Stop Trashing Your Pantry

According to a new report published by The Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, 9 out of 10 Americans throw away perfectly edible food because of inconsistent labeling of expiration dates and sell-by dates. The report explains the confusion consumers feel over the dates stamped on food packaging and they propose improvements to current policies to help curve the problem.

Many consumers do not understand what the dates on their food products actually mean. Many think the dates designate food safety when in reality they are indicating freshness, not spoilage. Evidence shows that consumers rely too heavily on label dates resulting in food being thrown out over unfounded safety concerns. Experts suggest that consumers focus on more relevant risk factors regarding their food, such as time and temperature control.

The researchers found that inconsistency of terms and dates on packages complicate the matter for consumers. They are calling for national standardization of the words used on packages and clarification to clearly distinguish between safety-based dates and quality-based dates. This would eliminate the commonly found and confusing “sell by” label on consumer packaging as it only pertains to retailers.

When it comes to food safety, common sense is the best defense. “Use-by” dates are only estimates and if your food shows no sign of spoilage then it is most likely still edible. It is always better to err on the side of caution if you feel your food has expired, but do not rely solely on the date stamped on the package until measures are taken to standardize dates and labels on food packaging.

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Hope for the American Energy Crisis

In an op-ed published this month in the New York Times, Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of the energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, declares that our energy productivity and energy security are the best they’ve been since the 70’s. This opinion finds itself in stark contrast of those who think we need to construct the massive Keystone XL pipeline, or create a surge of oil and gas drilling, or start a nuclear power renaissance. Keep reading to learn more about Cavanagh’s article.

Cavanagh says that we have President Obama’s climate action plan to thank for the new-found positivity surrounding our nation’s energy news. Obama’s climate action plan gives top priority to the most productive and lowest-cost options for energy, which includes the “energy efficient resources” that come from getting more out of oil, natural gas and electricity with efficient equipment and vehicles that are used more carefully.

According to government data, energy-saving efforts in the U.S. have resulted in a steady decline in energy use since 2007. In 2012, energy use was lower than it had been in 1999, despite the 25 percent growth spurt the economy experienced since then. Cavanagh states that this trend is the result of factories and businesses producing more products and value with less energy, the main goal Obama’s climate action plan.

American oil use is also in decline, down 14 percent compared to a peak in 2005. The U.S. used less oil last year than in 1973, even though the economy is now 3 times as large as it was back then! This is thanks to better mileage from our vehicles and driving those vehicles less. Greenhouse gas emission, energy costs, and gasoline use have also declined; saving billions of dollars and helping the American economy compete in a global market whilst helping to make the U.S. more secure.

To continue this progress, Cavanagh says that the federal and state governments must keep increasing efficiency standards for buildings, equipment, and vehicles. And the Environmental Protection Agency must reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by implementing standards that focus on energy efficiency to reduce pollution. He also states that utility companies should be rewarded by state regulators for helping customers utilize energy efficiently instead of penalizing those companies for not increasing their sales. Annual rate adjustments should be instituted by regulators to allow for unexpected changes in energy utility sales.

Over the past 40 years, the U.S. has found many innovative ways to save energy; we have more than doubled the economic productivity of our oil, natural gas and electricity. America’s most productive energy resource has been efficiency all along and it starts with the everyday decisions we make at home and at work. By simply trading out our old light bulbs for energy saving bulbs and updating our homes and buildings with energy-saving products and appliances, we will continue to see our energy productivity and energy security increase in America. If we focus on achieving more energy savings, we will also reduce costs and pollution. It seems the future of energy is not as dark as it once seemed.

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Dallas Zoo Creates Unlikely Trio

The Dallas Zoo has just become the new home to two male cheetah cubs named Kamau and Winspear. Some day they’ll be able to go from 0 to 60 mph in 3 seconds but today they’re meeting their new best friend. To calm the naturally nervous and rambunctious cheetahs, animal care specialists are employing an effective tactic used by zoos; they’re pairing the cheetah cubs with a black labrador puppy.

The two month old lab puppy is named Amani, meaning peace in Swahili, and he will live with the cheetahs 24/7. According to the animal care specialists supervising their introduction, eventually the cheetahs will see the puppy as one of their own, or part of their “coalition”. The dog will be a calming influence on the big cats insuring that they are relaxed enough to be taken into public.

