Sustainable Living and Working

Plants, Flowers & Trees

Sustainable Living and Working

Sustainable Living and Working Topics

Composting Is Easy!

Energy Conservation Tips

Energy Efficiency Resources and Guides

Easy Recipes for Non-Toxic Household Use

Hydrogen may power the future of commercial trucking

Minimizing Food Waste

Automated Textile Sorting for Recycling

You are what you wear

Plastic Water Bottle Alternative

How to Recycle Clothing and Accessories

Solar Cooking

Green Chemistry

Proper Oil and Battery Disposal


compost bin

Composting Is Easy!

Composting is easy, free, and can greatly reduce your carbon footprint. Composting returns essential nutrients back to the soils, whereas discarded food-waste has to be hauled to a landfill and releases pollutants into the air as it breaks down.  If you don’t have a yard but still want to compost, there are ways to compost indoors or on a patio without bad smells!  See the links at the bottom of the page. 

What NOT to do:

  • Do not compost MEAT, DAIRY, or OILS
  • Don’t buy a big plastic composting bin--they are not as effective as other methods.
  • Do not leave your food scraps uncovered on top of a pile—this creates smells and greenhouse gasses.

Do Compost:

  • Coffee grounds and paper filters – check in with your local coffee house to see if you can pick up their waste! Tea bags made with cellulosic fiber are also compostable. 
  • Food scraps – egg shells, produce, and grains not prepared with oils or dairy; some people don’t compost citrus. 
  • Chicken manure or manure of other vegetarian livestock
  • Paper towels or other paper products not contaminated with oils or toxic cleaning products. 

Composting basics:

  • Add approximately 3 or 4 parts “brown” material to 1 part “green” material to your composting area. 
  • Green material is your food scraps; cut up your green material into smaller pieces for faster composting. 
  • Brown material includes yard waste like fallen leaves, sawdust from untreated lumber, and paper scraps.  An often discarded source of brown material is the single-use paper used to dry hands in public bathrooms—bring it home instead to compost!
  • Worms help! You can buy red wigglers or European night crawlers online to throw in your compost area, and then dig a few up next time you want to go fishing!

Compost planning

  • Find a spot close enough to your house that you don’t put off going out to the compost all the time, but also close enough to a hose so you can water it – important in this arid climate!
  • If you live alone and don’t generate much waste, you can store your scraps in the freezer to cut down on the smell
composting planning

Compost set up options

Option A: One favorite is a three-part straw bale compost system. You compost in one section, store brown matter in the other and the third section eventually contains usable soil from the previous year of composting for you to either plant directly into or scoop out. The straw bales protect the compost from drying out in the wind and an added bonus is that the hay bales eventually break down and you can then use the straw as brown matter. Cover the active composting section with weighted cardboard or something similar. It works best with large straw bales, ask at a local feed store. You need at least ten hay bales to make three spaces for compost and compost materials. 

Option B: Dig a large hole and use a sheet of plywood or an old door or anything rigid as a cover to prevent someone from falling into it. After throwing in your scraps, layer brown material/leaves over top, water until moist, then top it off with cardboard sheet or paper (optional), and then replace the cover. By digging a hole, the compost will retain more moisture and be protected from wind in the same ways as the straw bales. 

Option C: Compost directly into your garden beds by digging a small hole each time, covering the food scraps water, brown matter, and then cover with the soil that was just dug out. You can also place a piece of cardboard or brown packing paper top with a large rock on to trap moisture in and also so you know where you have just buried the food scraps. This is a good technique after harvest in the fall to return nutrients to your garden beds.

Here are some additional compositing resources:



Energy Conservation Tips

What can you do to conserve energy?

  • Be sure to turn all lights off after use
  • Request motion-sensor lights in bathrooms, copy rooms and offices
  • Turn off any appliances and electronics when not in use
  • Turn off computer monitor and desktop printer at the end of the day
  • Buy ENERGY STAR products and enable the function on your computer when appropriate
  • Design your projects with energy efficiency in mind
  • When purchasing, consider the most energy efficient option

What can you do to conserve fuel?

  • Carpool, use the “Park and Ride” system
  • Use conference and video conferencing
  • Make use of the Laboratory Taxi service
  • Walk, catch the Atomic City Transit, or ride a bike to work and meetings
  • Arrange meetings close to the majority of attendees
  • Request alternative fuel government issued vehicles

Additional energy conservation tools:

New Mexico Transit 
Consider more sustainable transportation choices

LED lights
LEDs use less energy than CFLS

When making purchases for new appliances or heating and cooling equipment look for the ENERGY STAR label

New Mexico Incentives
The state of New Mexico offers incentives for customers that install energy efficient solutions


energy efficiency

Energy Efficiency Resources and Guides

Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy 
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) accelerates development and facilitates deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and market-based solutions that strengthen U.S. energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality.

Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency 
DSIRE is the most comprehensive source of information on incentives and policies that support renewable energy and energy efficiency in the United States. Established in 1995, DSIRE is operated by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Follow the navigation above to read about the history of DSIRE, the partners on the project, and the research staff that maintains the policy and incentive data in DSIRE.

Megatrends for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy 
An overview of renewable energy trends with chapters on green power, sustainable buildings, fuel sources, conservation and automation, environmental mitigation and measures, grid integration and transmission, and future trends.

The source indexes scholarly and general interest titles, as well as government documents and reports on the connection between the environment and disciplines such as agriculture, education, law, health and technology. Contains resources on energy efficiency.

Additional resources can be found at the Research Library’s LibGuides on renewable energy and earth & environmental science.

Energy Conservation vs. Energy Efficiency
Energy Efficiency & Conservation


non-toxic cleaning spray

Easy Recipes for Non-Toxic Household Use

By Taos Herb Company

  1. All-Purpose Disinfecting
    Wild Oregano Oil can be added to water in a mister and sprayed around the house to remove bacteria, mold and viruses in the air. Use a drop or two on a sponge or wet cloth for cleaning kitchen counters, sinks, stoves; and refrigerators in order to remove microbes. You may also use a drop of Oil of Oregano with soap to wash hands or skin after exposure to public bathrooms, classrooms, work environments, or airplanes.
  2. Household Air Freshener
    Orange gives the room a sweet and sunny scent. Peppermint makes the room smell fresh and crisp. Mix Spruce Essential Oil with Orange for a very effective bathroom deodorizer. You can use a ceramic aroma diffuser or nebulizer to diffuse the oils.
  3. Natural Furniture Polish
    Add 20 drops of Lavender, Pine Needle, or Siberian Fir to 3 parts of oil (walnut or olive oil works well) and 1 part vinegar (or lemon juice).
  4. Furniture Cleaner
    In a spray bottle, place 10 drops of Patchouli Essential Oil, 15 drops of Cedarwood Essential Oil, 1/2 Cup of Liquid Castile Soap and 3/4 Cups of water.
  5. Floor Cleaner
    Add 10 drops of Lemon Essential Oil, 4 drops of Oregano Essential Oil and 1/4 cup white vinegar to a bucket of water. Oregano oil has powerful antiseptic properties!
  6. Window Cleaner
    In a spray bottle mix 1 cup White Vinegar, 10-15 drops of Lemon Essential Oil, and Water
  7. Fly Repelling Window Cleaner
    In summertime, wipe down with a damp cloth impregnated with fly-repelling essential oils such as Lavender or Lemongrass. 2 fl.oz. (50 ml) water and 10 drops of lavender or lemongrass.
  8. Insecticide and Repellent
    Essential oils and oil blends such as lavender, lemon, peppermint, Lemongrass, cypress, eucalyptus globulus, cinnamon, thyme, and basil effectively repel many types of insects, including mites, lice, and fleas. Peppermint placed on entryways prevents ants from entering. Our Taos Herb Company Bug Me Not Repellant Spray contains Citronella, Mint, Rosemary, and Thyme Essential Oils.
  9. Moth Repellents
    If you need moth repellents for your linens and woolens, avoid toxic commercial mothballs made of naphthalene. You can effectively repel moths and other insects by placing several drops of Lavender, Lemongrass, Cedarwood, or Rosemary on a cotton ball. Tie a piece of cloth around the cotton and hang it in your closets or place in your chest of drawers.
  10. Laundry Freshener
    Essential oils may be used to enhance the cleanliness and fragrance of your laundry. As unpleasant as it seems, dust mites live in your bedding, feeding from the dead skin cells you constantly shed. Recent research has shown that Eucalyptus Oil kills dust mites. To achieve effective dust mite control, add 25 drops of eucalyptus to each washing machine load, or approximately 1/2 oz to a bottle of liquid detergent. Instead of using toxic and irritating softening sheets in your dryer, place a washcloth dampened with 10 drops of Lavender, Lemon, Bergamot, or another essential oils. While the oils will not reduce static cling, they will impart a distinctive fragrance to your clothes.
  11. Saunas
    For saunas, add several drops of SaunaRoma Pure Essential Oil Blend in a spray bottle with water and then spray down the surfaces. Scented water can also be used to splash on hot sauna stones.
  12. Peppermint Spray for Mice
    Mice hate Peppermint. Add 2 teaspoons of Peppermint Essential Oil to 1 cup of water and spray in areas where you think that mice might frequent. Make a peppermint sachet with cotton balls (seven drops per ball) and place in strategic places around your house or place inside an old medicine bottle that has been aerated with holes or a muslin bag and hang under the hood of your car to repel mice from eating the insulation around electrical wires. Refresh frequently (every two weeks).

