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Be an Eco-Hero

50 green ways to save the world

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Be an Eco-Hero

Wondering how to save the earth? There are many simple things we can do.

When I think about changing the way I live in order to help save the planet, I wonder, “What more can I do?” I already live in the dark, shivering, tripping over piles of recyclables. But after a little research, I realize that there are so many simple things I can do.

Green Gardens

Whether you live in the city or country, it’s possible to grow your own. The best part of gardening is the rewards…beautiful flowers, fruits, and veggies that are all natural, and all due to your hard work. Start small with a square-foot garden where you can plant a mixture of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. These pint-sized patches can be easily managed in less than 10 minutes a day.

When planning your garden, remember to choose drought-tolerant and pest-resistant plants and seeds. If you do have pests, consider planting rosemary or lavender to ward off slugs, snails, and parasitic worms, or organic pest-control methods such as spraying garlic water or soapy water. Ants and other crawling insects can be discouraged with lemon, talcum powder, chalk, bone meal, charcoal dust, and cayenne pepper. Or just line trees and flower beds with sticky paper.

Let your grass grow a little longer. This will encourage longer roots that shade the soil, reduce soil evaporation, and discourage weed growth. You can recycle your garden waste (grass clippings, leaves, and needles) by mulching. This simpler, slower form of composting mimics the natural decomposition process and produces rich organic material.

Composting is the best way to turn organic waste into rich organic material. If you have the room, you can build yourself an elaborate three-step processor, or you may be able to purchase a low-cost composter from your municipality. For those with limited space, such as condo or apartment dwellers, a worm composter is an excellent option.

Home, Green, Home

There are many easy changes you can make in your home to reduce energy and fuel consumption. Try lowering your thermostat by 1 degree C in the winter. Then try further lowering your thermostat when you go to bed at night. It’s also a good idea to change the furnace filter monthly in the winter when your furnace works harder. A dirty filter will make it much less efficient.

In the summer you can save fuel and energy if you raise your air conditioning setting by 1 degree C. It’s also a good idea to shade your air conditioner. It won’t have to work as hard if the unit is in a cool place.

Another easy adjustment is lowering the setting on your water heater to 130 F (54 C). This is hot enough to kill bacteria and still save energy.

In the laundry room, wash your clothes with pure soap and washing soda. Both have proved for years to be effective and safe. If you need a fabric softener, add 1/2 cup (125 mL) of baking soda to the wash when you add your regular detergent. Also try washing your clothes in cold or warm water. You’ll save energy and you won’t notice a difference in your clothes. To save even more energy, hang your clothes (outside) to dry. Sunlight is a natural whitener.

Other eco-friendly cleaning choices include using vinegar as a mild disinfectant. It is a natural and nontoxic grease cutter and effectively cleans glass, deodorizes, and removes calcium deposits, stains, and wax buildup. Cornstarch can be used to clean carpets and greasy stains. Baking soda is a good abrasive that also deodorizes, removes stains, and polishes.

You can make a big impact if you change your water use habits. Turn off the water when brushing your teeth or lathering up. You can reduce the amount of water used by 50 percent. You can further reduce energy use by installing low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators, or install a toilet dam or a plastic container filled with water in your toilet tank. You’ll use less water with each flush. If you’re renovating, consider a low-flow toilet to save even more water.

When painting, use water-based paints instead of latex-based paints. Water-based paints don’t produce harmful emissions, and you won’t have to use toxic solvents for cleanup. You can also replace lubricants containing solvents with castor or mineral oils for lubricating hinges and switches. Most importantly, avoid anything containing polyvinyl chloride (PVC, or vinyl), which can be found in flooring, shower curtains, furniture, and some children’s toys.

When shopping for new furniture, look for products made from reclaimed wood. Choose furniture made without urethanes, adhesives, plywood, particle board, or MDF (medium-density fibreboard, often made with formaldehyde) so you don’t have to worry about toxic fumes or residues. Look for furniture finished naturally with beeswax, tung oil, linseed oil, or walnut oil.

If you prefer more modern finishes and materials, look for furniture made of stainless steel, which is now made with at least 50 to 70 percent recycled scrap stainless steel, and is 100 percent recyclable.

