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Got questions? Ask the Green Geek.

Looking for some ways to show the planet some love this Valentine’s Day? Wondering if conventional mattresses are toxic? Or do you need some alternatives to tossing those old books?

Ask the Green Geek.
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Pima County FYI has a monthly column featuring questions and answers on all things green. Our own Green Geek gets assistance on answering your questions from the sustainability experts in Pima County's Office of Sustainability and Conservation. Send your questions to fyinewsletter@pima.gov. And look for the column the second Friday of each month.

Hi, Green Geek,

What are some ways to show the planet some love this Valentine’s Day?

Thanks,

Gary


Hi, Gary,

What a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day! Here are some easy ways to show Mother Nature how much you love and appreciate her: 

Hug a tree, literally! Spend some quality time outdoors. Go for a hike, a bike ride, a picnic, a visit to your favorite park — whatever makes you feel closer to nature. Try to leave technology and other distractions at home or in the car so that you can feel fully immersed and connected to your surroundings. Going outside also boasts a whole slew of health benefits

Invite Mother Nature into your home. Get a new house plant or give a loved one plantable flowers or potted plants instead of a bouquet. They’ll liven up your space, remind you of nature’s beauty and provide other benefits along the way.
Running with a mate
Go zero-waste for a day. Challenge yourself! See if you can go an entire day without throwing something away. Here is a list of tips to get started. 

Go meat- and dairy-free for a day. It’s no secret that meat and dairy have a large carbon footprint. In fact, ditching both is one of the best ways to reduce our overall environmental impact. Try some new recipes or visit a local vegetarian/vegan restaurant. 

Continue to educate yourself on sustainability and  issues that concern Mother Nature. Watch a nature documentary, take a class on gardening, read an interesting book on earth science, grab coffee with a fellow climate enthusiast — anything to reinvigorate your appreciation for all that planet earth has to offer.

Hope this helps!
Avoid idling near schoolchildren. Turn off your engine while waiting to pick up your child after school. Many anti-idling programs focus on schools so many may have resources available, such as a comfortable waiting location for caregivers.

Instead of using drive-thru windows, park your vehicle and walk into coffee shops, restaurants, banks and pharmacies.

 If you’re waiting for someone in a parking lot in warm weather, park in the shade if available and open the windows to catch a cross breeze.

Reduce windshield defrost time in the winter months by securing a sunshade or towels on the outside of the windshield overnight.

Old habits can be hard to break. Place a decal or sticker on the edge of your windshield to remind yourself to not idle when you don’t need to.

 If you’re looking to purchase a vehicle, opt for one that is hybrid or has stop-start technology. Both automatically turn off the engine when they are not moving. Fully electric vehicles are another great option, since they produce no tailpipe emissions. 

If idling is necessary, try to keep it to no more than 5 minutes at a time.


Green Geek

Hi, Green Geek,

I’ve heard conventional mattresses are toxic. Is that true? Thank you. 

Amanda


Hi, Amanda, 


The average person spends about a third of their life sleeping, with babies spending two-thirds of their time getting shut-eye (though it may not feel that way to parents of a newborn). During this time, our bodies take on a variety of important tasks: healing, forming memories, detoxing, etc. Most people consider their bed a safe haven, but research has shown that, yes, many conventional mattresses contain potent toxins that can pose immediate and long-term health risks.  

What makes a mattress toxic? 
Most mattresses are made from some type of polyurethane foam, which is a petroleum product derived from fossil fuels. Because of this, polyurethane foam is highly combustible, and as a result, many companies — about 90% — douse their mattresses in flame-retardants. These chemicals are highly toxic and linked to a variety of risks, including endocrine disruption, lower IQ, hyperactivity, altered sexual development, fertility issues, thyroid dysfunction and cancer. 

Mattress can also contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs, which include carcinogenetic benzene, acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, off-gas in considerable amounts – even after six months of airing out. While the resulting exposure levels are low, health effects associated with VOCs range from irritation to headaches to organ damage, and young children are particularly vulnerable due to their size and amount of time spent in bed. 

How can I avoid exposure to these toxins? 
The most effective way is to get a mattress made of materials other than polyurethane foam. Opt for a mattress containing cotton, wool and natural latex. This article may help you choose.

If getting a new mattress is not an option, consider the following tips to reduce your exposure:
Ventilate indoor air by opening windows and turning on fans.

Purchase an air purifier and/or houseplants that are especially good at purifying the air. This article https://www.healthline.com/health/air-purifying-plants provides a list of great options. 

Purchase a mattress topper made of natural latex. It will provide some barrier between you and the mattress. Added bonus: you’ll feel like you’re sleeping on a cloud! 

  • Ventilate indoor air by opening windows and turning on fans.
  • Purchase an air purifier and/or houseplants that are especially good at purifying the air. This article  provides a list of great options.
  • Purchase a mattress topper made of natural latex. It will provide some barrier between you and the mattress. Added bonus: you’ll feel like you’re sleeping on a cloud! 
For more information on toxic mattresses, check out this report

Wishing you happy and healthy sleep,

Green Geek

Dear Green Geek,

Stack of books

My department has decided to ‘slim down’ and purge books that are duplicates, out-of-date or no longer relevant to our work. What are some ways I can keep them out of the landfill? 

Thanks,

Cindy


Hi, Cindy,

There are a lot of ways you can keep old and outdated books from reaching the landfill: 

You can:
Sell them on places like Amazon, Ebay, Craigslist or Bookmans. People may find them useful, even if they’re outdated

Donate them to places like the library or local thrift store

Upcycle them into something fun and creative if you’re the crafty DIY type (or know someone who is)

  • Sell them on places like Amazon, Ebay, Craigslist or Bookmans. People may find them useful, even if they’re outdated
  • Donate them to places like the library or local thrift store
  • Upcycle them into something fun and creative if you’re the crafty DIY type (or know someone who is)
Here are a few links to get you started:
30 Easy to Advanced DIY Crafts with Old Books You Can Do https://bookriot.com/2018/09/13/diy-crafts-with-old-books/

 Thank you for your question!

Green Geek
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