Saturday, April 23, 2011

earth day every day

Sadira on her very first Earth Day, looking like a baby boy. :)

It's Baltimore Green Week/Earth Day Week!!!  No better time to share some EASY tips on how to be green!!

A little background.  I've always been a bit of a tree hugger when it comes to environmental issues.  Having been a Biology major its kind of a prerequisite.  I remember reading books with my mom when I was very young about conserving water, be mindful of world around you, not wasting electricity, never ever ever could I throw trash on the mom did a great job teaching me about respecting the world around me, and I'm trying my best to duplicate that with Sadira. 

I admit, I immediately lose all respect for someone if they throw trash on the ground.  Gross.

When I was in middle school I even attended "Save the Environment" camp one's that for the epitome of dorkdom?  We basically just traipsed around for a week without showering, participated in drum circles, and learned how to bird call.  Just kidding...maybe. ;)  Surprised I didn't turn out to be a barefoot hippie with dreadlocks and a mangey mutt named "Soul Flower?"  Yeah, sometimes I am too.

What we actually DID learn at "Save the Environment" camp is that everything that WE do (or don't do), affects the world around us.  Living in Baltimore its easy to see how runoff from the city eventually dumps everything into the Chesapeake Bay.  We learned how trash can camouflage itself to look like food for fish, birds and other animals.  After camp, I became the collector of cigarette butts (they can be mistaken by birds to be food, are eaten and swell in their stomachs), and the destroyer of plastic six pack rings (always snip these with a scissor before you throw away, because animals can get themselves entangled in the rings).

One of my most vivid memories of that summer was when I was sitting around my grandmother's kitchen table about to eat dinner.  She was asking what I learned at camp that day and I was rattling off 101 things about how to save the planet.  It was an election year that year (1992--the Clinton/Bush/Perot race) and in typical form my grandmother (the staunch Conservative) had her right wing talk radio blaring in the background.  In the middle of me proudly reporting all the things I had learned that day, I hear Rush Limbaugh's voice complaining about "the damn environmentalists who want us to spend money on planet instead of the national deficit."  I stopped short with what I was saying.  Having not been alive during the 60s or 70s, I didn't realize that environmental activism had a political spin to it too.  My grandmom, seeing me get startled, hopped up and turned the radio off.  "Your doing a wonderful thing, honey," she said.  "God gave us a beautiful Earth and it's our job to take care of it.  People need to learn how to clean up after themselves, and that has nothing to do with those loudmouth politicians."

And that's been my viewpoint ever since.  Taking care of our planet shouldn't be a political's something everyone should be invested in.  It's the simple principles of cleaning up after your self, not being wasteful, and taking only what you need.  I mean, for goodness sake, there's a giant disgusting garbage patch floating around in the Pacific Ocean thanks to our inability to clean up after ourselves.  Just click here, if you want to see photos of how gross it is.

But enough about that.

I realize that "Going Green" has become very trendy in the past couple years (yay!) but there is still lots more than can be done.  And it's really quite easy.  So today I jotted down the first 30 things I could think of that Sadie and I have done JUST THIS WEEK to show that we care about the Earth and the environment.  Again, many of these are things that we do all of the time, but since I like lists, and having this running theme with the number 30, I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could think of 30 things we actively here goes:

1. Think twice before printing!  I have a little note on the bottom of every work email I send out that says, "P Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail. "  (Feel free to copy and paste for your own purposes!)  I also have disabled my default printer on my work computer this week.  So every time I hit "print" I have to click a second window that asks which printer to use.  This extra step has really made me re-think if I need to print off every little memo that comes across my screen.

A sample of what we recycled...just this evening.

The recycle bin at home...
..and the recycle bin at work.

