Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Celebrating Earth Day

Every time I open the newspaper these days there is an article or a letter to the editor about global warming. Al Gore and others predict dire consequences for our planet if we don't do something soon, while ultra conservatives claim the evidence presented is all a hoax. It's confusing, to say the least, to the ordinary citizen, but one annoying caller to our local radio talk show who calls in several times a week to claim "irrefutable scientific evidence" that global warming does not exist has pretty much convinced me to take the opposite point of view.

I don't think anyone would call me a radical. I don't belong to PETA, and I'm not a "tree hugger"--although you'd better not mess with my old oak tree! But wherever you stand on the issue of global warming, you have to agree that we humans have not done a very good job of taking care of our planet. All of us can--and should--take small steps to ensure that our footprints on this earth are not permanent. April 22 is Earth Day, a good reminder of our responsibilities, and Jan at Thanks for 2Day is sponsoring a meme with lots of great prizes for all who post about their attempts to be more eco-friendly. Even without the motivation of prizes, this is a great opportunity for all of us to spread the word about saving the Earth.

I 'd like to hug my redbud, too, now that it's budding.

Whatever "green" habits I have adopted, I have to give primary thanks to my mother. As a child, food was never wasted--though the "clean plate syndrome" ingrained in me has now settled on my waist, unfortunately:) In my mother's house, cabinets would be overflowing with empty margarine and cottage cheese containers to be re-used again and again; even plastic bread wrappers and aluminum foil would be cleaned and used over. On wash day, Mom would use the wash water from the old wringer washer to scrub the sidewalks (back when we had chickens), and the rinse water would be used for watering flowers. Old clothes would be cut up for rags or used in some other project. Perhaps it was because Mom was born during the Depression, but nothing was ever wasted. My mother was "green" before it was cool.

In recent years, I've gone back to some of the practices my mother taught me--though I draw the line at washing bread wrappers and aluminum foil:) Most of my attempts to be more environmentally responsible are small. I don't drive a hybrid car, and I don't ride a bicycle to the grocery store or to work. But the habits I have adopted are simple enough for anyone to do, and actions that I hope will reduce landfill waste, one of my primary concerns.

Here are some of the small steps I've taken:

1. Reduce the amount of plastic thrown away. For years, I have recycled plastic storage bags, like Ziploc bags. I use a lot of these for freezer storage especially, and unless you use them for something messy like a meat marinade, they can be easily washed and re-used many times. I also have made a conscious effort this year to put all my recyclable shopping bags in the car so that I can tote my groceries home in them instead of accumulating all those flimsy plastic bags. If you don't think this is important, take a drive sometime past a large supermarket into the countryside. In our area there are a few stores sitting next to open fields. On windy days, plastic bags strew the nearby farmers' fields and cling to fences.

2. Also reduce the use of plastic containers. I rarely buy bottled water, but rather fill up re-usable containers from the fridge dispenser to take with me. Unfortunately, this isn't always possible. At public events, like ballgames, or at the airport you are not allowed to bring in your own water for security reasons. I noticed on my recent visit to Arizona that a bottle of water I had purchased was labelled more eco-friendly. How?--They had reduced the size of the cap! Now I'm not sure how much landfill is saved by one centimeter less of plastic bottlecap, but I doubt it is much:) Wouldn't it be nice if more bottled water companies would look into other alternatives, like a plastic made from corn, a renewable resource? According to one website, such bottles have been around since 2004, but I've never seen a water bottle actually made from this material. The corn-based plastic is supposed to decompose in 80 days compared to a much longer time for traditional plastic.

A few interesting--and scary--facts about how long it takes plastic to decompose in a landfill:

plastic bags--10-20 years
plastic containers--50-80 years
plastic cups--250 years
plastic foam--never!

3. Recycle aluminum cans. This is a no-brainer, because most recycling centers not only make it easy to drop these off, but they also pay for the aluminum.

Nothing like "black gold" for better vegetable production.

4. Composting. Until I started gardening, everything was thrown into the garbage can. Now
leaves, garden debris, and excess grass clippings all go into the compost pile. An emptied coffee can sits under the sink for all the kitchen scraps and the copious amounts of coffee grounds which are later added to the compost pile as well.