Found in January 2020 Taos Herb Company Monthly Newsletter


Hydrogen truck

Hydrogen may power the future of commercial trucking

The following story by Rod Borup of Materials Synthesis and Integrated Devices (MPA-11) ran in the March 14 Santa Fe New Mexican.

Picture a couple of semitrucks hauling cargo down a highway. Do you see clouds of black smoke left in their wake?

No, you don’t. These trucks are powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The only waste product is water.

Hydrogen fuel cell motors are powered by hydrogen to create electricity for cars and trucks. Unlike solely electric vehicles, which can take eight hours to charge a sedan, hydrogen fuel cell motors can be refueled as quickly as a regular gasoline vehicles and drive for just as long.

The U.S. transportation industry is the nation’s largest generator of greenhouse gases, accounting for nearly one-third of climate-warming emissions. So as the automotive industry seeks greener alternatives to combustions engines, hydrogen fuel cells promise a clean, efficient alternative.

Hydrogen fuel cells could one day power planes, ships and trips to the grocery store. But the transition from the combustion engine to fuel cell motors faces an infrastructure hurdle. Namely, the U.S. hasn’t developed the infrastructure to make fuel cell-powered cars a reality. Across the country, there are fewer than 50 hydrogen refueling stations, which fuel cells cars need to fill their tanks, with virtually all in California.

But commercial semitrucks could be the catalyst. Transitioning these trucks to clean energy would cut about 20 percent of transportation-related greenhouse gases in the U.S. For this reason, developing a dependable, long-lasting hydrogen fuel cell for trucks is the focus of a new Department of Energy consortium called the Million Mile Fuel Cell Truck, known as M2FCT, which is co-led by Los Alamos National Laboratory and kicked off at the beginning of the new year. Funded by the Department of Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office within the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office, M2FCT will focus on fuel cell durability, performance, and cost to better position fuel cell trucks as a viable option in the long-haul trucking market.

Here’s how a hydrogen fuel cell engine works: The hydrogen is stored in the truck’s equivalent of a gas tank. As the hydrogen is fed into a stack of fuel cells, it’s combined with oxygen (from air) and converted into electrical energy, heat and water. The truck is also equipped with a power module to distribute the electricity throughout the vehicle, including the electric motor, a battery to supply extra torque and to store energy from regenerative braking, as well as a radiator to dissipate heat from the electrochemical reactions.

A solely electric motor has its advantages among clean-energy alternatives. But the time it would take to charge the massive lithium ion batteries needed for semitrucks make it infeasible. For long, continuous operations, such as trucking, fuel cells can deliver higher efficiency, reduced emissions, higher torque, and no noise pollution.

Additionally, creating the infrastructure for hydrogen fuel cells could be expanded more quickly than the one needed for electric-powered vehicles. The hydrogen refueling infrastructure in California could be leveraged and expanded. Hydrogen refueling stations could be built on a handful of the most-used routes, like Interstate 40.

Not surprisingly, semitrucks are tough on their engines, averaging about 45,000 miles a year. They need to last about one million miles over their lifetimes. The hydrogen fuel cells would need to last just as long, too, and this is what M2FCT is exploring.

In a typical diesel engine, constant detonations that drive pistons and turn the wheels wear the engine down over time. Hydrogen-powered electric motors don’t burn fuel, but they are subject to wear and tear nonetheless, over time becoming less efficient. M2FCT aims to change that.

The platinum-coated membranes are the main culprits for wear on a hydrogen fuel cell. These are 10- to 20-micron-thick membranes located in the fuel cell chamber, where oxygen and hydrogen react and where the platinum membranes help strip electrons from hydrogen atoms. The resulting electricity powers the vehicle. But the heat generated from this process can cause the platinum-coated membranes to degrade.

Because of the impracticality of testing hydrogen fuel cells for a million hours to recreate wear on the engine, researchers in Los Alamos will use accelerated stress testing to reproduce the punishment on fuel cells from driving. This sped-up stress test generally involves adding heat and gases that speed the deterioration process. Already, the research has produced a couple of insights, including that altering the microscopic structure of the platinum catalyst can reduce the metal’s deterioration. Los Alamos scientists also introduced a benign material into the fuel cell chamber that can capture the harmful chemicals that typically degrade the membrane, extending the fuel cell’s life.

While Los Alamos National Laboratory focuses on efforts to commercialize hydrogen fuel cells for heavy duty applications, a second Department of Energy National Lab consortium funded by the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office within the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office is refining the process of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis, called H2NEW. This process will enable affordable and efficient production of hydrogen.

With these projects working concurrently, a new breed of clean-energy semitrucks may soon quietly share the highways of America with you.

