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25 a-peeling uses for fruit and veggie scraps

October 29, 2010

avocado skin planter
(Photo: Jeff Yeager)

[In his ongoing but sporadic series Don't Throw That Away!, the Green Cheapskate shows you how to repurpose just about anything, saving money and the environment in the process. Send him your repurposing ideas and challenges, but whatever you do, don't throw that away!]

"A rind is a terrible thing to waste." If you're a composting enthusiast like me, that's our mantra.

Nearly all fruit and vegetable skins can be added to the compost pile. But since I'm the ultimate Green Cheapskate, I like to get even more mileage out of my rinds -- at least before I deposit them in my compost pile.

Try out these creative uses for your peels next time you're thinking about heading out to the compost pile:

Seedling pots:
Scooped-out avocado shells make perfect biodegradable "pots" to start seedlings in before you plant them in the garden.

Potpourri:
I dearly love my wife, although she knows that nothing sets me off like store-bought potpourri. ("I have the world's largest supply of that stuff in the back yard ... it's in my compost pile!") Seriously: All types of citrus rinds, apple peels, pomegranate skins, and other fruit trimmings can simply be dried on a rack or in a food dehydrator to make homemade potpourri. Sprinkle a little "liquid potpourri" (available at craft stores) on it for more flavor if desired, or dose it with the dregs of perfume or cologne when you finish up a bottle.

Keep garden slugs at bay, the natural way:
Sprinkle ground-up nut shells around tender garden plants to keep slugs and other pests away -- they can't stand crawling across the rough texture. (FYI, I know they're not a fruit or veggie, but crushed eggshells do the same.

Is that peach-fuzz on your face?:
You bet. Peaches are high in potassium and vitamin A, which help to revitalize skin and keep it hydrated. Put a little sugar on the pulpy side of peach skins and use as a gentle face scrub. (Get more natural beauty recipes.)

Make metals shine:
Lemon, lime, and other citrus rinds and pulp/juice are high in citric acid, which makes them great for polishing brass, copper, and other non-ferrous metals. Sprinkle on a little baking soda and the polishing goes even faster. (Also see how ketchup works great for shining metals.)

Organic Easter egg dye:
Boil your Easter eggs with some onion skins and you'll end up with wild yellow and orange eggshells, all without the use of artificial dyes.

Serving bowls:
Watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydews, and other melons can be scooped out and the shells used as attractive (albeit temporary) serving dishes for fruit salads and such. I also scoop out acorn squash halves and use the shells as serving bowls for a tasty acorn squash and cider bisque I make in the fall.

Candied citrus rinds:
My great aunt concluded every family dinner by passing around a tray of her homemade candied citrus rinds. Strips of rind from lemons, oranges, grapefruits, and limes can be boiled in a mixture of equal parts water and sugar until the liquid is absorbed (a couple of hours). Coat the cooled strips in granulated sugar and let dry on a rack.

Banana split shoeshine:
Put a "split-shine" on your wing-tips by polishing them with the slippery side of a banana peel - it really works!

Throw some peanut shells on the barbie:
Peanut shells burn slow 'n smoky, so add a handful to the charcoal next time you're grilling. Soak them in water ahead of time if you think of it, and let them dry a bit before you put them in the coals -- that way they'll burn even longer.

In a pickle:
All kinds-o-rinds can be pickled and eaten as a delicious condiment. Most recipes for pickled watermelon, lemon, orange, and even pumpkin rind involve a simple mixture of vinegar, sugar, and spices, and some can simply be stored in the fridge rather than canned once prepared.

In a jam:
Marmalades are simple to make, even for those new to jam cookery. They can incorporate the skins from a wide variety of fruits -- not just oranges, but lemons, grapefruit, limes, tangerines, and even kumquats.

Cornhusks:
Don't even get me started about all of the uses for cornhusks. Back home in Ohio, we make cornhusk dolls; in Mexico, they're used for cooking tamales; in the Philippines (where there is a Corn Husk Association), they weave them into hats, mats, bags, slippers, and just about everything else. Me, I like to wrap fish and other seafood in fresh, dampened sweet corn husks and grill and serve them that way.

Pomegranate skin to the rescue:
Suffering from diarrhea? Boil a little pomegranate skin in water with a cinnamon stick and drink it down once it's cooled. Repeat up to three times per day or until diarrhea subsides.

Add an Asian flare:
Dried tangerine rind is a tasty -- but expensive -- element in Asian cooking. But you can make your own by simply using a vegetable peeler to remove the orange part of the tangerine, clementine, or tangelo rind (avoid the white/zest) and dry the peels on a rack or in a food dehydrator. Once dried, store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Darken grey hair:
Just call me Mr. Potato Head! Boil potato peels in water for about a half-hour, strain and let cool. Rinse your hair with this water after shampooing and it will gradually darken grey hair, without the use of harsh chemicals.

Pistachio garden soap:
I need a sturdy bar of soap to wash up with after a hard day of yard work. I make my own by pulverizing pistachio shells with a little water in the blender, then mixing it with melted glycerin soap.

Vodka infusions:
All kinds of fruit skins -- particularly citrus rinds -- can be added to vodka to create a flavorful infusion. Just add the peels and let it sit for a week or two. (See more tips on how to make infused vodka.)

Olive oil infusions:
Adding citrus peels to olive oil will not only flavor it but will help to reinvigorate oil that's getting old. (See more things you can do with old olive oil.)

