July 13, 2015 Solar

Rainbows Could Double Solar Energy Output!

Increasing the amount of electricity a solar panel produces is one of the most effective ways to reduce the cost of solar power.

MIT’s Technology Review reports on a new $2.4 million project funded by the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy aims to greatly increase the amount of sunlight that becomes electricity.

Harry Atwater, a professor of applied physics and materials science at Caltech, is working on cells to sort sunlight into eight to 10 different colors (a rainbow!) and direct those to a second layer that contains an array of solar cells matched to each color. Light is absorbed more efficiently, and more energy is converted to electricity, rather than heat.

Most solar panels convert less than 20 percent of the energy of the sunlight that falls on them into electricity.  Atwater’s goal is a conversion efficiency of more than 50 percent, which would double the amount of power generated by solar panels of any size.

Rainbow solar power!  This technology will make solar more affordable for homeowners and industries, alike.

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Solar

Benicia, California is Doing a Bit Better!

Thanks to a new residential solar incentive program, Benicia residents can get  rebates up to $3,000 for installing a solar... Read

Thanks to a new residential solar incentive program, Benicia residents can get  rebates up to $3,000 for installing a solar system! The rebates  will be available until funds run out. Hurry up Benicia! Time to go Solar!

Three  East Bay solar companies are also offering incentives of matching discounts ($0.60 per watt, up to $3,000). Check out Diablo Solar Services of Martinez, Ally Electric & Solar of Richmond, and Verengo, Inc. of Concord.

Come on Bay Area! Join the Solar revolution and start Doing a Bit Better!

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Food

Monday Tip of the Week: Mayonnaise: Not Just for Sandwiches!

“If you’re looking to cut fat and cholesterol from your diet, don’t be in a rush to throw out that... Read

“If you’re looking to cut fat and cholesterol from your diet, don’t be in a rush to throw out that lurking jar of mayonnaise.  It has a surprising number of beauty-boosting possibilities.

Shiny hair. Forget expensive leave-in conditioners! Massage some mayo into your scalp, cover with a shower cap, wait five minutes, and shampoo.  Your hair will be all sorts of shiny.

Strong nails.  It’s this simple: plunge them into a bowl of mayo for five minutes. Rinse with warm water.

Glowing complexion. Gently spread whole-egg mayonnaise on the visage.  Rinse after 20 minutes.

You’ll look fabulous when you head to the curb to recycle the jar!”

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Health & Beauty

Monday Tip of the Week – Getting in Shape the Green Way

As the New Year begins and it’s time for our resolutions, we’re pretty sure that getting into better shape is... Read

As the New Year begins and it’s time for our resolutions, we’re pretty sure that getting into better shape is on a lot of lists. Gym memberships spike in January, with everyone trying to drop those holiday pounds. If you are thinking about joining a gym to use the various machines, consider this: treadmills can use up to 7 times as much power as stationary bike and elliptical machines.

Many of those machines are even completely carbon-neutral, and just the effort of pedaling powers all the lights and displays. Choosing machines that consume little or no power is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Now that’s doing a good thing for your health and the planet.

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Family

Monday Tip of the week: Send your kids to school with a waste-free lunch

Did you know that you can adopt an endangered species? There are a lot of animal lovers out there who... Read

Did you know that you can adopt an endangered species? There are a lot of animal lovers out there who just don’t have time to take care of a pet. A great way to help animals if you don’t have a lot of time is by adopting an endangered species. There are quite a few programs out there, but we love the World Wildlife Foundation (or WWF). There are a variety of animals and price ranges to choose from, so no matter how much (or little) you can spend, you’ll still be helping keep these animals alive and well. This is also a great project to do if you have kids–it’s never to early to teach them the importance of taking care of our world. Check out the WWF website for more information here.”We can’t believe it’s that time of year again–back to school! This year, pledge with your kids to have waste-free lunches. It is estimated that school lunches produce 67 pounds of waste per school year per child. Not only is a waste-free lunch great for the environment, but packing your child fresh foods instead of prepackaged is good for their bodies! A waste-free lunch requires the following:

  • Reusable lunch box (preferably bento style so you can easily say goodbye to plastic baggies)
  • Reusable utensils, napkin, water bottle
  • No prepackaged food–buy in bulk and section snacks off in the lunch box

Learn more about waste-free lunches at wastefreelunches.org so you can start Doing a Bit Better.

