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A few weeks ago I came across BTTR Ventures, a company that uses coffee waste to grow mushrooms…whaaa? Turns out it actually works, and it works really well. BTTR is pronounced ‘better’ and stands for ‘Back to the Roots’ – but it could just as easily stand for ‘Poster-Child for Innovation and Sustainability’. Are their products sold near you? You betchya. I was lucky to interview not only the two co-founders Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora, but their marketing guru Lisa Wang as well.

LC: So coffee waste can be used to grow mushrooms. In my mind, those two go together like ham and tuna fish. Based on your plethora of awards since 2009, I believe you guys are on to something, but could you explain what inspired you to use coffee waste? Why does it work?

Alejo: The greatest ideas come when you least expect it. Nikhil and I were in a business ethics class when our professor, Alan Ross, had mentioned that gourmet mushrooms could be grown on recycled coffee grounds. Neither of us knew the other, but we both separately contacted our professor to get more information. He hooked us up and from there, we started talking about how we could make this work. After doing some research, we found out less then 1% of the coffee beans actually ends up in your morning cup of joe, the rest is tossed. We thought about how addicted America is to coffee, and how we could help divert this waste into something usable. It just so happens that the coffee grounds when condensed is a perfect medium for oyster mushrooms to grow on, acting similar to something like wood.
LC: Does the type of coffee bean alter the taste of the mushroom?

Lisa: We get this question a lot. So many people ask us, “do the mushrooms taste like coffee at all?” The coffee grounds don’t alter the taste of the oyster mushrooms in the least bit, so the specific coffee bean certainly does not as well!

LC: Talk about innovative. I feel like Alejo and Nikhil are mad mushroom-eating scientists that aren’t actually mad, but genius. Did you have any science-experiment flops/experiences that you look back on now and get a good chuckle?

Alejo: Haha, yeah it’s funny that you ask. The best story was the first time we ever tried growing these mushrooms. After we met and had talked and researched a bit on what we needed to make this happen, we went to our local Peet’s Coffee and asked for some coffee grounds. We set up 10 buckets with the mushroom spores. At the time, I was living in my fraternity house, so we just left these huge buckets of coffee grounds out in the kitchen over Spring break. When we came back, out of the 10 buckets we set up, only one had a little cluster of oyster mushrooms. It was really because of that one bucket that we decided, “Hey, this might actually work.”

LC: You guys went from supplying the Berkeley Whole Foods with mushrooms to being the one, the only oyster mushroom supplier to all NorCal Whole Foods stores. When I go home to NYC in May, can I expect to find some BTTR in the Union Square Whole Foods?

Nikhil: You can find them in every single Whole Foods nationwide by May!! And as of April, you can find us in 9 out of the 11 Whole Foods regions… including the Northeast!

LC: Congratulations! Awesome. Word on the street is that you guys are so heavily involved in the community that you donated soil to 10 urban school and community gardens, won UCLA’s Opportunity Green Conference Top 25 Sustainable Company in 2009, and have a FB album dedicated to sharing your outreach experiences. How has your community involvement influenced the way BTTR runs the B?

Nikhil: Well, when we started Back to the Roots, one of the most important aspects of the company was its “sustainability.” This word definitely is used a lot these days and can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. When we think of this word and Back to the Roots’ relationship with it, the community aspect is inseparable. On a micro scale, we create a closed loop system by using recycled coffee grounds to grow mushrooms. The used coffee grounds rich with mycelium turns into great soil amendment and compost, returning nutrients back into the soil. On a macro scale, our community drinks the coffee, creating large amounts of coffee ground waste. We create these mushroom kits for our community, to divert the waste that would otherwise be in the local landfills. Currently we are diverting over 32,000 lbs of coffee grounds a week. We then close this larger circle by donating part of our used coffee ground-turned soil amendment to urban farms serving the community, the same community which drinks the coffee. So incorporating the community into our business isn’t just a good way to give back, but it is essential to our survival. Community involvement is really at the heart of our company, and so at every step of the way, we are always trying new ways to engage and incorporate the community into the way we do business.

