Archive for July, 2009

Got Junk?

Don’t forget to get your junk ready for tomorrow’s Green Fest in Elmhurst!  Okay, there’s a lot to look forward too–such as visiting the booth of your fave green store, hint, hint–but seriously, check out the Recycling Boutique!

Tomorrow when I go to set up the booth, I’m bringing some batteries that have been sitting in my garage for a year waiting to be disposed of.

Check out this link for info on Green Fest and the Recycling Boutique.  And when you stop by the GHE tent, say hi to Kim!

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“Talking Trash” or “Compost Happens”

Notes below are from last night’s composting class.  Held here in the shop, it was a free class that included info on a wide variety of composting methods.  Also, you can find composting info on the U of I Extension website.

Our most sincere thanks to Jackie Paine, Master Gardener and Executive Director of Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory for giving us her time and talent.

The compost you make is better than what you buy–you know what’s in it and you’re cutting down what you’re sending to landfills.  Instead of fertilizing in spring, use compost instead.  18% of what we throw away is food waste, so compost is a great way to reduce what we send to landfills.

Composting Methods:

  • Very basic leaf composting–punch holes in black plastic bag, put leaves in, pack them down, pour 1-2 gal water in and allow to decompose.
  • Garbage can method: put compost in can, drill holes, bungee the top, and roll around.
  • Could use just a plain pile, but it’s difficult in such dense urban/suburban area.  Mini-scale version: dig a hole, bury food scraps.
  • Cold method of composting is traditional to our urban/suburban area because our piles don’t grow very large.  This method takes about 4-6 months.  Compost ready as early as end of May at bottom of pile.
  • Black plastic mat w/ holes in it.  Put 4 pieces of rebar into ground, put cardboard and screen down, wrap mat around it.
  • Wooden 3-bin composting system.  Each is 3×3, separated by walls.  Screen on top.  1 is ready to use. Next is composting. Last is pile you’re adding to.

Keeping Your Compost Moist:

  • Consider using gray water to “water” your compost: water used from heating up shower, boiling vegetables, etc.
  • Fruits and veggies have high moisture content, so take that into consideration when watering compost.
  • Winter breaks down tissue of matter, so remember to start watering when compost thaws.


  • For fall fertilizing, you can dig compost in, but since that’s hard work, it’s okay to leave compost as topsoil because that will still fertilize in the fall.
  • Compost smells when you don’t give it enough air.
  • You can sift compost if you want small, uniform mix.
  • The more sunlight your compost gets, the better b/c you get heat, which causes decomposition.  But its ok if you have shade; the process just takes longer. 
  • Compost material that is 6 in. or less pieces are better–including plant matter.  Larges pieces will eventually break down, but might take a little longer. 
  • Soil has microbes and bacteria you need for composting, so be sure some is in there too.

DO Compost These Materials Outdoors:

  • 50/50 Magic rule: 50% brown, 50% green matter. Green is rich in nitrogen, brown is rich in carbon.
    • You can run kitchen waste through food processor, but not necessary
    • Can also use twigs, other coarse brown matter as mulch
    • Make brown matter by letting green matter dry out
    • Bury food in brown pile to keep insects away. 
    • Eggshells
    • Tea bags (remove tag)
    • Fruit and vegetables
    • Coffee grounds (You can get coffee grounds for free if you don’t drink coffee at home/work from coffee shops.)
    • Coffee filters
    • Brown paper
    • Cardboard boxes without printing
    • Black & white newsprint (okay because it has soy ink)
    • Straw
    • Untreated wood chips
    • Dryer lint
    • Small quantites of bread, cooked cereal, cooked veggies okay—just fold them into your pile.
    • Soil, potting mix
    • Deadheaded flowers and house plants
    • Grass clippings ok if not treated with non-eco friendly fertilizer/weed killer.
    • Wood ash (but not treated charcoal.

DON’T Compost These Materials Outdoors:

  • No diseased leaves—compost won’t get hot enough to kill disease.
  • No bones, meat, dairy, grease because they could attract vermin. 
  • No glossy paper, stationary, junk mail, etc.

Worm Composting:

  • Use red wigglers, not earthworms for worm composting.  Earthworms are burrowing, which is how they survive winters.  They burrow below frost line.  Worm bins not deep enough for earthworms.