 “

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Housewares

Quick Home Tip – Let Your Dishwasher do the Work

“And by dishwasher, we don’t mean your husband. Today’s dishwashers aren’t like the avocado green one you grew up with. ... Read

And by dishwasher, we don’t mean your husband.

Today’s dishwashers aren’t like the avocado green one you grew up with.  They are highly powerful, so you can skip rinsing dishes before using your dishwasher.  In doing so, you can save up to 20 gallons of water each load. You save time, money, and avoid dishpan hands!”

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Housewares

DoingABitBetter – More Tweets for your Tuesday

“Since our last post about Green Twitter Accounts, we’ve encountered even more great tweets that we’re sure you’ll love. @acmepartybox... Read

“Since our last post about Green Twitter Accounts, we’ve encountered even more great tweets that we’re sure you’ll love.

@acmepartybox – Green party favors and supplies (because those kids parties mean a LOT of trash!)
@CAGW – “”Crafting a Green World”” for all sorts of neat tips on green DIY & crafts
@AllOrganicGirl – Natural/Organic living news & advice
@BeingContent – ethical & organic beauty news, product recommendations, tips
@AptTherapyGreen – Apartment Therapy’s green team takes on sustainability in small spaces

And as if it needs saying, follow us! @DoingAbitBetter.”

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Housewares

Your Easy-access Guide to All-Natural Cleaners

“We all know that green cleaning products are great way to Do A bit Better.  But these products can also... Read

“We all know that green cleaning products are great way to Do A bit Better.  But these products can also be pricey and not readily available at your local supermarket.  But, whether you realize it or not, your kitchen is a virtual cornucopia of terrific all-natural cleaning products!  Here are just a few green cleaners you probably already have on hand:

White Vinegar
White vinegar is your kitchen’s all-purpose cleaner.  Vinegar’s natural slightly acidic properties make it a great choice for disinfecting and deodorizing just about any room in your house.  To create a gentle-but-effective cleaner, simply mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle.  For areas that need a little more “oomph”, simply add a little more vinegar and a little less water.  (But don’t go too crazy with the vinegar, as too much can be damaging.  It’s always best to spot treat your solution on a hidden area, and avoid using on any natural stone such as marble, granite, travertine, or limestone.)

Vinegar isn’t just a surface cleaner – it is also a terrific all-natural fabric softener.  Simply add ½ cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle in place of store-bought fabric softener.  Not only does vinegar reduce the amount of lint, but it also breaks down laundry detergent effectively, which is great for family members with sensitive skin.

Salt & Club Soda
Not just for popcorn and cocktails, salt & club soda are a highly effective duo for eliminating the dreaded red wine stains.  The key to removing red wine stains is to treat the stain as quickly as possible.  To begin, assess the damage: if the stain is on the carpet or table cloth you can work directly on it, but if the spill hit the drapes or an article of clothing, remove and place the stained item on a flat surface.  Next, liberally pour the club soda cover over the entire stain.  The carbonation in the club soda will help lift the stain.  Once the stain has been lightly soaked, pour ¼ inch of normal table salt directly on the stain– just dump it on.  The salt will begin to lift the red wine out of the area being cleaned.  Dab gently with a damp cloth to remove the remaining salt.  Repeat as necessary until the stain is gone.

Baking Soda
Baking soda is a great deodorant.  Simply place an open container in the back of your refrigerator, freezer, or by your trash cans to eliminate the smell.  Got teenage boys at home with that not-so-great teenage boy smell?  Simply pour baking soda into old socks and stuff inside their shoes to naturally deodorize while they are not being worn.

Lemons
Lastly, we have nature’s natural cleaner – the lemon!  There is a reason why so many commercial cleaners are citrus based: the pleasing scent and natural acidity make for an unbeatable cleaning combination.  Lemon juice can dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits, or you can use it to clean and shine brass & copper.  Or, mix 1 part lemon juice with 2 parts olive oil to make to make your furniture shine.  For other surfaces, try mixing lemon juice with vinegar or baking soda to make cleaning pastes – just be aware that lemon juice can act like a natural bleach, so be sure to spot test the lemon juice in a hidden area before using.  When you are done squeezing the cleaning power out of the lemons, toss the peels down the drain to help make your disposal smelling fresh & clean.

 “

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Family

Tin Can Art Supply System

“Our kids all seem to be little Rembrandts. They love to color, draw, paste and paint – and sometimes stick... Read

“Our kids all seem to be little Rembrandts. They love to color, draw, paste and paint – and sometimes stick pencils into play dough.  But at times storing these items can be less than ideal. Thankfully, we found a practical (and, may we say, beautiful) way to store your art supplies.

