Enviro Girl has written before about how her family tries to reduce their household waste. Her household (5 people, 1 dog) produces roughly one tall kitchen garbage bag of garbage each week. She pushes her family’s dumpster to the end of their driveway once a month. Managing their waste means not dumping it in the county landfill. Enviro Girl often imagines how her taxes might fall if everyone in her area managed waste the same way: Continue reading
Head into any grocery store, convenience store, or health food store and you’ll see “Health Drinks” selling by the gallon. Pick your poison, from Gatorade to Glauceau Mineral Water, you can hydrate and “make yourself healthier.” Do these “health drinks” live up to their promises? Are they really a “healthy alternative?” Continue reading
Enviro Girl lives with boys who play on teams–and each team means a new team t-shirt. Over the years, the family has accumulated boxes of shirts–many no longer worn. We’ve also got bushels of old socks (many without their life partner), towels, undies and blue jeans. Instead of filling a landfill with old clothes unfit for the thrift shop, Enviro Girl cuts them into squares and gives them another life as rags. Old socks slit up the side are the perfect size for polishing wood. Old t-shirts work great on windows and glass. Old towels clean up sinks, tubs and toilets beautifully. And even old tighty-whitey Fruit of the Looms work great for swiping away motor oil or wiping on shoe polish (and then into the trash)! These days the only time Enviro Girl uses paper towels is to absorb bacon grease when making Sunday morning brunch.
The cleaning industry has pushed consumers into using disposable cloths and towels–it’s a huge money-maker for them, but it’s also a huge burden on our planet. The production, packaging and final toss into a county landfill take human “convenience” to a perfectly loathsome level of wasteful and toxic behavior. Rags are free, reusable after washing and most fabric fibers decompose over time when you finally do retire them to your compost pile or the local landfill. Reincarnating old clothes as rags is a step closer to Enlightenment–and a step away from further global devastation.
Love your planet–reuse your old clothes when tackling cleaning chores. Put that “Lakeville Youth Soccer” t-shirt back in the game–it’s got several seasons left in it playing a new position!
Like most eco-warriors, Enviro Girl recycles, picks up other people’s litter, avoids flushing harmful chemicals down the drain and tries to reduce her emissions by sharing rides and consolidating her driving errands. She’s aware of pollution in all of its forms, even pollution most people don’t think about: light pollution.
If you step outside at night, can you see the stars in the sky? If you can’t easily pick out the Big Dipper, it’s due to light pollution. It’s true–too much light is an environmental hazard, causing problems beyond making urban stargazing a difficult hobby.
Light pollution is simply too much light at night, usually unnecessary light or wasted light, that disrupts the habitat of all kinds of creatures. Why is too much light at night a problem?
For starters, it’s often a waste of energy. What’s the point in completely illuminating an entire area reaching up to the clouds? Sure, some night lighting is essential for safety reasons, but much of the light we create at night serves no useful purpose. Enviro Girl has several outdoor light fixtures at her house, but she only turns them on as they’re needed, not every night. And inside her entire house, only one windowless bathroom has a small nightlight that turns on when the room grows dark–all of the other lights go off at night.
Energy use aside, too much light at night disrupts human sleep patterns because light is part of the biological prodding that wakes us up just as darkness helps us sleep. Light at night messes up migrating birds, feeding patterns of nocturnal creatures and insect breeding. Take a firefly for example. A firefly finds a mate by flashing at night–when there’s too much light, there’s no way a firefly can find a mate. Many firefly populations have disappeared because they’ve no safe place to live. Nocturnal mammals rely on darkness for cover–when everything is bright at night, they become easy prey and their numbers diminish. Nesting sea turtles rely on the cover at night to lay their eggs–but the bright artificial lights on many beaches confuse the turtles, who now cannot find a safe spot to nest. According to National Geographic, this results in hundreds of thousands of lost hatchlings a year--just in Florida! It’s easy for Enviro Girl to pull a shade and restore darkness so she can sleep at night, but the animals, birds, insects and fish do not have this capability.
Light pollution makes the night sky impossible to see in many parts of the world, it also makes it impossible to study. The constant haze of light separates people from amazing views of the night sky just as much as noise pollution can separate people from the sounds of nature.
