Summer is an exciting time to explore the world around you. An easy way to do that is through books, especially ones about the environment! Join a local summer reading program to increase the fun with the chance of prizes. The adults in your household can play the Seattle Arts and Lectures Summer Book Bingo. Take a field trip with your family or friend to a local park, and read with a view! Books of all kinds – fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, picture books, non-fiction, and others –can help us gain new perspectives on our world. Here are some suggestions for your summer reading on environmental themes. Book descriptions are taken directly from the websites referenced.
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, 1982
As a child, great-aunt Alice Rumphius resolved that when she grew up she would go to faraway places, live by the sea in her old age, and do something to make the world more beautiful–and she does all those things, the last being the most difficult of all. Ages 4-9.
Raven by Gerald McDermott, 2001
Raven, a Pacific Coast Indian trickster, sets out to find the sun. The physical environment, oral literature, and traditional life of the Pacific Coast Indians come alive in this amusing and well-conceived picture book. Ages 4-10.
Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prevot, 2015
Wangari Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts to lead women in a nonviolent struggle to bring peace and democracy to Africa through its reforestation. Her organization planted over thirty million trees in thirty years. This beautiful picture book tells the story of an amazing woman and an inspiring idea. Ages 7-10.
A North American Rain Forest Scrapbook by Virginia Wright-Frierson, 1999
Presented in the form of a scrapbook, this book describes the author’s exploration of a temperate rain forest in North America, located in Washington State, and the plants and animals she found there. Ages 7-11.
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich, 1999
Omakayas, a seven-year-old Native American girl of the Ojibwa tribe, lives through the joys of summer and the perils of winter on an island in Lake Superior in 1847. Ages 9-12.
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, 2002
In his first novel for a younger audience, Carl Hiaasen plunges readers right into the middle of an ecological mystery, made up of endangered miniature owls, the Mother Paula’s All-American Pancake House scheduled to be built over their burrows, and the owls’ unlikely allies–three middle school kids determined to beat the screwed-up adult system. Ages 10 and up.
Nobody Particular: One Woman’s Fight to Save the Bays by Molly Bang, 2000
Diane Wilson is an independent shrimper in Texas, where she ekes out a living in the same waters that her family has worked hard in for generations. When Diane learns that the chemical plants in Texas give out more pollution than in any other state, she decides to stop them. Told in graphic novel format. Ages 11 and up.
Sage Carrington, Eighth-Grade Science Sleuth by Justin Scott Parr, 2012
Best friends Sage Carrington and Isabel Flores are making the most of their summer break when they discover an antique treasure map near the Washington Monument. But when faced with difficult clues and a bully in the form of Edwin Hooser, the tween girls must use every bit of imagination, drive, and intellect to outsmart Edwin and decipher the map. Ages 8-12.
The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd, 2009
In 2015, England becomes the first nation to introduce carbon dioxide rationing in a drastic bid to combat climate change, and sixteen-year-old Laura documents the first year of rationing as her family spirals out of control. Ages 13 and up.
How the Dead Dream by Lydia Millet, 2008
T., a young developer with a reverence for money and the institutions of capital, has just fallen in love for the first time when his orderly, upwardly mobile life is thrown into chaos by the appearance of his unbalanced mother, who comes to live with him after his father’s sudden desertion. In the wake of a series of devastating losses, T. begins to nurture a curious obsession with vanishing species, and is soon breaking into zoos at night to be with animals that are the last of their kind. Adult fiction.
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, 2003
Bill Bryson is a popular author both for his travel books and for his books on the English language, and turns his attention to science. Although at first he doesn’t know anything about the subject, he is eager to learn, and takes information that he gets from the world’s leading experts, then explains it to us in a way that makes it exciting and relevant. Adult non-fiction.
Happy Tales to you! What are some of your favorite books about science and the environment?
Help people, salmon, and wildlife
Water is a precious resource, but in the often misty and river-rich Pacific Northwest, it can seem like we have an endless supply. While we are doing better than many regions, we still need to use water with awareness and foresight. Climate change is warming our region, making temperatures, storms, and rainfall more variable. With our growing population, we need to build a sustainable home by conserving resources like water. Conserving water saves money and time, as well as energy, since the water we use must be pumped, treated, and sometimes heated. Here are some simple ways to integrate water conservation into your summer and year-round.