5. Eliminate the use of pesticides. I won't say I'll never use a pesticide again, but most of the time there are other effective natural solutions. Two of the biggest pests in my garden, tomato hornworms and Japanese beetles, are better controlled by the simple method of hand-picking. There is a bottle of Sevin in my garden supplies, however, purchased two years ago to eradicate squash beetles. But after I bought it, the beetles had already created quite a bit of damage, and I decided we had had more than enough zucchini already, so why not share the rest with them? And speaking of pests . . . for those of you like me who are bothered by the annoying beetles pictured above who fly into our homes each fall, consider this: Asian lady beetles were originally imported to this country because they are a natural predator of the soybean aphid, a particularly destructive agricultural pest. They are responsible for preventing untold gallons of pesticide from being sprayed on soybean fields and running off into our groundwater.

Taking these small steps has reduced the amount of garbage we set out each week from 2-3 cans to only one. I will be honest, though, that some of that reduction was undoubtedly helped when youngest Daughter, a fast-food junkie, moved out:)

There is still much more that I could do, to be sure. One thing I would like to improve upon is to reduce the amount of paper we throw away. I recycle many newspapers by using them as mulch in the garden, but that makes only a small dent in a year's worth of papers. I'm hoping to buy an inexpensive paper shredder to shred the rest as well as all the other excess paper in our household. Some say newspapers take 5 years to decompose, while others say they take much longer. But shredded paper can be added to the compost pile, where it will decompose much more quickly.

I'd also like to find an inexpensive way to collect rainwater. I'm too cheap to buy one of the new rain barrels, but I've heard of some do-it-yourself alternatives, and I plan to check into those. Another project on the agenda for this summer is building a real compost bin. While my messy compost pile is hidden from anyone's view, containing the waste in a more compact area would speed up the decomposition process more quickly.

All of these practices may make only a small dent in helping the environment, but I do believe that if everyone would make a conscious effort to do the same or even more, we could significantly reduce our carbon footprint. No matter what political views you share, there are so many reasons to protect our environment for future generations.

This is one of my reasons . . .

. . . And here are three more good ones.

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

~Native American Proverb

Why not join in on this celebration of Earth Day? Check out Jan's post at Thanks For 2Day for all the details.


  1. That was excellent Rose !
    I so agree with you that the every day people are so bombarded by so much information and opinions of what is happening to the earth it is overwhelming and confusing .. I think if you go with your "gut" feeling and are some what well read with an open mind you can realize the path we are on as a whole .. and determine what is best as an individual to HELP.
    I have to say I love my rain barrel one of our best investments and if I could fit another one on the other side of the house I would : ) but in any case ...
    YOU are a force to be reckoned with with how much you do for mom earth girl !
    Well done you : )
    PS .. I just did spell check and no errors this time of the morning ? LOL

  2. If everyone would do just as you say here the earth would be so much better. Many years from now I wonder what arcaeologists will think when they dig down into our landfills and find plastic. Will we ever find a better, more environmentally healthy product to use.?

  3. This is a very thoughtful post! I agree that if everyone just took small steps it would make such a difference! Also like you, I have not been willing to shell out for a fancy rain barrel, but conserving more water is really something I'd like to work on.

  4. Darn, My comment was eaten by blogger. I just wanted to say it is great you fill your own water bottles. Sophie and the grandkids are too cute and good luck winning the raining barrel from Jan.

  5. Good morning Rose. You shared some wonderful ideas to help us live more responsibly.

    I reuse old newspapers too and find they usually break down in a year, even when thickly laid down. I try to keep them wet/damp and sandwich them between grass clippings. Sometimes the colored papers seem to be coated with something almost like plastic. I avoid those.

  6. Rose, after reading your remarkable piece, I think we could have been sisters... actually I think we are when it comes to the way we recycle and frugally live our lives. ;)

    While I am one who does not believe in global warming (after doing much reading and research), but rather think the earth goes through natural cycles and we have actually been through a cooling period the past 15 years or so.

    WWhat greatly disturbs me: when I see universities and the UN manipulating and falsifying data (deleting large periods of history) to gain grants and big money; when I find that dominant people have set up corporations and heavily invested to make this happen in order to reap multi-billions from it (Gore being one); when the BBC's pension funds are heavily invested/overweight in global warming stocks; when the GSachs, UBS, JPMorgan's... of the world are 'banking' on the newest trading scheme (like their CDO's- those Collateralized Debt Obligations, selling, repackaging, and re-selling junk wasn't enough to take the countries down), still another financial scheme of trading derivatives on the futures market, buying and selling of "carbon credits", and that does nothing for our climate, only lines the pockets of the few most powerful...

    I won't go on, but having followed the financial markets for many years it is incredible as to the inner workings of the financial industry. Books such as Bailout Nation by Barry Ritholtz offer insider insight into the financial crisis.