Rod Borup is co-director of the Million Mile Fuel Cell Truck and Los Alamos National Laboratory’s program manager for fuel cells and vehicle technology.


food waste

Minimizing Food Waste

In the United States, 40% of all food is wasted. The average American family wastes $2,200 on food every year, which is an increase of 50% since the 1970’s. Based on research by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 68% of wasted food, or about 42.8 million tons, ends up in landfills or combustion facilities. When food decomposes in a landfill, methane is released into the environment and is equivalent to 4.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide. In an effort to be more sustainable, the EPA presents the following benefits of minimizing food waste:

  • Saves money from buying less food.
  • Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.
  • Conserves energy and resources by preventing pollution involved in the growing, manufacturing, transporting, and selling food (not to mention hauling the food waste and then landfilling it).
  • Supports your community by providing donated untouched food that would have otherwise gone to waste to those who might not have a steady food supply.

Here are some helpful tools from Kroger to reduce food waste at home.

For additional inspiration on how to store or repurpose food, here are some excellent resources:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency offers fun planning, storing, and preparation tips, such as keeping a running list of meals and their ingredients that your household already enjoys. That way, you can easily choose, shop for, and prepare meals. 
  • Los Alamos County provides helpful food waste prevention programs, such as Save the Food. 
  • Life Without Plastic offers great food storage items that are earth-friendly alternatives to plastic products
  • Julia Watkins' new book “Simply Living Well, A Guide to Creating a Natural, Low Waste Home” offers simple sustainable living solutions, such as a great recipe for veggie stock from peels and leaves.



Automated Textile Sorting for Recycling
By Rick LeBlanc

The sorting process is a critical step in many types of recycling, from textiles to pallets to plastics and more. Better accuracy allows for greater value recovery through a better separation of different grades of material. Automation of sorting additionally helps in reducing labor requirements.

Sorting in Garment Recycling

The same issue around sortation holds true for the garment or textile recycling sector as well. Garment recycling is a key component of reducing the garment industry's enormous carbon footprint, but its potential is still not fully realized due to a lack of technology being readily available to this application, particularly when it comes to sorting.

Garment recovery and reuse for charity purposes is an important component of the recycling effort, accounting for roughly 50 percent of recovery in countries such as the Netherlands, in addition to other clothing reuse niches. The other 50 percent, however, must be sorted – still often manually. In addition to the exhaustive labor requirements associated with manual sorting, difficulties in identifying specific fabrics have resulted in inadequately sorted textiles being used for generally more low-grade applications such as stuffing or rags, rather than recovered for higher grade applications where such material could supplement the use of virgin fiber.

Textiles for Textiles Project

To address this need, one important initiative has been Textiles for Textiles (T4T). This project was aimed at creating automated sorting technology for textiles and clothing, with the support of the European Commission’s eco-innovation initiative. The initiative helps fund a number of environmental actions, including materials recycling and recycling processes.

The technology is based on sorting fiber by composition and color, accomplished through the use of near-infrared (NIR)-spectroscopy technology, which is widely used in automated sorting applications for other segments of the recycling industry, such as PET recycling. The project had a budget of over 1.3 million Euros.

After first going through a manual sorting process to segregate that clothing which is still usable and can be saved, the remaining garments are then fed through the automatic sorting system for shredding. Resulting in long fibers can be utilized in products such as clothing and home textiles, while shorter fibers are directed toward non-woven applications in insulation, personal hygiene and automotive.

Environmental Impact

The environmental impact reduction associated with the use of recycled fibers is impressive, according to the development group. In a pilot project with a jeans manufacturer, the energy savings of recycled fiber versus virgin was 53%, while the water-saving amounted to 99%, and the chemical saving was 88%. 

The FIBERSORT project continues to make progress on this technology. However, it has not yet been commercialized. The project is comprised of Wieland Textiles, Valvan Baling Systems, Metrohm Applikon, Worn Again, Faritex, Salvation Army ReShare, and Circle Economy, 

Keys to Success

A key to the success of the automated sorting technology will be successfully fiber-sorting large volumes of material accurately, including the large amounts of low-grade non-renewable textiles that are collected, and directing them towards industrial chemical recycling operations. 

According to Circle Economy, "If successfully commercialized, the FIBERSORT machine could change the textile recycling landscape, as efficient fiber-sorting technology is the key to unlocking the value of post-consumer textiles and creating a tipping point for a closed-loop textiles industry."

Aside from optical sorting, other approaches that have been explored include RFID or barcoding technologies affixed to garments to facilitate sorting. 