LC: Based on your innovative business model, this creative prompt shouldn’t be too difficult for you. I kindly request that you create a haiku relating to your booming mushrooming business.

Lisa:

Four seasons a year
Mushrooms inside your kitchen
Mushrooms everywhere

 

Thanks Alejandro, Nikhil,and Lisa! Okay readers. Time to hit up your Whole Foods to make some Mushroom Maki!

In light of Valentines Day, I decided to interview a designer that makes lingerie out of metals. Whaaaat? Yes, Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch makes art out of a variety of materials, either found in hardware stores or on the street. Given that most of her work is either upcycled or recyclable, I had to find out more! So although one might argue her line of lingerie is made out of trash, it isn’t so trashy after all.

LC: So re-purposing metals is the name of your game ehh? Where do you initially get your ideas from? Do you usually have something in mind or does rummaging through bins at hardware stores serve to be your jump-off point for inspiration?

IBG: Both actually.  Many times I am just strolling along in a hardware store looking at all the bits and pieces and I think to myself what else it could be used for or what else it looks like.  Other times, I have a specific purpose in mind.  For example, when I was making my “Trashy Lingerie” Series, I wanted to find something that looked like elastic for the underpants and I found aluminum dryer vents with a rippled edge. For the Garter belt I wanted something that looked similar to the way a garter fastened and I used washing machine hose clamps. Sometimes, I am just walking down the street and a piece of trash inspires a piece.

LC: Most ‘intimate’ wearables are traditionally thought of pieces made from soft and fragile cloth. I’m loving the fact that you use hard and durable materials. Your corsets and lingerie don’t look like they’d make me say ‘ouch!’ at every twist and turn. Is this true? Are these wonderful pieces of art actually wearable and can I do cartwheels in them?

IGB: These are meant to be sculpture.  I am often asked if they are wearable and have been misquoted as saying they are comfortable to wear but they are a conversation piece only. They would hurt to wear.

LC: Are your pieces for purchase and do you do custom orders?

IGB: Yes.  I have sold all of the pieces to Museums and Collectors.  I recently sold 10 pieces to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museums.  I am happy to do custom orders.

LC: What percentage of your work is recyclable? How much non-recyclable trash only waste do your produce in your workshop? Any advice for artists interested in being as environmentally awesome as you?

IGB: I eat a lot so not all of the packaging is recyclable!  But on a serious note, when I look around my studio I am currently working with rocks, business cards, aluminum cans, plastic gift cards, and found objects from recent walks.  Much of what I use as the main material is from something that if not recycled is upcycled in some way.  I love using simple “found” materials as besides being plentiful and beautiful they are really cheap and so you don’t have to feel as precious about making mistakes or “wasting” material.  Any material you use is actually helping.

My best advice for artists is to go for a walk, bring a bag, pick up trash on the way and let your mind wander.  A color, shape, material might inspire something new and you will have cleaned up an area along the way so you will have had a productive day!

LC: I like the sound of that. What’s next?

IGB: I am experimenting with a quilt series made out of unexpected objects and I am also working on a series using recycled business cards. (There are so many of these laying around!)

Thanks Ingrid! I think both Lady Gaga and I look forward to seeing your new creations!

Consider this somewhat of a ‘repost’ of a Huffington Post article all about reusing t-shirts. Here are a few ways to repurpose your much loved tees in ways that you might not have heard about yet.

You could technically make a laptop case to match ever outfit. Technically.

The cutest pillow you never saw! Now you know what to do with those old camp t-shirts…

What oh what will you ever with your old punk t-shirts from high school? Make some underoonies. Yea, I said underoonies.

*Thanks Andy for sending me the article link! You da man.

Happy Holidays! There are many ways to ‘go green’ during the holidays and you can take it as far as your want to. There are a few things I’ve done this year to be environmentally conscious while maintaining holiday cheer and they’re all below. I’m always interested in learning about other ways, so feel free to share what you’ve done to be a holiday green bean!