    Now that the eyes have glazed Having said that, I believe there is much everyone can do to leave this world a better place and we must do it. Rose, having grown up in the home of an immigrant grandmother who fled from Soviet Russia, nothing, nothing! was wasted, not even moldy food. Each day I think of her and my mother as I look at our life style of hard work, recycling, conserving, growing our own food, canning, freezing... We are indeed the product of our parents.

    Sorry if I have offended anyone, but the door was ajar. ;) Hope your week is a wonderful one. Maybe I'll go to the potting shed and think about writing a post.

  7. You've addressed very important issues, Rose, and well presented. I'm with you! So much is common sense ...

  8. We are heavily into recycling here and I have heard that shortly our city will have plastics recycled from the door. At the moment we have to walk nearly a mile to drop off plastic bottles in a recycle bin.
    Aluminium foil & cans, bottles & paper & old clothes, spectacles and batteries go each week from the house.
    Kitchen waste goes each week from a special bin and garden waste goes from yet another bin.
    Good post.

    Nuts in May

  9. Great post Rose. Beautifully written as always.
    I have been 'green' for more years than I care to remember. I was considered a 'freak' during the seventies when I started changing my ways.......

    I have many reasons for caring about the planet...

    the little ones of course come top of the list.

    If everyone cared about Mother Earth, could you just imagine how wonderful it would be. No litter for a start.....
    Health would improve if everyone gardened organically.
    My car is run on LPG, so less pollution.....
    I could bore you and go on and on but I really believe we all need to do more, we have a responsibility to those that are left, after we have gone.......

  10. That’s nice to hear that you and other bloggers are supporting a green Earth. You are right to remind people about reducing – it is the first step before recycling that many forget. We also refill water bottles. Sweet grandchildren! My daughter has been watching Gore’s Inconvenient Truth in science class. I love the proverb.

  11. What good reasons for saving the earth too :) Lovely family photos.

    I love your recycling habit, I try to do the same and am slightly annoyed by my new neighbourhood, who seem to just 'chuck' everything in their bins, which overflows onto the pavement outside the houses.


    PS, Sorry I've not been around much lately.

  12. Lots of great tips here Rose, and so many big, and little reasons to do our part for the Earth. Borrowing some of the frugal habits of our parents and grandparents, and reducing our waste is good for the environment, and the wallet!

    Kudos for all you're doing to protect our planet!

  13. What an excellent post! I do much of what you do, but am still looking for ways to do more. I love that your mother was green before it was cool :-)

  14. Dear Rose, what an excellent post this is. You need to send it out to your local paper. Or write a "green" column. I'm serious.

    I can relate to a lot of this. My mom used to save old cottage cheese containers and I did as well when the children were small. We reused wax paper, aluminum foil. We used the butter papers to grease cookie sheets. The list goes on and on. I used to wear my brothers old outgrown clothes.

    We have recycling in our area. So newspapers and plastic containers, etc. get picked up every week.

    I think it's wonderful you're doing so much to go green. After all, it's for our children and grandkids and all those coming after.

    I use dish soap to get rid of pests. It works too. The formula is water, vegetable oil (about a tablespoon) and a few squirts of dishsoap. Spray it on your plants and most of the time the pests disappear. I also hand-pick the ones that don't respond to the soap. I like the rainwater idea too and plan to put that into effect at a later date.

  15. Rose, a wonderfully written post! I have listened to that annoying caller as well and have had much the same reaction as you. While I do not believe that global warming is a total scam, I do think there are those out there who have found another way to manipulate, or at least try, the general public.

    Having said that, you know I am also into reducing and recycling and reusing in any way I can. I have been accused of 'dumpster diving' at work because I pull out paper and cardboard from the trash and put them in bins marked for that.

    Speaking of work, the board this month is for Earth Day. I have sent home several coloring pages about Earth Day with co-workers to have their children and grandchildren color. I have also asked that they write one thing they do to help keep the earth a green place. It should be fun to see what they come up with.

  16. Wonderful post Rose. Whether or not the climate change is induced by humans or is part of a natural cycle, I find it hard to believe that anyone reasonable would say that some things don't need to be changed. My greatest fear is what will happen with poorer countries as they develop and what will be lost.

  17. Joy, I know there is much more I could do, but thanks for the positive feedback.

    Lisa, I do get frustrated when alternatives are invented or found and then nothing gets done about it. Sometimes they may not be financially feasible, but I suspect sometimes Big Business interferes. Or maybe I'm just being too cynical:)

    Rose, I found out last week that last year the Master Gardeners had a workshop where they made their own rain barrels. I'm hoping they'll repeat this workshop.

