Magic Coffee Beans!

I don’t think I can imagine my life without coffee. A hot, strong cup of freshly ground coffee is exactly what I need to get started in the morning – and it’s my constant companion throughout the day. I’m a firm believer in those magic beans, and what’s great about filtered coffee is that it not only tastes so much better than instant brands, but you can also recycle the grounds in a variety of ways to help the environment.

Coffee houses have also cottoned on to the power of their coffee grounds. Back in 1995, Starbucks introduced ‘Grounds for Your Garden’, offering customers complimentary five-pound bags of used coffee grounds to enrich their garden soil. The scheme is still going strong, with many coffee houses now also diverting their coffee grounds for commercial composting, thus reducing the volume of coffee grounds and other food waste ending up in local landfill.

So, if you’re a coffee lover, here are our top 10 ideas for turning those magic beans into green beans:

1. Treat your plants to a coffee-flavored drink
Mix your old coffee grounds with water to feed your plants. Rich in potassium and nitrogen, this ‘energy drink’ will help your plants flourish.

2. Eliminate bad odors
Gentry dry your grounds in a warm oven. Place them in an old sock or stocking and place them in your fridge and food cupboards to minimize or eliminate strong odors.

3. Wake up your worms
If you have a wormery, add your coffee grounds. The caffeine will wake up your worms and have them chomping through your waste more efficiently than before! It’s probably a good idea to mix the grounds with other food waste, so the worms don’t have a caffeine overdose!

4. Put pests in their place
If your garden is plagued with ants and other pests, put a ring of coffee grounds around the plants you wish to protect. The grounds should discourage unwanted visitors.

5. Coffee compost
Coffee grounds will enrich your compost pile, adding vital nutrients. Many shops and suppliers also sell biodegradable filter papers, making it really easy to dispose of used grounds straight into your compost bin.

6. Clear out your drains
Dispose of some of your coffee grounds down your drains to help gently clear out any debris and keep them functioning properly.

7. Watch scratches disappear!
If you own dark wood furniture, your coffee grounds can help to disguise scratches and other wear and tear. Simply soak the grounds in a small amount of hot water, drain off and then apply the liquid solution to damaged areas. Your furniture should look good as new!

8. De-ice
Coffee grounds are a great way to thaw slippery sidewalks, driveways and garden paths. Simply sprinkle a handful of grounds in the icy areas, and watch snow and ice melt away!

9. Scrub up nicely
Wet or dry grounds are great in tackling greasy pots, pans and grills. Use a handful alongside your regular detergent to help remove stubborn grease and food.

10. Pamper yourself!
Coffee grounds are great exfoliants – use a tablespoon-full of grounds with your regular soap to buff your face and body.
As you can see, there are plenty of positive ways to re-use your coffee grounds. I hope these top tips will inspire you to put those magic beans to good use!

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Why Are Organic Products So Expensive?

With the best intentions in the world as a green consumer, it’s easy to get put off when you compare the price of organic food with regular mass-produced products. People who are on a limited budget may have the inclination to buy their groceries ethically, but when we stand in the store and check out the prices of our ethically-produced food, it can be tough to make a decision to stay green and add on an extra twenty percent to our weekly grocery bill.

Just as free-range foods cost more than battery-farmed produce, or Fairtrade products can cost up to thirty percent more than other types of foods, so organic produce tends to be significantly more expensive than other forms. There are a number of reasons for this, and understanding the rationale behind it can make it much easier to make an informed purchasing decision and reduce the sting of the increased cost.

Compensating for reduced crop yields
On average, an organic crop yields approximately twenty percent less than a conventional crop, due to the fact that the growers do not rely upon pesticides and chemicals to enhance the return on what has been planted. This means that agricultural methods are less rewarding when it comes to gaining value for money through the farming process. Some crops such as potatoes can yield as much as forty percent less when farmed organically, and this cost has to be recouped from the sale of the produce.

Accommodating higher production costs
It costs more to grow organically than it does to rely on chemicals, and this cost is incurred through the labour taken to produce a decent crop. Factors such as weeding add to the overall time and effort taken to produce a great organic crop, and labour-intensive farming needs to be funded. Onions and carrots need to be carefully looked after when they are grown to organic standards, taking up much more resource than conventional mechanisms.

