Saturday afternoon Enviro Girl nearly gagged when she returned home. The wrapping from Thursday night’s chicken dinner had finally reached its prime–one of the most unbearable stenches. It was time to take out the trash and Enviro Girl reached for her trusty spray bottle of vinegar water to neutralize the odor.
Everyone starts a new year with plans to improve–lose weight, save money, take a risk, accomplish a goal. Enviro Girl thinks everyone should start the new year with an Eco-resolution, one small thing they can do to improve the environment. The small things add up, as illustrated in this recent post over at Fake Plastic Fish. Here are some free, incredibly convenient and easy Eco-resolutions for you and your friends to try:
EcoLassie knows that most offices are pretty savvy these days in terms of recycling paper and other products they use on a daily basis. Many also encourage the practice of not printing out emails or other documents that can be read on your screen.
But there are always nifty ways to turn that eco-style up a notch. Here are a few you may not have thought of to put into practice in your workplace:
If your office has a vending machine, make sure it uses recyclable products. But a far better option is to ditch those machines altogether and allow workers to make their own beverages. You will be surprised at how much you cut down on recyclables by ringing in your own mug, too. And toss in a few volunteers from your cabinet lurking at the back that no one uses at home anymore for visitors. Even Starbucks gives a cup discount for customers who bring in their own mug!
Start a carpool at your office for co-workers who live within range of reach other. Better yet, ask your employer to provide a bicycle rack outside so those who live within cycling distance can take advantage of saving money, gas, and emissions while they get their daily exercise.
Try soy-based inks if you use a commercial printer. Besides being better for the environment, soy-based inks support US crop growers The good news is they produce shaper colors, too, without the same level of emitted toxins from petroleum inks. These also allow for better recycling as their ink is removed easier.
Finally, turn off the machines you can when you leave for the night. Activate the sleep mode for things like printers and copiers. Some fax machines have a sleep mode, too. Use power strips for ease in turning machines and things like your desk cell phone charger off when you go home. Just hit the “off” button on the power strip and you’re set.
It’s easy to conserve, recycle and save when you take stock of your environment.
1. Pot scrubbers–those plastic mesh bags you buy onions and apples in? Wad them up or tie them up with fishing line and you’ve got a nonabrasive scratchy plastic pot scrubber (or pan scrubber or casserole dish scrubber).
2. Use a tube from an empty roll of toilet paper as a seed starter–fold down on end, fill with soil and plant your seedlings. When it’s time to move your plant outdoors, you can leave it in the biodegradable cardboard tube, unfold the folded end and plant the entire business directly into the ground.
3. Repurpose old wire hangers as picture or wreath hangers by bending them into the appropriate shapes. You can cut one end of an old wire hanger and use it to organize spools of gift wrap or craft ribbons, too.
4. Old tights or nylons can be used to tie tall plants to stakes in your garden. For convenient clean up, stick a sliver of soap in the toe and tie to an outdoor faucet–great for scrubbing down after doing yard work or for taking along on a camping trip. Old tights or socks stuffed with coffee grounds make an excellent deodorizer for cars, coolers, suitcases or freezers.
5. Never buy Ziplock Takeaways or Rubbermaid storage again. A stash of clean empty food containers (with lids!) make great “to-go” cartons for leftover food, craft supply organizers, office supply organizers or pots for plant swaps. Enviro Girl uses empty yogurt containers to bring gift meals to new moms/homeowners (salads, granola, cookies, any cold dish) alleviating any need to return her dishes. She uses smaller containers (sour cream or cottage cheese) to store her sons’ mouth guards in their gear bags.
6. Empty liter bottles or milk cartons make great “greenhouses” in the garden. Cut off the bottom and settle over young seedlings–leave them until the plants outgrow the space. The plastic will retain heat and protect plants from late-season frosts while keeping the soil moist for growing roots.
7. Lint is incredibly flammable. If you’re not composting it, you can wrap it around a toilet paper roll and use it as a fire starter in your fireplace or fire pit.
8. Those tall bags wrapping your drycleaning? Don’t throw them away! Tie off one end and you’ve got a giant trash bag.
Enviro Girl loves honey. Nature’s sweetener, it’s low in calories, abundant in health benefits and produced by the workhorse of the insect world: bees. Honey can help heal a wound, soothe a burn, soften skin, coat a sore throat. Studies show that eating local honey helps boost one’s tolerance for local pollens, reducing their allergic reactions. Honey is anti-bacterial and anti-viral. Honey is an amazing food!