    Tina, those plastic water bottles just seem so wasteful, not to mention expensive. Couldn't resist adding that last photo of Sophie with the grandkids. She loved Easter!

    Jan, Thank you so much for sponsoring this! I think you're doing a great service getting people to think about this topic. I realize now that there are so many more things I could be doing. Don't apologize for not visiting lately; I'm having trouble, too, keeping up with blog reading these days.

    Marnie, I've found, too, that newspaper mulch breaks down pretty quickly in the garden. I think maybe the "experts" are referring to whole newspapers in a landfill.

  18. Rose, A wonderful read from start to finish! and I loved the very excellent young reasons for your efforts! I did buy a rain barrel...but it's not enough in a drought ...I would love a cistern! We gardeners must dream big! gail

  19. Di, I think we do have a lot in common, but you are definitely more knowledgable about economics and politics than I:) I am so sick of bipartisan political squabbles that I've quit listening to much of the news. In particular, I get turned off by people who are dogmatic and refuse to look at the other side, like some of the callers to our local radio talk show, which is otherwise pretty informative. I do think, however, that big business has a lot of clout in political decisions, which shouldn't be the case. Whatever the truth is about global warming, however, I think we do need to do more to reduce waste and be more concerned about the environment, particularly on an individual level. I think our parents' and grandparents' generations were much more responsible than we are today.

    Not offended at all--it's been interesting to read all the comments here. And, yes, do write a post!

  20. Joey, I agree--common sense is important. We have become a throwaway society.

    Maggie May, I think Europe is way ahead of us on recycling and conservation. Americans have been used to having so much empty space for so long that we're just now realizing that we can't keep building landfills forever.

    Cheryl, As I said to Maggie, I think you are way ahead of us in this country. I know I could do so much more if I tried. I want my grandchildren to be able to have a decent world when they grow up, too.

    Sarah, I don't do enough recycling, but part of the problem is that it's really inconvenient here--I have to drive 20 miles just to drop things off. Thanks for the comment on the grandkids--I couldn't resist including these photos from Easter.

    Suburbia, I get mad because there are so many people who think the countryside is a dumping ground. I'm always picking up trash and cans from the road next to our house. In some areas they even dump old couches and appliances!

    Linda, Yes, I think my mother's habits were a combination of conservation and frugality. I don't mind doing something that will save me money:)

    Noelle, I realized while writing this that I really could and should do more. My mom is the ultimate recycler:)

    Wendy, Thanks for those kind words.I think we had similar childhoods:) The dishsoap is a good idea, and I've found that natural remedies like this are usually all that's needed to get rid of pests. I'm most concerned about not doing anything that might harm the bees.

    Beckie, You've found some great things from your dumpster diving! Those little manila envelopes were great for our seed swap this year. I remember S used to make fun of me for washing out plastic bags, but I still do it:) You ought to join in and do a post about your Earth Day board!

    Sweet Bay, I agree. I tend to be a middle-of-the-road kind of person on most political issues, but I think everyone doing their part to reduce waste and so much consumption as well as taking care of the environment just makes sense.

  21. Gail, Thank you--my "reasons" are very special to me in many ways. Yes, I doubt a rainbarrel would be enough in a drought. We've been fortunate the last few years that rainfall hasn't been a problem here. I do think I waste a lot of water, though, and need to work on that.

  22. What a great post, Rose, and I agree with you whole-heartedly!

  23. Very nice post, Rose! Thank you for the reminder. This is something we observed very closely at school. :-) I miss some of the special activities we used to do.

  24. Thanks Rose, for making such good points in clear concise language, without taking sides or pointing fingers! What a diplomat you are! Each year brings new awareness of the recycling that needs to be done. Our little town takes ALL plastic, it has changed the amount of garbage we put out each week to one tiny bag. If we really worked at it, we could have zero garbage, as is the goal is some places I have read about. Your reasons for saving the planet are the same as mine, it helps remind us that it is not about US, it is about the future.

  25. It's funny how the habits of the Depression and WII were such good ones, and how the generation failed to adopt them as their own but now see the wisdom of them. (Mom, Dad, you were right.)
    I wonder if your city might have a rainbarrel program. Around here, utilitarian rainbarrels are offered for about $20 to anyone who wants one.

  26. I am not so sure about all the hoopla about Global Warming either but I do try to do my part to keep things out of the landfill. We are now recycling aluminum cans, metal cans, plastic’s numbers 1 and 2, newspapers, magazines, plastic bags and cardboard boxes. We are after our county to take glass so hopefully in time that will no longer be in the landfill as well. A little goes a long way and that is why we no longer use disposable razors either.

