Regulars and Shorts

Green Bits: July 2012

By Pax Rasmussen

News and ideas from near and far for a healthier, more sustainable future.
by Pax Rasmussen

Best and worst of conventionally grown produce

Here’s the 2012 list, compiled by Environmental Working Group, rating produce by how heavily it is typically contaminated with pesticides. The 45 fruits and vegetables here go from cleanest to dirtiest. The ratings are for conventionally grown produce that has been washed or, as necessary, peeled.

One additional consideration: The guide doesn’t address pesticide use, just pesticide residue—they’ve tested what’s left on produce after it’s been harvested, not what was used in growing it. So some items on the clean list might take a lot of pesticide to grow—but at least you’re not eating the chems (but they’re probably going into the water supply, not to mention the skin of the field workers).

A version of this list is available as a smartphone app.

Items on the top of this list are the least contaminated. Those at the bottom are the most. We still want you to eat your apples, celery and peppers (the most contaminated of conventionally grown produce). Grow or buy organic versions of those bottom-dwellers if you can; if not, at least be sure to wash the produce, like the OCD little raccoons who live in the CATALYST back yard.


1. onions 2. sweet corn (though you may still want to choose organic if you are concerned with GMO.) 3. pineapples 4. avocados 5. cabbage 6. sweet peas ~ frozen 7. asparagus 8. mangoes 9. eggplant 10. kiwi 11. cantaloupe, domestic 12. sweet potatoes 13. grapefruit 14. watermelon 15. mushrooms 16. winter squash 17. plums, domestic 18. papaya 19. cauliflower 20. cantaloupe, imported 21. tomatoes 22. honeydew melon 23. bananas 24. green onions 25. broccoli 26. oranges 27. summer squash 28. raspberries 29. carrots 30. blueberries, imported 31. plums, imported 32. green beans 33. nectarines, domesticated 34. pears 35. hot peppers 36. cherries 37. kale/collard greens 38. potatoes 39. blueberries, domestic 40. cucumbers 41. lettuce 42. spinach 43. grapes 44. nectarines, imported 45. strawberries 46. peaches 47. sweet bell peppers 48. celery 49. apples

Pedals for the People

Salt Lake City, the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Alliance and Select Health announced plans last month to launch a bike share system downtown. GreenBike, partnership between the city and Bike Share SLC, a 501c(3) non-profit, will open for business in March of next year.

The program isn’t rental based, but rather a share system. You can buy memberships from $5 for 24-hour access to $75 for a year, allowing you to take any bike from any station (a minimum of 10 stations and 100 bikes around town) as many times as you want for up to 30 minutes at a time. The idea is that people can take the train or bus into town and grab a bike to get closer to their destinations. Once a bike is docked in a station, the user is no longer responsible for it—including care and cleaning—making carrying a lock and worrying about theft unnecessary. The docking stations are solar powered, too. It’s a neat idea. With enough p.r. to publicize the project and enough citizens willing to participate, the project should go a ways to improve dowtown parking and air quality.

On the blink

Ever wish you had turn signals on your bike? They make them, but they’re expensive and, frankly, most of them suck. Check out this DIY armband-based set of bike turn signals that you turn on just by lifting your arm. They look pretty easy to build, too!

DIY heat

Here’s another neat do-it-yourself project: a solar water heater for $60. This project in particular caught my eye because I’ve been thinking about building a hot tub, but got stuck on the fact that heating it costs so much. Using 500 feet of black drip irrigation hose you can have this crazy looking thing on your roof provide you with plenty of hot water—less so, of course, in winter.

Want a McMansion? There’s plenty out there for ya

Last month, the New Partners for Smart Growth held its 11th annual conference in San Diego—where experts announced that American has too many big houses. Forty million too many, in fact. Chris Nelson, leader of the Metropolitan Research Center at the University of Utah, said only 43% of Americans prefer the traditional big-house-big-yard suburban home. The rest of us prefer to live closer to a city center. Why? Shorter commutes, walkable neighborhoods, less spent on gas are a few reasons. Most of the Generation X and Y folks (born between 1965-2000) have little interest in the big suburban homes they grew up in—they’re seeking the mobility they missed out on.

The problem with this is that those 40 million houses have already been built, and some experts fear they may never actually be lived in again (or, in some cases, ever). Way to go, housing/building/banking/lending people. Gah.

Shut up about your nasty lunch

In May, several newspapers ran stories about nine-year-old Martha Payne from Argyll in Scotland, who started blogging about the sad-sack lunches her school was feeding the kids. Her blog, NeverSeconds, began as a writing project with her dad and included photos, ratings and reviews of her daily lunches. The blog immediately got international attention and resulted in her dad meeting with the local council —who decided from then on out that kids could have unlimited fruit, salad and bread.

Well, last month, the hammer came down on Martha’s journalistic efforts—the council forbade her from photographing her food, citing lunch workers’ possible fears about losing their jobs. The twittersphere exploded and the Internet poured out support for Martha—she even got a tweet from the Daily Show’s Jamie Oliver (“Stay strong Martha, RT this to show your support”). The ban generated 214 news articles in 12 hours and a half-million pageviews on her blog. Backed into a corner by a deluge of emails and phone calls, Roddy McCuish, leader of the Argyll and Bute Coun­cil, went on BBC’s World at One program and announced they were backing off on the ban. Martha’s back posting again! Right on Martha, right on Internets!,

New crime-fighting superheros: trees!

A study published last month in the journal Landscape and Urban planning found that a 10% increase in tree canopy correlates to a 12% decrease in crime in Baltimore City and County. Remember, correlation doesn’t imply causation—but it can be a good indicator. Geoffrey Donovan, one of the researchers, says, “We believe that large street trees can reduce crime by signaling to a potential criminal that a neighborhood is better cared for and, therefore, a criminal is more likely to be caught.” That might be a stretch, but a few more trees sure wouldn’t hurt.

This article was originally published on June 27, 2012.