Eating It Up: Surplus Food in Massachusetts, plus new paint dropoff options

Broccoli_SoupNPR did a great story on Daily Table, a grocery store that has opened in my home state of Massachusetts which offers great deals on surplus food. I am thrilled about this organization, which was founded by former Trader Joe’s president Doug Rauch, who was appalled by all the food waste (up to 40%) in the United States, much of it edible, but slightly less attractive than what was deemed appropriate for for-profit grocery stores. They sell super cheap groceries (tuna for 55 cents a can!) and prepared food for the masses, who are literally eating it up.

I also keep hearing ads on the radio for Paint Care, a non-profit set up by the ACA (American Coatings Association) which provides drop-off locations for unused paint. I’ve always gone to my local Hazardous Material dropoff event for this in the past, which has not always been convenient. More options for those who need them!

Big Water


“All water is holy water.” Rajiv Joseph, Animals Out of Paper

Our water filter purification system at work went on the fritz recently, and I was shocked — shocked, I tell you — by the number of my co-workers who refused, even temporarily, to drink the tap water directly from the faucet citing either (a) its bad taste or (b) its questionable safety. This prompted a tirade from me about how if no one was going to use our tap water for drinking, we should let Mexico have it, because they would be thrilled, and that it was pointless to keep it up to FDA standards if we were going to use it solely to flush down the toilets of this great city. This tirade, like most tirades, convinced no one. Even so, I can’t quite let it go.

Bottled water companies have hoodwinked the public, solving a problem that doesn’t exist. For one thing, tap water is more heavily regulated than bottled water. According to the Environmental Working Group, which has studied millions of records from 45 U.S. states, about 44% of bottled water comes directly from the tap, anyway, some of it with no additional filtering. Even if it is filtered, it’s almost always difficult to find out exactly which “contaminants” are being filtered, and why. The upshot of which is: you could be spending 1900 times as much money on your water simply because it comes in a bottle. You can see this list to see how your local municipality compares to others, and what potential contaminants there might be.

What about taste? I concede that I, too, drank the water from the purification system (provided by ChungHo, a company I find dubious based on their Facebook feed citing a Vanilla Ice song alone) because it tastes more refreshing than the straight tap, though I suspect some of its good taste comes from its chilly temperature alone. Variation in local plumbing may account for this. However, study after study shows that people often can’t taste the difference, such as one by Good Morning America showing New York tap was far tastier than any of the bottled water options.

You don’t live in New York? A 2011 study at Boston University which recruited 67 students to drink both tap and bottled water showed that only a third of them could identify which was bottled, a third thought the tap was the bottled water, and the remaining third had no opinion. Correct me if I’m wrong, statisticians, but those results would be the same as random guessing. And what about health considerations? The Earth Sciences department tested both the Vermont Pure and the tap water and found they both met FDA guidelines, though the bottled water contained higher levels of magnesium and calcium, which can potentially affect flavor.

In fairness, I live in L.A., which does have some of our nation’s worst tasting water, and I ran across this BuzzFeed video in which a small but convincing sample size of participants could tell immediately the difference between L.A. tap and the other bottled water. So if you live here and don’t like the taste, you can always get a filter for your faucet or refill those multi-gallon jugs at the supermarket. Surely you can find some option that doesn’t mean buying bottle after bottle of an overpriced, life-giving beverage you can get for almost nothing, lining the pockets of Big Water.


Fun at Haz Mat

haz_matOkay, not exactly fun, but your local hazardous material drop off event is probably coming up soon, and it is a convenient way to rid yourself of dangerous household items and substances that are inappropriate for the trash. Collected items usually include batteries, paint, household cleaners and garden supplies, light bulbs (not incandescents) and electronics. I went to mine several weeks ago and got rid of my growing collection of unwanted items, and it was super easy and efficient. Also, since everyone was dressed up in protective gear, it made it feel more dangerous than it actually was. Exciting!

Why bother? Substances collected at hazardous material events have toxic components that can leach into the ground and water supply if they’re simply chucked in a landfill with everything else. It’s also pretty unpleasant (and potentially unhealthy) for your garbage handler.

LADWP customers: rebates + free stuff = helping the environment

If you’re an L.A. resident not living off the grid, and you’re concerned about the environment, the L.A. Department of Water and Power offers a number of ways for you to do your bit, ranging from super easy to a little more involved. In the first category, if you haven’t already, go paperless! If you currently receive paper bills and sign up to go electronic only by June 30th, you will receive a ten dollar credit on your next bill. While you’re mucking around in your online account, why not convert some or all of your power usage to green power. They say it’s slightly more expensive, but I did it a while back and honestly haven’t noticed the difference. Anyway, if it’s a few bucks extra a month for me to know my lights are powered with wind and solar power, it’s totally worth it.