Bees are amazing creatures, the only insects that produce a food supply humans can eat. They dance, too! Bees dance to share information with one another–particularly where to find flowers to pollinate. Bees can carry 100% of their body weight and can recognize faces.
On a field trip to an apple orchard with her son, Enviro Girl learned that bees often head south for the winter. Bee keepers actually move their bees around to work different crops during different seasons. She’d always assumed they hibernated through the winter and now feels envious of their Florida winters.
Bees deserve our respect, not our fear or loathing. Do the bees in your neighborhood a favor by laying off the pesticides and the bug sprays. The best bug repellent is the kind you spray on yourself. For every “pesky” bug you kill with an application of Raid or other pesticide, you kill bees, too.
Learn more about the amazing things bees can do at 21 Things You Didn’t Know About Honey Bees.
And don’t forget–when you buy honey, make sure you’re buying REAL honey by checking the ingredients. Many corn syrup substitutes are labeled “Honey,” but offer none of the benefits of 100% honey.
Technology keeps advancing faster and the electronics market bombards us with buzzwords like newer, better, faster, smaller, clearer. And in America, economic recession be damned, we consume the message and the products without a second thought. It’s a disposable world today where the life expectancy of a cell phone is two years and a laptop is five years. Instead of keeping and repairing our gadgets, we toss them aside and buy the latest upgrade. It’s not uncommon for a household to have several cell phones, a couple laptops, a couple gaming systems, an electronic reader, digital camera, DVD/Blu-Ray player, TiVo/DVR, video recorder, GPS and MP3 players. But the proliferation of electronics in landfills creates 70% of the toxic waste thrown away in America according to the Global Futures Foundation Heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium are present in batteries, cell phones, LCD and plasma screens, and computers. When these heavy metals get disposed of improperly, they can contaminate soil and groundwater. caustic chemicals can burn sanitation experts and heavy metals can expose them to health problems. It’s also pretty wasteful to use and toss these metals when they’re dangerous to mine, so recycling them makes a lot of sense.
Instead of tossing and buying replacements, you can make more environmentally friendly choices and leave less environmental impact.
First, consider whether you really need the latest, greatest gadget. Can you reduce your electronic use? Is it possible to do without a GPS or a digital camera? Can you buy a single gadget with the capacity to make phone calls, take pictures and play games? According to this New York Times article, Americans spend over $2,000 a year on the support services for their electronics. Time Magazine brashly suggests the average household might consider doing without. Enviro Girl suggests you really consider your array of electronics. Perhaps you don’t need to purchase another DVD player or TV set. Maybe a Nook or Kindle isn’t practical for your reading style. Maybe you don’t need to pay for Cable or Direct TV if you watch TV shows on your laptop. Fewer electronics doesn’t necessarily mean you’re less connected. It can mean less on your monthly electric, phone and cable bills, however.
Second, when you replace a gadget, don’t throw away your old/broken electronics. Be responsible and recycle your e-waste. Most cell phone stores and kiosks will take your old phones when you order new ones. Lots of stores offer recycling programs for all nature of electronics for free or for a nominal ($10 or less) fee, including:
And of course, the U.S. EPA has a website that explains how and where you can donate or recycle your old electronics.
Finally, many well-intentioned people will suggest you reuse your old electronics by donating them to charities or schools. Enviro Girl suggests otherwise. Often, old electronics are outdated, incompatible and expensive to fix (if the parts are even available). They create a lot of headache for the recipients–and often the recipient is put in the position of having to dispose of your electronic waste. How unfair! If you want your favorite charity or school to have new technology, Enviro Girl suggests a direct cash donation is a more effective way to help them out. Besides, the links she’s given you for recycling your electronic waste often handle donations of this nature far more efficiently. Leave your electronic waste–the recycling and the reuse–to the professionals!
Be an eco-warrior: reduce your electronic gadgetry and recycle them when you’re through!
The American lawn — a grass carpet, manicured to uniform height and ideally Kelly Green. The front and back and side of nearly every residential lot in American suburbs and neighborhood. We flatten the terrain, seed the lawn and dump huge amounts of petroleum-based fertilizers to boost the nitrogen in the soil before watering and watering and watering. The grass grows. And then? We fuel up lawnmowers with gasoline and cut it.
