Photo via Flickr: Per Ola Wiberg ~ Powi

I’m now two days past my due date, and I’m starting to get the sense that this little lady isn’t going to arrive until I take a deep breath and devote the next few days (or week-plus — it’s up to her when she gets here!) to mentally preparing for her welcome into the world. So, much as I’ve loved the distraction of working and blogging and tweeting and texting right up until Week 40, I’m now going to follow my own advice and do what is unfeasible for most BlackBerry-toting, iPad-loving Americans: take a technology break.

I’ve written about the trend toward unplugging before (read about: Sabbath Manifesto), and it’s no secret that I’m a fan: Disconnecting, as it turns out, is the best way to start reconnecting — with the natural world, with our friends and family, with all the things that are essential for a simpler, greener life. And let’s not forget that taking a technology break from time to time could have a collective environmental impact as well, since information and communication technology contributes to two percent of global CO2 emissions (as much as the aviation industry).

So while I know there will be plenty of eco-related happenings to communicate about during this hiatus (my plans for a natural birth, those first few days of cloth diapering, whether or not I think that Golden Path Alchemy Beautiful Belly Oil actually spared me any stretch marks), I hope you’ll forgive me if I hold off on them for the meantime so that I can truly appreciate everything I’m about to experience. I promise to divulge all when I return.

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: Studies show that taking the time to relax and enjoy nature is essential to good health. And you don’t have to deliver a baby to take your own technology break, either: This weekend, turn off your computer/BlackBerry/iPhone and vow not to check your email or the internet till Monday morning.

Related posts you may enjoy in the meantime:
‘Offlining’ campaign asks dads to turn off the BlackBerry
WATCH: Give up your BlackBerry for Earth Day
National Day of Unplugging promotes rest, conservation
Take a technology break

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When I was little, we had a Swedish babysitter. I’ll never forget her description of her first visit to an American supermarket: She stood in the packaged bread aisle for what seemed an hour, mesmerized by the sheer number of choices one had for making a sandwich — butter top white, whole grain with honey, Jewish rye, potato rolls… A whole aisle devoted to bread! she exclaimed. In her country, there were maybe one or two varieties.

As American consumers, the variety we have access to can certainly be seen as a blessing — it’s possible, after all, to find a product to fit any lifestyle — but it can also be incredibly overwhelming navigating the marketplace. Especially when it comes to making “green” choices. Which of the thousands of products lining the aisles of my local Target are really healthy for both me and the planet? Can I really trust an item’s claims that it is, in fact, “eco-friendly”?

I have a bit more insight into these questions than most, since I research green issues for a living, but even I don’t have the hours every day to scour the internet for the environmental pros and cons of every item on my shopping list. Which is why I was thrilled to discover that Ron and Lisa Beres, certified green building professionals and founders of the website Green Nest, have done the work for me with their new book, Just Green It! (Running Press, 2010).

The book outlines simple swaps you can make for greener products: Looking for an eco-friendly grill cleaner? Just flip to the “Home” section, and see that Simple Green is a safer choice than Easy Off. Want a healthier cookie for your kids’ lunches? Check out the “Your Family” chapter, and learn why you should pick up a pack of organic Newman-O’s over HFC-filled Oreos.

Pending baby’s arrival (due date was yesterday), I’ll be heading to the Just Green It! book launch party tonight, but you don’t have to meet Ron and Lisa in person to benefit from their sage advice (and painstaking research): Order your copy here.

–Jennifer Grayson

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The recession has cooled the coffee shop craze considerably (Starbucks has closed 900 locations since 2008), but Americans are still wasting nearly 10 billion disposable paper coffee cups each year. These cups aren’t even recyclable (minus the plastic lid), since the insides are coated with polyethylene to prevent leakage.

If you’re a coffee drinker, the solution is simple: bring your own mug. But what if you’re an eco-minded tea drinker, and shudder at the thought of a tea bag in a paper cup?

A couple years back, my brother-in-law brought me a reusable loose leaf tea diffuser from China, where tea is the national drink and even cabbies chug from delicate glass mugs with built-in mesh strainers. I adored it until I broke it (glass mug + ceramic sink = oops), and then spent the next year searching in vain for a similar model.

