Friday, April 22, 2011

Green Ideas

As usual, Earth Day this year feels like a bit of a letdown. Every twenty-second of April, I feel like I should make some kind of bold, dramatic gesture: planting a tree, swearing off bottled water, or maybe even starting a recycling program in my community. But our yard already has all the trees it can comfortably hold, our town already has an excellent curbside recycling program, and we never buy bottled water as it is. So as usual, I'm forced to settle for a bunch of tiny little gestures—most of them things that I do on a regular basis already.

However, it occurred to me that some of the green steps that are routine for me might actually be less so for some of you, and vice versa. So instead of posting about a big new thing that I'm going to do this Earth Day, I'm going to post a list of ten things that I've already tried, and that you might like to try too. And if you folks respond in kind in the comments section, maybe I can actually get some new ecofrugal ideas that I haven't already tried. So here is my list of Things to Try for Earth Day:

1. Check your carbon footprint. There are tons of carbon footprint calculators on the Web, each of which seems to use a different algorithm for calculating your individual or household CO2 emissions; when I tried calculating our household emissions a couple of years back, I got results ranging from 5.2 tons a year to 31 tons. However, while the sites all differed as to the actual number, they were pretty much in agreement that it was on the low side for an American household. So even if the number you get is only an approximation, it can at least give you a good idea where you fall on the curve. And some sites, such as Carbonfund, give you the option of immediately purchasing carbon offsets to match the exact amount of emissions you produce. Or, for a more complete picture of your environmental impact, you can check out a site like MyFootprint or Global Footprint Network.

2. Visit your local library. We go to ours all the time, although these days we seem to check out more movies than books. But that's okay; either way, borrowing them is much more earth-friendly than buying them. We also take advantage of the events our local library hosts, such as film screenings, poetry readings and the annual used book sale. A trip to the library is a great green alternative to a trip to the mall (and for many of us, it needn't even involve getting in the car).

3. Prepare a meal with seasonal ingredients. Around here (USDA Zone 6), seasonal produce at this time of year includes the earliest asparagus, spinach, and rhubarb. Those of you in warmer climates may have more to choose from. Bonus points if your ingredients are actually locally grown; double points if they're organic.

4. Better yet, try growing your own. Currently poking their heads above the ground in my garden are broccoli and cabbage seedlings, snow peas, and some wee tiny little sprouts of arugula. It'll be a couple of months before any of that is ready to eat, but it makes me feel nice and self-sufficient knowing it's there. If you haven't got a yard, consider starting a container garden with a couple of tomato or pepper plants on a porch or balcony. Even a sunny window is sufficient for a pot or two of fresh herbs.

5. Go thrift shopping. This is actually a frustrating experience for me most of the time, because there are only two thrift shops here in town. One is a very smart, upscale consignment shop with a selection of very fashionable clothes from well-known designers, but the prices are higher than at low-end retail stores like Sears or Target, and there's practically nothing available above a size eight; the other is a dark, cluttered basement that's only open two days a week and has a fairly frumpy selection of goods that seldom changes (although on the rare occasions when gems do show up there, the prices are great). So if I want to have a real thrift-shopping extravaganza, I have to make a special trip to the nearest Goodwill store, which has a good-sized selection and fairly decent prices, but is twenty minutes away in an area we seldom visit for any other reason. So this tip may actually work out better for you than it usually does for me.

I was planning to try going for ten Earth Day ideas, but those five are the only ones that came to me right off the top of my head. Perhaps I'll post more tomorrow if any come to mind. In the meantime, please comment and tell me all about your favorite green activities. What am I missing out on?
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