• Wash only full loads in the dishwasher and washing machine.
• Place a large bucket in the sink when washing dishes or vegetables to collect excess water that can be used later to water plants.
• When washing dishes by hand, don’t let the water run. Instead, fill one basin with wash water and the other with rinse water.
• Soak pots and pans for easier cleaning later.
• Keep a bottle of drinking water in your refrigerator or on the counter, instead of running the tap.
• Fix leaks promptly! Little drips can waste lots of water.
• Install a bottle to displace water in your toilet tank if you have an older model. This will reduce the amount of water that your toilet is flushing away.
• Replace your showerhead with a low-flow model.
• Capture shower warm-up water. Use it to water plants or wash the floor.
• Turn off the faucet while brushing teeth or shaving.
This time of year, more than 40 percent of home water consumption takes place outdoors!
You can save a lot of water by not watering your lawn. Lawns without water typically go brown in June or early July, but they green up again in September or October. If you do water your lawn, reduce the number of watering days per week and seek non-toxic alternatives to weed killers and chemical fertilizers.
Lawnless in Seattle
Completely removing or reducing your lawn not only saves water, but can ultimately save time in terms of yard care. Xeriscaping a yard with plants that have low water requirements eliminates the need for frequent watering. Plants native to our region, such as service berry and kinnikinnick, are ideal for xeriscaping since they thrive in this climate.
Do water your drought tolerant species during the first two summers after planting to help them get established. If possible, water plants in the morning to best reduce water loss from evaporation.
Savvy car washing
Take your family car to a carwash to avoid excessive water use and soapy runoff into storm drains. Commercial carwashes typically reuse water several times before it’s sent to a treatment plant. They are fun to experience from inside a car! Or, visit a self-service car wash that’s hooked up to a sanitary sewer.
Talk about conserving water with your family and friends. Share your ideas and learn what others are doing!
How will you spend your summer vacation? Now that school is out, you can enjoy the freedom of no assignments, deadlines, or early wake-up calls. Whether you’re staying at home, doing activities outdoors, or traveling with your family, don’t forget the four Rs – rethink, reduce, reuse, and recycle. Keep your Green Team habits strong over the summer. Here are some tips for low- or no-waste summer activities.
Pack a zero-waste picnic
Have you ever noticed how much waste there can be after a family picnic or birthday party? It takes only a little planning to have a gathering that has all the fun without the waste.
• Whenever possible, use simple cloth napkins plus durable plates and utensils.
• Ask your guests to bring their own plates, cups, and utensils.
• Clearly label bins or bags for recycling and composting at the event.
• Have containers ready to store leftovers.
• Buy food in bulk or large sizes to reduce waste from packaging.
Don’t forget to take a group photo to share with friends about your fun, zero-waste picnic!
Bring things that are green
These easy, small steps will keep your waste low.
• Pack reusable snack bags of fruit, nuts, and other healthy snacks that travel well.
• Bring your reusable water bottle.
• Bring a cloth bag for food and souvenir purchases.
Using public transport or traveling on your own energy can reduce your environmental impact, and also allows you to meet neighbors and locals. You can experience cultures in a slower, more present way when you avoid car travel.
• Take a walking tour to enjoy the nice weather.
• If time allows, plan a walk to a destination to which you typically drive. Maybe you’ll discover a fun shop or interesting view you hadn’t noticed before.
• View neighborhoods and countryside by bicycle.
• Try train travel for longer distances and watch the countryside out the window or meet the travelers seated near you.
• When traveling to another town, city, or country, learn how their recycling and waste disposal is the same or different from yours.
• Plan a hike in King County with this map of all our parks.
Do you live in the Puget Sound area, want to hike, but don’t have a car? Check out TOTAGO, which stands for “Turn off this app, go outside.” It’s a free Android and web app for planning trips accessible by public transit. It can find the right bus routes and hiking trails for your interests and location.
Let us know in a comment what you are excited about doing this summer! How will you keep a low waste profile while having fun?