2. Recycle!  Duh, this one seems the most obvious.  Sadira and I are huge recyclers and we're lucky to live in a city that supports single stream recycling.  My office also has recycling bins on every floor.  Recycling is so accessible in so many areas now, there's really no reason not to do it.  And if it's STILL not accessible where you live, do something to change that.  I mean, seriously.  It's 2011 and there's really no excuse anymore not to recycle.  Speech over. :)

3. Maintain your car!  Sadly I have a 50 mile roundtrip commute to work each day, which uses LOTS of gas and LOTS of money.  This week I took my car in for my routine oil change and tire rotation.  They also top off all of my fluids and replace my filter.  All of the things help to keep my car running at optimum levels, and be the most fuel efficient--which helps the environment and saves me gas money. ;)  I also try to use cruise control as much as possible--this is a huge gas saver when you do mostly highway driving!

4. Neighborhood clean-up!  Spring has finally spung in Baltimore, and this past Sunday I couldn't have kept Sadira indoors if I had bribed her with cupcakes and Kai-lan.  While we were outside I took the time to sweep my front steps, clear trash out of the gutters and collect any old newspapers.  I was happy to see so many neighbors outside doing the exact same thing. 

5. Unplug!  This one is so easy, but so many folks overlook.  Unplug your appliances when you're not using them.  This may seem tedious as first, but it's really not.  I have a desktop computer in the basement that I only use once a week at most--this stays unplugged unless it's being used.  Start with your kitchen appliances (toaster, coffee machine, etc.) Unplug them and then replug just for when you need to use them.  Appliances that are plugged into the wall (even if they are not being used) continue to draw electricity from the outlets.  So unplugging will save energy AND money.

6. Stop junkmail!  Everyone hates junkmail, right?  In our house it's mostly nonsense clutter that gets tossed right into the recycle bin without being read.  This week I took some steps to reduce the junkmail I receive, by first reading up on privacy rights here and then registering my information here.

7.  Opt out of credit card and insurance offers!  Similar to #6, I'd say the bulk of my junkmail is offers for new credit cards or insurance.  I didn't realize until I did a little googling that you can actually opt out of these, which will greatly reduce the amount of mail I receive.  Go here to quickly and easily opt out for either 5 years or permanently.

8.  Say "no" to the receipt!  Next time you're visiting the ATM or gas pump, choose the "no receipt" option after your transaction is complete.  You can easily check your balance electronically with most banks providing this at no additional costs, and saying no to the receipt will help keep your wallet or purse clutter free.  I once read a stat that said, "if everyone in the United States would select the no-receipt option at the ATM, it would save a roll of paper more than two billion feet long, or enough to circle the equator 15 times." (source: Market Watch)

9. Use re-usable water bottles instead of buying bottled water!  My grandfather always jokes that he's kicking himself for not thinking of SELLING WATER when he was younger---a thought that was so ridiculous to him as a child.  Water used to be something that was free, but it's now a multi-million dollar market.  Save money (and resources) by using a Brita filtering system and reusable bottle. Or get yourself a Bobble that will do the filtering for you.  I'm lucky that I live in a major city where water treatment is a top priority, so I have no issues drinking straight from the tap.

This is one of my favorites. It's ceramic and looks just like a standard Starbucks coffee cup.

10. Use re-usable Starbucks coffee cups!  I'm a Starbucks fanatic, but you can easily replace "Starbucks" with "Jamba Juice" or "Caribou" or whatever you prefer.  Point is, the cups from those weekly lattes, add up...and if you're like me, you're rarely near a recycling bin when you finish yours.  Start to train yourself, say, "I'll only get a Starbucks grande skim with whip mocha if I have my reusable cup with me." :)  It's a good way to get in the habit, if you're gonna spend $4 on a freakin' cup of coffee...

(These super cute alternatives are available at Old Navy for only $5!) 

11. Watch the temp...and open the windows!  Spring has spring, so instead of being a slave to the heat to the AC, shut off the air and open the windows.  Saves money and electricity.

