Friday, May 6, 2011

Green Glossary

Cohousing: A type of collaborative housing in which residents help design and operate their own neighborhoods; usually comprised of separate, private homes with shared common facilities such as open spcae, courtyards and playgrounds. Cohousing is distinguished from simple cooperative living by its outright commitment to the idea of community; increasingly, many cohousing communities are organizing around green principles.

Gray Water: The water that flows down sink, shower and washing machine drains. (Toilet water not included.) Gray water makes a safe source of irrigation for backyard gardens, provided you take a few precautions. Learn more at

Biomass: Plants used to generate electricity or produce fuel, fibers, chemicals or heat. Good sources of biomass includes miscanthus, switchgrass, hemp, corn, poplar, willow, sorghum, sugarcane and a variety of tree species. These renewable energy sources do release carbon dioxide when burned, but as biomass crops grow, they capture a roughly equivalent amount through photosynthesis, so they keep things in balance.

Electronic Waste or "E-Waste": Any broken or unwanted electrical or electronic devise, including discarded televisions, computer, monitors, printers and cell phones. E-Waste contains heavy toxic metals and known carcinogens, so it's important that it be recycled and/or disposed of safely. Unfortunately, current recycling practices leave something to be desired; E-Waste often winds up in countries with lower environmental standards and employment rates like China, India and Kenya. The problem is coming to light, thanks to international organizations like StEP (Solving the E-Waste Problem); learn more at, and various U.S. states have passed their own laws regarding electronic waste management. What can you do? Think twice before upgrading that gadget and follow your local laws when disposing of electronic goods.

Bioplastics: Plastics derived from renewable biomass sources - vegetable oil, cornstarch or pea starch - instead of petroleum. Bioplastics are usually marked with a number 7 and labeled "biodegradable" or "compostable." Biodegradable bioplastics must be sent to a special composting facility, but compostable bioplastics will break down as fast as paper in your home compost pile.

Root Cellar: A place in your home or another spot on your property specially designed to keep vegetable and fruit fresh over long periods without refrigeration - an old-fashioned necessity that is enjoying a surge in popularity.

Vampire Load: Also known as phantom load, idle current, wall warts. Electric power sucked up by items that are plugged in, but not in use.

Bagasse: The crushed stalk left over from sugarcane processing. Pronounced "buh-gas." Once a waste product - one ton of refined sugar leaves two tons of bagasse behind-bagasse is now made into biodegradable disposable tableware such as plates, bowls, take-out containers and trays.

Fuel Cell: A technology that uses an electrochemical process to convert energy into electrical power. Often powered by natural gas, fuel cell power is cleaner than grid-connected power sources. In addition, hot water is produced as a by-product.

Green Design: A design, usually architectural, conforming to environmentally sound principles of building, material and energy use. A green building, for example, might make use of solar panels, skylights, and recycled building materials.

Source: Living Green calendar and

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