Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, Happy Earth Day!

I love Earth Day, perhaps even more than my birthday. That might seem strange, but it's true. Earth Day was started on April 22, 1970, the day after I was born. Do the math; I am 38. Sad, but true. I have friends that are ok with their age and darn proud of it. I am ok with my age, but I don't wear it like a badge of honor like they do. If someone calls me ma'am I still cringe. But I digress.

In addition to celebrating my 28th birthday for the tenth time, I made a point this year to really play up Earth Day. Truth be told, this is the first year that I have ever given much thought about Earth Day. I have friends who have been all about Earth Day for years. These are the same friends who are ok with their age. They are also much healthier and skinner than me, so they must be doing something right. Again, I digress. Anyway, being mental is nothing new for me, but being environmental is relatively new. For me, being "eco-" means making choices that are both economically and ecologically sound.

To that end, I have some thoughts on the eco-friendly choices that we make as a family that hopefully are trickling down to our children. They are, in many ways, lifestyle choices that are vastly different from when I was growing up, some of which are harder to incorporate than others. For this generation of children, being eco-friendly is not just trendy or normal, it's a societal necessity.

1. Minimize waste. By packing foods that are nutritious in proper portions, we waste little food. Buying in the largest and most practical quantities for our family avoids the markup for packaging convenience items. Likewise, by using reusable containers, we are minimizing the amount of waste that goes into landfills. To be fair, I still buy drink boxes, juice in pouches, and small packets of crackers and snacks, but very rarely. Convenience packaging is a personal choice which I can appreciate. However, doing it yourself is relatively easy, although it does require a bit more time. On a scale of 1 to 5, the difficulty for us to adopt this strategy has been a 3. Not easy, but not impossible.

2. Waste-free or minimally wasteful lunches. Since lunch is the meal that most school-age children eat outside of home on a regular basis, families that choose to do this are doing the right thing. On a larger scale, schools that have adopted waste-free lunch programs are on the leading edge. Waste-free school lunches is still in its infancy. With the exception of some schools on the west coast and a few other environmentally forward-thinking schools, it's virtually unheard of. The parents of the preschool my daughter attends have agreed to adopt a waste-free lunch policy starting the next school year. My prediction is that it is a matter of time before waste-free cafeterias and on-site composting is done on a large scale. For more information about waste-free lunch programs at your school, this EPA website is a great place to start. On a scale of 1 to 5, this has been a 2 for us.

2. Using reusable canvas or recycled, post-consumer waste bags for groceries. Getting into the habit of remembering to put the reusable grocery bags in the car has been the biggest challenge about this habit. Likewise, remembering to bring them into the store with us has also been a bit challenging. Our local supermarket has been selling some really nice bags made of 100% post-consumer waste, so I bought four of them. They are large, very sturdy, and their bright colors and vibrant graphics are very cool and are being sold for the Elizabeth Haub Foundation. I must admit that I am a little annoyed that their are more designs available than the four our store has.... Grrr.... Seriously, though, using reusable bags is a no-brainer. This one is a 1 out of 5. Plus our store gives us a $0.02 credit per bag. Not that 0.02 is going to get you anywhere, but it's one or two fewer plastic bags going into a landfill.

3. Unplugging our electronics when we are not using them. This one has been hard. I am guilty of leaving our computer, tv, and many household electronics 24-7. I have recently begun unplugging the coffee pot and toaster oven when they are not in use. I also unplug the nightlights in our house, all three of them, when we are not using them. Admittedly, I should turn off the computer, but the power strip is so out of reach. It's a lame excuse. I should just buy some new power strips, one with a longer cord for the computer and one for the tv, cable box, dvd player, etc.

4. Composting and recycling. Composting was somewhat challenging at first, but we have gotten used to it. I have a ceramic canister with a tight seal and latching lid that I keep on the kitchen counter for fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, and coffee grinds. Initially the ick factor kept me from doing it, but a few heaping spoonfuls of baking soda in the bottom of the container eliminated the odor factor. It is about a quart-sized container and once a week I take the contents out to our compost pile and with my rake, toss it in, and cover it up. Recycling is not even a question. Our town has a schedule to pick up recyclable plastic, glass, cans, cardboard, paper, etc. Composting was about a 3 in terms of difficulty to do and recycling is a 1.

Living in a more environmentally friendly way is definitely more mainstream than it was a few years ago. My prediction is that many things that seem trendy now, like waste-free school cafeterias and solar panels, will become de rigeur in the very foreseeable future. Some things, like reducing the amount of packaging, plastic, and paper products people use are easy things to do that take some time, but cost very little to do. Other things, like getting solar panels on your house or heat exchangers instead of hot water heaters, are still largely out of reach for the average consumer because equipment and installation costs are so high. At the moment, the $16,000+ investment in solar panels for my house is much to exorbitant for me, even with a state-sponsored and funded rebate. However, my hope is that if everyone wants solar panels and heat exchangers, then the basic economics of supply and demand will bring the prices down so normal people with kids and dogs, minivans and mortgages, can afford them. You can bet that I will be first in line when that day comes.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Photo credits: Microsoft Windows sample images

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