  • Simple worm composting: drill holes into top of Rubbermaid.  Better to have two small bins instead of one big one, so that you can sort materials more easily and b/c worms don’t burrow. Shred newspaper, wet it down so that it’s damp.  Add about two inches of newspaper.  Not too wet, just damp.
    • Check out the Worm Factory on our website!
    • Put in worms, banana peels, eggshells, tea bags w/o tag, fruit and veggie pulp.  No citrus rind b/c worms don’t have teeth.  Oatmeal is a good way to feed worms if you’re going on vacation.  Worms’ skin has to stay moist, so be sure they don’t dry out too much.  Add handful of worms.
    • Add more newsprint when bin starts to look wet and clumpy.  Keep stored in dark place.  Worms don’t eat pits/seeds but that’s ok b/c those will compost on their own anyway.  No meat or dairy.  If you do get a smell, it’s because your bin is too wet.  No office paper.  Just fruit and vegetables.  No yard waste.  Worms have no teeth, so keep it soft.
    • Harvest compost by putting fresh food on one side of bin, don’t feed the other side, and they’ll migrate to the fresh stuff.  Or if you’re using Worm Factory, they will migrate up to the fresh food.

      So, how are you composting at home?  What are your tips and tricks?  Share your thoughts!

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See you at Green Fest Aug. 1!

Elmhurst Cool Cities Coalition Proudly Presents the 2nd Annual

Elmhurst Green Fest

Saturday, August 1st, 2009 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm

Wilder Park * Elmhurst Public Library * Elmhurst College

Come join us for a fun and educational day in Wilder Park. Find out how you can help curb Global Climate Change. Whether you’re ready to start with one small change in your home or business, or if you’ve been living green and want to take your efforts to the next level, you’ll find something of interest here.

Don’t Miss the Recycling Boutique!
Start packing up the items listed below and recycle them at Green Fest.  But be sure to check the full list, including disposal fees for computer monitors and UNACCEPTED items is listed on the Elmhurst Green Fest website first!

Computers, Electronics & Office Equipment: Cellphones (chargers, batteries & accessories), Computers, Copy Machines, DVD Players, Fax Machines, Floppy Disks, Monitors (see fees posted on website above), Phones, Printers & Inkjet Cartridges, All Other Office Equipment, VCR’s, Video Game Systems (For questions contact Unitec Recycling Corp. in Villa Park at 630-279-5750)

Books – Useable condition

DVDs & VHS Tapes – Useable condition for Elmhurst College lending library:  Movies, Documentaries,
Concerts, Self-Help, Childrens

CDs, DVDs and VHS Tapes – Obsolete or unusable condition for recycling

Magazines for the Military – Men’s lifestyle magazines – cars, fitness, sports, Sunday comics, etc. Should be recent issues – less than 6 mo. old

Household Items – Bicycles, Bike Trailers, Exercise Bikes, Electric Scooters, Crayons, Household Batteries, Kashi™ Boxes, Shipping Peanuts

Personal Items – Blue Jeans, Eyeglasses & Cases, Hearing Aides, Shoes – Men’s, Women’s & Kid’s
gently used condition, Crocs™ Shoes, Makeup – unopened, Toiletries – unopened, including hotel and sample items

Drop-Off Location: Trucks collecting electronics and bikes will be on Prospect Ave. Smaller items will be collected in the Recycling Boutique tent. Cars wishing to unload recyclables must enter from the south at Church St. Traffic will be one way northbound on Prospect Ave. during fest hours of 10am to 3pm between Church St. and Alexander St.

Event Map:

Many items will go to great causes such as AAUW, Adapted for Kids by Kids (SCARCE crayons for special needs children), Book Rescue and Tools for Schools, Literacy Works, Elmhurst College community lending library, Elmhurst Noon Lion’s Club, Illinois Troops stationed in Iraq & Afghanistan, Oak Leyden Developmental Services, Share Your Soles, Soles United & Working Bikes Cooperative.

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The ABC’s of VOCs Part Two

Assessment criteria

Many criteria can be used to assess the relative level of toxicity in the coatings that are sold, purchased, and applied. Government regulations have increasingly restricted the presence of chemicals in paints and coatings that might have a negative impact on the atmosphere (regarding smog creation), but strict regulations for chemicals that might have an impact on human health have yet to be implemented. We would like to stress the fact that coatings which carry a “low” or “zero VOC” label aren’t necessarily free from Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) or toxins. This a critical point that is often misunderstood. “Zero VOC” does not mean non-toxic.