What You’ll Need
8 Clean tin cans
Metal sandpaper
Green metal cleaner
Heavy-duty magnets
Hot glue gun
Steel cookie sheet
Label maker or a sheet of paper
Pan head screws (optional)
Drill (optional)

 Steps
1. Sand down the open edges of the cans with the metal sandpaper. Make sure the edges are nice and smooth to avoid any ouchies later.  Bandages also optional. You can find metal sandpaper at your local hardware store.

2. Using a green cleaner, go to town on the cookie sheet to get it clean and make it look nice.

3. Hot glue the magnets to the outside of the tin can.  The magnet should be vertical, going along the vertical length of the can.

4. Using the label maker, create some nice labels to keep things clearly organized. Or, be creative and help the kids make nice labels!

5. Using the magnets, attach the cans to the cookie sheet.

6. If you plan on hanging your masterpiece storage facility, drill a small hole into each corner of the cookie sheet. Lastly, mount it to the wall with 4 pan-head screws.

7. Let the kids pick which can they want each of their art supplies in – it’s more likely that they’ll put things away if they get to decide where they go.

If the cookie sheet you’re using is particularly old, here’s a great way to make it look brand new: Line your sink with aluminum foil and place the cookie sheet inside. Sprinkle 1 cup of baking soda over the cookie sheet (somewhat evenly), then pour boiling water over it. Putting some elbow-grease into it, scrub particularly aged spots, making sure to push the baking soda into it. Finally, pour 8 cups of white vinegar over the mixture and let sit for 10 minutes. Give it one last scrub with the bubbly mixture, and then rinse.

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Family

A Better Playtime for Princesses

“Whether it’s tea-parties or dress-up, there are plenty of ways to make your daughter’s playtime a bit better without sacrificing... Read

“Whether it’s tea-parties or dress-up, there are plenty of ways to make your daughter’s playtime a bit better without sacrificing all of the things she loves!  Even if she’s a material girl, she’ll still love these tricks for making playtime greener, and you’ll feel better about it too.

Play Jewelry
The problem: Because toys aren’t regulated the way that food containers are, the plastics often contain BPAs, vinyls and other dangerous compounds.

The solution: Thrift stores often have a wide arrange of actual jewelry that, while it has seen better days, is made from higher quality materials (and rarely plastic). They usually have a good selection of clip-on earrings, and necklaces and bracelets can be easily adjusted with a pair of pliers to make them fit her tiny body. Best of all, she’ll feel even more glamorous with all of that new gorgeous jewelry.

Play Makeup
The problem: A lot of play makeups out there are basically the same thing as the lower-end brands you can find at the drugstore – both of which are made of the same toxic chemicals (see our previous article about cosmetics).  What’s worse is that her younger, more sensitive skin absorbs those chemicals faster than ours does.

The solution: There are a few companies out there that make natural play makeup which is much safer for your little lady, and they’re not overly expensive, either. Take, for example, this complete set from OrganicBeautyNow.com which is made of beeswax, coconut oil, and tapioca starch.   Or you could always tell her she’s beautiful just the way she is!

Build Her Fairy Kingdom
If you’ve got a fairy princess running around more than once a week, and an acre or so of back yard, then maybe it’s time the princess gets her castle!  With a few creative alterations to a few large cardboard boxes and a black marker, a makeshift castle will be just the place for her to set up camp. Surround the castle by flowers and, if you’re feeling bold, plant a few trees in the circle to simulate a real “enchanted forest”. She’ll have her own place to rule, and you’ll have the beginnings of a beautiful garden.”

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Solar

Solar Calculators – Meet Computer Calculators!

“You’ve seen the Solar calculator.  Now check out the Computer calculator. No, it’s not in your “Start” menu.  Rather, it’s... Read

“You’ve seen the Solar calculator.  Now check out the Computer calculator. No, it’s not in your “Start” menu.  Rather, it’s a calculator created by Utah-based firm, Xi3 – to show you how much you could be saving (not by going solar, but rather, by going modular).

 

Xi3 claims that their new “modular” computer uses up to 95% less energy than the average household computer – at a modest 20 Watts of electricity to operate.

