22 April 2011

Earth Day

I've spent a long time thinking about what I should write on Earth Day. When I thought it was last Saturday, I had something written up about spending the day tending to "our little patch of earth"...but I think I've written enough about tending to our patch of earth to last through the weekend.

But more important than a play on the word "earth" is the spirit of Earth Day. So I'm going to share some things that anyone can do, in a new house or old, to live just a little greener. If you don't already do these things, it's easy -- and makes a big impact -- if you incorporate just one of them.

CFL bulbs. Although they're still more expensive than incandescent bulbs, the price has come way down. You might pay three times as much for a CFL as a regular bulb, but it'll last perhaps five times as long -- and only use a fraction of the electricity to power. Boxes of better bulbs have the color temperature marked on them, and if you stay in the 3500-4100 degree color temperature range, they don't look too fluorescent (or too yellow):

And unlike when they first came out, having a CFL bulb poking out of a fixture is no longer considered ugly. Now it makes you look cool and smart.

If you've been resisting CFLs, it's time to get on board -- before incandescent bulbs are phased out altogether (did you know that Cuba banned them in 2005?). If you really hate the wiggly look of CFL bulbs, some manufacturers make them with incandescent-type shells that make them look like regular bulbs. (But remember: CLFs are cool!)

Recycle. It's easier and easier with many municipalities collecting all of the recyclables in a single bin and places like Target and Lowe's accepting plastic bags for recycling. (We give them the bags our newspaper comes in, shrink-wrap from food containers, etc. Anything that's that soft plastic film.) Our favorite local bicycle/triathlon shop, Jack and Adam's, even collects those metallic wrappers from things like granola bars and energy bars. It's become a bit of a game to see how long we can go without filling up our garbage cart.

Compost. It only takes a tiny corner of the yard to collect "greens" (non-meat kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, etc.) and "browns" (dry leaves, paper), ignore them, and come back a few months later to find fabulous compost for the garden. (If you stir the compost and add water to keep it moist, it'll go more quickly.) We started out trying to compost all of the yard waste from our landscaping project, but it quickly became too much, so we put the waste out for the city to take away to compost in their industrial facilities. Now we have our larger-than-usual pile, as well as our store-bought composter (we are currently adding to the pile while allowing the tumbler to brew; once we have a good "crop," we'll use that, allow the pile to percolate, and put new material in the tumbler):

If you're wondering why there's a spoon on top of the pile -- it's compostable! (Like recyclables, compostables are labeled as such. More and more "plastic" cups and utensils are compostable.)

Low-flow toilets. If the time has come to replace a toilet, consider a low-flow model. For not much cost difference, you can install a toilet that will use half as much water (or less), saving both water and money.

Check with your city about whether they offer rebates on low-flow toilets (or even free toilets).

Reusable grocery bags. We have gotten about a dozen (far too many, really) free at races, city "green" events, and even from local grocery stores on Earth Day. We keep them in our car and remember to take them into stores about 90% of the time. (The ten percent of the time when we get plastic bags, we reuse them at home in the kitchen and bathroom garbage cans.) Did you know that Target will give you 5 cents for each reusable bag you bring in?

None of these ideas are, uh, earth-shattering -- but that's what makes it so easy to incorporate them into your life. If you have any other no-effort-required green living tips, please share them!

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