Conserve and Preserve blog - archive 2

March 26, 2019

Happy Spring Rosemount!

Song birds have returned; their calls fill the morning air. The snow has almost vanished as shipping season opens on the Mississippi River. And the bare branches of trees stretch towards the sun, leaf buds waiting to burst out.  

But something else lurks around the trees of the forests and parks. Something that has been spreading throughout the Midwest and the United States. It wipes out native plants, sickens birds and butterflies, and destroys biodiversity. What is this terrible thing?

It is BUCKTHORN. (dun dun DUUUUN!!)

Learn more about this invasive plant and its impacts on Rosemount in this interactive website.

-Jes Braun, MN GreenCorps member serving in Rosemount

March 12, 2019

Fleece pullover? Check.

Fleece-lined pants? Check.

Is a fleece vest an overkill? I shrug that thought off as I slip the vest over my head. So cozy.

As negative and single digit temperature days stretch on and on, we all look for something, anything, to wear that will keep us from freezing over.  We can’t survive winter without clothing.  We are fragile creatures! If our bare skin spent more than a minute or two outside, we would be running for the nearest source of shelter.  There is a reason you’ve never seen one of those naked survival reality shows based in the Boundary Waters in December, or Siberia in February.  They wouldn’t survive. Not unless a bear came by and donated its fur coat to the needy human.

So we gear up! Honestly, nothing feels better than being bundled in layers of warm fabric, and walking around outside on  a bright winter day. 

But the type of fabric we choose, matters.

Fleece. Fleece is a wonderful warming tool.  But despite being named after the fleece coat on a sheep, it is far from a natural fiber. Fleece is 100% plastic. Polyester, to be more specific. Petroleum and a slew of other chemicals (including antifreeze) are heated until they become a thick syrup, and then spun to form threads. (If it isn’t formed into threads, it can be made into plastic bottles at this stage). The way the structure forms on these fibers during the spinning process makes fleece feel so warm and cozy.

Photo of fleece

And makes fleece machine-washable.  But it’s here where we are starting to see some problems.  Every time you wash your fleece, it sheds.  A recent study published in Environmental Science and Technology found that each wash of a fleece jacket shed up to 2 grams in microfiber (roughly the weight of two pieces of chewing gum). They found this to be 7 times higher in top-loading machines versus front-loading. And fleece isn’t the only synthetic fiber that sheds microfibers.  Polyester, nylon, rayon, acrylic, and spandex are all culprits as well. 

These fibers are flushed out of your machine and into your waste water. More than 600,000 tons of plastic microfibers are estimated to enter the ocean each year from washing clothes made with these types of fibers.  

Chart showing path of microfiber in food

In the oceans and rivers, tiny fish mistake the fibers and other microplastics for food and ingest them.  Through biomagnification, that plastic moves back up the food chain. During a recent study from the University of Ghent, it was found that the average person who eats seafood consumes up to 11,000 pieces of plastic every year.

These microplastics aren’t just showing up in the fish  Everything from table salt to agricultural lands have been found to have microplastics in them. As more studies are being conducted to see how the effects of these pollutants in our water, food, and body systems affect us, we can take proactive steps to reduce the amount shed (and still stay cozy).

One nifty trick is you can put a filter on the exit hose from your washing machine, collecting the fibers before they enter the waterways. This requires you to access the filter and clean it periodically between washes (much like a lint trap on your dryer). Another trick is some companies have developed various contraptions you can throw into your wash that help trap some of the fibers.

Not very handy? Try washing your fleece and other synthetic clothing less! I used to throw my fleece jacket into the wash often; we all know how badly they collect lint and hair on them.  Now instead, I lint-roll my jacket, and wash it less.

Ready to say goodbye to fleece and other synthetic fibers? Wool is a great choice for cold weather! If it’s itchy to you, you can lay a base layer of cotton between your sweater and your skin. Plus, both wool and cotton naturally break down when shed.

Weigh out the pros and cons for yourself, and think about the legacy of your fleece vest, before you pull it off the hanger at the store, or throw it in the wash.

Photo of shopper for clothing

-Jes Braun, MN GreenCorps member serving in Rosemount

March 5, 2019

Graphic saying Ice Dams, Leaky Heat

If you’ve been able to take your eyes off of this new winter sport known as driving and had a moment to look around neighborhoods in the Twin Cities, you’ve probably seen them. And seen A LOT of them. ICICLES.

A few here and there from corners of gutters may happen to the best house.  But when they group together and form a dam, it’s the sign of a bigger problem.

Photo of home with ice hanging off gutters

How do they form?

If your home isn’t properly insulated, heat from the home escapes into the attic. The snow on your roof melts from the heat in the attic.  It trickles towards the eaves, that don’t have all that lovely heat warming it, and refreezes.  As more snow falls, melts, slides down the roof, and refreezes, the dam gets bigger and bigger.  The ice and water can back up under shingles, seeping into the attic, ruining insulation, ceiling plaster, and rotting out wood.

How can I prevent this?

There are many different attack plans that can not only save you from ice dams and water damage, but save you money! Insulation is the best form of prevention. Not sure where to start? Luckily, there are trained professionals out there than can help.

Home energy audits are provided by Minnesota Energy Resources, Xcel Energy, and Centerpoint Energy.  Who is your natural gas provider? Click their name above to be linked to their program!  Some energy-savings material is FREE.  All of the programs will help you improve comfort in your home, and avoid those dang dams.