You Are What You Wear

You are what you wear: Christina Dean
plastic bottles

Plastic Water Bottle Alternative

Every year, Americans purchase 29 billion water bottles but out of every six water bottles, only one is recycled. Since plastic water bottles are not biodegradable, it takes a minimum of 1,000 years for every non-recycled bottle to decompose. In the U.S. alone, there are 2 million tons of water bottles in landfills and the toxins leach into  the environment. Based on research from Healthy Human, here are 5 dangerous ways that water bottles pollute the earth:

  1. It takes 3 times the amount of water in a bottle of water to make it as it does to fill it.
  2. Plastic water bottles are made from a petroleum product called polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which requires giant amounts of fossil fuels to make and transport.
  3. The production of bottled water uses 17 million barrels of oil a year. That’s slightly more than it would take to fill one million cars a year with fuel.
  4. It takes almost 2,000 times the energy to manufacture a bottle of water than it does to produce tap water.
  5. If you fill a plastic water bottle so it is about 25% full, that’s about how much oil it took to make the bottle.

An eco-friendly alternative

One way to ditch single use plastic water bottles is to purchase a refillable water bottle. Not only do refillable water bottles reduce plastic pollution, but they save the average American $200 per year by not having to purchase plastic water bottles. Since there are many different types of refillable water bottles to choose from, here is a helpful source to help with your selection.

water bottle

How to Choose the Best Water Bottle


donate clothes

How to Recycle Clothing and Accessories

Article found on the Earth911 website:

So, you’ve cleaned out your closet and ended up with a big bag of clothing (or three) that you don’t like, don’t fit, or simply no longer need. What on earth do you do with it?

The fashion industry is now being counted as one of the world’s biggest polluters, right behind Big Oil, so making sure you dispose of old clothing properly is an important step toward mitigating its environmental effects.

Here’s a step-by-step checklist for all of your discarded duds.

1. Divide and Conquer
First, sort your stuff into three piles: great condition, good condition and poor condition. Great-condition clothing looks new, has retained its shape perfectly, and bears no signs of wear and tear. Usable-condition clothing may be a little bit faded or worn but still in wearable condition with no stains or holes. Poor-condition clothing is stained, threadbare or has holes in it.

2. Clothing Swaps and Consignment Stores
Great-condition clothing and accessories are excellent candidates for clothing swaps or consignment stores. To host a clothing swap, invite a handful of good friends who wear approximately the same size to bring their closet surplus, and you can exchange clothes among you.

Alternately, bring your items to a consignment store in your area. They’ll sell them for you and give you a portion of the proceeds.

3. Thrift Stores/Charity Donations
Good-condition clothing can be donated to a thrift store like Value Village, Goodwill or Salvation Army. There, the clothing is sorted, priced and placed on the sales floor for secondhand shoppers to find. Oftentimes thrift stores use the proceeds from the sale of these items to support charity initiatives.

4. Clothing Recycling
You really shouldn’t donate your poor-condition clothing to a thrift store — you’ll waste their time when it comes time to sort, and if you’re getting rid of it because of its condition, you can bet no one else will want to wear it, either.

For those stained, torn or otherwise unwearable textiles, clothing recycling is the answer. Find a drop-off spot near you using our Recycling Locator.

Some companies like Patagonia accept their own clothing items back for recycling, while fashion retailers like H&M and American Eagle Outfitters offer in-store clothing recycling bins to collect textiles and accessories of any brand, so recycling your clothing is now as easy as a trip to the mall.

Frequent Clothing & Accessory Questions

How can I find a consignment store?
A simple internet search will likely turn up dozens of local stores in your city or town. (An added benefit of using a consignment store is that your dollars stay local.)

What happens to clothing when it’s recycled?
Textile recyclers sort clothing just like you did, into clothing worth wearing and clothing suitable for recycling. Textiles are sorted by color and material type and shredded to become fiberfill or stuffing. Some textiles are cut down and sold as rags, and still others are baled up and sold by weight.

What do I do with old eyewear?
There are some programs that take eyewear. OneSight collects used eyewear at large eyewear stores like Sears Optical, LensCrafters and Target Optical, then disassembles the glasses and sends them to a third-party recycler. OneSight receives payment for the raw materials recovered and then uses these funds to create entirely new prescription eyewear for those who need it.

What can I do with old footwear?
You can follow the same rules as you did for clothing. Great-condition shoes and boots can be swapped or sold, good-condition footwear can be donated, and shoes in poor condition can be dropped off for recycling at a clothing recycling collection bin.


solar cooking

Solar Cooking

Benefits, Applications, and Science of Solar Cooking Information: The website is a great resource for information  about solar cooking, and shouldn’t be missed. It includes many solar oven plans,  cooking instructions, and lots of pictures of many different types of solar cookers,  many of them very unique and interesting. 