Until now — thanks to my recent discovery of Libre on-the-go tea glasses. The version I chose is virtually klutz-proof, thanks to a durable polycarbonate exterior and a glass interior; though the company also makes a glass-in-glass model for those blessed without butterfingers. Both are BPA-free.

Libre glass 'n poly; click on photo to view glass 'n glass on Libre website

Just add loose leaf tea to the attachable mesh filter, unscrew when you’re ready to drink, and go!

–Jennifer Grayson

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[Watch video on]

If, like me, you’ve been participating in Meatless Mondays for some time now, you might be looking to push the envelope a bit further, since of all the things you can personally do to help the environment, reducing your meat consumption is perhaps the most effective: Eighteen percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the livestock industry. That’s more than cars, trains, and planes combined, by the way.

So what about becoming a ‘weekday vegetarian,’ a la TreeHugger‘s Graham Hill? His conscientious compromise was profiled last week in Time magazine, and I have to admit that before reading the article, the thought had never occurred to me. (Though Hill had discussed his recent lifestyle change at the TED Conference in February; see video, above.)

The only potential problem I could foresee is the same one that happens to weekday dieters: You spend all week feeling so deprived that Saturday marks the commencement of a 48-hour cheesesteak and rib-eye binge. (Although I will say that a) a well-planned vegetarian diet doesn’t have to be synonymous with starvation; and b) the times that I’ve gone long stretches with eating very little meat, I usually feel so “clean” and healthy that I either stop craving meat altogether or only need a little taste to satiate my appetite.)

Have you tried the weekday veg approach? If so, do you notice a difference in the way you feel during the week versus the weekends?

–Jennifer Grayson

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[Watch video on National Geographic]

I’m not going to judge you for your obsession with Real Housewives, but if you’d like to tune in to some trashy television of the more guilt-free variety, you won’t want to miss the Garbage Moguls marathon airing this Saturday (starting at 7 pm) on the National Geographic Channel. The show follows the inner workings of one of my favorite eco-minded companies, TerraCycle, as its crew works to transform trash into treasure.

TerraCycle’s upcycled products have been big business in the past year — its capsule collection for Walmart, which included kites constructed of Cheetos bags and lunch totes spawned from Skittles wrappers, flew off the shelves like the snacks themselves.

Future ingenious green goods (which you’ll get the inside scoop on if you catch the three new episodes this weekend; see video above for a sneak peek) include a line of pet products produced with Pedigree dog food bags, a suit jacket fabricated from Target plastic bags, and a garbage can made from — you guessed it — garbage!

Want to check out the post-consumer-cool products in real life? Facebook fans can enter to win TerraCycle prizes by answering trivia questions during each episode. Click here to find out more.

–Jennifer Grayson

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One of the long-standing must-dos on my at-home eco-improvement list has been to add some purifying house plants to our apartment. As I mention in today’s Eco Etiquette column, the air in most homes is polluted with a wide range of toxic chemicals, thanks to the off-gassing of flame retardants, formaldehyde, and other VOCs from most conventional furniture, paint, and mattresses.

(All the more reason, by the way, to support the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act that’s currently making its way through Congress.)

The only problem with most cleansing house plants is that they can be poisonous if ingested; with baby on the way, I want to make sure they’re out of the reach of curious hands. The solution? Woolly Pocket’s Wally planters, which allow you to create a vertical garden on any type of wall or fence. Check ’em out:

Photo: Suthi Picotte

Photo: Andrew Takeuchi

The posh planters are idiot-proof — just fill the pockets with soil and full-sized plants — and also virtually black thumb–proof, thanks to a cleverly designed breathable front that allows excess moisture to evaporate while naturally aerating soil. And at $49 for one indoor Wally, it’s a nominal investment in your family’s future health. Buy it online at

–Jennifer Grayson

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I’ve noticed that I have an easier time whipping up vegetarian recipes (for Meatless Monday and the rest of the week) when I have time to visit my beloved farmers market and stock up on fresh, local fruits and veggies. Part of the reason is that I tend to overbuy a bit when I’m there, since everything is so mouthwateringly beautiful (and reasonable!); and once my fridge is packed with produce, I feel compelled to not let any of it go to waste. (After, all I’ve met the farmers face-to-face who’ve worked so hard to feed me!)

