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Cutting Down on Lawn — Alternatives to Grass

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Lawns are green in color only, and the odds are good that you’re sick of mowing. You could save time by ignoring lawncare myths, and there are ways to reduce the water and energy you waste on your lawn, but even the most eco-friendly lawn is still a lawn.

Here are some tips for reducing the amount of the lawn in your yard even if you’re not an avid gardener.


There’s a good chance that you have at least a few trees and bushes planted around the edges of your lawn. Add to the existing woody plants in your yard to create deep shrub borders. Plant native species and mulch them all the way to the drip line to reduce the need for water and protect trunks from lawnmower damage. Once established, native shrub borders can survive without supplemental water most years, and need pruning no more than once a year.

Berry Beds

Fill a raised bed that gets plenty of sun with blackberries and you’ll be rewarded with fresh fruit. Image: pixel2013, Pixabay

Raised beds create a sense of structure in the landscape that looks tidier than shrub borders. They also keep cane berries like raspberry and blackberry from spreading.

Filled with flowers or vegetables, raised beds can be just as much work as lawn. But filled with berries, all they need is sun and water and you’ll be rewarded with fresh fruit. But don’t be surprised if you get inspired to take up beekeeping to keep those harvests going.

Unmown Grasses

Ornamental grasses like this pink muhly require minimal care. Image: paulbr75, Pixabay

Lawn grass is not the only kind of grass, in fact, it is one of the least interesting or useful forms.

Ornamental grasses can be used to create sophisticated planting designs or to recreate native prairie. If you choose native species, you can free yourself from both watering and mowing, so you’ll have plenty of free time to sit back and enjoy the butterflies and other wildlife attracted to your certified wildlife habitat.

But research horticultural varieties before planting — many ornamental grasses are invasive species. If a grass doesn’t belong in your region, don’t plant it.

Ground Covers

Sempervivum, a succulent commonly known as “hens and chicks” is just one of many resilient ground covers. Image: Hans, Pixabay

There are probably areas of your lawn that don’t get very much — if any — foot traffic. For those areas, other ground covers may be more appropriate than grass, especially in shady areas. As with grasses, many ground covers can be invasive. Consider native plants like kinnikinnick or wild ginger — find out what grows in your region.

Few ground covers are as hardy as lawn grass. But clover, herbs like creeping thyme, and even moss can tolerate some foot traffic. The benefit, though, is groundcover that requires relatively little water compared to the traditional lawn.

Unplanted Areas

Although permeable pavers can reduce the amount of grass you have to deal with while still allowing rainwater to drain through the gaps, an entirely paved yard is probably too much. Gravel, on the other hand, can be a lawn substitute without making your yard look built over. Combining large areas of gravel broken up with a few drought-tolerant plants is best suited to dry climates and desert landscapes.

There’s no need to rip out your entire lawn if you don’t want to. But you can save time, energy, and water by reducing the area of your lawn. Try one or more of these strategies to chip away at the edges of your lawn. You might find yourself with a prettier yard and more time to enjoy it.


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Cutting Down on Lawn — Alternatives to Grass

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Air pollution from Harvey was bad. This Houston petrochemical fire is worse.

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The fire blazing at a chemical storage facility in Houston has blanketed the city in smoke, shuttered schools, and released a dangerous mix of pollutants.

According to self-reported emissions data posted on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s website, the blaze had sent more than 9 million pounds of pollutants into the air by Monday morning. That’s more than the 8.3 million pounds of pollutants released during Harvey in 2017 in a single day.

The toxic mixture includes carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, toluene, and naphtha. That’s self-reported, so there may be even more pollution. The data, for instance, doesn’t include the particulate matter — or soot — spewing in black plumes from the fire.

“Particulate matter is incredibly dangerous,” said Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen Texas, a watchdog group. It can cause a range of effects, including asthma, heart attacks, and strokes. “It’s not out of the realm of possibility that this exposure could cause very severe health impacts up to and including death.”