Inner & Outer Space

Declutter your home. It’s an excellent way to find the organization and peace buried under the physical and mental baggage you’ve collected throughout your life.

Here’s some helpful advice:

  • Start now–don’t put it off.
  • Schedule some time into each day for decluttering–15 minutes will do.
  • Get rid of stuff–don’t just move it around.
  • Be tough! Don’t let sentimentality get in the way.
  • Reuse, recycle, donate, have a garage sale–don’t just throw stuff away.

Eat Your Greens

When buying fresh food, try to purchase locally to reduce emissions and energy used in transporting both the food and you to the store. Look for sustainable seafood at the market or at restaurants. Sustainable seafood comes from fisheries that remain healthy and productive due to successful management, responsible harvesting, and advances in contained fish farming. (For more information about sustainable fisheries, see the article “All the fish in the sea” in alive’s October 2007 issue.)

If you can’t adopt a vegetarian diet, then choose carefully the animal proteins you eat. Cows take up more land space than chickens, and they require more resources to sustain. When buying chickens, ensure they are free-range and organic.

Once you’ve purchased your supplies, you can save time and energy by cooking one-pot meals.

Vegetarians Lighten the Load

Adopting a vegetarian diet to lose weight can not only save the lives of certain animals but it can also save the planet. The meat production industry contributes significantly to wilderness destruction, energy waste, soil erosion, and pollution.

Some of the negative side effects include:

  • production of significant amounts of methane gas
  • deforestation to make way for pastures
  • food and water consumed by animals instead of people
  • excessive use of energy and fuel to raise and then transport

Look Good, Feel Green

There are two general assumptions about eco-friendly clothing: natural is better, and synthetics are to be avoided. But sometimes, natural doesn’t necessarily mean cruelty-free.

Avoid silks unless they are guaranteed to be produced cruelty-free. Silk-producing moths are treated cruelly by the industry. The pupae are boiled alive, killed with steam, lanced with pins, or roasted by the scorching sun to preserve the continuous silk thread. Adult moths are thrown away or killed after breeding.

Brides-to-be can find cruelty-free options in eco-conscious jewelry. Some North American jewellers are doing stunning work with recycled precious metals (gold and platinum) and conflict-free diamonds (usually Canadian). Another eco-friendly jewelry option is to shop vintage and second-hand.

What do you do with your stinky, old running shoes? One suggestion is to donate them (any brand) to Nike’s Recycling Center, where they convert shoes into sports surfaces that they can donate to a YMCA or a park. Or, you can donate any slightly worn shoes to charitable organizations that give them to the needy at home or abroad.

Butt Out to be Green

One of the best things you can do for your own health, the health of those around you, and the health of the planet is to quit smoking. The environmental impact of smoking and the cigarette industry goes far beyond second-hand smoke.

  • Cigarette butts are the most littered item worldwide.
  • Millions of acres of trees are cut down to process tobacco leaves and make paper for cigarettes and packaging.
  • Tobacco farmers and harvesters suffer from tobacco poisoning, an occupational
    sickness also known as “green tobacco sickness.”
  • Land is used for tobacco farming instead of food farming, contributing to world hunger.

Celebrate Responsibly

The next time you’re out for dinner or celebrating a special occasion, look for organic choices to fill your glass without the hidden added kick of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.

Watch the game while hoisting a few organic beers and ales; pair your organic entr? with organic wines; mix it up with organic, vegetarian, and hypoallergenic (not grain-based) organic spirits; and toast a special occasion with biodynamic sparkling wines.

When you stop for a cuppa java, look for shade-grown coffee, which requires little or no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, doesn’t require as much water, and doesn’t endanger rainforests.

Guilt-Free Entertainment

Some musicians opt to be eco-conscious. Canada’s own Barenaked Ladies sell USB memory sticks containing their music so fans can offload the songs and then reuse the memory stick. They tour responsibly, using a nonprofit organization called Reverb to create environmentally responsible concerts by arranging for wind power and biodiesel for the band’s tour equipment. The Barenaked Ladies also donate used guitar strings, which are recycled into jewelry.

Eco-hospitality is a new travel trend that sees normal hotels (not eco-tourist destinations) adapting green practices in water usage, energy efficiency, and indoor environmental quality. This could mean anything from using nontoxic cleaning supplies to offering free parking for hybrid vehicles.

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