What can schools do to reduce end-of-school-year waste and improve recycling? Everyone at school – students, staff, faculty, and custodians – has a role. A school green team or environmental club can lead some of the following activities that help a school stay true to its waste reduction commitment all year.
Hold a “zero waste” locker clean-out
- Designate a day for students to clean out their lockers and sort the contents for swapping, reusing, donating, and recycling so that as little as possible is thrown away.
- Let the custodians know of your plans so they can be aware of the effect on garbage and recycling containers.
- Gather some boxes (ask the kitchen staff) and label them “Swap or Reuse,” “Donation,” and “Recycle.” Make the swap boxes more specific by separating out spaces for pencils and pens, notebooks, teacher supplies, and other items.
- Find a teacher, staff member, or parent who will take the materials for donation as well as any leftovers from the swap to an appropriate site. (Try your local Goodwill.)
- Assign students to take the materials for recycling to a central or outdoor bin.
- Plan a school supply swap day among teachers for a subsequent day.
Organize a school supply swap
- Suggest to staff a swap of school supplies and find a day that works for most classes.
- Plan the big day to follow a locker or cubby clean-out.
- Decide upon the best space in which to organize the event in your school (gym, hallway, classroom, or library).
- Determine whether students and teachers participate, or just one of these groups.
- Take any leftover materials to a donation center (coordinate with the locker clean-out).
Set garbage and recycling service to “on call” to save money over the summer
- Rather than a regularly scheduled pick-up, the school calls the garbage and recycling haulers when the outdoor containers are full. The name of the service provider and telephone number can be found on the outdoor containers to request this on-call service.
- You may want to have the following information from your school to provide to the hauler: name on account, account number, dates for service hold, phone number, and email.
Find a good summer home for your worm bin
- Harvest the compost from the worm bin and add it to the school garden.
- Find a responsible student or staff member to take the bin home and manage it for the summer.
- Once or twice per week, the worms should be fed vegetable and grain food scraps (no meat, dairy, or oily foods).
Donate food from school kitchens
- Ask kitchen staff to identify food whose use-by dates will occur over the summer.
- Contact a local nonprofit with a food recovery program, such as Food Lifeline or Harvest Northwest.
- Coordinate a pick-up of food donations using these guidelines.
Congratulations on your waste reduction progress this school year. Have a wonderful summer!
What do English ivy, salmon, and salal have in common? They all affect biodiversity in King County in important ways!
Sunday, May 22, is the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB), as proclaimed by the United Nations. The theme for this year is Mainstreaming Biodiversity; Sustaining People and their Livelihoods. It honors the fact that biodiversity is essential to peoples’ livelihoods in all ways, including jobs within agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism, among others.
What is biodiversity? The book Precious Heritage: the Status of Biodiversity in the United States give the following definition: “Biodiversity is composed of species, the genes they contain, the communities and ecosystems they form, and the processes that connect them.”
Why is biodiversity important? Biodiversity increases ecosystem productivity. For example, the greater the number of plant species, the great variety of crops. More species diversity means healthier ecosystems which means a greater ability to resist disease and survive disaster. All of human life ultimately depends on biodiversity.
If you could step back in time about 150 years, you would see that almost all of the developed areas in King County were covered with either forest or wetland. Much of downtown Seattle was a big estuary. Everything was wildlife habitat! Today, the urban environments are getting larger, so people, animals, and plants continually need to find ways to live together. We have many species in King County, including about 220 species of breeding and non-breeding birds, between 70 and 80 mammal species, about 70 species of fish in freshwater, and an amazing 1,249 species of identified plants.
In celebration of International Day of Biodiversity, take a walk in your neighborhood and explore the native species near you. The King County Native Plant Guide is a fun resource full of photos you can match to what you discover. Here are some ideas of what to look for on your personal scavenger hunt:
- Oregon grape
- Bald hip rose
- Lady fern
- Western red cedar
- American robin
- Dark-eyed junco
- White-throated sparrow
- Northern flicker
- Eartern gray squirrel (introduced from the Eastern U.S.)