Solar Cooking has Unique Benefits: Natural gas, wood, and cow dung are generally  used as cooking fuel across the world. Solar cooking can be used as an alternative to  these fuels, especially in very sunny parts of the world. Many of the sunniest parts of  the world are also arid, and so have the least available firewood. Gathering scarce  firewood can be a time consuming and even dangerous task (for example, if women  have to walk far to find it). Moreover, burning wood or cow dung in small indoor  kitchens can harm lungs. So solar cooking has many unique benefits, including: 

  • Saving fuel.  
  • Lowering pollution from burning of fuels. 
  • Saving the world’s forests. 
  • Saving money. 
  • Eliminating the need to roam far for firewood.  
  • Improving indoor air quality. 

Applications: Solar cooking can be used to bake, steam, boil, or fry food. There is  almost no cooking, in fact, that can’t be at least assisted with solar energy using the  right kind of solar cooker. 

Scientific Aspects of Solar Cooking: A solar oven is an excellent means to explore the  three basic ways that light interacts with materials, including: 

  • Reflection: Light reflects off the mirrors on a solar oven. Verify that the reflectors  don’t get hot, because they don’t absorb light! 
  • Transmission/Transparency: Light travels through the glass cover on a solar  cooker, but the air underneath is trapped. 
  • Absorption: Light is absorbed, and thereby transformed into heat, by the black  interior surfaces of a solar oven .  

Solar cooking can also be used to discuss the concept of the greenhouse effect and insulation: 

  • Greenhouse Effect: The transmission of light into a solar oven, the transformation  of the light into heat, and the trapping of the heat by the oven, are all together a  dramatic example of the greenhouse effect. 
  • Insulation : The walls of the solar oven are insulated to trap heat. They do this by  simply not allowing the air in the walls to move. Air is, surprisingly, a very good  thermal insulator, but only if its prevented from moving.

Types of Solar Cookers: There are three basic types of solar cookers in common use today: 

Box Cookers : These are the classic “solar ovens”, and are used for baking, boiling, or  steaming food inside containers. These are the most common and useful type of solar  cooker. They are relatively easy to make and use. There is also at least one  commercial version that can be purchased easily.

Commercial Box Cookers: One commercial box cooker that is widely used and quite useful for practical cooking and educational purposes is the “global sun oven” by Sun Oven International ( This oven generally costs around $200. The reflectors fold nicely for portability and storage. Sun Oven International also makes a giant solar cooker "Global Sun Oven”  called the “Villager”. This impressive oven is capable of cooking up to six turkeys at a time!

Panel Cookers: Many early attempts to introduce solar cooking with box cookers into third world  countries failed because people ended up disassembling the ovens to use the valuable  glass and metal for other purposes. Panel cookers were invented to overcome this  problem: They use simple, everyday materials: cardboard, foil, a black painted  cooking container, and an oven bag or a glass bowl for a cover. They work quite well,  and can also be transported very compactly.

Below are photos of two widely used styles of panel cookers: The “cookit” style panel  cooker on the left utilizes a cleverly cut piece of cardboard, and this one is shown  using an oven bag to contain the hot air around the black cooking pot. The “Bernard”  panel cooker on the right (the first panel cooker design, historically speaking), uses  the cardboard from a single cardboard box in a very simple arrangement. This one  uses a glass bowl instead of an oven bag to trap the hot air. One can see that many  variations are possible. 

Parabolic Cookers: As shown at right, parabolic cookers use a parabolic shaped  mirror to concentrate sunlight. A highly focused parabolic oven can achieve very high temperatures – enough to fry food. For this reason they can be dangerous, both to hands  and eyes, and should used with extreme caution! They are not recommended for classroom projects, at least large ones. And they are also not as useful as the box and panel cookers for general purpose solar cooking. 

One version of a parabolic cooker that is more appropriate for classroom projects is the (cylindrical) parabolic hot dog cookers, diagrammed at right. These can be made out of cardboard, foil,  and posterboard. Plans for these can be found at: 

Solar Cooking Vessels: It is best to use black colored, metal cooking vessels to cook food in. Other colors will  still work, but black is definitely best. You can paint jars and pots on the outside  (non-food surfaces) only with high temperature black spray paint, but make sure the  paint is well dried and cured in the hot sun first before using.  

Hint: If you paint a jar black, put a narrow vertical strip of tape on the outside first,  and peel the tape off after the paint is dry so that an unpainted strip will remain,  allowing you to see the food inside easily.  

WARNING! Do not put a sealed jar in a solar cooker! Make sure that jar lids have a  small hole poked in them to relieve pressure. 

Solar Cooking Techniques: Solar cooking is easy! Baking is quite trivial: just put a pan of cookie dough,  cornbread, or what have you, inside the oven, point the oven towards the Sun, and let  it cook. Vegetables can be cooked easily in a closed (but not sealed!) container with a  little water: Just let them steam in their own juices. Most foods should be covered  (not exposed to sunlight), except for baked goods. Unshucked corn can also be cooked  easily (best to cover them in some way). A jar or small pot one third full of beans,  and two-thirds full of water, is a great way to cook beans (this takes some time and  generally requires the oven to be re-aimed one or more times). Cooking beans  generally takes a lot of energy, and this is an ideal use for a solar oven. 

