Archive for October, 2011

Written by Alex Y.


 You don’t find many designers thinking about creative ways for you to leave this world in an eco-friendly way. But in reality biodegradable urns represent a growing segment in the cremation urn industry where environmentally friendly urns are in demand. Spanish designer MartinAzua has combined the romantic notion of life after death with an Eco solution to the dirty business of the actual, you know, transition.

His BiosUrn is a biodegradable urn made from coconut shell, compacted peat and cellulose and inside it contains the seed of a tree. Once your remains have been placed into the urn, it can be planted and then the seed germinates and begins to grow. You even have the choice to pick the type of plant you would like to become, depending on what kind of planting space you prefer.


So, would you rather leave a tomb stone behind or a tree?


Personally, I thought this was very interesting! I never even considered this to be a possibility let alone something that could help our environment. Who knew that human ashes could be turned into a tree?  I’m curious to see what other people feel about this concept and if they think they would be open to this idea. I’m not sure how I feel about this personally.  While I love the idea of replenishing the earth and I find it fascinating that something like our own ashes can do this, it’s difficult to wrap my head around the idea that human ashes can be grown as a tree.  “You don’t find many designers thinking about creative ways for you to leave this world in an Eco-friendly way.” I really like this line as I think it’s a thought that most people don’t have.  Not necessarily the the “leaving this world” part, but the part about designers thinking of creative and Eco-friendly ways to help the world.  Everyone has this anonymous power within themselves that allows them to create and to think.  It’s so often taken for granted and I think  this article is a prime example of what a little thinking outside the box can do.   Can you come up with some simple Eco-friendly ideas that could have the potential to do great things for our world?


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Now I have to admit – this is one of the oddest, yet most original ideas that I have heard of in a long time. I agree with the idea personally, I mean why should our bodies not recycle along with everything else on this planet? The question that I have is more, “What do YOU think about it?”

This is the description on TED.com: Here’s a powerful provocation from artist Jae Rhim Lee. Can we commit our bodies to a cleaner, greener Earth, even after death? Naturally — using a special burial suit seeded with pollution-gobbling mushrooms.

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The idea of using Earth as a construction material is not a new one. But it is one that most would not consider for a “modern” home or other structure. But I have to say, it seems that this techniques has come a long way. Follow this link for some great pictures about building with Earthbags and see some of the great structures that can be made with a little imagination.

The article below was found on the website Earthbagbuilding.com and has be reproduced here in its entirety. This is an excellent resource to find out more information about this techniques that is emerging in popularity.

Building with earthbags (sometimes called sandbags) is both old and new. Sandbags have long been used, particularly by the military, for creating strong, protective barriers, or for flood control. The same reasons that make them useful for these applications carry over to creating housing. Since the walls are so substantial, they resist all kinds of severe weather (or even bullets) and also stand up to natural calamities such as earthquakes and floods. They can be erected simply and quickly with readily available components, for very little money.

Earthbag building fills a unique niche in the quest for sustainable architecture. The bags can be filled with local, natural materials, which lowers the embodied energy commonly associated with the manufacture and transportation of building materials. The fill material is generally of mineral composition and is not subject to decomposition (even when damp), attractive to vermin, or burnable…in other word it is extremely durable. The fill material is generally completely non-toxic and will not offgas noxious fumes into the building.

Earthbags have the tremendous advantage of providing either thermal mass or insulation, depending on what the bags are filled with. When filled with soil they provide thermal mass, but when filled with lighter weight materials, such as crushed volcanic stone, perlite, vermiculite, or rice hulls, they provide insulation. The bags can even act as natural non-wicking, somewhat insulated foundations when they are filled with gravel.

Because the earthbags can be stacked in a wide variety of shapes, including domes, they have the potential to virtually eliminate the need for common tensile materials in the structure, especially the wood and steel often used for roofs. This not only saves more energy (and pollution), but also helps save our forests, which are increasingly necessary for sequestering carbon.

Another aspect of sustainability is found in the economy of this method. The fill material can be literally “dirt cheap,” especially if on-site soil is used. The earthbags themselves can often be purchased as misprints or recycled grain sacks, but even when new are not particularly expensive. Burlap bags were traditionally used for this purpose, and they work fine but are subject to rot. Polypropylene bags have superior strength and durability, as long as they are kept away from too much sunlight. For permanent housing the bags should be covered with some kind of plaster for protection, but this plaster can also be earthen and not particularly costly.

The ease and simplicity of building with earthbags should also be mentioned, since there is much unskilled labor available around the world that can be tapped for using this technology. One person familiar with the basics of earthbag building can easily train others to assist in the erection of a building. This not only makes the process more affordable, but also more feasible in remote areas where many common building skills are not to be found.