The cheetah cubs are now part of the Dallas Zoo’s Animal Adventures program designed to educate the public about highly endangered species. The traveling outreach program exposes audiences to 30 different animals including a variety of birds, mammals and reptiles. Cheetahs could use the exposure. With less than 10,000 cheetahs in the wild, it is extremely important to educate the public on the beauty of the cheetah and to inspire communities to help protect them.

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Infographic Friday: Plant a Tree for Tomorrow

Trees that are planted take many years to grow before they are able to provide shade, and often those who planted them never see the trees fully grown. But that does not stop thoughtful individuals from planting row after row of trees, because they know that the next generation will have plenty of shade to rest under. Today’s quote reminds us that doing thoughtful and positive things, such as planting trees, can be hard work but is worth it if you begin with the end in mind. Making the world better for the next generation is always a worthwhile and admirable endeavor.

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Let There be Light: A guide to eco-friendly lighting options

As summer draws to an end and the days get shorter, that means less daylight — which, in turn, means more electricity used to illuminate your house. Given that lighting makes up a huge percentage of a home’s electricity bill (somewhere in the vicinity of a quarter of usage), looking at ways to save energy and money through your light bulbs makes good sense.

It’s been a long time since 1879, when Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, forever changing life for Americans. And like any invention, the ensuing 134 years have brought modifications and improvements — many that save you resources and money. With lighting constituting up to 25 percent of the average home energy budget, it’s a great place to look for reductions in energy usage.

Here’s a look at some eco-friendly lighting options:

CFLs
According to Energy Star, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy program, CFLs use about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer, plus they save approximately $30 in electricity costs over each bulb’s lifetime. CFLs should be left on at least 15 minutes at a time in order to keep their lifespan at its peak potential.

Although CFLs used to give off harsh lighting, the color is improved and warmer now, making them a good option for everything from track lighting to porch lights to table lamps. Because they can sometimes take time to warm up to full power, they may not be the best choice for timed lighting. However, CFLs are definitely faster to light fully than in the recent past.

One of the turnoffs to buying these bulbs is a higher initial cost than incandescents. In the long run, though, you can save money — as an example, an 18-watt CFL used in place of a 75-watt incandescent will save about 570 kilowatt-hours over its lifetime, equating to a $45 savings (assuming 8 cents per kilowatt-hour).

Likely the biggest concern about CFLs is that they contain small amounts of mercury, which can be harmful if the bulb breaks. In case of a spill, the EPA provides guidelines for cleanup here.

More than 50 American Lighting Association showrooms across the country currently offer CFL recycling, as do many retail stories such as Home Depot and IKEA.

LEDs
When the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, replaced all downtown street lights with LEDs, they reaped an estimated savings of $100,000 annually in energy costs — or the equivalent of taking 400 cars off the road per year.

While these energy-efficient bulbs have been restricted to small usages in the past, like Christmas lights, pen lights, and in TV remote controls, more household applications are being developed every day. One barrier to their widespread adoption is that they are currently much more expensive than both incandescents and CFLs, but researchers have been working to develop less-expensive methods of producing the lights, which will bring down the price for consumers.

LEDs last about 10 times longer than CFLs, making them the most energy-efficient option out there right now. They don’t get hot like incandescents, and they don’t break as easily as other light bulbs. Many cities and electric companies offer rebates for LED lighting, so check with your provider to see what options you have.

According to Cree LED Lighting, the average price in the U.S. of running a 65-watt light for 50,000 hours would cost $325 in electricity. By using a 12-watt LED bulb, running the light for 50,000 hours would cost only $60, plus the lights are replaced much less frequently.

Energy Star Lighting
Energy Star has long been known for its appliances, but the program has also certified lighting fixtures for more than a decade, and now has around 20,000 offerings. While screw-based CFLs (those that you substitute for an incandescent bulb) are great at conserving energy, Energy Star fixtures outfitted with CFLs are even better.

If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an Energy Star qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, save more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars, according to a segment on CBS.

Looking forward, Energy Star is working on labeling solid-state light fixtures — those that employ LEDs as the light source — and you can expect to see more Energy Star qualified lighting products hitting the market. They also feature a buyer’s guide that can help you figure out what kind of bulb you need in different fixtures, based on what kind of light you want.

For a side-by-side comparison of incandescents, CFLs, and LEDs on issues of lighting quality and cost, read this article from financial blog The Simple Dollar.

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Germany Breaks World Record for Solar Power Generation

At Dolphin Blue we love clean, green energy! That’s why we love solar power. This past July, Germany set a world record by producing 5.1 terawatt-hours (TWh) of solar energy. To put that in perspective, a terawatt is equal to 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) watts or the average amount of energy that a lightning strike gives off. You get the picture; it’s a lot of energy to generate! The U.S. only produced about .764 TWh this past July, but according to market reports, U.S. solar power is on the rise.