Cooking Time: A good rule of thumb is that it takes about twice as long to cook food  in a solar oven (on a sunny day) compared to using a conventional stove. So don’t  worry about cooking things too long, especially because it’s hard to burn things in a  solar oven. You’ll notice that solar cooked food tends to taste better, because slow cooking food retains both flavor and nutrients. One can “aim” the oven ahead of the  Sun’s position to lengthen cooking time. Note that the movement of the Sun will  automatically “shut off” the oven.  

WARNING! When demonstrating solar cooking at school, be sure to pre-cook any  meat, to make sure it’s adequately cooked. Solar ovens are a great way to simply  re-heat food. 


Chemist celebrate earth

Green Chemistry in Daily Life

What do you picture when you think of chemistry? Oftentimes, negative stereotypes come to mind: toxic waste dumping into the environment, mad scientists surrounded by smoking beakers of colorful liquids. Many consumer products today are marketed as being “chemical-free” in a factually inaccurate bid to convince the public that their product is safe. 

In reality, chemistry plays a crucial and beneficial role in our society. A major area of chemistry research today is in the area of sustainable materials and synthesis. From biodegradable plastics to more energy self-healing materials, chemists around the world are striving to reduce our footprint through chemistry. 

As part of “Chemists Celebrate Earth Week,” the Chemical Management Team at LANL outlines a few areas where chemistry is helping to solve the world’s sustainability problems.

Plant-Based Plastics

A key component in the manufacture of any plastic is carbon. Most plastics that we see and use today derive the critical carbon component from fossil fuels, a finite resource that will eventually disappear.

How is chemistry helping?
Processes have been developed to harvest carbon from plant matter, and through high-efficiency catalytic processes, convert that carbon into plastics. No fossil fuels needed and the feedstock is renewable!

Utilizing renewable resources in the manufacture of plastics packaging is beneficial because it uses carbon that is already present in our ecosystem rather than carbon that is held underground. This, in turn, lowers the amount of fossil fuel-derived greenhouse gas emissions. 

  • It is important to note that plant-based plastics are not easily biodegradable and still pose a risk to the environment. However, processes are being implemented to break down PET plastic into its original building blocks that can be recycled into other processes. Check out the next section for more info!
  • Additionally, it is critical that the plant material is grown and harvested in a sustainable manner, otherwise the benefits may be diminished or lost.

Fun Facts:

  • Major plastics packaging manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Nestlé have committed to and in some markets already are using PET plastic derived from plant material.
  • Lego has a small number of products available derived from sugarcane.

More information:
Bio-based Legos
Forbes: “ 2021: The Year of the Package ”
Origin Materials: “ The Material Problem ”

Self-healing Materials

Over time and with use, many materials develop small cracks or other types of damage that gradually reduce their effectiveness until they break completely or need to be replaced.

How is chemistry helping?
Chemists and material scientists are developing new materials that are capable of repairing damage over time, extending the useful lifespan of these materials.  Depending on the material, the repair can happen either automatically or manually with some sort of stimulus like heating up the material or shining a UV-light on it.

Widespread implementation of self-healing materials could drastically reduce the amount of waste generated by certain types of products.  Imagine: you drop your phone and the screen cracks.  Instead of having to replace the screen or buying a new phone entirely you could let it sit overnight and it would be fixed by the morning!

Fun Facts:
Self-healing materials go all the way back to ancient Roman times!  Some of the concrete used would continue to slowly react and cure over time, forming crystals in any gaps or spaces in the material.  These crystals help strengthen the overall material and prevent cracks from growing and spreading.

More information:

  • General overview of self-healing polymers
  • Ancient Roman concrete

Reversible Plastics

It is difficult to truly recycle plastic. Many of the processes available today simply grind up existing plastic and mold it into another product through mechanical processes. Recycled plastic produced in this manner is often of an inferior quality compared to the virgin material and therefore has a limited utility. There is often little incentive for companies to invest in using recycled plastic for their needs when it costs more and is of a lower quality. 

How is chemistry helping?
Chemists have developed processes by which plastics can be deconstructed down to their original building blocks. These building blocks can be used to create new, high-quality plastics or even different materials. 

Recovering and recycling these building blocks means less raw material (typically derived from fossil fuels) needs to be harvested and processed. The processes used are also less energy and resource intensive than starting from raw material, driving the cost down and making the output more attractive to buyers.

Fun Facts:
There are facilities in construction around the world that are gearing up to start deconstructing hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic material annually!

More information:

  • Eastman plastic recycling plant
  • Plastic has a problem; is chemical recycling the solution?