What follows in this article is a thumbnail sketch of a few HAPs that are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as potential sources of both acute and chronic irritants or carcinogens. They may be present in low-VOC latex paints and represent a risk to painters and susceptible consumers.

Because human immune system responses can differ by orders of magnitude (factors that increase in 10-fold steps), it is impossible to state with consistency what effect a given chemical, combination of chemicals, or coating will have on any individual. But perhaps better safe than sorry. In his editorial “Life as a used paint can”, veteran painter and Professional Painter magazine editor Bruce MacKinnon laments about a list of personal woes including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and raises the fuzzy issue of responsibility as it relates to HAP exposure.

It may be difficult to ascertain what ingredients are in a finish if a manufacturer chooses to not disclose the information willingly. Material data safety sheets (MSDS) need only list information relevant to the physical, chemical, and toxicological makeup of a substance where the ingredients constitute more than 1% of the total volume and are not considered part of a “proprietary blend”.

We list below a group of common chemicals that may be included in paints and coatings, and which have been implicated to have potentially toxic effects for human health.

The Glycols Paints may contain several forms of VOC-forming glycols that are commonly added as wetting agents. Although there is a general movement away from ethylene glycol (EG) as an additive in paints, it is still a commonly used toxin. Alternatively, propylene glycol (PG) is a replacement for EG, and while it is still a VOC, it is also an FDA approved food-grade additive.

Ethanol Classified by the EPA as a major VOC, ethanol (BEE) is a form of alcohol that can deter the body’s processing of other toxic chemicals.

Ammonia The EPA has exempted this chemical from classification as a VOC when used as a paint additive, and its presence need not be disclosed on MSDS sheets.

Acetone A solvent whose vapors are a respiratory tract irritant and which may cause coughing, dizziness, dullness, headache, central nervous system depression, narcosis, and at high concentrations, unconsciousness.

Biocides Added to inhibit the growth of microorganisms in the can and on the coated surface, biocides may contribute significantly to the formation of formaldehyde. Products with biocides intended for exterior use can become sources of HAPs if used indoors.

Formaldehyde One of a group of HAPs in the Aldehyde family. Although it hasn’t been used as a paint additive for many years, it is commonly created by two or more mutually reactive chemicals (formaldehyde precursors) during the application and curing process. It is considered a probable human carcinogen.

Other Aldehydes: Acetaldehyde, Benzaldehyde, and Propanol These chemicals can be respiratory irritants and bind to cells such as liver and lung cells to create autoimmune responses.

Crystalline Silica Otherwise known as quartz, it is considered one of the most dangerous occupational dusts and a carcinogen, and is commonly found in paints and coatings, especially exterior latex paints. While it can become airborne during paint application, the primary risk is from dust exposure through abrasion or the sanding of dry films.

Pigments These may be glycol and VOC-free, or they may contain glycol, VOCs, and formaldehyde-forming biocides.

Odor Masking Agents These are chemical additives that conceal the odors of offensive chemicals. They may function as irritants in and of themselves.


The suggestion by the EPA that consumers need emission information and performance evaluation results to make informed purchasing decisions is an idea that involves a different way of thinking. For those of us who place indoor air quality high on our list of building objectives, responsibility must begin and end with ourselves. For those inclined to move in this direction, we would like to cite a thought-provoking book that is becoming a classic for reorganizing our thinking: Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.

Andrew J. Pace, CSI, is the owner of Safe Building Solutions in Waukesha, WI. Safe Building Solutions is a residential and commercial supplier of safer and more natural building materials. Mr. Pace is also past president of the Milwaukee Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute. He can be reached by calling 800-697-5371 or email to

Michael Fallarino is a professional journalist and writer, building contractor, and holistic health consultant. You can download a sample of his eclectic book, Contemporary Relationships between Wood & Finish, at his website: He can be reached in the Capital Region of New York at 518-828-5670.

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The ABC’s of VOCs Part One

Increasingly, consumers seeking building products with lower inherent toxicity are looking more closely at ingredients and asking tough questions. In the architectural coatings industry.  Some ABCs about VOCs
by Michael Fallarino with Andy Pace from

Increasingly, consumers seeking building products with lower inherent toxicity are looking more closely at ingredients and asking tough questions. In the architectural coatings industry, those ingredients that have the potential to be hazardous are commonly classified as volatile organic compounds, or known better by their acronym, VOCs.