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Here is a short video produced by TED to present an update on Jamie Oliver and his 2010 TED prize wish to help provide healthier food for children in the U.S. The movement has begun and the Revolution is underway.

 What are your thoughts?


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     The first class of the DFW Citizen Gardener program occurred on August 13, 2011, and it was a great  success!  We had 29 students go through, and I could tell there were many ‘ah-ha’ moments for people.  I think many were inspired to go home and start growing some of their own food.

I decided this past spring to find some type of useful action that could help to solve some of the problems I complain about all the time.  So I decided that I would bring the Citizen Gardener program that started in Austin to the DFW metroplex.

This program is designed to give every-day people, who don’t have much time or money, the knowledge, skills, and encouragement to grow some of their own food.  It also aims to build community, help individuals help others, and teach how to be sustainable.   I think that many of the students from this initial class will go on to volunteer and, hopefully, to even teach future classes.

I’ll schedule additional future classes in the local planting season, and hope to have many available in the spring time.  If anyone is interested in learning more about the program, please visit the main Citizen Gardener DFW page, the Citizen Gardener board on the North Texas Vegetable Gardeners forum, or contact me directly!

Goals of the DFW Citizen Gardener Program

  • Introduce new people (and re-introduce experienced ones) to vegetable gardening with a set of techniques with proven sucess that balance time, resources, and effort.  The techniques are to be specific to the growing conditions of the North Texas region.
  • Provide students the skills, knowledge, and encouragement to “go home and do it”.
  • Build helpful community of local backyard gardeners.
  • Create regenerative culture (healing and self-reliance).
  • Grow healthy food where the people are.
  • Education
    • Healthy soil / Healthy food / Healthy people
    • One good method of growing food in the North Texas Area
  • Maintain a Self-Sustaining program
    • Decentralized and ‘Open’ (can be duplicated by others)
    • Create a surplus (of knowledge, resources, soil, good-will, and food)
  • Cooperate and help with other local food programs, gardening groups, and businesses.

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Featured prominently in the documentary film Food, Inc is a story of the heartbreaking loss of Kevin Kowalcyk from tainted hamburger meat on August 11, 2001. In the film, this story is told by his mother, Barbara, who has spent the decade since that day working to reduce (if not ELIMINATE) the incidence of foodborne illness in the U.S.

She founded the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention in 2006 to work to that specific goal. Below is excerpt from the CFI mission statement:

Founded in 2006 to help America create innovative, science-based solutions for the food challenges of the 21st Century, CFI believes that it is imperative that federal, state and local government, as well as farmers; food processors/distributors/retailers; medical providers; educators; policy makers and consumers share the responsibility of building an environment that promotes food safety throughout the farm to fork continuum. No one sector can achieve this goal alone. CFI is dedicated to working together through research, education and advocacy to develop better food protections and ultimately improve public health.

She has worked with her family, and numerous Senators and Representatives in an effort to get “Kevin’s Law” passed. This is a law that would return the  authority to the USDA and the FDA to actually regulate the industries that they are supposed to be overseeing. Currently, due to the results of several specific court cases (notably U.S. vs. Supreme Beef) it has been decided that these Federal Regulatory Agencies do not have the authority to shut down processors for failure to follow the existing laws.

So far it has not passed.

But, there is good news. There is a fair chance that portions of this motion will be passed into law through the slightly modified Food Safety and Modernization Act, but the drawback is that this really only affects the FDA (fruits, vegetables, grains, and etc) and not the USDA (meat and poultry).

Further information about the projects of the CFI, the thoughts of Barbara Kowalcyk, and the current status of contaminated food in the U.S. can be read by following this link to the article, Ground Turkey Recall Shows We Still Need Kevin’s Law,  written to the Huffington Post on 8/11/2011 (the ten-year anniversary of Kevin’s death).

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The San Antonio paper ran a very interesting article yesterday about how they are surviving the current drought by aggressively treating their sewage and other “grey-water” sources to provide “nearly-potable” water for many things in around the City of San Antonio. Namely, I was interested to hear that the famous Riverwalk, that I think is one of two primary tourist attractions for the city (the other being the Alamo), is flowing right now solely because of water from the treatment plants.

While I am sure that fact is less than pleasing to a number of individuals, what I am very pleased to read (and learn about) is that the City of San Antonio has been planning for an event just like this drought we are currently in the middle of for MANY years. They have been actively been working toward a goal where drinkable water could be stored in a sand formation miles away and that treated water could be used for irrigation purposes and to keep the Riverwalk named properly.

Read all the details HERE, and let’s hear your thoughts on what the City of San Antonio has done and what else can be done to conserve water in other areas (like Dallas).

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