When was your home built? If your home was built before 1950, and you haven’t updated or added any insulation, you could be using up to SIXTY percent more energy per square foot than homes built after 2000!  To think of it in another way, consider your home’s insulation to be your home’s winter gear.  Not having the proper insulation is like walking out in a cold snap with no hat on and your coat unzipped,  You’d be cold and shivering before even a few steps! 

Drawing showing home wrapped in scarfAlready got a well insulated home?  Adding roof and soffit (the underside of your overhang) vents can help draw in cold air and flush out warm attic air.  Also raking snow off your roof after a heavy snowfall will keep it from melting and starting the dams in the first place.  

Already have an ice dam? At this point, you should hire a professional to steam it off.  Then call for a home energy audit, they can help you get to the bottom of your ice problem. 

Now think like an icicle and hang in there! Spring IS coming, Rosemount. I promise.

-Jes Braun, MN GreenCorps member serving in Rosemount

February 26, 2019

Hi Rosemount!

I know it’s been a long winter. And looking at the extended forecast can really get you down. (look away, look away!) 

But winter really is a beautiful season! When else can you see every branch of a tree lined with snow? Or see migrating birds fly over head, their calls filling the crisp air?  Or walk outside and hear the still quiet during a snowfall, all sounds absorbed by the falling flakes?

Photo of trees in winter

My favorite part of my commute into Rosemount is passing the wetlands that border Robert Trail.  The tall grass rises high above the snow, their stalks so golden above the white and grey spotted land. Winter drains bright colors from the natural scapes, making the soft, sepia tones of plants so vibrant and alive.

Photo of trail in winter

The end of February is when chipmunks start to come out of torpor (a state of decreased activity much like hibernation). Sugar maple trees are running with sap. White-tailed deer are shedding their winter fur while black bear cubs (barely a month old) are in dens with their still-sleeping mothers.

In the beginning of March, goldfinches coloration will be bright and eye-catching, as they approach mating season. Red foxes will also be out on the prowl for a mate.

Photo of yellow finch in winter

All of this wonderful, winter life is unfolding around you.  Don your long underwear, grab a warm mug of tea, and go for a walk (or snowshoe!). Spring will be here before you know it, and the landscape, and animals, will change with it. Get outside and see it while you can.

-Jes Braun. Animal facts based off of Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes.

February 19, 2019

Title of Kondoing blog post

So who else has been caught up in the Marie Kondo craze? It seems most of America has been captivated by the decluttering and organizing methods of motivational guru and namesake Marie Kondo. It’s been applied to everything from decluttering your basement and linen closets, to municipal storm drains!

Graphic showing how to Kondo a storm drain

But what do you do with the items that you no longer need or wish to have in your house? Items that don’t "spark joy" for you? According to Marie Kondo, you thank them for being a part of your life, and then get rid of them.

On the show, bags of old clothes, household items, and food pile up, ready to go to the local charity shop. Donating can be a great way to save those items from the landfill, and make your heart a bit fuller for helping out neighbors in need.

But not everything should be given away.

Look over your items planned for donation. There is a term in the recycling world called ‘wish-cycling’ (I know I’ve been guilty of it). You look at an item before you toss it in the recycling bin. You don’t know if it qualifies for recycling and instead of checking the number or consulting a list of acceptable items, you toss it in the recycling bin in the hopes that someone else down the line can answer that for you.

But this type of behavior is costing our recycling plants. One director of environment, fleet, and solid waste estimates the annual financial loss for improper recycling and wish-cycling tallies their city around $250,000 annually. Items like plastic cling, bottle caps, and shredded paper can jam machinery costing both time and money.

Wish-cycling is not just applicable to recycling items. This type of behavior can extend to donating clothes or food. Clothing with broken zippers and buttons, and tears and stains frequently show up at charity and second-hand shops. Instead of fixing or throwing out these items, you pass them on so you don’t have to feel the guilt of disposing of them. 

Here in Minnesota, Second Harvest Heartland (SHH), one of the nation’s largest food banks, distributes enough food for more than 81 million meals annually. A large part of those meals come from donations.

Photo of expired mustard jarFresh produce, canned goods, and pantry items are wonderful food items to pass on to our neighbors in need. But many donations that come through SHH, and other food banks, aren’t suitable to pass on. These include dented cans, open food containers, and expired items. This bottle of mustard below was one of many I found during an event at SHH in November of 2018.  Its expiration date was June 14, 2011.

This type of wish-cycling was such a problem that SHH created a program to handle the influx of expired and unusable goods, which they called their ‘De-Pack’ program.

Instead of having to discard these items into a landfill, they have volunteers open the food packages and dump the food into a large bin.

Photo of food recyclingThe containers are then washed and sent out to recycling centers. The food is sent to a pig farm, where it is heat processed to kill any contaminants and fed to the pigs. So far, now in their 6th pilot program, SHH volunteers have de-packaged a total of 5,456 pounds, 5,330 of which are ‘diverted pounds’ from the landfill.

This innovative program is a wonderful way to combat wish-cycling in food shelves. But these volunteers could also have used their time and energy in ways that are more beneficial to the food bank and food recipients (but I bet those pigs ain’t complaining).

So before you throw that item in the donation or recycling bin, stop for just a minute and ask yourself: "Is this wish-cycling?"  That will bring me joy.

-Jes Braun, MN GreenCorps member serving in Rosemount

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