And then the lawn grows.
And we cut it.
And we fuel up our blowers and make the grass clippings go away for another week by sweeping them to the curb for the garbage collectors or to end up carried through gutters to the nearest waterway.
And we add water.
And the lawn grows.
And we cut it.
Americans invested $25 billion last year to grow something so we can cut it to a few inches. We spend our time in this vicious cycle of water-grow-cut-dispose-water-grow-cut-dispose and then? If anything NOT grass grows in the lawn, we poison it.
So why are lawns a good idea?
Enviro-Girl likes playing in the back yard as much as the next girl, baseball, tag and golf are all best played on grass. But how much lawn is necessary for these things? And how much lawn is needed for decorative purposes?
Let’s examine some of the other reasons why lawns are for fools:
* Mowing uses gasoline (about 580,000,000 gallons a year) and leaves behind air and noise pollution.
* Lawns require a LOT of fertilizer — and most fertilizers are petroleum-based. Americans spend over $5 million on fossil fuel-derived fertilizers for lawns.
* Perfect lawns require pesticides and herbicides which poison our water, soil and destroy diversity in the process. Pesticides and herbicides are bad for pets, children and other plant life, too.
* Lawn clippings end up in landfills, hauled away at the expense of local governments.
* Lawns require watering — 30-60% of urban fresh water is used for watering lawns.
(Statistics from Redesigning the American Lawn by Bormann, Balori & Geballe, Yale University Press, 1993)
Enviro-Girl thinks we should wise up and consider what to plant instead. Tune in next week for some alternatives.
Okay, I can admit it. I want to be just like Dr. Seuss.
I want to speak for the trees.
Who wants to be a Once-ler?
It’s something no one should do
To be a Once-ler would be so bad
To be a Once-ler would be more than sad.
Yes, The Lorax was one of my favorite stories when I was growing up.
It taught me a few life lessons in fun, rhythmic rhymes.
Like the fact that no one should be a blight upon the planet.
And, it’s everyone’s job to remind people that Thneed making isn’t the most important thing we can do. If we join forces, we can all help protect the Planet.
So, for motivation, I thought I’d share a few sobering statistics found on this site:
Did you know that 1 carton or 10 reams of 100% virgin copier paper uses .6 trees? So that one small box of paper is the equivalent of more than half a tree.
Or did you know that 1 tree makes 16.67 reams of copy paper?
Now, if you haven’t thought about using recycled paper, or printing double-sided, maybe you will. Or what about asking your offices, schools, and organizations to try going a little “greener”? We can all do a little and it will do a lot.
So, let’s all try to take after the Lorax and speak for the trees because, if we don’t do it, who will?
My day will begin with a shower with a bar of Zum soap by Indigo Wild (all natural, aromatherapeutic) and a lather with Avalon Organics shampoo. I’ll let my wash-and-wear haircut air dry while get dressed and brew a pot of Jim’s Organic Coffee for me and my husband to share. It’s also Turn Off TV Week, so I’ve taped PBS–they aired Food, INC. and I’ll watch it next week to educate myself further about food production and the agriculture industry. I glance out the window to gauge the weather and admire the flock of birds at our back yard bird feeder. A bluebird catches my eye with his bright feathers.
The coffee’s on, my solar-powered radio has me tuned in to commercial-free NPR for news and good stories while I rouse my sons and feed them breakfast cereal, pouring milk out of returnable bottles. After we eat, they dress and brush their teeth and walk to school. I pay the electric bill–down 20% from last year at this time, both for the month and overall. I muse over why our household’s electric consumption went down. LED Christmas lights? Refusing the use the clothes dryer? Unplugging the fridge in the garage? Installing power strips? It doesn’t seem like our lifestyle has changed that much in the past year, but a 20% decrease is something to celebrate.
My youngest and I drive into Appleton to pick up the 50 tree seedlings we’ve purchased for this weekend. We’ve planted trees on our property every spring since we bought it 8 years ago. This year we’re planting two varieties of spruce trees to provide more winter windbreaks and more shelter for the birds living near us year-round. Our county conservation office sells trees every year for about .50 a seedling–what a deal! On our grand total of 60 acres we’re preserving and restoring all kinds of natural habitats. In the midst of urban sprawl, our property has become a sort of nature preserve.
