Not-So-Environmental Movie Review: Switch

Two days ago, Taylor and I watched a frustrating un-environmental film called “Switch” (trailer) that explores alternative energy sources.

The film follows Texas geology professor Dr. Scott Tinker on a quest around the world to find practical solutions to our energy problems.  He explores every major source of energy, including hydro, coal, oil, biofuels, wind, solar, and nuclear and judges how economically practical they are.  Tinker interviews experts on each energy type, and tries to show how our current power sources logistically and technically operate.  We see a variety of energy machinery and infrastructure, from a Shell oil rig in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico to a bubbling geothermal power plant in Iceland.  The film turns shortly thereafter into a “natural gas and fracking are awesome” show, and cuts to a clip of Tinker lecturing a class on how alternative energy technologies need at least another fifty years of development before they can supplant fossil fuels.  In the meantime, he calls for increased natural gas and nuclear energy production.  Continue reading


Safer Cosmetics (Product Review)

I have never worn much makeup compared to most American women, but in January I quit cosmetics almost completely (for a few weeks).  The number of known carcinogens in mainstream makeup is shocking.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised considering that cosmetics aren’t regulated by the FDA.

I used to wear Clinique. Then I discovered the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database and started to read about the ingredients in my favorite mascara, which has a high hazard rating.  Ugh.

Most of the toxic chemicals in cosmetics are found in many other body products, which I discussed here.  If you’d like to read more about which ingredients to avoid first, check out this list from The Daily Green.

My makeup free weeks in January were a great detox, but I do enjoy funky colored eyeliners, so I decided to hunt for some new makeup and settled on Coastal Classic Creations, touted as the lowest (safest) rated cosmetic company on Skin Deep.   Continue reading

Our First Pittsburgh Sustainability Salon

Two weekends ago, we attended a “sustainability salon” hosted by local green advocate/gardener extraordinare Dr. Maren Cooke.  On her blog, Maren describes sustainability salons as “basically a house party with an environmental theme,” including guest speakers, a potluck meal, interesting conversation, and a little music making.  The theme for this one, the fourteenth, was food: growing, sourcing, local, organic, etc.

I first heard about the sustainability salons through a lab-mate of mine.  I asked for information from Maren’s husband, a professor in the chemistry department here, and he put me in touch.

The salons are held in their house, an interesting and very green building.  Although the front looks like a normal house with an overgrown winterized garden, the main living area is a wide open space constructed from local wood.  The roof of the house is covered in both solar panels and raised-bed vegetable gardens.  We didn’t get to tour the roof because it was snowy, but I hope to see it soon.

Maren’s rooftop garden! Image from

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Composting at Olde Dartmouth Farm

This morning, Taylor and I visited a farm near my parents’ house in Massachusetts with a huge composting operation.  My father bought some fresh compost recently for his garden and brought us along to take a look at where it came from.  The main operation is a horse farm, run by the wife of the farmer we met with. They board 18 horses and give riding lessons.  The farmer, Tom, cleans out the stables every day and uses the manure to make compost.  He has four huge piles, and all he does is move the decomposing material from site to site every few months, which turns it over and allows it to air out.  The last pile is rich, dark, and earthy smelling.  He sells the compost to local gardeners, farmers, and businesses.

Tom also told us about his other green practices on his land, which he is hoping to improve with grants from the government.  The land is sloped to reclaim all rainwater that falls on it, forcing it into a little pond.  Tom is hoping to build a basin next to the piles of compost to let the water settle and filter before transferring it to the pond, and then he is planning organic gardens for the land around the pond.

He mentioned that he had wanted to install a huge wind turbine to generate power, but his neighbors made so much of a fuss about it being unsightly and the vibrations being disruptive that he gave up.  This is happening all over the area because a few poorly engineered projects have given wind a bad reputation.

Visiting this farm has inspired us to get to work on our own compost. (Worms are next!) It’s comforting to stumble upon green practices and people who really believe sustainability is important. Hopefully we can visit more green or organic farms in the future.

Simple Green Cleaning

Last night, after finishing a week of grading lab reports and a midterm, I got my housewife on.  I cleaned the kitchen, baked raspberry crumble bars, made yogurt in the slow cooker, and most importantly, cleaned the bathroom.  Since starting this project a little over a month ago, I have avoided doing any serious cleaning because I had no idea what to use.  My former go-to kitchen and bathroom products were definitely off the table: 409, Soft Scrub with bleach, and paper towels.

After reading a whole bunch of recipes for homemade cleaning products, and stumbling across this recipe from Live Renewed for homemade soft scrub, I decided to give the bathroom and kitchen sink a go.   Continue reading

Liebster Blog Award!

Greenwake has been nominated for a Liebster blog award twice in the past few weeks, so I figured it was high time we got around to accepting it!  Special thanks to A Green(ish) Life and Green Team Supreme for their nominations.

For those of you who have never heard of a Liebster award (like me until recently): it is more of a way of spreading the word about young blogs than an actual award. It works kind of like a chain letter.

Here are the rules:  Continue reading