Monday, May 4, 2015

Sustainable Vacations

By Michelle Lovrine Honeyager

As you plan your next vacation, think about these tips for making it a sustainable trip!
With vacation planning underway this time of year, it’s fun to spend the time finding a great place to go. Hawaii, Mexico, Ireland, camping, some place local? It can feel like you have the world in the palm of your hand when you’re planning a vacation. The best part is being able to throw off all your cares in the world. 

It’s OK to let loose, but there’s no reason to forget sustainable living on vacation. In 2012, the United States travel and tourism industry generated $1.5 trillion dollars in economic output and, in 2011. accounted for 2.8 percent of gross domestic product. It’s a massive industry that could have untold effects on the environment. 

Luckily, being sustainable on vacation doesn’t have to be too much of a hassle. Once you get a few key habits established, it will be as natural as your habits at home. Finding ways to plan a sustainable trip can be kind of fun, like a scavenger hunt. Below are some of the top ways to stay sustainable, even while relaxing.

Search for local options

Remember, even though you’re far from home, the local economy can also benefit from choosing local, sustainable options. Go out of your way to support the area’s region by getting local, handcrafted souvenirs. Dine at local restaurants. Buy local produce from market stands. When looking for tours and events, find activities that are staffed by local residents. That will help keep jobs in their area. Plus, you’ll probably get more of a cultural immersion experience that way.

Keep the basics in mind, even when on vacation

It’s easy to slack off on vacation. After all, you’re on vacation, right? But keep the sustainability basics in mind when on vacation, too. Shut off electronics when they are not in use. Dress appropriately instead of messing with the thermostat. Keep your showers short, always recycle, still seek out organic food, pack your reusable shopping bags if you can, buy produce that is in season and buy minimally packaged goods.

Remember sustainable transportation

Always be on the lookout for sustainable ways to travel. If you need to rent a car, see if the rental company has an electric option available. Try to take public transportation when you can. Try to walk and bike as much as possible. You’ll be able to see more of the local area that way.

Find sustainable places to stay

When looking for a place to stay, investigate the company. How sustainable are they? Do they have recycling bins? Do they make an effort to recycle water? Do they buy local food? All questions to ask the hotel or look up online. Lots of hotels are making an effort to be as green as possible, so make sure you research green hotels in the area you plan to stay. 

Another option is to room with the locals. Some people will rent out spare rooms to travelers. You can find great rooms through programs like AirBnB. You’ll get full cultural immersion that way, and be more in charge of your daily sustainability activities.

Respect the natural areas

Remember when traveling to always tread lightly. “Leave only footprints, take only pictures,” as they say. Keep your trash to yourself, keep on the footpaths while hiking and respect the local wildlife. If you’ve done it right, the area shouldn’t even look like you’ve been by when you’re done. I personally struggle with this one, but leave nifty looking rocks and other “natural souvenirs” in nature where they belong. Nature needs them more than your shelf does.

Buy sustainable souvenirs

Also remember to look into the sustainability of what you’re buying for souvenirs. Lots of areas will have things for sale like handbags made from endangered crocodile skin or teeth from endangered sharks. Think sustainable instead. Buy handwoven clothes made from wool instead of animal skin tote bags. Again, try to buy local, as well. Don’t support shops that ship non-authentic “local” items from halfway across the world, if you can avoid it.

Take advantage of airline emissions programs

Flying to a destination doesn’t exactly keep the carbon footprint down to a dainty size. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. A lot of airlines will offer carbon emissions offset programs: You donate money as part of the program, and the airline will help out with forest conservation or something similar. 

You can also look into organizations like atmosfair, which allows you to donate to renewable energy through voluntary climate protection payments when you fly. The company also ranks and compares which airlines have the best carbon efficiency so you can make a more informed decision about which airline you choose.

Take your sustainable products with you

When packing, remember to leave space for your sustainable products. Remember your reusable water bottle, cloth bags and always pack some rags instead of relying on paper towels once at your destination. Similarly, try to avoid travel-sized individually wrapped products. Use reusable small containers for toiletries.

Vacation locally

You don’t always have to jet halfway across the world for some fun in the sun. “Staycations” aren’t just for those who have budget difficulties. Consider staying around home to invest in your local tourism industry. You’ll save on fuel costs, and there’s a good chance there’s some fun things to do in your local area that you hadn’t thought of before. I just recently discovered a host of local historical sites and museums I was unaware of. You’ll be surprised at what you can find when you look at your hometown with the eyes of a tourist.

Sustainable camping

You don’t get much more sustainable than a good old-fashioned camping trip. You’ll stay in temporary housing right in the wilderness, and if you do it right, you’ll leave no trace behind. 