What’s both frustrating and encouraging about light pollution is that it’s an easy problem to fix. By redesigning light fixtures, we can save energy, preserve our view of the night sky and reduce disrupting nature. The worst kinds of night light include globe lights, billboards, under-lit signs, wall-mounted non-directional fixtures and mercury vapor lights (commonly known as “barn lights”). A small detail like designing night lighting to light from above to below instead of from below to above makes all the difference. Check out these two images:
See how the “globe” fixture lights up the road–not only are there TOO MANY lights illuminating the area (Enviro Girl is hard-pressed to find any value in making it look like broad daylight 24/7), half of the light produced goes into the night sky, serving no discernible purpose.
This image shows a well-lit sidewalk. Almost all of the light produced is targeted to a specific area and very little is escaping into the night sky. The area is safe without much light reflecting above or beyond where it’s needed.
Enviro Girl appreciates the need for some night lighting to keep people safe, but most of the night lighting she encounters is purely for cosmetic or commercial purposes. She’s happy to do her part by keeping her neck of the woods dark and welcomes nocturnal creatures who need darkness to survive. By keeping her lights off at night, bats, owls, rabbits, mice, toads, frogs, raccoons, foxes, skunks, coyotes and yes, even those wonderful fireflies can survive. She also saves on her electric bill, reduces her carbon footprint and preserves the incredible view of the starry sky.
Enviro Girl encourages you to do nature a favor and examine your use of night lighting. Can you help reduce light pollution?
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.
Summertime comes and the kids clamor for plastic bottles of Gatorade, Powerade, Koolade — all laced with chemical additives, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), dyes and other unpronounceable stuff. Plus these drinks get expensive when added weekly to the grocery cart. And they generate a fair amount of plastic waste that may or may not get recycled.
This eco-warrior heads into summer knowing her kids’ proclivity for sweet drinks and she serves up their favorites in a more healthy way. Enviro Girl makes summer drinks from scratch. Her kids still get a dose of sugar, but the sweet stuff is natural and Enviro Girl can manage the quantity when she brews the pitcher of refreshments.
To kick the bottled drinks habit, you have to be willing to plan ahead. Enviro Girl has a couple of heavy-duty Tupperware pitchers and sets of glasses. When mid-afternoon arrives and her crew gets thirsty, she grabs a set of glasses and a pitcher of home-brewed thirst-quencher from her fridge and heads outside to meet them. It’s as easy to grab a pitcher and cup as it is to grab a plastic bottle, although you could pre-fill water bottles with other drinks and keep washing them by hand. Enviro Girl likes cups because they can go in the dishwasher.
Check out the label on any lemonade – powdered or concentrate — it’s loaded with HFCS. But making lemonade from scratch is simple: lemons, water, sweetener. Enviro Girl uses fresh lemons on occasion or lemon juice concentrate — 4 lemons, 5 cups water, 1/2 cup sugar or honey. Stir and pour over ice. Cheaper than the manufactured version and healthier. Get a little crazy and add crushed berries and you can rival McDonald’s with a raspberry-lemonade or strawberry-lemonade.
Iced tea is notoriously full of HFCS — check out the cans, bottles and powdered stuff at your grocery store. They’re no healthier than a can of Coke, don’t fool yourself. Making iced tea at home is cheaper and easy — add boiling water to a glass pitcher and dunk 7-8 teabags. Enviro Girl uses fruity herbal tea bags like Raspberry Zinger and Peach to duplicate popular “flavored” iced teas. Add sweetener (honey or sugar) to taste. Toss in lemon slices if you’re inclined. Let it brew 5 minutes and pour over ice or store in the fridge for when you’re thirsty. If you’re lazy (like Enviro Girl sometimes is), you can dunk 7-8 teabags in a pitcher of cold water and let the sun steep it for you. And you can kick it Southern-style by leaving that container of sweet tea on your counter in easy reach all the time.
Soda has fallen out of favor as the refreshing drink of choice, but Enviro Girl has found that mixing some fruit juice with seltzer water makes a sweet and bubbly beverage. To kick the Gator/Power/Kool Ade habit, keep a pitcher of water on ice infused with sliced fruit — oranges, lime, lemons, berries all make a flavorful and handy way to hydrate.
In fact, Enviro Girl plans to invest in one of these to keep her kids happy all summer at a fraction of the price and with none of the waste produced by store-bought drinks:
She can picture it on her kitchen counter or on the patio beside a stack of Tupperware cups, standing ready for thirsty kids and party guests! Less packaging waste, less plastic, less money, no chemicals, no additives, no HFCS, no food dye, more taste and more control over the ingredients — all great reasons to brew your own summer drinks!