The fire broke out Sunday morning at Intercontinental Terminals Company’s facility in Deer Park, a heavily industrialized area about 15 miles southeast of Houston. ITC, as it’s known, has a long history of flouting environmental rules. According to EPA data, it has violated federal clean water rules nine times in the last three years. Since 2005, the state has found Intercontinental Terminals in violation of its permits at least nine times, resulting in roughly $70,000 in fines.

The TCEQ, the agency responsible for protecting the state’s environment and public health, has been criticized for letting large corporate polluters off with a slap on the wrist. An analysis of its enforcement record by an environmental nonprofit found that the agency imposed penalties on violators in just 3 percent of cases. ITC appears to have benefitted from the lax enforcement. In 2016, for instance, the company released more than 1,500 pounds of benzene — a carcinogenic chemical — for over five days and failed to notify the state agency within the mandated 24-hour deadline. The fine: roughly $4,000.

The state agency and cities have been tracking air quality in the area. In its second press release since the fire broke out, the TCEQ said on Tuesday that particulate matter levels “increased slightly” in the hours after the fire began on Sunday to “moderate levels” but have since dropped.

Air quality data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality show particulate matter levels spiking in the hours after the fire broke out.Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

That statement is at odds with one the agency released the day before, in which it appeared to downplay the effects of the fire on public health, noting that it “had not detected any immediate health concerns at ground level.” Residents have reported headaches and itchy throats on Twitter and to Texas journalists. And the fire is expected to keep burning for another two days.

All this comes two weeks after the Los Angeles Times reported that the TCEQ turned down NASA’s assistance with air quality monitoring during Harvey.

“TCEQ hasn’t built up a very big trust bank with the public,” said Luke Metzger, executive director at Environment Texas, an Austin-based environmental group. “During Harvey, they downplayed some of the concerns, and it’s hard to say whether they’re being straight with us. I wish I could take them at their word, but it’s hard to know for sure.”

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Air pollution from Harvey was bad. This Houston petrochemical fire is worse.

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Hurricane Michael is a monster storm and an unnatural disaster

Hurricane Michael made landfall early Wednesday afternoon near Mexico Beach, Florida, as a high-end Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds of 155 mph, just 2 mph below Category 5 strength.

The hurricane will likely devastate Florida’s Panhandle communities. It is, simply, a history-changing storm. According to the National Hurricane Center, “most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

As Michael approached land, meteorologists struggled to find words to describe it. On Twitter, the National Weather Service said, in all caps, “THIS IS A WORST CASE SCENARIO.” The hurricane’s winds and waves were so strong, their rumblings were detected on seismometers — equipment designed to measure earthquakes. Michael is expected to produce storm surge — typically the deadliest part of any hurricane — of up to 14 feet, smashing local records.

No storm remotely this strong has ever hit this part of Florida. The previously strongest hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle had winds of 125 mph, 30 mph weaker than Michael’s. The local National Weather Service office in Tallahassee issued a chilling warning that Michael was “not comparable to anything we have seen before.”

Only the 1935 “Labor Day” hurricane, which hit the Florida Keys, and 1969’s Hurricane Camille, which struck Mississippi, were more intense at landfall in all of U.S. history. Michael is the fourth Category 4 hurricane to hit the U.S. in just 15 months, joining last year’s trio of Harvey, Irma, and Maria — an unprecedented string of catastrophic hurricane disasters.

In the hours before landfall, Michael rapidly intensified, strengthening from a Category 1 to a strong Category 4 in less than 36 hours — consistent with recent research on climate change’s impact on storms. Michael did this after passing over unusually warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, which likely helped to increase the storm’s moisture content and provide fuel for more intense thunderstorms, a deeper central pressure, and stronger winds. Sea levels in the Gulf of Mexico have risen by about a foot over the past 100 years, so there’s a direct link between Michael’s coastal flooding and long-term climate change.

Recovery from Michael is likely to be a painfully slow process. The Panhandle is the most impoverished region of Florida, and this kind of a storm would be difficult to overcome even for wealthy communities. Calhoun County, just inland of where Michael made landfall, is the lowest-income county in the state, with a median household income of less than $32,000 per year. As we saw during last month’s Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas, it’s likely that thousands of people couldn’t even afford to evacuate.