1. Easy on the lights there tiger. Last Monday my friends and I drove down to 85th street & 9th ave in Brooklyn and saw a few blocks of families throw down their biggest and brightest of lights. (I mean look at that photo!) It was a great and fun experience that adds to the holiday spirit, although it was not very environmentally friendly. Here are some places that sell LED holiday lights; whether you are looking to blow a fuse or just want to add some holiday enchantment to your home you can now do so in a greener way: Environmental Lights, Target, and  Christmas Lights Etc.. So yes, for those of you that were wondering, it is possible to go gaudy and green (kind of).

2. Fishless, but not fancy-free. This Christmas Eve my very Italian family and I replaced our usual 7 fish soup with minestrone soup. There are a lot of fish that are endangered, victims of pollution, and/or over farmed. For a complete list, check out this Pocket Seafood Guide. On Christmas eve, there are anywhere from 12-18 guests at our table and while the soup is delicious, we figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to eliminate the fish soup this year. The minestrone soup was still tasty- I actually just had some for lunch. I love leftovers. Lasagna is for dinner.

3. Wrap it right. Two ways to tackle the task of gift wrapping. First, you can reuse magazines or newspapers. I actually used a magazine I got from Arthur Avenue in the Bronx (very very Italian neighborhood), which worked out well since the main colors on the page were red, green, and white. If you don’t want to get your fingers inked up, or if you want your wrapped gifts to look a little more festive under the tree- have no fear! The second way is to use green products for purchase such as Reusable Gift Bags, Reused Subway Map Wrapping Paper, or just wrap your gift in another gift like a cute bag or scarf.

4. Cheers with European Champagne. If you are on the East Coast this New Years and are debating between celebrating with sparkling wines from California or champagne from Europe go for the champagne. It is more environmentally friendly to have something air shipped than cargo shipped. Cargo shipments use bunker fuel and 1 ship pollutes just as much as 50 million cars. Ew nasty.

5. Korks 4 Kids: The Korks 4 Kids program takes all of your used corks and works with companies that recycle thematerial. Proceeds go to kids with autism. So drink up and be sure to put a cork bowl beside the drink table for collection. Pretty cool right?

I hope these ideas were useful for you, and that you ring in 2011 in any which way that works for you!

The day finally arrived, I am officially selling my shirts made from pillowcases at a store in SoMa called The Common. Monday night I invited a few friends to the store & celebrated the shirts debut. Did I take pictures? You betchya. I took my growing inventory of pillowcase photos as a sign to get my online act together and create a separate page for Found & Lolafied so tonight, I did just that. If you go to the ‘events’ tab you can see photos from the night.

It IS America Recycles Day. The one, the only. If you are interested in finding out more info on what today is all about, feel free to check out America Recycles Day, Are You American? a post I wrote for the official blog of PlantMyPhone.

Otherwise, get some of my favorite quick recycling facts below. 
(If you are using these for research, contact me and I will supply you with all the sourcing information.) Enjoy!

  • Americans throw out enough iron and steel to supply all the nation’s automakers on a continuous basis.
  • The 36 billion aluminum cans landfilled last year had a scrap value of more than $600 million. (Some day we’ll be mining our landfills for the resources we’ve buried.)
  • Every year we make enough plastic film to shrink-wrap Texas.
  • Americans throw away enough aluminum every month to rebuild our entire commercial air fleet.
  • Recycling paper instead of making it from new material generates 74 percent less air pollution and uses 50 percent less water.
  • Recycling steel and tin cans saves 74% of the energy used to produce them.
  • Each of us uses approximately one 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree in paper and wood products per year.
  • Recycling 1 ton of paper saves 17 mature trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, 2 barrels of oil, and 4,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity — enough energy to power the average American home for five months.
  • Just over 48% of office paper is recovered for recycling. This becomes raw material for paperboard, tissue, and printing and writing papers.
  • Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy needed to produce new aluminum from raw materials. Energy saved from recycling one ton of aluminum is equal to the amount of electricity the average home uses over 10 years.
  • When you toss out one aluminum can you waste as much energy as if you’d filled the same can half-full of gasoline and poured it into the ground.

 

There has been so much controversy when it comes to reusable shopping bags! This post is to set the record straight. I’m going to help you decide which ones to buy and how to care for them. This will ensure not just the health of mother earth, but for you and your family as well.