Turns out I’m not the only American with a fondness for the farmers market: There are now 6,132 farmers markets nationwide — a 16 percent increase since last year, and an incredible 114 percent increase over the past 10 years. This, according to the Department of Agriculture‘s newly updated National Farmers Market Directory.

The region with the most growth? The Midwest, which saw states like Missouri, Indiana, and Ohio increase offerings by up to 77 percent.

Not surprisingly, the Golden State still leads the pack, with 580 farmers markets; rounding out the top 10 are New York (461), Illinois (286), Michigan (271), Iowa (229), Massachusetts (227), Ohio (213), Wisconsin (204), Pennsylvania (203), and North Carolina (182).

It may seem surprising to see a surge of farmers markets in a bad economy, but I say these results blast the bias that shopping for local (and even organic) food is somehow a privilege reserved for those with a big enough paycheck for Whole Foods.

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: Click here to find a farmers market near you.

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Photo via Twitpic: Urbanbaby

Just 12 days to go till baby arrives (or sooner; that’s just her “guess” date), so I was glad to have a bit of R&R last weekend at my favorite green getaway: El Capitan Canyon in Santa Barbara, CA.

Camping isn’t easy when you’re nine-and-a-half-months pregnant, so glamping at El Capitan is the next-best thing: Cabins and tents with real beds inside, a rustic canyon setting that’s a short walk to the beach, and an adorable on-site market that serves up yummy eats if you don’t want to cook your own over your own personal fire pit.

Real-deal campers may scoff at such a cushy vacay, but I say that any way you get your dose of nature is good for you and for the planet: A recent series of studies from the Journal of Environmental Psychology, for one, found that being in the great outdoors makes people feel measurably more alive and energetic.

The only thing that wasn’t so eco about the trip was the half a bag of marshmallows (the junky kind, sorry; those kosher ones just don’t taste the same) I roasted and ate while sipping in the stars.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: Odalaigh

As a child, I loved tuna fish sandwiches; so much so that my mom made them for my school lunches at least twice a week. They’re still one of my favorite comfort foods (topped with potato chips and pickles for extra crunch, please), but I don’t enjoy them all that often: That’s because mercury pollution has turned tuna and other large predatory fish like swordfish and orange roughy into a veritable health hazard, putting partakers (especially young ones) at risk for neurological damage and mental retardation.

Most of us have come to accept this as a sad truth of our modern, polluted world, much like the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico or the smog in my now-adopted city of Los Angeles. We’ve diligently stuck to government advisories, trading our cans of white albacore for chunk light and turning away the toro at our favorite sushi spots. But what most of us haven’t done, however, is ask the really important question: Not, How much fish is safe to eat? but, How can we end this pollution once and for all?

Thankfully, the federal government is not only now asking that question — it’s actually going to do something about it. The Environmental Protection Agency has unveiled its plan to reduce mercury emissions from portland cement plants (the third-largest source of mercury air emissions in the US) by 92 percent over the next three years. The new regulations will also markedly reduce particle pollution, as well as smog-forming nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.

Good news, especially since the new rules will yield up to $18 billion in health and environmental benefits, but it remains to be seen whether EPA will set its sights on the real emissions elephant in the room with regards to mercury pollution: coal-fired power plants.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Meatless Monday sounds like a pretty simple lifestyle change: One day a week, swap out the meat in your diet for healthier, plant-based foods. But what if you live in an area without any access to plants (i.e., fruits and vegetables)?

It seems inconceivable in a land of plenty like the US, where 40 percent of all food is thrown out, but an estimated 23 million Americans live in areas known as food deserts — that is, places with little or no access to food beyond what can be purchased on a Dollar Menu. Forget the farmers market; these neighborhoods don’t even have a supermarket.

So how can people in these places (who are usually lacking a Whole Foods budget) start eating more fresh produce?

Have them grow their own, says New York City–based organization Adopt-A-Farmbox, which builds and donates planter boxes made from 100 percent recycled materials — complete with organic soil and seeds — to local schools and community institutions so they can start their own urban farming projects.

The inspiring initiative is already collaborating with several schools in Manhattan and the boroughs (including Children’s Workshop School, Brooklyn Brownstone School, and the Garden School in Queens), but needs your help to break the cycle of diabetes and obesity for the approximately 3 million New Yorkers living in food deserts. Click here to donate.

–Jennifer Grayson

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