Even if Michael wasn’t making landfall in a particularly vulnerable section of U.S. coastline, it would be an unrecoverable storm for many families. Our inaction on climate change made Michael into an unnatural disaster.

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Hurricane Michael is a monster storm and an unnatural disaster

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How to Grow Your Own Dry Beans

Growing your own dry beans is a great way to have fresh and organic dry beans on hand year-round. Beans are an easy crop to grow and there are numerous varieties you can experiment with. Let?s take a look at how to get started.

Choosing a Variety

Beans come in hundreds of different heirloom and modern varieties, all with unique flavors, colors and shapes. One of the best ways to find good varieties is to visit your local farmers? market, seed swap or garden center and ask which types of seeds work well in your area. Seed catalogs and online suppliers should also have a selection of beans appropriate for drying. In addition, chat with other gardeners to find out what?s been working for them, and maybe ask if they could share a handful of their favorite beans you can plant.

1. Bush Beans

If you live in a colder climate, bush beans are often your best choice because they have a shorter time to maturity compared to pole beans. The plants typically only grow around two to three feet (60 to 90 centimeters) tall and can stand on their own without support.

Some fast-maturing varieties to watch out for include ?Jacob?s Cattle?, ?Vermont Cranberry? or ?Black Valentine?. In climates with a longer season, ?Calypso?, ?Anasazi? or Soldier beans are classic varieties that produce well.

2. Pole Beans

Pole beans typically have a longer growing season than bush beans. They will also continue to produce beans for a longer time, unlike bush beans that often mature all at once. Pole beans require some form of support, such as a trellis, a classic pole ?teepee? or a fence. Another option is to grow your pole beans on the stalks of neighboring corn or sunflowers.

The varieties ?Good Mother Stallard?, ?Czar? or Romano-type pole beans all make excellent dry crops.

Related: How & Why to Participate in a Seed Swap

Planting Your Seeds

If your growing season is fairly short, it?s best to plant your beans soon after the risk of frost has passed in spring. If you have a longer season, you can plant beans after your spring crops are harvested and the weather has warmed up. A sunny location is ideal.

It can be beneficial to cover your seeds with Rhizobium bacteria before planting them. You can buy Rhizobium at most garden centers, and the bacteria will help the developing bean plants fix nitrogen in the soil.

All beans prefer direct sowing in the soil. In colder climates, you can plant your seeds on raised beds to capture more heat. Plant seeds one inch (2.5 centimeters) deep in your soil with one to two inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters) between the seeds, giving larger seeds more space. Then, space additional rows at least one foot (30 centimeters) apart.

If you?re growing pole beans on corn or sunflowers, plant the bean seeds directly at the base of the support plants when they?re about one foot (30 centimeters) tall.

Mulch the soil after sowing to retain moisture.

Care Tips

Beans do best in a moderately rich soil, but they can also grow in fairly degraded soils due to their ability to fix their own nitrogen. This also means they do not need extra fertilizer while growing.

Water the developing plants regularly, especially as they?re forming pods. Make sure the plants dry out in between waterings to prevent mold and bacteria problems. As the plants mature, they become more drought tolerant and you can cut back on water.

Remove weeds as the seedlings are growing, although the bean plants effectively shade out any weeds as they get bigger.

Related: How to Make Beans and Grains More Digestible


Your beans are ready to harvest when the pods look dry. You?ll also likely be able hear the beans rattling inside when you shake them.

Keep in mind that beans are very sensitive to frost, so make sure you harvest them well before a potential frost date. If your beans aren?t ready yet and frost is expected, you can cut the plants early, hang them in a protected area, and let the pods continue to mature.

If your pods have matured well on the plants, you should be able to simply pull up the plants and harvest the beans. When you only have a small patch of beans, the easiest way to get the beans out of the pods is by hand. You can squeeze open the pods as you?re harvesting the plants and collect the beans in a container, or you can pick the pods off the plants and set them aside to open later.

Another option is to hold the plant inside a barrel and bang it against the sides to get the beans out. If you grow a large area of beans, you may want to invest in professional threshing equipment.

To clean the beans, you can either run the beans over a screen or use a hair dryer to blow off any debris.


