By Bernard Freeman
Cutting Down on Usage
One of the best ways to keep trash out of landfills, gutters, rivers and the ocean is to cut back on the amount we throw away.
The Environmental Protection Agency offers ways for us to apply the mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” to keep down the amount of stuff we buy, which trickles down to throwing away less and eventually requiring less stuff to be produced in the first place.
This is the first and arguably best step — use less! Producing new items uses energy, usually produced by fossil fuels, and a variety of materials that have to be produced or mined. All of these materials and the finished products are transported throughout the country. The more we buy, the more of these resources get used.
Of course, going without isn’t always an option, so be a smart consumer. Buy products with less packaging, and go for higher-quality clothing, household items, toys and appliances that will last longer. These typically cost more at the outset, but you’ll save money in not having to replace them as often. Read e-books or check books out from the library instead of buying them.
Whether it’s a big purchase like a car or furniture or smaller items like toys, clothes and books, buy used whenever possible. Shop thrift stores, flea markets and garage sales or check online ads. While you’re at it, sell your no-longer-needed items; kids grow out of clothes so quickly they may be reusable, or look at formal attire that you only wore once.
You can also organize a clothing swap among friends, neighbors or social groups; everyone can bring the items they don’t want anymore and take items from others.
Also look for ways to reuse recyclable materials like cardboard boxes, egg cartons and other containers. Although they should eventually be recycled, getting a few moves out of boxes saves trees.
So many items come to us in cardboard boxes, tin cans and plastic containers. These can all be recycled, keeping them out of landfills; that’s particularly good for plastics, which take so long to decompose. Recycling these items also reduces the amount of raw materials needed to manufacture new products.
Not everything is recyclable everywhere, though cardboard, paper, tin cans and most types of plastic are ubiquitous. Many cities do not allow glass recycling, so know the rules before tossing glass into the bin.
Easy Ways to Do More
On hot days, water in the early morning or evening when the sun is down and it’s not hot enough that water is evaporating before it gets to your grass. If you have automatic sprinklers, make sure they’re turned off if it starts to rain. If you’re redoing your yard, look at xeriscaping, rocks, wood chips and other features that require little or no water.
Reduce Water Usage
Wait to run the dishwasher, washing machine and dryer when you have full loads.
During the summer, run those appliances in the cooler hours of the early morning and night; they’ll produce heat that your air conditioner will have to work even harder to combat if you’re washing a load of clothes in the heat of the day. Turn off lights when you leave the room and the water off when you’re brushing your teeth or washing dishes.
Use public transit. Get a schedule and take a bus or train if possible. If you live near coworkers, consider carpooling; even if you can’t do it every day, cutting down on trips a couple of times a week will help. Buy a bike and commute or run errands on two wheels.
When you’re running errands, try to do them in one trip and map it out so you reduce the amount of backtracking.
Whether you’re sitting in the drive-thru line at the bank or waiting for coffee don’t leave your engine idling. If you know you’ll be waiting several minutes, turn your car off.
Tips for Living Greener
The creator of the Zero Waste Home says she and her family produce a pint of trash each year. For most of us, that’s a drastic and overwhelming lifestyle change to consider, but all of us can embrace some of these habits to live greener every day.
In the kitchen and laundry room
Use cloth rags instead of paper towels, containers instead of sandwich bags and aluminum foil and avoid plastic dishes altogether. Rags can be old T-shirts and other clothes that are too worn to wear anymore.
Buy in bulk and freeze meat, produce and even flour until you’re ready to use it. Also look for dish soap, laundry and dishwasher detergent in bulk.
Drink tap water or buy a water filter. Bottled water requires significant resources to create, filter and move and takes up tons of space in landfills.
Get a pressure cooker, which can cut cooking time in half and reduce the amount of energy needed to make dinner.
Hang clothes quickly after they finish drying to reduce the amount of ironing needed. A side bonus: no one really likes to iron, so this saves you from one of the least pleasant chores.
In the bathroom
Use 100 percent recycled, unbleached toilet paper that is wrapped in paper instead of plastic.
Buy shampoo, conditioner and body wash in bulk and refill containers.
Use baking soda and vinegar instead of harsh chemicals to scrub the bathtub, sink and toilet.
In the living areas
Instead of air fresheners, get a plant and open a window (if the weather outside is nice).
Use cloth napkins, both for meals and parties.
Use rechargeable batteries in your TV remote, use a whiteboard to write notes to family members instead of paper, sweep instead of vacuuming whenever possible.
Avoid printing whenever possible; and when you need to print, print double-sided copies.
Create a Backyard Oasis
One benefit of having a yard is the ability to create your own ecofriendly oasis right at home. Through smart gardening and irrigation, you can contribute a piece of green, providing cleaner air and a good environment that encourages healthy ecosystems. Global Stewards has ways to create a backyard habitat that invites nature in.
You don’t have to turn your yard into a menagerie to encourage wildlife. In addition to a hummingbird feeder, you can attract these creatures with different types of flowers and by avoiding chemical pesticides.
To attract other types of birds, plant a variety — seeds, berries, nuts and other food sources will keep birds coming and staying, as will both deciduous and evergreen trees. In addition to food, these provide places to rest and hide as well.
While they’re less fun-sounding than birds, getting a bat or two into your garden is good for you and the bat. They eat thousands of mosquitoes a night. Bird baths provide water, and a “night garden” that includes afternoon-blooming or night-scented flowers like evening primrose, phlox, fleabane, goldenrod and moonflower will help attract bats.
No Backyard? Green up your Patio
You can cultivate potted plants or plants in windowsills, even grow your own vegetables in containers. Find a big container, good soil and a spot in or out of the house that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. Fertilize the plants regularly and water frequently enough that the soil is never completely dry. Talk to employees at your local gardening store to get ideas on what grows well in a pot.