2015-02-16 04.26.00What about the water part? I know it’s rained a bit lately, but FYI, we are still in a serious drought, and the LADWP is offering many incentives to address this, and each and every one of them will ultimately save you money. First off, they are handing out low-flow showerheads and sink aerators for free. If you live in a complex, they will cheerfully send you a whole batch of stuff on their dime. We got a box of these goodies at my condo complex and I installed my showerheads, and my shower experience has honestly improved. The LADWP also offer rebates for installation of high-efficiency toilets and washers, so if you’re doing some renovations or thinking about upgrading, anyway, you might as well hit them up.

2015-01-24 00.45.52What about outside? Are you running sprinklers all the time to keep your lawn green through southern California summers? Why? Because you like mowing your lawn so much, or are hoping a baseball team will use it? Then consider that maybe it’s not worth importing water from out of state (85% of the water here is from outside California) so you can pretend you live on the east coast. The LADWP is currently offering rebates of up to $3/square foot for converting your lawn drought-tolerant-landscaping-2to drought-resistant native plants. And don’t think it’s an aesthetic sacrifice. A lot of those gardens are quite fetching and are way more compelling than a sea of overwatered grass. If you’re committed to your grass lawn for whatever reason, there’s a good chance you’re overwatering it — you only need one inch of water per week to keep it going.

Finally, they also offer incentives on the power side. Noticing your old refrigerator is a real drain on your bill? It probably is, as it’s typically the biggest user of energy on there after your air conditioner. LADWP will offer you a rebate if you upgrade to an Energy Star model. Thinking about going solar? We’re looking into it my complex, because there are significant tax incentives as well as LADWP rebates.

Not sure where you could be saving money? A LADWP representative will come to your home to assess energy-efficient cost-saving things you can do to save on your bill. If some of these things are out of your financial reach, you might quality for one of their financial assistance projects. In short, the LADWP wants you to conserve energy and water as much as your mom wanted you to eat your vegetables, so why not let them do it?

Coats for Cubs

Bassarisk_fur_coatUsed clothing chain Buffalo Exchange is sponsoring their annual Coats for Cubs program, where they collect fur apparel and donate it to various animal rehabilitation centers to use as bedding for animals. It sounded kind of weird to me, but once I saw these baby squirrels hanging out on a old fur coat, I was totally won over. They accept donations through Earth Day, April 22nd.

If you have fur coats or hats you would like to donate outside of their drive period, they provide a list of rehab centers to contact.

Dishing It Out

IMG_20150131_142836020You know what sucks? When you break a dish. And you know what sucks even more? When you break a vintage dish that is crucial to your beloved set.

Several months ago, I knocked over my Crooksville creamer from my grandparents’ old set of dishes and broke it. If it were a plate or a cup, it would have been no big deal, because I have many of these. But it was the creamer, of which there was only one. Sure, I could have bought a new creamer and matching sugar bowl. But what about the sugar bowl I already had? Could I really leave it hanging like that?

If this were twenty years ago, I would have visited a few flea markets and then given up in defeat. But in this magical age where anything can be found if you look hard enough, I simply ordered a replacement creamer from Replacements Ltd. It arrived, lovingly packed, about a week later.

I’m not going to lie to you; this wasn’t a completely straightforward process. First I searched for Crooksville items on ebay and came up empty, and then tried a few other sellers of old dishes. But once I found Replacements Ltd. I was able to determine the pattern name (CRO5) and, $19.95 and shipping costs later, I was back in business.

You may lack the commitment and/or non-medical grade OCD to do this research. For that, I cannot fault you. However, if it is a key piece of dishware, it’s totally worth it to save the set.

If you have your eye on a not-quite-complete set of dishes somewhere, it might be worth an advance look at Replacements Ltd or one of the other dish replacement sites to see if you could supplement your purchase and make it work.

Now if only I knew what to do with my broken creamer! If someone near me was working on mosaic project I’d gladly hand it over!

Don’t Flush it Away: Expired Medication

1024px-USMC-100209-M-1998T-001You may have seen stories about Prozac being at detectable levels in drinking water. The same is true of antibiotics, veterinary drugs and synthetic hormones. A significant amount of this is probably from humans excreting these substances (ahem) in the natural course of events, but let’s not all add to the problem by needlessly flushing medications down the drain or dumping them in the trash willy-nilly.