Check that your beans are completely dry before packing them for storage. When you bite a bean, it should feel hard. If the beans still have some softness, spread them out in a warm area and let them dry longer until they?ve hardened.

When the beans are ready, pack them into airtight containers and store them in a dark place. They?re best used within a year. You can keep them longer, but they may become too dry and difficult to cook.

Related: 7 Ways to Avoid Gas from Beans

Bean Recipes

Looking for ideas on how to enjoy your harvest? Check out some of these delicious recipes.

Hearty 4-Bean Stew
Tuscan White Bean Soup
Simple and Delicious Black Bean Chili
Herbed Bean Salad
Beans and Greens with Herbed Polenta
Black Bean and Sweet Potato Enchiladas
Jamaican Rice and Beans

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.


How to Grow Your Own Dry Beans

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Can’t Add Solar Panels to Your Roof? Join a Community Solar Farm


Solar energy development has skyrocketed in recent years, but many people who want to use solar energy aren’t in the position to harness the power of the sun where they reside. Renters, apartment dwellers, condominium owners and people with shaded roofs are largely left out of the solar revolution.

Enter community solar farms. This new ownership structure is making solar power available to people who couldn’t access it before. Community solar installations, also known as solar gardens and solar farms, increase the advantages of owning a solar system and extend the reach of solar power to more people than ever before.

What Are Community Solar Farms?

Solar gardens are renewable energy plants owned by a community of people or a company. This arrangement allows a group of people to use solar electricity that is generated in their area without installing the photovoltaic panels on their property. In many instances, the electricity from community solar farms costs less than what residents and small businesses would otherwise pay the electric company.

Solar gardens are a relatively new ownership arrangement that enables more households and businesses to benefit from solar energy. They use virtual net metering and are increasing in popularity in many states with supportive policies.

Who Owns Community Solar Farms?

There are two main ownership models for community solar farms. In ownership-based projects, an individual, organization or business owns a percentage of the solar farm and has a stake in the asset. Prospective members join the project by buying or financing a certain number of panels in the solar installation. The electricity generated from the share cannot significantly exceed their electric consumption. If an individual or business moves within the same utility district, they can apply the electricity generation to their new address. If someone moves out of the utility district, they can sell their interest in the solar farm to a new member.

Alternately, subscription-based projects are owned by a third party. Participants in this solar farm model pay an administrator or utility company for the solar electricity they consume, often at a lower rate than what they would normally pay. The third party receives the tax credit and the participant payments.

Where Are Solar Farms Most Popular?

Community solar farms can be found in more than half of U.S. states, with Colorado, California, Massachusetts and Minnesota expected to lead the way in new community solar farm capacity. Many states anticipate more community solar farm installations — especially if those states have supportive policies and initiatives.

Want to join a community solar farm in your area? Find out about community solar projects near you!

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Can’t Add Solar Panels to Your Roof? Join a Community Solar Farm

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Bundys acquitted as authorities go after Standing Rock.

The Ross Sea marine reserve, which covers 600,000 square miles of the Southern Ocean off coast of the Antarctic, will be protected from commercial fishing for the next 35 years. Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, an international consortium of governments, approved it unanimously on Thursday.

At nearly twice the size of Texas, the area is home to over 10,000 species of flora and fauna, including penguins, seals, whales, seabirds, and fish.

But Ross Sea is also important for the valuable role it plays in research on the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems.

Secretary of State John Kerry celebrated the park as “one of the last unspoiled ocean wilderness areas on the planet,” and a sign of “further proof that the world is finally beginning to understand the urgency of the threats facing our planet.”

There are some environmentalists who say the designation doesn’t go far enough. World Wildlife Foundation’s Chris Johnson noted that the agreement must be made permanent.

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Bundys acquitted as authorities go after Standing Rock.

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Dakota Access pipeline’s private security unleashed attack dogs and sprayed mace on protesters.

This weekend, tensions over the pipeline in North Dakota escalated into violence for the first time since protesters camped next to the western banks of the Missouri River weeks ago.

Anti-pipeline activists stormed a private construction site less than a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Saturday morning, chanting “water is life.”