12. BYOB---bags, that is!  Not only are they more convenient because you can re-use them, but they are also sturdier, have better handles, and you can throw them over your should unlike traditional plastic bags.  Many stores will also offer a discount if you use re-usable shopping bags.  CVS now has a promotion if you buy one of their green tags (which were free last week , after ECB promotion) and loop it onto a re-usable bag, and scan it each time you come into the store, they will give you $1 ECB for free after every four visits.  Not bad!

13. Clean green!  There are so many "green" or "natural" products on the market now, it's easier than ever to clean green.  Not to mention, it amazing what a little vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice can do!  Keep in mind, everything you send down the drain eventually ends up back in our ecosystem.  Here are some great tips for cleaning green.

14.  Remove the hazardous wastes from your house, and dispose of them properly!  Household hazardous wastes need to be disposed of differently than regular trash.  Many of these items contain ingredients that can be detrimental to the environment if sent to the dump and allowed to leach into the ground and ground water.  We know we're not supposed to do it (come on now, we've all seen Erin Brockovitch...) but I'm sure we're all guilty of tossing something in the trash that shouldn't be there.  Here is a list of household hazardous wastes.  Lucky for me Baltimore Household Hazardous Waste day (comes around twice a year) is next Saturday.  Check to see if your city offers something similar!

15. Stock up on energy efficient bulbs!  These are something that I always try to snag if I see a good deal!  Energy efficient bulbs last longer than traditional bulbs and require less energy.  I am slowly transforming my house to be more energy efficient, so when one regular bulb burns out, it's replaced with it's energy efficient counterpart.

16. Wash in cold water!  Now I won't do ALL of my laundry in cold water, but I do try to pick the lowest temperature setting necessary.  Especially since I learned that up to 85% of energy needed to wash a load of laundry goes into heating the water! (source: World Watch Institute)

17. Get a programmable thermostat!  These things are awesome, and saved me a ton of money this past winter. I had a regular thermostat and then one afternoon I was shuffling around the house in my UGG boots and I generated enough electricity between my boots and the rug that when I touched the thermostat I SHOCKED IT SO BADLY I SHORTED IT OUT.  Seriously, I think these things only happen to me, I'm like one walking Murphy's Law.  Anyway, when I bought a new one I was sure to buy one that could be programmed.  It was perfect during our freezing cold months this winter, knocking the temp down to 60 while I was at work, and heating back up to 75 around 5pm, just as I was heading home.  I'm excited to see the affect it'll have on this summer's AC bill!

18. Go to the library!  First of all, the library's free.  Second, it's free.  And's free.  You don't have to pay a dime (as long as you don't accrue fees) and you get access to all kinds of books, magazines, journal subscriptions, DVD's, CD's, you name it.  Our local library is particularly awesome because it has an amazing kids section called "Tiny Town" with toys, huge play areas, dress ups, art project space, and tons of books.  Not to mention most libraries will have free programs for kids and adults.  It's a total win-win situation.  All while encouraging the re-use of products, which saves in the long run.  Did I mention it's free?

19. Recycle or donate your old cell phone!  There are many programs out there that can make use of your old cell phone.  Point is, don't throw them--or any electronic for that matter--away in the garbage.  Most electronic waste contains mercury and other toxic chemicals.  Not something we want sitting in a landfill, leaching into the soil.

20. Teach 'em young!  This week, Sadira and I talked about how it's important to turn off the faucet while brushing our teeth, and we continued our conversation about what goes in the trash vs. what goes in the recycle bin.  Since it's Earth Week, Nick Jr. was broadcasting episodes of her favorite cartoons that addressed Green issues, and we read Dr. Seuss' book The Lorax, which features a main character who "talks for the trees" when they are threatened to be cut down.  I try to make a very concerted effort to raise an environmentally conscious kid.

21.  Bring the outdoors in!  Indoor plants can help filter the air, helping to remove indoor air pollutants like formaldehyde and benzene.  This week we have some beautiful Easter lillies freshening our air.  Now if only I could work on keeping plants alive, I'd be good to go...