- Northwestern garter snake
Unfortunately, there are many invasive species in King County that take over land and water space. Invasive species, such as English ivy and gold fish, are typically non-native plants or animals that are highly competitive with native species, such as salal and salmon, and are often difficult to control or eliminate. This page discusses in more detail how invasive species affect biodiversity.
Middle and high school teachers can arrange for a classroom workshop on biodiversity for their students. The interactive workshop answers the questions, “What is biodiversity and why is it important for survival on Earth? How do our shopping and waste disposal choices affect biodiversity?” Students actively engage in a discussion of real-world issues such as habitat protection, population growth, and climate change.
King County hosts many work parties and events where you can help maintain our local biodiversity. As the weather turns warmer, find ways to get outside and volunteer!
Did you know that Mother’s Day has its roots in the 1850s, when women in West Virginia made time to pause, honor their mothers, and seek peace in their community?
Mothers, peace, and community are all cause to celebrate. What better way than with green gift-giving ideas that also honor Mother Earth?
Give Earth-friendly gifts
For this Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8, here are some ideas for environmentally friendly gifts for the mothers and mentors in your life:
- Fair trade chocolate. Look for Fair Trade brands.
- Local, organic flowers. Try visiting your local farmer’s market.
- A plant for your home, yard, or container garden
Consider giving experiences rather than stuff. The stuff in our lives takes energy to create and uses energy when we throw it away or recycle it. Experiences are ways to honor a special person in your life. They build relationships and memories, usually without leaving much waste behind. Research shows that experiences bring us more happiness than possessions do. Anticipation of the experience and the memories it creates are the source of that happiness. Give some happiness for Mother’s Day and make memories for the future!
- Plant a garden together. Seattle Tilth offers many resources and opportunities for kids, teens, and adults to learn about gardening.
- Enjoy a walk in a King County park and have a picnic with a view. Visit one of King County’s pesticide-free parks.
- Find a performance of local musicians and listen to some music together.
- Take a dance lesson or attend a social dance.
- Visit a museum together.
- Write a card to your mother telling her why you appreciate her and include a favorite photo of the two of you. Send one to your grandmother or a mentor in your life.
Plant a tree
King County has a goal to plant One Million Trees in King County by 2020. You can help! Trees provide habitat for native creatures and keep our air fresh with oxygen. King County invites every individual and community group throughout the county to join this campaign – whether you’re planting a street tree outside your home or organizing a volunteer work party at your company, everyone can make a difference. Until May 13, you have the opportunity to enter a drawing for two tickets to a concert in Marymoor Park.
Have a happy Mother’s Day! We’d love to hear about your experiences and other ideas on this topic. Share how you choose to celebrate in the comments below!
Earth Day is April 22. Celebrate the earth with an environmental activity. Consider a field trip, an in-class project, a take-home activity, or class presentations. Here are some project ideas and resources.
Projects and activities
- Read a book about pollution or the environment. Create a poster, book report, or other display about the important messages in the book.
- Create a nature scrapbook from your local area. Add pictures or plant samples and label them.
- Be a reporter. Make a video with you or your friends acting as news reporters on environmental issues. Highlight ways “viewers” can help.
- Figure out how much trash your family is creating in a day or a week. Make sure recyclables and compostable are being properly sorted out. Make a list of ways to reduce the amount of waste in your household.
- Conduct an interview with an environmentalist. Find out what you can do to protect the area where you live.
- Take a walk in a public area and pick up trash. Make a poster, video, or other display to encourage others to keep the environment clean.
- It’s National Poetry Month! Write a poem about recycling, our rivers and streams, or local plants and wildlife.
- The Power of Green – An interactive website about energy conservation for grades K-8.
- Recycling: Everything You Need – Activities, lessons, articles, and more on recycling.
- Kids’ Environmental Report Card – Kids can write e-cards to raise awareness about the environment.
- Endangered Ecosystems – An activity about animals in endangered environments.
- My Clean & Green Community – A digital storybook and environment lessons from Keep America Beautiful.
And don’t forget to take the Family Fun quiz!
March 30 is Take a Walk in the Park Day. Celebrate with a walk in one of King County’s many pesticide-free parks.