Nataanii Means, a Navajo-Lakota-Omaha rapper from New Mexico, captured video of the scene.

All told, more than 30 protesters and bystanders were sprayed and six people were bitten by dogs, the Associated Press reports. Four private security guards and two attack dogs were also injured.

The clash came less than a day after Standing Rock filed a federal court request for an emergency restraining order to halt construction.

Researchers brought in to survey the construction site found “significant cultural and historical value,” in the ancient artifacts and burials in the area. One of those sites ended up destroyed before the standoff Saturday.

Standing Rock’s pending lawsuit against Army Corps of Engineers, which supervised Dakota Access’s permitting process, claims that the tribe wasn’t given time to determine whether construction would violate the National Historic Preservation Act.

If the tribe gets its injunction in court, it would delay the pipeline’s construction to allow for more thorough environmental reviews.

But there are dozens of constructions sites for the pipeline, and work hasn’t stopped yet. Neither have the protesters, who chained themselves to two sites on Tuesday.

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Dakota Access pipeline’s private security unleashed attack dogs and sprayed mace on protesters.

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Obama creates whole new national monument to celebrate National Park System’s 100th birthday

Parks and recreation

Obama creates whole new national monument to celebrate National Park System’s 100th birthday

By on Aug 24, 2016Share

President Obama marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service a day early by protecting 87,500 acres in north-central Maine on Wednesday.

The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, as the new preserve will be known, encompasses the East Branch of the Penobscot River as well as a vast swath of woods rich in biodiversity. The area is a popular site for outdoor recreation, and, according to a statement from the White House, the new monument will bolster “the forest’s resilience against the impacts of climate change.”

It doesn’t hurt that the place looks pretty damn nice:

Obama has now protected 265 million acres of America’s public lands and waters, more than any other president in history (though he’s also also criticized for contradictory policies like allowing offshore drilling to continue). As it goes with anything Obama does, this declaration is not without critics: Some locals, including Maine Rep. Bruce Poliquin, opposed a “unilateral” executive action on the basis of giving locals more control to do as they please with the lands.

Much of the land for this new monument wasn’t owned by locals, but by Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby, who transferred 87,000 of 120,000 acres of Maine forest to the U.S. Department of the Interior Monday.

Election Guide ★ 2016Making America Green AgainOur experts weigh in on the real issues at stake in this electionGet Grist in your inbox

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5 Ways to Make a Small Kitchen Feel More Spacious

How to make a tiny kitchen look huge was the original idea for this post. Why did we reject it? Simple. Theres already a ton of articles on how to change your kitchens appearance cluttering up the blogosphere. Tile the floor diagonally, install open shelves, put up lots of mirrors, and yada yada yada.

Well I dont know about you, people, but I spend a heck of a lot less timelookingat my kitchen than I do actuallyworkingin it. (Thats not to mention dodging my son and my Jack Russell rescue as I scurry around my cozy 75-square foot space.) Its about time for some new tips on how to make your minuscule kitchenfeelmore spacious, practical and comfortable.

Work with your kitchen traffic patterns

Yes, its an inevitable fact of life. Someone near and dear to you will be seized by an uncontrollable urge to grab a drink or a snack from the fridge just when youre frantically putting a few final touches on the piece de resistance for tonights dinner party. Dont sweat it. One very helpful DIY hack to help you cope with your households traffic flow:reverse your refrigerator door, so that it no longer opens right into the middle of your limited work area.

Maximize cabinets

Get rid of kitchen clutter and keep your essentials close at hand so that you can work effectively. Extend your storage all the way to the ceiling withcustom cabinetryor your own DIY containers. If your kitchen is truly microscopic, make sure that youll have enough room to open a ladder or stepstool when you need to access this area. In the corner spot, install a lazy Susan or even better! pull-out shelving or drawers, for easier access and cleaning. Use those skinny slices of space next to the refrigerator and under your base cabinets; install a sliding storage tower and toe-kick drawers, respectively. Save an inch or two more of precious kitchen real estate with integrated drawer pulls.

