Going Green / Lazy ways to be green
Often, people assume that living an eco-friendly lifestyle involves effort—too much of it. That might be true of some things like gardening or arranging inconvenient and complicated carpools, but there are ways to be greener, even for the laziest among us. Some of these ideas might be smaller in scale, but consider their impact when multiplied over months and years or when implemented by your whole family and all your friends and neighbors … you get the idea.
As consumers, we have purchasing power, which influences which products sell and how they’re created. The next time you’re at Wegmans, look for labels like Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance Certified, which indicate products that are grown sustainably on farms or in forests that offer workers a living wage and safeguard wildlife and soils. Other labels that indicate eco-friendly products include Energy Star, the Forest Stewardship Council, and the Marine Stewardship Council. By buying these products, you’re voting with your wallet to encourage other companies to improve their practices—all without lifting any extra fingers.
Similarly, avoid disposable products like paper plates, plastic cutlery, Styrofoam cups, and more. In 2013 alone, the United States produced seven million tons of plastic waste from these nondurable products, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Eliminating these items can be easy—for example, instead of Ziploc baggies for lunch sandwiches, use reusable plastic containers, and skip the plastic water bottles in favor of durable, reusable stainless steel.
And, of course, shop local and eat seasonally. We’ve all heard how shopping locally benefits our community and environment, but it bears repeating. Local produce is fresher, often picked just days or hours before it reaches your table and without having used energy to travel thousands of miles. When you patronize local businesses, three times more of your money stays in our community, in the hands of people who care about the character of our neighborhoods and the livelihood of local workers.
Finally, as you head out to shop, remember your reusable bags—not just at the grocery store, but at department stores, clothing retailers, and more. Keep them in your car so they’re always on hand, and you’ll be reducing the energy needed to produce new bags and maybe save some money as well. Some stores, like Aldi and PriceRite, charge customers for plastic bags, while others, like Target, give a small discount for each reusable bag you use.
Up your recycling game
For 2014—the most recent data available at press time—the City of Buffalo had an annual recycling rate of nearly twenty-three percent, a small increase from 2013 but still a sizable distance from the national rate of thirty-four percent (which, mind you, could also be much higher).
To help, spend a quick five minutes learning about your town’s recycling rules—what does your hauler accept, and does it need to be sorted? In Buffalo, visit buffalorecycles.org; for other locations, consult your municipality’s website. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll quickly see where you can improve.
One room that’s often overlooked is the bathroom. While the vast majority of Americans—seventy percent—say they recycle regularly, only one in five consistently recycles bathroom plastics, according to a 2013 survey by Johnson & Johnson. Twenty percent of those surveyed didn’t even know they could recycle bathroom plastics.
The fact is, most bottles of shampoo and conditioner, hand soap, mouthwash, lotion, and other bathroom items are made from #1 or #2 plastics, which are almost universally accepted by neighborhood recycling programs. Make things easy—put a small recycling bin under your sink, allowing you to easily keep those items—along with paper products like toilet paper tubes and other packaging—out of your waste stream.
Likewise, if you don’t have a recycling bin in your office—whether at home or at work—put one there, too. Make it second nature to toss old documents or newspapers in that bin rather than a trash can. To help reduce the amount of paper you consume, don’t print unless you absolutely have to, and when you do, print doublesided (either the first time, or by reinserting used paper to print non-essentials on the second side) and reduce font size to conserve ink and paper. For Web printing, download CleanPrint (formatdynamics.com/cleanprint), a free tool that allows you to delete image and text clutter and reduce font size before printing.
Roughly twenty-eight percent of our waste stream is organic material—food waste or yard trimmings—according to the EPA. Of that, nearly sixty percent of yard waste is recovered annually, a strong number but one that leaves some room for improvement. Before the snow thaws, look up your municipality’s policies on grass clippings, leaves, and other yard waste. Many towns, such as West Seneca and Amherst, ask residents to put material in reusable garbage containers with the lids removed and bring it to the curb on garbage day.
Food waste, however, is a very different story—according to the EPA, it’s the single largest type of waste in our landfills. According to the US Department of Agriculture, thirty to forty percent of our entire food supply is wasted, which requires attention and improvement at all levels—from production and distribution in stores and restaurants, to consumption at home.
Donna Hoke wrote about reducing food waste for Spree’s January issue, and included such ideas as portion control, repurposing leftovers, resisting impulse purchases, and using common sense, rather than arbitrary sell-by dates, to determine if food has gone bad. All of these are easy to implement and can go a long way toward curbing your household food waste.
We’ve talked a lot about composting in these pages, but if you’ve always been too intimidated to try it, check out the Farmer Pirates (farmerpirates.com), who operate a residential compost pickup program (which also includes small offices) for $135 a year in the City of Buffalo (and some outlying areas). The compost crew provides a bucket that you fill with coffee grounds, eggshells, fruit and vegetable scraps, bread and grains, and more (no dairy, meat, or non-organic materials); every two weeks, they pick it up—easy! Enrollees in the composting program can opt to receive a portion of the finished compost back for their gardens; urban farmers use the rest to grow local produce. Win-win and so easy.
Matthew Biddle writes regularly for Spree and Spree Home.