So what should you do with your expired prescription and non-prescription medications? Your first stop should be the Dispose My Meds locator. You will note that most dropoff points are either pharmacies or local law enforcement headquarters (since there are legal issues with prescription drugs, and cops probably don’t want the streets flooded with everyone’s leftover oxycontin.)

Not finding anything? Local police stations in New Jersey, Virginia Beach, and Hennepin County in Minnesota will take your unwanted or expired medications. California’s Sonoma and Mendocino counties offer a variety of dropoff points, as does Washington state.

It also looks like CVS is gearing up with disposal locations to be passed through local police. I will update you as soon as I hear anything.

Are none of those options convenient? You can always save them up along with your worn-out batteries and old electronics for your next hazardous waste event. They almost always take expired medications, prescription and non-prescription. The one in Los Angeles apparently won’t take my old tires and urine, though. Snobs!

Still confused about how to handle your specific meds? Take a look at the FDA guidelines.

No one likes a pill

IMG_20150127_202730237And that goes double when it comes to your pants! I recently experienced the pain and anguish of realizing that both my beloved pair of purple Nanette Lepore pants and my red BCBG pants were getting unattractively pilly. While I contemplated a sad future of black and brown trousers, I remembered my friend Kim had given me a fabric shaver a few years back. It saved the day on both counts!

Just a reminder that oftentimes your precious items may have a little life left in them when the proper tools are applied.

Goodwill’s E-Waste Dropoff Service

Goodwill_ewasteGoodwill has gotten some pretty bad press lately for things like paying its disabled employees far below minimum wage, a legal practice as per section 14C of the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of their status as an e-waste dropoff location. They accept computers, phones, and small appliances as well as printer and ink cartridges, empty or full. Here’s the complete list of items they accept. If your items have value, they’ll refurbish and resell the items. Check for a location near you.

While I strongly advise you to erase your hard drives before donating, Goodwill does clean all data as per Department of Defense standards, and all their technicians go through background checks, presumably so they’re less likely to get into any privacy-violating monkey business. Officially, though, they will not accept liability for your data.

I  dropped off my Evo Shift phone and some printer cartridges earlier in the week, and today, after a conversation with a Goodwill employee, returned with my busted toaster, electric toothbrush, and old sink hardware. At least at my location, in Santa Monica, California, they are pretty loose about what they’ll take, since they ship everything to their corporate location to deal with.

You can do some shopping while you’re there!


Going Solar…with Todd Kreisman

10422233_10153002354944557_5642750807133000150_nMy friend Todd Kreisman and his wife recently added solar panels to their Southern California home, and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the process.

1. What made you decide to go solar?

We were approached by Zero Energy, who had representatives going door-to-door in our neighborhood and who told us we were qualified for subsidies through Energy Upgrade California.** In the last few months, we’ve had insulation put in our attic and walls, gotten weather stripping, more energy efficient shower head and other devices replaced, etc.

2. Do you own your panels or did you lease them? What are the terms?

The deal was $0 down and then we make a monthly payment so that eventually we’ll own them. The tricky thing is that it’s built into the cost of everything else they did, so I’m trying to figure out how much it was for just the panels… I think it was in the $5k range all together.

3. What were your average monthly summer and winter electrical bills when you were using conventional energy sources? How much of that cost do you anticipate being able to cover with the new panels?

DWP bills were getting pretty insane – in the $300-500 range per two month billing period. Hoping/expecting we can get that down to around $100-150.

4. Are you able to sell your extra energy back to your local provider?

Never heard anything about that mentioned, so assuming no.

5. Were there any surprises about the process that you didn’t anticipate?

Yes. We have a metal roof, and they couldn’t install the panels on top of them. Fortunately for us, the guy who came out originally goofed and said they could do it, so when it came time to install them, I ended up being put in contact with the (I think) CEO of Zero Energy who said it was their bad, and they were going to pay to have another company come out and re-tile that portion of the roof so that the panels could be installed. There were also some major delays in getting the work done (we initially signed up for these in September and they were finally installed this month.)

**Note that it appears that subsidies for solar panels appear to be exhausted. Will look into this further, but I know the state periodically funds these upgrades, companies like Zero Energy aggressively market to homeowners until the subsidies are gone, and then you typically have to wait for the next round. I tried the subsidy finder for my zip code and came up with nothing. However, there is still a relevant tax credit available.

Thanks, Todd! Would love to get an update in six months or so to see how your new bills compare.