Go vertical

Dont overlook the square footage available on your walls. Hang up a magnetic strip to mount a prized set ofchefs knives well above floor level; this will keep them safely out of reach of small children, yet close enough for your own convenience while youre busy taking care of kitchen tasks. In a similar vein, make use of utensil hooks and perhaps a case for storing wine. And why not cast a vote in favor of bringing back the oh-so-handy-but-no-longer-trendy pot rack?

Choose efficient furnishings

Any furniture that you absolutely must squeeze into your kitchens petite footprint should be scaled down and simple to stow away when its not needed. The perfect example is your seating folding chairs and stacking stools rule! In place of a kitchen island, try the flexible solution of a fold-down table or shelf, or a butcher block-topped cart on wheels.


A small kitchen can turn into an awfully stuffy, unpleasantly humid and generally claustrophobia-inducing place to beunless its well ventilated. If you do a fair amount of cooking, dont forego a range hood in order to save space; however, do opt for a slim line, low-profile style. In addition, you might consider installing a ceiling-mounted electric fan. This is an energy-smart way to improve air circulation and supplement (or replace) your air conditioning. To clean and cool the atmosphere in your kitchen, grow half a dozengreen plantsin hanging pots.

By Laura Firszt,Networx.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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5 Ways to Make a Small Kitchen Feel More Spacious

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Eco-Aware Kitchen Cabinet Replacement or Renewal

You work hard at keeping your kitchen greenbuying healthful, sustainable food and drink to nourish your family and friends. Good for you! Now heres another area where you can make a positive difference to our planet. Make sure that your kitchen cabinets, as well as their contents, are eco-friendly, locally produced whenever feasible and constructed from sustainably produced or harvested substances. Whether you are planning to install new kitchen cabinets or upgrade your existing ones pick and choose from these 7 tips to minimize your impact on the health of Mother Earth.

  1. Reuse. Reusing what you already have is one of the basic principles of anenvironmentally mindfullifestyle. Repair damaged kitchen cabinets if possible, to extend their usefulness and postpone the need to purchase new material. Often cabinets which are somewhat the worse for wear can be renewed by changing the hardware or stripping their finish and redoing with water-based stain or paint.
  2. Reduce. If your present cabinet doors are a little (or a lot) battered, you might need to take more serious steps to make your kitchen functional once again. You can make choices that will reduce the amount of new materials youll need, though. Consider simply refacing the cabinet surfaces or replacing just the doors themselves, while preserving the boxes.
  3. Recycle. Recycling venerable old wood (salvaged from barns or fences that have been torn down or fallen on their own) is not only praiseworthy, it will also give your kitchen a very appealingly weathered rustic look. Do be sure to ask permission before bringing home wood from a demo site or a pile of discarded pallets; it may not be free for the taking. And check whether wood you plan to reclaim issafe free of mold, rot, or insect infestation, to name just a few examples.
  4. Replace responsibly. If none of the previous suggestions works for your situation, you might decide that your cabinets life is done and it is time to look for an appropriate replacement at last. Should you decide toinstall new kitchen cabinets, select natural materials, preferably ones that have not been transported long distances to where you live. Durable, beautiful wood, such as oak, cherry, or mahogany is a good choice; look for Forest Stewardship Council certification that it was sustainably sourced. A new hybrid wood, lyptus, is fast growing and can be harvested without damaging the surrounding environment.
  5. Research other materials for their green potential. Bamboo has become a popular, less expensive, alternative to wood; however, recently questions have started to be raised about its sustainability. In addition, bamboo planks may contain a formaldehyde-based adhesive. A promising new source for cabinet construction is actually farm waste. A process has been developed to transform the debris which is left over from harvesting sorghum, sunflowers, or wheat into attractive fine-grained boards.
  6. Recycle once again. Dont just discard your old kitchen cabinets after they are removed. You may be able to donate them to your local branch ofHabitat for Humanityor at least drop them off at the salvage center.
  7. Remember the details.Opt for environmentally sound materials to craft the interiors of your kitchen cabinets, as well as their faces. Avoid using any toxic adhesives or finishes that will off-gasVOCs (volatile organic compounds)into the air of your home.

By Laura Firszt, Networx.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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Eco-Aware Kitchen Cabinet Replacement or Renewal

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