Here are a few of the major tips for sustainable camping: 

  • Remember your own garbage bags and never litter. 
  • Take reusable everything (like silverware and water bottles). 
  • Keep to the designated trails and campsites. 
  • Keep fires small and burn everything to ash before putting the fire out. 
  • Use local firewood to reduce the risk of transporting insects and diseases. 
  • Use natural sunscreens and bug repellent
  • There’s a whole industry of solar powered camping gear. Make use of it. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Natural Craft Ideas


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Wolf Pack N Give

Monday, April 20-Sunday, May 10

The Wolf Pack N Give program diverts the materials often discarded from the large exodus of students at the end of each year. University Housing and NC State’s Waste Reduction and Recycling Office collaborate to reduce waste during the end of the spring semester. By collecting what would have gone into the landfill, organizing the valuable items, and donating them to local organizations, reuse becomes a win-win. Items are donated to TROSA and Feed the Pack Food Pantry.

Acceptable Items

  • Furniture
  • Futon Mattresses & Frames (broken metal futon frames should be placed next to a landfill rolloff, staff will collect them for recycling)
  • Electronics (broken electronics should be placed in the yellow Electronics Recycling bins on campus)
  • Small home goods
  • Clothing and undergarments (laundered and in good condition)*
  • Shoes*
  • Wolf Pack N Give LogoFood Items (non-perishable and unopened – individually wrapped items are acceptable)
  • Books
  • Bedding and linens (laundered and in good condition)*
  • Pillows
  • Rugs/Carpets (carpets that are not in good condition should be placed next to a landfill rolloff or dumpster)
  • School supplies
  • Dish and laundry soap (these items do not need to be new, please make sure caps are properly sealed to prevent spilling)
  • Personal Care Items (shampoo, body wash, etc.)
  • Lofts and building materials used as furniture (ex. wood, metal and cement blocks)
*Ask your RA for a Wolf Pack N Give donation bag that can be filled with clothing, shoes and bedding and dropped off at your nearest donation station.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Using Games to Promote STEM Education


Using Games to Promote STEM Education

Would you teach kindergartners about atoms?  What about genetic patterns of inheritance?  Most people might scoff at the idea of introducing such scientific concepts at such an early age, but gamification is a growing trend in education that can effectively engage students in complex topics.
annaI have two young children, six and four years old, and one thing I’ve noticed on my parenting journey is that early and elementary educators are terrified of teaching science.
You can imagine that there might be several reasons for this.  Perhaps most people don’t exactly have fond memories of their high school science classes.  Or maybe these teachers are under the misconception that science lessons would require materials and equipment which are too expensive for their classrooms.  There may also be a pervasive thought that these topics are too complicated to introduce to young children.
Ironically, the truth is that young children are natural scientists.  Their innate curiosity stimulates their brain to use the five senses to experiment with the world around them.  This makes elementary school a prime time to engage students in education related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Fortunately, early STEM education is a rapidly growing trend.  After-school STEM enrichment centers are popping up all over the country.  Amazon recently announced the opening of a store exclusively for STEM toys.  Additionally, centers such as the Museum of Science in Boston are developing innovative K-12 curriculum such as “Engineering is Elementary.”
One area ripe for development is STEM gamification.  I’ve passionately loved board games throughout my life, so when the opportunity arose to design games for my own science classes, I leaped on it.  One of my first games involved 1st-3rd graders playing a card game which pieced together phases of the mushroom life cycle.  I will never forget the thrill when the students shouted out phrases like, “Oh, mycelium belongs in that spot!”  Complex biology vocabulary and concepts were sneaked into their minds, all in the name of fun and competition.
Evidence shows that general critical thinking skills can be improved by playing tabletop games.  More abstract problem-solving abilities can be enhanced by playing specialized games like Laser Maze from ThinkFun or Suspend from Melissa & Doug.  To take this evolution further, I am advocating the use of tabletop games to teach applied STEM concepts.
I recently joined forces with other STEM professionals and educators to form Catlilli Games (  Our classroom experiences have led us to recommend the following features for educational STEM games:
  1. Creativity. Contrary to popular belief, the scientific method involves much creative thought.  Moreover, kids respond to games that feature some imaginative element, whether it be role-playing or drawing.
  2. Layered learning. We design games that provide a gentle introduction to high-level subjects, but we create different versions of rules (younger vs. older) which allow players to tackle as much complexity as they wish.
  3. No prior knowledge needed. Many parents are intimidated by STEM games because they do not want to “expose” a lack of knowledge to their children.  In order to ease parents’ fears, we design games in which everybody learns together.  These are not trivia games; instead, they allow players to immerse themselves in a game world where learning is a byproduct of fun.
As a scientist-turned-educator, I have witnessed firsthand the power of tabletop games to excite and teach young children about STEM.  I have observed preschoolers learn about atoms as the building blocks of our universe.  I have enjoyed watching first graders internalize concepts of dominant vs. recessive genes.  Gamification is a fun, accessible method of promoting STEM education.