22.  Pay all bills online!  I typically pay my credit cards and electric bill online, but this week I switched ALL of my bills to electronic bill pay--even my mortgage, something I've been meaning to do for awhile.  I also opted out for paper statements, set all of my accounts up for automatic monthly payment.  All I did was make a list of all of my monthly bills, pulled together last month's statements and bills, pulled out my check card and checking account information and took care of all of them at one time.  This will save paper, save money in stamps, and help to ensure that all of my bills are paid on time every month. 

23.  Buy "concentrated" or "ultra" cleaning products!  They work just as well as their full size counterparts (just require more water to dilute when using) and they use 50-60% less packaging.

24.  Take your lunch to work!  My office cafeteria uses Styrofoam.  DRIVES ME CRAZY every time I have to buy lunch in that crap.  So I stopped.  Every day this week I took my lunch to work with me in Tupperware and a lunch bag.  I estimate I've saved about $30 this week NOT buying my lunch every day, not to mention it's healthier, AND I've avoided using Stryfoam which will still be present on the planet long after I'm gone and the next fifteen generations after me as well.

25. Use washable dish towels instead of paper towels!  This one is Sadie's.  She uses it to dry her hands, clean up spills, wipe her face, you name it.  It's right on the handle to the fridge so it's at her level and easily accessible.  I have my own too.  Every time I do a load of laundry, I'll throw them in, so every couple of days they're cleaned.  Sadie doesn't even ask for a paper towel at home.  In fact a standard roll of paper towels usually lasts about a month to six weeks in our house.

26.  Match the pan to the burner!  I'm notoriously bad about this, so since I read this tip earlier in the week, I've made a honest effort to do this habitually.  Foods do not cook faster just because they are boiling over.  If you turn down the heat when the water begins to boil you'll use less energy and foods won't boil over or burn dry.  In fact, a 6-inch pan on an 8-inch burner will waste more than 40% of the heat produced AND food will take longer to cook. (source: Good Housekeeping)

27.  Build a birdhouse!  This one's totally for fun, but it IS something we did this week. After a evening out with her Dad, Sadira came home with a new toy--a build your own birdhouse!  Fortunately it was relatively easy to put together, and Sadie couldn't wait to paint it.  I think she did a beautiful job, and I think our neighborhood birds are going to love it when we hang it on the porch tomorrow.

28. Learn what these symbols mean!  This is something I've been meaning to read up on for quite some time.  So here, now you too can learn something :)
USDA Organic. What it means: Food is produced without antibiotics, genetic engineering or most synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides. (Seen on food products)

Rainforest Alliance Certified. What it means: Companies harvesting the food practice soil and water conservation; they also reduce the use of pesticides. (Seen on coffee, chocolate, bananas)

Fair Trade Certified. What it means: Food is grown on small farms; farmers receive a fair price. (Seen on coffee, tea, chocolate, fruit, rice, sugar)

Certified Humane.What it means: Animals raised for dairy, meat, and poultry products are treated humanely. Growth hormones are prohibited, and animals are raised on a diet without antibiotics. (Seen on eggs and meat)

Green Seal. What it means: Products are evaluated for environmental impact; they must meet recycling and bleaching standards. (Seen on napkins, paper, towels, and toilet paper) (source: Good Housekeeping)

29.  Re-use!  This is one of my favorites.  What you consider trash may be perfectly useful to someone else.  Consider donating to Goodwill, or selling on Craigslist or Ebay.  Sign up for Freecycle!! (One of my most faves.)  It's not only helpful to the environment, but it will save you a ton of money.  I scored the glider and ottoman pictured above for a sweet $40 altogether when I was pregnant with Sadie.  It was in perfect condition and had I bought it new in the store, the exact same model would've cost $250-$300.  Almost four years later we still use that glider and ottoman almost every day.
30. Watch the Story of Stuff!  Watch it, learn something, and pass it on to someone else  Hopefully they'll learn something too.

Happy Earth Day, everyone. :)  Thanks to today's nasty weather, we'll be planting our tree (and crossing #6 off the list) tomorrow.


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