Mitigating the cost by balancing it with environmental risk
This said, the cost to the environment is significantly higher when it comes to traditional famring methods. Pesticides and fertilizers can make our living expenses shoot up through increased medical treatment needs, and experts suggest that using agrochemicals such as methyl-bromide can deplete the ozone by up to twenty percent. This in turn leads to higher risks from skin cancers, so the price overall is balanced by going organic. When we look at the cost of producing a crop such as strawberries using chemicals, people do not factor in the expense of treating people who have adverse medical reactions, so the true weighing up of organic versus traditional methods of farming is not currently an accurate figure.

When all the hidden costs to the environment and our health are taken in to consideration, buying organic suddenly doesn’t seem so expensive, does it? It’s an established fact that buying organic produce is better for the environment, and better for us in the long term, so it’s worth stretching the budget a little in order to buy green, ethically-produced and healthier foods.

The Art Of Eating In

In America today, more than 50 percent of families no longer share mealtimes together. Many of us are now eating ‘on the move’ – and with microwave dinners, fast-food, drive-thrus and take-aways at our fingertips, it’s no surprise that the act of preparing and sharing a meal at home is falling out of fashion.

The damaging impact of fast food on our health is now well documented. However, the cost of fast food on our environment and our food chain is also devastating. Many of us are unaware of the massive carbon footprint associated with the food we’re eating, not to mention the lack of sustainably sourced produce. All of this is wrapped up in excessive plastic and paper packaging – much of which ends up in methane-generating landfill, continuing its dirty work long after we’ve finished eating.

Cathy Erway, an amateur cook from New York, believes there is another way to enjoy food. In fact, she’s decided to stage something of a cultural revolution, publishing a book called ‘The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove,’ (Gotham, 2010) which aims to encourage people to start cooking in their own homes.

Not eating out in New York
It started with a blog entitled ‘Not eating out in New York,’ where Erway charted her efforts to avoid dining out in any of the city’s over-priced and unethical eateries. If it’s money-saving tips you’re after, then Erway claims that she spent just $25 per week when dining in, compared to over $200 per week when dining out – an incredible saving of $700 per month!

Erway contends that as a nation, we’ve begun to normalize the idea of eating out – it’s no longer considered to be a luxury or a treat; it’s an every day affair. In contrast, cooking at home is now seen as major surgery, with many people afraid or unsure about how to prepare and cook simple, healthy meals. Erway’s book is generous and shares many of her own culinary adventures, including a range of easy to follow recipes for cheap and hearty meals.

Erway also goes in search of an alternative food scene at the heart of New York City. Her book uncovers a sub-culture of people cooking and eating in their own homes, hosting dinner parties, foraging for edible ingredients in local parks, running secret supper clubs and dumpster diving (or ‘freeganing’) at local supermarkets for edible food that’s past its use-by date. It’s an inspiring account of a whole network of people who are returning to their own kitchens, and their own dinner tables to celebrate the joys of a home-cooked meal.

Eat in for a week
Erway’s book is an inspiring story – and demonstrates that it’s possible for all of us to think about dining in a little more often. Following the publication of her book, Erway championed the ‘Eat in for a Week’ challenge, encouraging ordinary people to make a concerted effort to eat in for just one week – with some fantastic results.

So, if dining out is your norm, and eating in is the exception, it might be time to take the challenge. Good luck!

The Compost Cab

We’re all a bit concerned by the taxi culture that sees people taking short journeys around the city, with serious consequences for the environment. But here’s a cab with a difference. The ‘Compost Cab,’ brainchild of social entrepreneur Jeremy Brosowsky, recently launched in Washington DC, to enable city-dwellers to compost their organic waste.

For those of us living in small apartments, the idea of composting our waste is pretty much a non-starter. With space at a premium, composting can seem impractical. And then there’s the smell. Rotting food in confined spaces – not a great combination. Enter the Compost Cab – an eco-friendly service which provides city residents with a trash bin which they can fill with organic and biodegradable household waste.

Compost Cab

Hail the affordable eco-cab
For a mere $8 per week, Compost Cab offers a weekly compost pick-up service, taking household waste to nearby urban farms, to help enrich the soil and increase the quality of organic produce grown there. It’s a win-win solution, which allows more people to compost everyday organic waste while reducing landfill and bringing more high quality, organic produce to market.

Compost Cab is committed to building and rewarding customer loyalty. After nine months, all scheme participants will be entitled to return deliveries of rich, composted soil, to help with their own home-grown projects. Because Compost Cab weighs your weekly compost output, each household can claim up to 10 percent of the composted soil for free! Those who choose not to claim their soil allocation can donate it to Engaged Community Offshoots (ECO), Compost Cab’s primary composting partner, and they’ll use it to grow nutritious, healthy food for local kids.