Pesticide-free parks offer a safer play environment for young children who are especially vulnerable to many kinds of chemicals. To find out which parks near you are pesticide-free, use the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program’s map. You can search by zip code or city.
Why be concerned about pesticides in parks? Young children are especially vulnerable to many kinds of harmful chemicals. They eat, drink, and breathe more per pound of body weight than adults do. Their organs and systems are continuously developing as they grow. Chemical exposure can have lifetime effects.
Pesticides also endanger our environment. Rain carries pesticides into local waterways, where salmon, water bugs, and water quality can be affected. Chemicals meant for pests can also harm bees and other beneficial insects. Pets may also be affected or poisoned by pesticides, and they may carry pesticides into the home on their feet and fur.
At home, consider taking the following actions:
- Try natural yard care techniques to create an attractive lawn and garden with less pesticide use.
- Choose the least toxic yard and garden products with Grow Smart, Grow Safe.
- Read labels and use fewer hazardous chemicals.
- Buy safer toys and art supplies.
Also, ask your school or childcare center about its pesticides-use policy.
The average teen uses 15 to 25 cosmetics per day. That number may seem high, but cosmetics don’t just include make-up. Deodorant, shampoo, nail polish, toothpaste, sunscreen, and aftershave also fall into this category. The concerns about cosmetics apply to both male and females since we all brush our teeth, shampoo our hair, and apply deodorant.
Our skin absorbs the chemicals in lotions, ointments, and other products that we put on it. Some chemicals stay near the surface while others enter the blood stream, making their way throughout the body. Because teens might put several products on their skin each day, it’s important they limit their use of harmful ones. Read labels and avoid products with harmful ingredients.
Here are some to look out for in particular:
The Toxic Trio in Nail Polishes
The three worst chemicals found in nail polish are formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and toluene. They’re often found in many less expensive polishes. Many of the big-name companies have removed them from their products due to increased public awareness of their harm.
Formaldehyde, typically used as a preservative, a sterilizer, and embalming fluid, has been linked to lung and nasal cancer. Dibutyl phthalate is used to make plastics extra-flexible. DBP is not believed to cause cancer, but it has been linked to reproductive issues if a woman is exposed to it while pregnant. It has been phased out by many major nail polish companies, but it’s still allowed in products in the U.S. It’s been banned for use in cosmetics by the European Union. Toluene is often included in polish for smoother application. It’s also used in gasoline and as a raw material to create TNT. Toluene has been known to affect the nervous system and to cause dizziness, headaches, eye irritation, nausea, birth defects, developmental abnormalities, and liver and kidney damage. This chemical has also been banned by the European Union, but not by the U.S.
Coal Tar in Shampoos, Soaps, Hair Dyes, and Lotions
Coal tar comes from burning coal and is known to cause cancer. Studies have found that use of and exposure to coal tar causes skin tumors and nerve damage. Read labels on personal care products and avoid those that contain coal tar.
Triclosan in Soaps
Studies have linked triclosan to health effects such as skin irritation, endocrine disruption, and bacterial and antibiotic resistance. Over the last few years, due to pressure from consumer groups and the media, major manufacturers have quietly removed triclosan from their products. In 2013 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed a rule requiring makers of antibacterial hand soaps, body washes, and other consumer goods to prove that their products pose no long-term hazard and are more effective than regular bar soap. The FDA is expected to rule in a few months whether companies have done so.
Parabens in Lots of Products
Parabens can be found in shampoos, moisturizers, deodorants, shaving gels, tanning lotions, sunscreen, cleansing gels, and toothpaste. Parabens are used as preservatives, which is why they are found in so many products. Parabens can mimic the hormone estrogen, which is known to play a role in breast cancers.
Phthalates in Lots and Lots of Products
Phthalates make plastics more flexible and harder to break. In addition to being found in personal-care products (soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, and nail polishes), phthalates are used in vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, and plastic clothes (raincoats). The human health effects of phthalates are not yet fully known, but are being studied by several government agencies. As mentioned earlier, dibutyl phthalate has been linked to reproductive issues.
What happens to all those products that get washed off our bodies and down the drain? They enter the water system, contaminating it and harming aquatic ecosystems.