Apple peels - A very good thing:
My mom makes apple-peel jelly, or she sometimes dusts apple skins with sugar and cinnamon and bakes them in the oven as a crispy snack. She's also fond of using a needle and heavy thread to string them up, let them dry, and fashion them into a fall wreath. That woman could teach Martha Stewart a thing or two.

Gourd birdhouses:
Larger gourds can be dried, treated, and the shells hollowed out to be used as birdhouses, like in these Amish instructions.

Lemony-fresh smell:
Lemon rinds just smell way too good to throw away. Try boiling them in water on the stove top, microwaving them for a minute, or just throwing them in the garbage disposal to freshen the air in the kitchen. And put a couple in the humidifier to make the whole house smell lemony-fresh.

Shinier, healthier houseplants:
Use banana peels to shine the leaves on your houseplants -- not only will it make them sparkle, but it acts as a natural pesticide and fertilizer.

Compost pile chicken:
I like to stuff all kinds of fruit and veggie peels inside a chicken when I'm roasting it in the oven to give it extra flavor. Trimmings from onions, celery, citrus, apples, garlic, etc., can be stuffed in the chicken cavity or sprinkled around a roast. Plus, once baked, the trimmings break down in the compost pile even faster.

And last but not least ....
"My papayas are killin' me!" Rub papaya skins and pulp on the bottoms of your feet to help soften skin and soothe cracked heels. They're rich in vitamin A and papain, which breaks down inactive proteins and removes dead skin cells. (Plus it feels pretty cool.)

Warning:
The skins of vegetables and fruits that are to be consumed or come in contact with food should be thoroughly washed first, even if organically grown.

Jeff Yeager is the author of The Cheapskate Next Door and The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com. Connect with Jeff Yeager on Twitter and Facebook.

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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc

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Should wind turbines be purple?

October 28, 2010

purple wind turbine

While wind turbines are, for the most part, highly beneficial to the environment, they do pose a danger to creatures who spend time in the air, namely bugs, birds and bats.  A new study published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research concludes that this danger could be solved with a little paint.

White seems like an appropriately benign color for something that will hopefully soon be dotting horizons across the country and the world, but the study states that white and light gray turbine blades (the most common colors) attract bugs, which often leads the birds and bats that eat them to their doom. While white, light gray and yellow were most attractive, the least attractive color was purple.

The researchers were surprised by just how profoundly the insects reacted to the different colors, both during day and night.  While this doesn't mean that all turbines should now be painted a bright shade of purple, it does indicate that something as simple as a change in color could have a large impact on the amount of birds and bats that fly into wind turbines.

With that said, the researchers also suspect that the heat from the turbines could be attracting the bugs and that bats may not be able to detect them with echolocation, both of which could contribute to the problem.

via BBC

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Which dishwasher detergents are the greenest?

October 27, 2010

By Cris Carl, Networx

A walk down the dish product aisle in most local supermarkets and you'll see a bevy of new cleaning products. The common denominator that companies are reaching for in many products is low or no phosphates.

Phosphates have been the primary cleaning agent in dishwasher and laundry soaps for a long time. But as of July 1, 2010, 16 states have banned phosphate content in cleaning products to 0.5 percent. Up until now, companies could get away with content up to 8.7 percent.

Low phosphate dishwasher detergent, while better for the environment, has proven to be lackluster in many cases in its ability to clean. Here is some overall information about low-phosphate cleaning products and how they work in dishwashers.

First of all, why are phosphates in dishwashing detergents being banned?

Phosphates are noted to cause an increase in algae bloom as well as other aquatic plant life. More algae equals less oxygen for other aquatic life, i.e., fish. In other words, your spotless glasses can be a contributor to the death of rivers and streams.

While statistically, most phosphates that leak into our rivers and streams come from urban and agricultural sources (such as animal waste and fertilizers), Americans add a significant phosphate load from dishwashing detergents.

Sewage treatment plants and private septic systems are able to remove some of the phosphates, but not all. With bans on phosphates spreading across the country, companies have begun reformulating their products at a fast pace.

There are no bans on commercial dishwashing products. However, most professional dishwashers use high temperatures (160 degrees) to clean and sterilize dishware.

Which low or no-phosphate dishwasher detergents are the best?

The most reliable study on this topic was done by Consumer Reports following the announcement of the bans on phosphates in dishwashing detergent. Twenty-four low to no phosphate dishwasher detergent products were tested.

The top products in their tests came in the form of tables and pacs. Gels tested the lowest in cleaning ability. Top brands included several produced by Finish (previously known as Electrosol), Cascade Complete, and Cascade Dawn Action Pacs.

Numerous low to no phosphate products have been on the market for years produced by "green" companies such as Seventh Generation. Citradish Automatic Dish Detergent and BioKleen Free and Clean Automatic Dish Powder also did well in tests.

Are low to no phosphate dishwasher detergents compatible with most dishwashers?

Low to no phosphate dishwashing detergents do not harm dishwashers, and nearly all will work relatively well with low to no phosphate dishwashing detergent.

Newer dishwashing machines with expanded technology will likely work the best to clean your dishes. Some dishwashers on the market now for example "sense" how dirty the dishes are and adjust the power of the water spray accordingly.

If you experience a film or clouding on your glasses, that can be caused by the alkalinity of the water (not the type of detergent). Glass exposed to high alkaline aqueous solution will essentially melt the glass over time. "Etching" of glass happens in a similar fashion when flaws in the dishware are exposed as the glass (very) gradually melts.

States that have banned phosphates:

Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Vermont, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Washington, Utah, and Wisconsin.

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