Solar power capacity per capita in Germany was about 400 Megawatts (MW) per million people in 2012 compared to about 25 MW per million people in the U.S.  This is mainly influenced at the local, state, and national levels by countries like Germany incentivizing solar adoption through long-term policies, which have in turn helped to reduce the costs of installing solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems. In fact, the costs to install PV systems in Germany are nearly 40% lower than in the U.S.

Despite the drastic cost differences between solar power systems in the U.S. and Germany, the cost of solar modules in the U.S. is decreasing rapidly every year. In 2012, the U.S. installed a record 3,313 MW of solar power systems and the market size for the solar power industry grew from $8.6 billion the previous year to $11.5 billion.

As the U.S. continues the trend of increasing installed PV systems and solar power generation, the solar power industry will hopefully be able to reduce installation costs. As it becomes more affordable to install solar power systems, global solar energy adoption will allow us to generate clean, green electricity worldwide.

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Infographic Friday: Be Bold, Be You

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was an inspirational writer and politician who lived during the 1800′s and is considered by many to be the German Shakespeare. He not only wrote poetry and novels, he also penned treatises on botany, color, and anatomy. His famous quote reminds us to believe in ourselves, to be bold, and to create our own opportunities.

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Sea Otters Saving the Coastlines

According to a recently published study from the University of California, Santa Cruz, endangered sea otters are playing an important role in protecting many vital aspects of the marine ecosystem. Sea otters feed on crabs, crabs who would otherwise eat the marine animals that clean sea grass of algae caused by agricultural run-off from farm pollution.

Thanks to the sea otters, those sea grass cleaning animals stay hard at work counteracting the harmful agricultural run-off affecting the health of costal ecosystems. The otters keep the crab numbers low allowing the sea grass to thrive, according to the UC Santa Cruz researchers. Species like herring, cod, and salmon use sea grass as nurseries, therefore the more sea grass they have access to the more their numbers will thrive.

The appetite of the sea otter is also helping to keep sea urchin numbers low. Sea urchins prey on giant kelp, but since the giant kelp has been able to grow, it is able to act as a shelter to many marine species and also help combat global warming by absorbing 12 times more carbon dioxide than if it was not being protected from sea urchins.

Southern sea otters were nearly hunted to extinction from the 18th to early 20th century when they were sought after for their thick fur. A small population survived in the Big Sur area of California and now their numbers have slowly recovered to approximately 2,800 in the area. Sea otters are just one of the many vital aspects of our marine ecosystem and one more reason it is so important to protect our endangered animals and assist in their recovery with federal protections and activism.

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Green Eating for a Healthy Home

Creating eco-friendly meals for your family doesn’t have to involve expensive organic produce and pricey fair-trade ingredients. Just by buying local fruits and vegetables, reducing your family’s consumption of meat, and choosing sustainable seafood can help to reduce pollution, carbon emissions, and the strain on our Earth’s natural resources. Dolphin Blue has gathered some great vegetarian recipes to help you green your eating habits. You’ll probably find that what is good for the planet is also delicious!

Veggie Stuffed Shells

Portobello Pizzas

Turkey, Tomato and Emmentaler Breakfast Sandwiches

Responsible eating can start before your meal preparation begins and last after dinner has been enjoyed. Keep reading for some more ideas on how to keep your cooking and kitchen eco-friendly. And don’t forget to try out Dolphin Blue’s environmentally friendly Preserve Kitchenware and Tableware.

  • Research sustainable seafood to ensure the ecological health of the oceans. Read labels or speak to your grocer to see which species are caught and farmed responsibly to make sure you’re buying responsibly
  • Cut more and cook less. The more you are able to cut your food into smaller pieces, the less time it will take to cook and therefore the less energy you will use
  • Put a lid on it. When boiling or simmering, put a lid on your pot and turn of your burner. This will enable your food to cook while also saving energy
  • Try to use all edible parts of your food. Leave the skins on your produce (after your scrub it clean) and eat all parts of your fruits and vegetables if you’re able to
  • Grow your own food! Learn more about sustainable practices by growing your own food and teaching your family how to grow their own food. The distance from your garden to your table is very eco-friendly!

Keep checking the Dolphin Blue blog every week for more eco-friendly tips for your home and garden.

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