Nanoparticles used in sunscreens and cosmetics may have harmful effects on bacteria and a certain type of beneficial soil microbe. Mercury from some cosmetics sold illegally in the U.S. (such as skin-lightening products) can enter the environment in wastewater and may be transformed into the even more toxic methyl mercury.
And, of course, there is the energy and water consumption, carbon emissions, and packaging waste that come from making, transporting and disposing of all those products.
What Can We Do?
Read the labels on personal care products you buy and limit your exposure to harmful ingredients. Try to avoid products with the following ingredients:
- Butyl acetate – prevents nail polish from chipping
- Butylate hydroxytoluene (BHT) – prevents colors from fading and changing too quickly
- Coal tar – dissolves dead skin cells and controls itching in shampoo and hair dye
- Cocamide/lauramide DEA – causes foaming in shampoo and bath products
- Formaldehyde – disinfectant and preservative in deodorant, nail polish, soap, shampoo, shaving cream
- Diazolidinyl urea – helps the disinfectants (like formaldehyde) work
- Ethyl acetate – liquid in nail polish, mascara, tooth whitening, perfume
- Parabens – act as preservatives
- Petrolateum (petroleum) – makes lipsticks shine, makes creams smooth
- Treithanolamine – keeps lotions, shaving cream, soaps, shampoos and bath powders from clumping
- Triclosan – prevents bacteria on your hands from growing in your cosmetics, like on bars of soaps or deodorant
- Toluene – liquid part of nail polish and hair dye that makes it stick to your hair and nails and looks glossy
- Talc – absorbs moisture and prevents powders like eye shadow, blush, deodorant from clumping in the containers
- Sodium laureth sulfate – helps the cosmetics stick to your skin
- Propylene glycol – keeps products from melting when it is too hot or freezing when it is too cold
- Phthalates – keeps color and scents dissolved in the nail polish, perfume, hair spray and others
- “Do you want the best makeover ever?” flyer from the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County
- Skin Deep – a database of cosmetics and their toxicity rank
- The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics – a public advocacy coalition
- Tox Town – provides information in non-technical language on many well-known chemicals found in everyday locations
Here’s a story from last March about the work of two Tolt Middle School teachers and the project they developed to help their students learn about household hazardous products. The teachers, Teresa O’Shea and Carol Hall, were nominated for and were selected as 2015 Earth Heroes at School. Nominate someone as an Earth Hero at School by March 11, 2016.
Tolt Middle School Students Teach Families about Hazardous Products
What good is knowledge if it isn’t shared, especially if that knowledge can improve the health and safety of families and benefit the environment? Such was the thinking behind the organizers of Student-Directed Family Night at Tolt Middle School in December 2014 at which one hundred and sixty sixth-grade students taught their parents how to identify common household hazardous products and strategies for making safer product choices.
King County EcoConsumer Tom Watson started off the evening with an introduction to the topic of household hazardous products and waste. Then students presented their findings from their research. Parents completed an evaluation form and in return received a natural cleaner the students had created in class. Absent students completed their presentations at home and submitted the evaluation form with a parent signature. Since these presentations, parents and students have reported making safer choices in their homes.
Teachers Teresa O’Shea and Carol Hall developed this unit after attending the Hazards on the Homefront teacher training in August 2014 and receiving a mini-grant to cover the project expenses. Concerned about students’ daily contact with household hazardous products and realizing the importance of gaining skills to manage this exposure, Teresa and Carol planned a series of lessons that supported the Human Impacts on Earth Systems core idea of the Next Generation Science Standards.
They kicked off their unit with a presentation from the Hazards on the Homefront program that taught students label-reading skills to identify and classify hazardous products. Students then performed three activities.
- They designed their own product labels that accurately reflected the hazards and precautions of a product.
- They researched recipes for green cleaning.
- They developed a speech to convey the information they learned to family members.
Students demonstrated deep understanding of the concepts by teaching their parents what they had learned. The evaluation feedback indicated that parents enjoyed learning from their students and that students grew academically as a result of this project. Their efforts have resulted in choices that will have long-term impacts on their health and safety.