Green Cleaning Products

Many cleaning chemicals contain ingredients that can cause a variety of health issues including eye, skin, and respiratory irritation in addition to more serious effects for more concentrated products.  These chemicals also frequently have environmental concerns, particularly for aquatic environments.

How is chemistry helping?
Chemists at the EPA and in industry have worked together to form the Safer Choice Standard and accompanying label.  This label is only given to products that have been designed and tested to be effective at their intended purpose while also minimizing or eliminating specific health and environmental hazards.

Cleaning chemicals are widely used at home, in schools, and in businesses.  This, unfortunately, leads to many incidents of chemical exposure.  According to the National Poison Control Center, in 2019 there were over 100,000 reported poison exposures due to cleaning chemicals.  Replacing traditional cleaning chemicals with safer, greener alternatives will help keep people safer while also lessening our impact on the environment.

Fun Facts:
What you smell from a cleaning product often may not be the smell of the chemicals doing the actual cleaning.  For example, when Febreze was initially released it had no smell.  However, after poor sales, a sweet fragrance was added in and it became the popular product it is today.

More information:

What can you do?
When shopping for cleaning products, look for the Safer Choice label. When shopping for materials made from or encased in plastic, take a look and see if it was produced through sustainable means. Note that many sustainable manufacturing technologies are still in the early phases of commercialization and have not yet rolled out at a large scale. Keep an eye out in the news and in the stores for when and where you may be able to purchase these materials created by more sustainable means! 

For more information:
Visit and read their free issue of “ Celebrating Chemistry ” where you can learn about ways to reduce your footprint!

About the Chemical Management Team: 
The Chemical Management Team at LANL is comprised of passionate people who strive to make LANL and the community a safer place through education of chemical hazards and safer alternatives. 


battery disposal

Proper Battery Disposal

Batteries are flammable and can leach dangerous chemicals into the environment. Batteries must be disposed of properly and safely to avoid potential hazards. In most cities in New Mexico there are Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) centers that will help you dispose of your batteries.

green batteries

In Los Alamos, all batteries including alkaline, lithium-ion, cellphone, vehicle, and lead-acid batteries should all be taken to the Eco Station during normal operating hours. In Santa Fe, single-use alkaline batteries may be placed in your green roll cart. All other batteries must be taken to the Buckman Road Recycling and Transfer Station (BuRRT). In Albuquerque, all batteries must be taken to the Household Hazardous Waste Collection Center (HHWCC). In most cities, batteries can go to a participating Call2Recycle location (such as Home Depot) for disposal.


Los Alamos Eco Station
3701 E. Jemez Road, Los Alamos, NM
Phone: 505-662-8163
Monday - Friday 8:00 am to 4:15 pm
Saturday & Sunday 9:00 am to 4:15 pm

Buckman Road Recycling & Transfer Station (BURRT)
2600 Buckman Rd, Santa Fe, NM 87507
Monday-Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Household Hazardous Waste Collection Center
6137 Edith NE, Albuquerque, NM 87107
Household Hazardous Waste Hotline: (505) 349-5220
Mon., Wed., Fri. from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Los Alamos National Laboratory has its own policies on proper disposal of batteries. Please contact your local Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) centers to learn more about househould battery disposal guidelines.

olive oil

Proper Oil and Grease Disposal

Oils must be disposed of properly and safely to avoid potential hazards. In most cities in New Mexico there are Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) centers that will help you dispose of different types of oils. In small quantities, cooking oils and grease may go in the garbage. If you have more than a cup of cooking oil, it must be taken to your local HHW center to be safely discarded.

Los Alamos, cooking oil (in quantities over a cup), motor oil, and oil-based paints and stains must be taken to the Eco Station on Friday and Saturday from 9:00- 3:00. In Santa Fe, please call (505) 955-2200 to dispose of cooking oils in quantities over a cup. Motor oils and oil-based paints and stains must be taken to Buckman Road Recycling Inand Transfer Station (BuRRT). In Albuquerque, large quantities of cooking oil, motor oil, and oil-based paint and stains must be taken to the Household Hazardous Waste Collection Center. Never put oils down the drain!

Los Alamos Eco Station
3701 E. Jemez Road, Los Alamos, NM
Phone: 505-662-8163
Monday - Friday 8:00 am to 4:15 pm
Saturday & Sunday 9:00 am to 4:15 pm

Buckman Road Recycling & Transfer Station (BURRT)
2600 Buckman Rd, Santa Fe, NM 87507
Monday-Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Household Hazardous Waste Collection Center
6137 Edith NE, Albuquerque, NM 87107
Household Hazardous Waste Hotline: (505) 349-5220
Mon., Wed., Fri. from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Los Alamos National Laboratory has its own policies on proper disposal of batteries. Please contact your local Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) centers to learn more about household battery disposal guidelines.