Thursday, April 30, 2015


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Creative Uses for Wine Corks

By Rachelle Gordon

If you are a wine fan, it's likely you have built up a collection of wine corks. Don't throw them out, though! Upcycle them with one of these ideas!
Fine wine fans across the world have seen plenty (and probably struggled with) at least a few corks. These bottle stoppers, derived from tree bark, may be small but they pack an environmental wallop – there are over 13 billion wine corks produced every year. It is estimated that nearly 200,000 hectares of forest are used for harvesting bark. Luckily, cork production is considered generally sustainable due to the fact that the trees are not cut down specially – the bark is just stripped. 

Pinot noir fans should not rest easy just yet, though – those corks you toss in the trash could easily be repurposed. Save up your used corks and turn them into cute coasters or DIY stampers. If you are not the crafty type, there are places where you can recycle corks. Keeping old corks out of landfills and lakes is the number one goal here – but making an adorable homemade wine corkboard that will make your friends jealous is a nice bonus. 

Check out some these super fun – and easy – things you can do with wine corks. 

Bathmat – This easy project will be a joy for your feet and your guests but it will take lots of corks – so be patient as you save yours up. Use a hot-glue gun to attach halved corks to a piece of vinyl shelf liner. Let it dry and add a touch of vintage country décor to your restroom. Check out a tutorial here and save yourself some money on those expensive bamboo mats. 

Recycle at Whole Foods – The organization Cork ReHarvest recently partnered with Whole Foods to bring cork donation boxes to nearly 300 stores across the United States, Canada and the U.K. ReHarvest takes the donated corks to a processing plant where they will be turned into recyclable wine shippers or other post-consumer products. Check out more about this cool program on this site

Magnetic cork succulent planter – Succulents are small plants that are incredibly easy to look after as they require little sun or water. Perfect for any home, small planters made from cork are absolutely adorable. All you will need are a few corks, very small succulent cuttings, magnets and a few other gardening implements. The idea is to hollow out the corks, fill with soil, plant the succulent and then apply a magnet for easy display. See the full instructions here

Wine cork coasters – An awesome addition to any wine-loving home, DIY wine cork coasters are incredibly easy to make and totally fun. Slice your corks in half and hot-glue them to a round cork coaster (available for practically nothing at most home stores). These handcrafted coasters would make an excellent housewarming or hostess gift – and after guests to your house see them, start expecting requests for more. 

Wine cork place card holders – Hosting a wine and cheese cocktail hour? Place card holders made out of wine corks are a great addition to your serving trays – and will certainly impress your guests. Throwing a rustic DIY wedding? Make these holders for your reception to help people find their dinner seats. Check out the full directions here

Cork stamps – Paper crafting would not be complete with some unique and fun stamps. Make your own sustainable cork stamps in whatever design you want – all it takes is your cork, an X-acto knife and a sharpie. Draw your design on one end of the cork and then very carefully puncture the area around the stamp in order to remove the excess. This website has great instructions and will have you making that personalized envelope stamp in no time. 

Start a journal – Want a unique way to display your memories? Start writing on each wine cork you use what the event or occasion was at the time – perhaps that wild girls’ night or the dinner party with your neighbors. Save the corks and put them into a shadow box for a neat way to remember nights that may or may not have been a little foggy. This blogger has been wine cork journaling for some time now and the results have been fantastic. 

Cork trivet – Probably the easiest craft you will ever do, wine cork trivets are useful and environmentally friendly. Simply glue wine corks together using either a hot-glue gun or plain super glue. Continue gluing until you have met your desired size. This guide will show you exactly how to make your trivet – just in case you’re stuck for ideas. 

Wine cork wreath – This wreath gives off an incredibly rustic vibe that Martha Stewart couldn’t even dream of. By gluing corks to a 12-inch straw wreath, you will quickly have a one-of-a-kind home décor piece sure to impress. Check out this blog for a great tutorial on this and other fun and inexpensive craft projects. 

Wine cork bulletin board – Bulletin boards are must-haves in every home as they help remind us of important events and contacts that we may otherwise miss. Wine corkboards are a great way to repurpose those corks in a simple yet useful way. This blog post has step-by-step instructions to build a quality and cute bulletin board that will become the new landing zone in your home. Side note: This is another project that requires a lot of corks, so remember to be patient! 

Secret USB drive – This idea – for people who need to keep their sensitive information on the down low – is actually fairly brilliant. Remove your USB drive from its outer shell and carefully insert into a hollowed out wine cork. The end result will be a stealth and sustainable place for all of those personal files you have been hiding at work. Make sure to watch this tutorial before attempting to remove your USB from its shell, as it can be a little bit of a challenge.

About the author

Rachelle Gordon is a Minneapolis-based writer and life enthusiast. She enjoys writing on subjects that relate to social justice, personal finance and wellness. When not writing, Rachelle likes playing with her dog Fonzie and collecting LEGO sets. Read more from Rachelle here:
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