Increasingly, consumers seeking building products with lower inherent toxicity are looking more closely at ingredients and asking tough questions. In the architectural coatings industry, those ingredients that have the potential to be hazardous are commonly classified as volatile organic compounds, or known better by their acronym, VOCs.

In the workaday world of bucolic upstate New York, the term VOC seems unfamiliar to most consumers and even most construction industry personnel. But just as ignorance of the law does not exempt one from it, ignorance of the effects of VOCs doesn’t exempt one from their effects. Additionally, products that are either touted as “Low-VOC” or even “Zero VOC”are not necessarily free from potentially harmful ingredients. Some contain what are classified as Hazardous Air Pollutants or HAPs, and these chemical compounds can differ from VOCs.

In this article, Andy Pace, of Safe Building Solutions in Waukesha, WI and I will take a brief, focused look at what VOCs and HAPs are, and how they are formed. Because the subject of VOCs and HAPs is so massive and the science of their effects is so young, our discussion will focus on just a few of the main elements that can contribute to lowered indoor air quality (IAQ).

Understanding the effects of HAPs and VOCs on human health is important because we spend about 90% of our time inside increasingly tight structures where accumulations of interactive chemicals can cause concentrations of pollutants that can be as much as 50 to 100 times greater than outdoor air.

The importance of this in the paint and coatings industry was brought sharply into focus for me as I was writing this month’s column. I was referred to a couple who were building a spacious new luxury home. They had made it a point to investigate, specify, and ensure that all the materials that were used throughout the process were as non-toxic and free of harmful chemicals and the potential for outgassing as possible. In this process, they repeatedly surpassed the knowledge base of their architect and design-build team. The possibility that during the completion phase of the project they could sabotage their vigilant work by installing paints and finishes that could degrade the quality of their indoor air was a thought that never crossed their minds. This is ironic, because architectural coatings can be a massive source of indoor pollution given the surface area that they occupy. We must also remember that they are routinely used for recoating.

When I began to educate them as to how the dynamics of toxicity work when many conventional products are applied to absorptive substrates such as gypsum board, they became eager to learn of alternatives and anxious to learn how to correct mistakes that they had already made.

What are VOCs, exactly, and why all the fuss?

The Indoor Environment Department (IED) Staff of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (a division of our EPA) defines VOCs broadly as “chemical compounds based on carbon chains or rings with vapor pressures greater than 0.1 millimeters of mercury at room temperature. These compounds typically contain hydrogen and may contain oxygen, nitrogen and other elements.”

Prior to this century, US government tests that examined chemicals and passed laws that restricted their inclusion in architectural coatings, focused primarily on the damage that these chemicals created in outside air.

During the second half of the 90s however, the EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory (NRMRL) began to investigate how architectural coatings could contribute to indoor air pollution and harm human health. They began compiling research from tests of conventional alkyd and latex products, as well as Low-VOC and Zero-VOC latex coatings. An important aspect of their research was simply to devise tests that would be meaningful. Interestingly, a solution to this question became apparent when they applied coatings to different substrates and then monitored their behavior.

What they learned was that the emission behaviors of chemicals were very different when coatings were applied to non-absorptive substrates such as glass, aluminum, and stainless steel, than they were when they were applied to the absorptive surfaces that they are typically used on such as wood and gypsum board. Naturally, they concluded that to be meaningful their tests needed to reflect the behavior of coatings on the surfaces that they are normally applied to.

Part of the reason why this research is important, is that architectural coatings are commonly deployed in commercial spaces such as schools, hospitals and medical facilities, day care centers, offices, hotels, and other public spaces in which continuous occupation is the rule. Especially in the case of medical facilities, patients with compromised immune systems may be subjected to hazardous air pollutants that can pose a threat.

A few key points summarized from recent government research are as follows:

• Alkyd coatings can contain as many as 100 different VOCs.

• The majority of emissions from latex paints occurs after the coating has dried.

• It may take as long as 3.5 years for some VOCs to be released from gypsum board.

• Some paints marketed as “low-VOC” may still emit significant quantities of HAPs.

• In addition to VOC content data, consumers need emission information and performance evaluation results to make wise and completely informed purchasing decisions.

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Wax Bags Are Back!

After a lllllllooooonnnnngggg wait, Natural Value wax paper bags are back in stock!  Sorry to all of our devoted customers for the delay.  Get them before we run out again!  🙂

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