From rooftop to road
Brosowsky was inspired to develop the Compost Cab idea following his attendance at a Growing Power course on commercial urban agriculture. Passionate about the possibilities of setting up sustainable rooftop farms in the heart of the city’s poorer neighborhoods, Brosowsky set about finding new ways to incentivize and support inner-city food production.

Brosowsky knew all about the challenges of composting in the city, and had been puzzling for some time over ways to create affordable, odor-free composting units for fellow city-dwellers. He claims the basic idea for Compost Cab was fleshed out in a day, and yet already he has a strong residential customer-base as well as a community composting facility at the local Mount Pleasant Farmers’ Market, demonstrating the demand for his service.

To date, Compost Cab has focused on recruiting residential customers. However, Brosowsky won’t stop there – he’s keen to engage restaurants, coffee shops, big business and even city governments to get in on the act. It seems that he has created a powerful eco-franchise, which could see Compost Cabs popping up in cities everywhere.

It’s startling to learn that the average American family is producing more than 500 pounds of surplus organic waste every year. Composting not only helps to prevent this waste from ending up in toxic landfill – but it also reduces our food miles, by allowing local farmers to successfully grow organic produce in the fertile, natural soil surrounding our cities.

For more information about the Compost Cab or to sign up, visit www.compostcab.com

Vegetarian Butcher Opens In The Hague

While a lot people (mainly meat-eaters) find it odd, I’m a big fan of meat substitute food. Veggie sausages and veggie bacon are great when everyone else has a plate full of meat. And since you get stores dedicated to meat – a butchers – why not one dedicated to fake meat?

Well now one has opened in The Hague in Holland. De Vegetarische Slager concentrates on selling meat substitutes and also has its own line in products made from lupin seeds.

Time will tell to see if it takes off and is the first in a range of similar shops. I, for one, hope so.

De Vegetarische Slager

Spotted via: Springwise.

Grow Your Own Mushrooms – In An Old Book

While you can give old books to charity or sell them, why not grow mushrooms in them?

Yep, you read that right, mushrooms in an old book. Check out the picture below. Nigel, from Nigel’s Eco Store fame has been trying them himself and written about them on his blog here.

Oyster mushrooms grown in a book

The store sells a kit which contains oyster mushroom spores and all you need is a book, a little bit of water and five weeks to wait to eat them. Well it’s a little bit more fiddly than that, you need to keep the book (in its bag) in different places to ensure they grow right but looking at Nigel’s post the results are spectacular.

The kit costs £11.99.

Getting Your Caffeine Fix Without Harming The Environment

Coffee is one of the most contentious products which we consume. With electricity being used up each time we fire up the kettle, and a history of exploitation behind the import of coffee beans, it can be easy to be put off when we think about brewing our nation’s favorite beverage. However, things have moved on in the world of coffee over the past few years, meaning that you can actually do some good with your morning fix, rather than damaging the environment. Read on to find out more…

Purchase it ethically

Fairtrade certified products are becoming more widely available, and coffee is no exception. The Fairtrade certification (Fair Trade Certified in the US) is a system designed to allow us to identify products that meet agreed environmental, labor and developmental standards. The system is monitored by a standard-setting body, FLO International, and a certification body, FLO-CERT. It works by auditing producers to ensure the agreed standards are met. Companies that sell products under Fairtrade standards apply for licenses to use the Certification Mark (or, in North America, the applicable Fair Trade Certified Mark) for those products. Buying Fairtrade is a simple way of making sure that your coffee is produced and sold ethically.

Brew it greenly

Using an eco-kettle to heat you water cuts down on the energy used to power the device. Nowadays, you can even invest in a cool Electricity-Free Espresso machine to brew the perfect drink. The stylish machine produces the pressure needed to make café-style coffee in your own home, without the associated energy costs.

To use it, all you need to do is put your favorite coffee in the steel filter, pour boiling water in to the heat proof cylinder at the top. By lifting the lever arms, putting your cup in to position and then lowering the arms, you trap the air and force water through the coffee at high pressure into your cup. ‘Press’ is made from solid, polished aluminum, and is available for around $140 at eco retail stores online.

Recycle the waste

Coffee grounds are famous for their great properties on your garden. Composting your grounds or sprinkling them on the garden nourishes your plants and assists in completing the perfect cycle for a great environmentally-friendly brew. The grounds also have the advantage of deterring slugs and snails from your vegetable patch and smell fantastic if they get warmed by the sun.