In fact, the savings calculator isn’t the only thing they have in common with solar installers. Xi3 also offers a leasing option (cleverly named “ecolease“), in which it claims that the potential energy savings (mostly for small-medium sized businesses) actually offset the monthly lease payments – which they call “Getting a Free Computer”.

Another added benefit of the system is its ability to run multiple instances of the operating system on several linked-up machines.

So if you’re looking for a way to cut down on the power bill and you’re not quite ready to go solar, maybe green-tech is the way to go!”

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Doing A Bit Better

There’s a BETTER App for That

“With the increase of smartphone ownership in the U.S., there really is an app for pretty much everything you could... Read

“With the increase of smartphone ownership in the U.S., there really is an app for pretty much everything you could think of.  So there’s no surprise that there are dozens (if not hundreds) of apps out there to help you Do A bit Better every day! From local green-business maps to energy consumption meters to carbon footprint calculators, there really is something for every aspect of living green.  Here’s a few apps we suggest for your day-to-day living.

Meter Readings: This app is great for monitoring your home’s monthly energy usage, water usage, and costs.  After enough data has been entered, this app will start plotting graphs so that you can visualize trends.  See how low you can get your energy bill!

Ecobee Smart Thermostat: With this app, you can control your home thermostat through WiFi to heat, cool and ventilate your home.  Note that this app is free but is used in conjunction with the Thermostat hardware that you install in your home. Manage your daily heating profiles, vacation settings and more from anywhere you go, and decrease your home’s energy / gas usage.

Yoink: Rather than taking that old couch to the landfill, find someone who can use it! List/find local, free items and avoid an exhausting trip to the thrift store.

Carticipate: If you’re the kind of person who likes to live life in the fast-lane (the carpool lane), then this app is for you. Coordinate carpools with local drivers and riders, and get to work more quickly while reducing CO2 emissions!

Of course this is just a short list of many green apps, so look around! Whether you’re managing your utilities, cleaning out the garage, or getting to work, there’s plenty of information literally at your fingertips to help you Do A bit Better.”

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Doing A Bit Better

Groupon Gives Back

We love finding good deals as much as the next person.  So when we found out that Groupon launched a... Read

We love finding good deals as much as the next person.  So when we found out that Groupon launched a group action fundraising program called Groupon Grassroots, you can only imagine our excitement.

 

According to Groupon, the new program (which just launched in April, 2012) is “a new way to discover local causes, rally together, and lend a helping hand”.

We did some digging and found out that Groupon Grassroots isn’t just a good idea on paper – it’s actually working.  On this year’s Earth Day, the donations through Grassroots resulted in some pretty impressive numbers!  Here are some of the highlights:

-$126,000 in cause-related donations were made
-4,400 trees planted across US and Haiti
-443 bike light sets and helmets sent to locals in Austin & Portland
-1,400 attendees to environmentally focused programs
-40 volunteers traveling to Zambia
-18 vacant lots in Cincinnati were filled with over 25 raised garden beds
-5 cities were treated to improve water quality through trash removal and training volunteers  to test water

And that was all in 1 day!

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Environment

Buy Local Products

The farther that a product has to be shipped to a store for a customer, the more gasoline has to... Read

The farther that a product has to be shipped to a store for a customer, the more gasoline has to be used to get the product there. As we know, gasoline is detrimental to the environment and is the reason for many of the problems we face with our environment today. So how can we reduce these fossil fuels? It’s simple, support locally grown products! This will not only help out your economy, but it will also reduce the distance to be travelled to transport products. Less distance traveled equals less fossil fuels being used. Less fossil fuels being used equals happy planet!

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Family

All About Recycling

One of the easiest ways to Do a Bit Better is to separate your recycling from your trash, but a... Read

One of the easiest ways to Do a Bit Better is to separate your recycling from your trash, but a lot of people (us included!) aren’t always sure what can be recycling and what is trash. Here are some simple tips to remember when you aren’t sure if you should put it in the blue bin.

1. All cardboard boxes can be recycled unless they are waxed. If you can, removing the adhesive labels and tape will ensure that the glue won’t interfere with the pulping process

2. Corks from wine bottles should be thrown away (or reused!)

3. You cannot recycle a container that has motor oil in it, but all other chemical containers can as long as they are completely empty

4. Remeber, there are many things you can’t put in the trash or recycling–most recycling centers and stores like Best Buy will take your old electronics and batteries

5. It is important to keep your recycling indoors until recycling day. Wet newspapers and cardboard may not absorb the chemicals needed to process the paper fibers into new products

Here at Doing a Bit Better, we have the graphic below right next to the garbage to remind us what goes where.

