyl-, or propyl paraben)
  • Chemical sunscreens (avobenzone, oxybenzone, oxycrylene, etc.)

Look for lotions with ingredient lists topped with things like shea butter, vegetable based oils (such as jojoba, almond, etc) glycerin, and panthenol. These compounds, while significantly moisturizing, are also naturally derived. If those ingredients are buried toward the bottom of the list, likely they are only present in trace amounts and the rest is chemical fillers. Good brands to look for are Desert EssenceEveryday Shea, Caudalie, Alba, and Everyone Lotion, many of which are widely available. Avoid anything where “Fragrance or Parfum” is one of the first couple of ingredients – ahem, I’m looking at you Bath and Body Works. These days, natural lotions are often not even more expensive than their mainstream counterparts.

Remember, we slather these things on our body day-in and day-out. Even harsh chemicals in small amounts add up. Happy shopping!

Brenna works in domestic clean water policy in DC. When she’s not annoying her friends about safe body products, she can be found in the yoga studio or eating gummy bears.