    The last two pictures say it all Rose! Recycling is well worth the small effort…

  27. That "clean plate syndrome" is an inconvenient truth on my waistline too, Rose:) Your post could not have been better at pointing out the fact that we all share responsibility and consequences for what we consume and produce while we're here on this Earth. You know, I felt a little guilty about buying those plastic eggs to hide for our grandson and wish I could have found something biodegradable. We used to look for hard-boiled, colored eggs when I was a kid, but I don't think that would fly today. Interesting information about the Asian lady beetle. I didn't know they were purposely imported to attack soybean pests. I thought they just hitched a ride aboard a freighter.

  28. This is a timely post Rose and I agree with your take on the poor human handling (up to now anyway) of our beautiful planet. You listed good ideas - I'm going to check out that "meme" - all these little tips add up especially if we act on them.

    The photos of the children (always should be our foremost concern!) prompted a memory from my nursery days. Families would come in the nursery and buy bags and bags of poison to spread on their lawns. Then guess who rolls in it the next day? Education is the key! If I'd had my druthers we would have been an "organic" only nursery. It's difficult to reconcile some of these realities into our daily lives.

    Thanks for the great info Rose!

  29. Some good ideas Rose, which I wish everyone would use. I've been doing many of the same things for years. In thinking about what further I can do I realized I and my husband had made a big step in that regard this past year - we no longer eat beef, pork, or chicken. Maybe I should do a post on that...

  30. A very informative post...I am trying to integrate a lot of what you wrote about. Although I am terrible about recyling. Each person can make a difference and you surely are doing your part! I like what you said about making water bottles from things other tan plastic. It would be aweseome if they could figure that out.

  31. We fill our bottles at home when we go out on vacation and avoid plastic bottles too. One thing that I find really difficult is the use of pesticides, but now I've restrained myself to using only the Neem Sparay.
    A very well written post, Rose.
    Reading through your post, I am reminded of what the hero says in Avatar to the Holy tree. He'd say something like "The sky-people(earthlings) have killed their mother..." which touched me!

  32. Joyce, Always glad to hear from you!

    Shady, Our school made some attempts to recycle, but it seemed they always fizzled out.

    Frances, I don't know about being a diplomat, but I do hate to offend anyone. I do envy you your local recycling program; here nothing gets picked up except garbage. The little ones do remind us of our responsibilities, don't they?

    MMD, Funny, but I keep coming back to the ways of my parents. Our Master Gardener program had a rainbarrel project last year; I'm hoping they'll do one again this year.

    Skeeter, I'm impressed at all you do! We need a more user-friendly recycling program in our town.

    W2W, enjoyed the pun:) I have to admit I put plastic eggs in the Easter baskets, too; kind of hard to fill the hard-boiled ones with candy:)

    Amy, Thanks. I failed to mention that we don't put any chemicals on our lawn either, but we do have such a big yard that it wouldn't be economically feasible anyway. I'm always concerned about what they might do to the kids or my dog as well.

    Jean, Good for you! I can't quite give up meat yet, but we do eat more vegetables now with the garden.

    Rosey, I've now seen some containers made from recycled plastic--there's a good idea, too!

    Chandramouli, I think pesticides have to be weighed against the damage the pests are doing. I've been lucky not to have too many problems. I still haven't seen "Avatar"--what a great quote!

  33. You point out that there are so many simple things we can all do with hardly any effort at all.

  34. Frances nailed it, Rose - "good points in clear concise language, without taking sides or pointing fingers!" And your images perfectly illustrate your words, as always.

    Last year I gritted my teeth and bought two of the urn-type rainbarrels - the only locations our house layout allowed were two very prominent positions near front and back doors and they look pretty good. Two barrels won't stop a Texas drought, but they let me use rainwater on the veranda baskets and containers in the front, and for the containers on the patio in back. And the overflow hose lets me direct the extra water where I want it to go.

    We can recycle some plastics, newspapers & cardboard and cans, but in my subdivision glass was removed from the list of what they'll take, which was pretty upsetting. There are only so many jelly jars I can wash out and fit in with the stacked up plastic ones ;-]

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  35. Wonderful post, rose. We bought a log-maker for Daughter last year. You stuff newspaper into a tube and compress it. As they have a wood-burning stove it comes in useful.

  36. A most thoughtful post Rose. Those horrible plastics bags can also wrap themselves round tree branches :(

  37. Like you, I don't think of myself as radical, and I truly believe that a lot of little things that we can do add up in a big way. Great post!


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