DO: Wash your bags regularly. Apparently 97% of the people using reusable bags forget to give them a little wish-wash, laying the groundwork for bacteria like E. coli.

DO: Keep the bags in your car for convenience, but throw them in the back seat as opposed to the trunk. We both know how hot your trunk gets, don’t unintentionally add bacteria to your shopping list.

DO: Use reusable shopping bags for multi-purposes.

DON’T: Throw your gym clothes into the same bag that carries your cucumbers. Get a few bags and task them out like they are your minions.

DON’T: Buy non-woven polypropylene bags. They are made with petroleum, the same stuff that makes plastic bags. This means more harm than good. Whoopsie.

DO: Buy rip-stop nylon, canvas, organic cotton, or hemp bags. Long-lasting, and great for the environment.

Below are examples of excellent bags to use, talk about stylin’.

Super cute sandwich bag.

 

Crazy stylish tote.

 

Awesome organic cotton bag.

 

In the ocean for so long, these retired vessels are now facing skyward. They are  repurposed in quite a beautiful way. Located in a fishing community in Lindisfarne, England these awesome sheds creatively function as some seriously cool storage space.

I ventured to Oakland for the first time this weekend, and the experience made me wonder why it took me so long to get out there. My friend and I went to their 4th Annual Live Graffiti Battle. Produced by Estria Front Forweb, the event hosted 20 of California’s top graffiti artists.

What an event! My eyes were aglow as I watched the competition. Artists were creating masterpieces inspired by the word ‘heal’ and skateboarders were throwing down some kickin’ tricks. Best of all, the event supported not only the urban peace movement, but the environment! There were games like Recycle Swish and Toss Out Fossil Fuels. Yes, I was in heaven. Not only was it a day centered around healing, but hope as well. Seeing all these creative, open minds of all ages coming together in support of art, peace, and environmental initiatives really made a statement. Check out these photos, you can really appreciate the sense of community and togetherness we all experienced.

*If you were at the event and want to see additional photographs, just tweet or facebook me and I’ll be sure to send some your way.

Still not convinced about global warming and climate change eehh? How about this not-so-fun-fact: In 1998, an estimated 16% of the world’s shallow-water reefs died due to excess heat from the sun. This year the worlds eco-system was put under stress again, as extreme heat bleached (and killed) many coral reefs. Scientists are saying that this is an ‘early indicator of the ecological distress on the planet caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases’.

I know I know, your rapid-fire inner thoughts may go something like this:

Does this mean I need to find a new snorkeling spot? Where will my grandkids go scuba-diving? Wait, does that mean those magnificent beautiful fish will die? What about the kind that tastes good like Mahi Mahi and shellfish? Not lobster! Lobster is delicious. Will they be extinct? Doesn’t that mean that other species will die also? There might be a food-chain reaction. Well, at least nothing crazy will happen for awhile. At least not in my lifetime.

Sorry, Charlie. It is expected that by 2050 95% of the Great Barrier Reef’s coral will be dead. That is 40 years from now, not so far off.

Now this wouldn’t be a very good blog post if I just spewed out depressing facts without offering up some suggestions on how to turn this around. What can you do to change this? Well, how dirty do you want to get your hands? Here is a solution for everyone:

The Coral Reef Alliance is the only international organization solely working on saving the coral reefs. Below is their overarching principles on how to help them save the reefs.

1. Reduce harmful chemicals in your home & garden. Reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers by leaving grass clippings on your lawn and composting your food and yard waste to fertilize your garden. When chemical fertilizers get into water systems, they can cause algal blooms.

2.  Purchase organic, locally grown produce. When you buy food produced near your home, less energy is used to transport food to your area. Pesticides can eventually drain into the ocean, so organic food is better for the environment.

3. Think about how much packaging is used in your products. The more packaging, the more waste.

Small suggestions that can make a whale-sized difference. A final shout out of thanks to organizations such as the Coral Reef Alliance and the Coral Reef Monitoring Network for making moves on the coral reef frontier.

Source: NYT and Coral.org

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