Back home, we put the trees in the garage and read a few library books together. Sharks are the popular topic these days, and that opens up a great discussion about the food chain and how humans are the worst predators of all. What can we do to help sharks in Wisconsin? Not much besides making sure we’re eating sustainable seafood.
The woman from the CRP arrives to survey our prairie and cool-season grass plantings. We’ve got about 13 acres enrolled in the CRP, another 20 in a Managed Forest Program. We get tax breaks and some incentives to manage a sustainable wetland/prairie/forest habitat. We’d do it anyway, but it’s nice to have the support.
For lunch my son and I eat natural peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because it’s meatless and a side of carrots and apples. Meat is so hard on the environment, skipping meat a few times a week is good for our health and the planet. We do love to eat meat, but we try to be responsible. The bread bag is empty, so I shake out the crumbs and put it beneath the sink with the other bags slated for recycling. After I walk him to school, I get the mail. The catalogs go straight to the recycle bin. I log on my computer to answer emails, read blog posts, write and check the EcoEtsy Handmade Earth Day Auction. I’m not buying anything unsustainable to celebrate Earth Day, I’m bidding on donated items that will make great gifts if I win them–the proceeds from this auction will go to the World Wildlife Fund. After I power down my laptop, I clean a bathroom using Ecover and Bon Ami with an old towel repurposed as a rag. I empty the compost into the pile outside and admire the tulips now blooming. At 2:50 I head across the field on foot to retrieve my kids from school. On the way home, we talk and I bend over to pick up the occasional trash blown onto our property. We’ve already cleaned the fields and ditches, but there’s no end to the windblown litter.
After homework, playing outside and a pasta dish made with last year’s tomatoes (preserved in the freezer) and a dessert with last year’s strawberries, we drive to karate graduation seven miles away. I bring along a refillable bottle of tap water in case anyone gets thirty. Two boys earn new belt ranks and afterwards we celebrate with ice cream at a local shop on the way home. We end the day with The Drill (brush teeth, wash hands, change into pajamas), more reading of library books and a prayer before bedtime. I let the cat in, scratch her back, scoop out the litter box (filled with compostable Swheat Scoop Cat Litter) and feed her. The can from her food goes into the recycle bin and I get ready for bed.
My day ends beneath the glow of a bedside lamp while I read. Reflecting on how I’ve spent Earth Day, I wince at the impact of driving on the environment. Living in a rural setting gives us no real option, and I do cluster our errands so that I drive as little as possible. Our consumption is minimal–mostly food. Aside from the EcoEtsy Earth Day Auction, I bought ice cream cones (consumable) and trees (sustainable). My energy use included a gas-powered car, a solar-powered radio, electric-powered lights, appliances and laptop. Nothing went into the trash can except for the plastic lid of an empty glass milk bottle, the litter on our property, and the napkins from our ice cream cones.
Why am I sharing this silly personal account of my day? It’s to show that sometimes the best way to honor our planet is to tread lightly upon it. Earth Day isn’t about flying to a nationwide summit, buying greenwashed products (spending money) or adding more work and activities to our already very busy lives. We can celebrate Earth Day every day with simple actions–choosing to use more sustainable cleaning products and eating more sustainable food resources. We can unplug by choosing to plant a tree or read a book, fill a bird feeder or play in the yard. We can take a walk, shop less, ingest less advertising, admire more natural beauty. Some Eco Warriors are on the front lines, rallying support for bike trails or protecting wildlife habitats. Maybe that’s your style as an Eco Warrior. Some of us are behind the scenes, planting gardens and trees, picking up other people’s litter and refilling our reusable water bottles. Either way, your actions leave an impact and teach the younger generations good (or bad) habits and lifestyle choices.
To celebrate Earth Day and Eco Warriors of all sizes and styles, the Eco Women are giving away one canvas tote. One way we can all can be green is to quit using plastic shopping bags. That’s right, give them up cold turkey. The Eco Women are giving away one of their canvas shopping totes to help one lucky Eco Warrior do just that. Whether your keep it for your own farm market trips or gift it to a friend who needs a little prompting to be greener, you can enter to win the tote by leaving a comment any day this week. And stay tuned all week as the Eco Women celebrate Earth Day and share tips on how to be green.