Start recycling so you can Do a Bit Better!

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Family

Ways to Reuse that Expired Interior Paint

So you painted your bedroom last year and have some leftover interior paint.  Now it’s expired, and won’t mix well... Read

So you painted your bedroom last year and have some leftover interior paint.  Now it’s expired, and won’t mix well enough to use in any other rooms. What to do?  If you throw out your expired interior paint, it will end up in the landfill and some runoff will probably end up in the water.  No good for mother Earth. It’s not recyclable, even though the can is – but first, we have to figure out what to do with the paint inside!

-Make Art!  Grab a piece of canvas or reclaimed wood and slather it in your expired paint. Use masking tape to parse out lines for styling, or add in some sand for texture. Then, you brag to all of your friends that you made it.

-Do some last minute touch-ups. Chances are you’ve missed a spot or scratched the wall at some point.

-Paint some furniture. You can buy unfinished furniture at a fraction of the cost of finished furniture, and while we think stains and lacquers look great, consider making a great accent piece with your leftover paint.

Not only will you have a fun project for the weekend with all of your leftover paint, but you’ll also make some space in the garage.  Up next: How to upcycle that old paint can!

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Food

Huntington Beach Students Do A Bit Better

We want to give a great big “way to go” to the students of Greg Goran’s sustainability class at Huntington... Read

We want to give a great big “way to go” to the students of Greg Goran’s sustainability class at Huntington Beach High School in California. Over the past three years, these students have planted, nourished, and picked their own fruits and vegetables at their school. It has become such a successful garden that they now sell their produce to Slapfish, a local seafood restaurant. These students truly are, doing a bit better. If you want to read more about their efforts, click here.

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Promote

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Pets

Keep Fido Flea-Free

“While we think it’s important to protect your furry friends all year ‘round, the warmer temperatures of Spring often signal... Read

“While we think it’s important to protect your furry friends all year ‘round, the warmer temperatures of Spring often signal the official start to flea & tick season.  More than just a tough itch to scratch, these blood-sucking parasites can transmit pathogens and diseases to your pet and you.  But rather than subject your pet to a chemical plunge, here are a few tips to keeping the fleas & ticks away naturally.

–          For starters, regularly bathe your pet.  When doing so, be sure to use a gentle, all natural shampoo to avoid irritating your pet’s skin & eyes.  For flea & tick treatment, we like Only Natural Pet Herbal Defense Conditioner.  And be sure to rinse your pet’s coat thoroughly to remove all the suds!

–          Gently brush your pet daily with a fine tooth comb.  This will both help comb out the critters and also allow you to see any ticks lurking in the fur.  Check out the GripSoft Flea Comb. When you do find a flea, drop it in a bucket of soapy water to kill it and stop the spread of eggs.

–          Clean where your pet snoozes.  Vacuum the areas where your pet sleeps and the fleas and their eggs may be living.  Also, wash your pet’s bed at least once a week in hot soapy water to help further kill off the eggs.

–          If the problem persists, use an herbal flea collar.  Made with essential oils to repel fleas & ticks, these cheap, easy solutions knock out the problem, and don’t smell too bad either!  We recommend the Natural Research People Herbal Collar.”

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Mom & Baby

UpCycle Spotlight: The Almighty Baby Food Jar!

“We are always interested in clever ways to upcycle everyday products into new and useful items.  Today we are going... Read

“We are always interested in clever ways to upcycle everyday products into new and useful items.  Today we are going to showcase some of the coolest uses for all of those baby food jars you go through feeding your little one.

Spice Racks

   
Candle Jars & Holders
   
   
Pin Cushions & Sewing Storage
   
Herb Planters
Holiday Decorations
 
 

 

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Environment

Chrysler Recognizes its Green Dealers

In a push to green-up an industry that’s already not-so-green, Chrysler has recognized 30 of its more eco-friendly auto dealers... Read

In a push to green-up an industry that’s already not-so-green, Chrysler has recognized 30 of its more eco-friendly auto dealers across the U.S. – and more than a third of which are in, you guessed it: California.  Some of the achievements recognized include:

– A 2,000 square foot solar system in Arkansas

– A heating system based on used motor oil from oil changes in Michigan

– Collection and recycling of rain water in Oklahoma

For a full list of the honored dealers (just in case you’re in the market for a new Chrysler), check out the press release.

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