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Plastic Ocean

Paper or plastic? That is a question asked millions of times all across America each day. The correct answer is: neither! Yes, plastic and paper bags are free, and they can be reused and/or recycled. But, are they?

According to an employee at my local grocery store, Miller's and Sons, the majority of their shoppers request plastic bags, and they never bring them back to reuse. Paper is also requested a lot, but most of those are not returned for reuse either. Even though their paper bags state that they can be reused for 5 cents off per bag, most people do not reuse them. Also, only a small minority of folks who shop there bring their own reusable bags, which can be used for 5 cents per bag for store credit or donated to the local food pantry. This is a great incentive to reuse bags, but the store does not have any signs up indicating that they do this. According to the employee, they used to have signs up a long time ago, but now it just says it on the bags. If you're a new customer, you probably don't even know this incentive is offered.

At this point, I'm sure some of you are thinking "who cares?" Why does any of this matter to me? bag stats According to www.sciencelearn.org and www.cleanair.org, Americans use approximately 102.1 billion plastic bags, and most of them end up in landfills. It can take 500+ years for a plastic bag to degrade. This means billions of plastic bags from this country alone will be sitting in the landfills when our great-grandkid's great-grandkids are around. That's a looonnnngggg time. Also, many of these plastic bags make their way to the ocean, where they accumulate and cause great harm for ocean life.plastic turtle

This brings us to the next question: What can we do about it? Well, this is where that pesky reduce/reuse/recycle part comes in. Reusing these bags is great, as long as they eventually get recycled. Recycling is wonderful, but it does take energy. Reducing the use of these bags by not using them at all is by far the best alternative. If you don't have them to begin with, you don't have to deal with them at all! This is where reusable bags come in. They are relatively inexpensive, most of the stores carry them, and they are washable. When they break down too much to use, they can be recycled.

Most people say their biggest reason for not using them is forgetting to take them. Well, I am here to help with that! Just follow this handy link Reusable Bag Reminder to print off a very colorful and helpful reminder to take your reusable bags the next time you go shopping! Stick it on your fridge, your front door, or wherever will help you remember to take your bags. Please do you part to keep plastic out of the landfills and the oceans.

th0X8PK8ME

#agreenmindblog

 

Composting -- The Circle of Food

From table to garden to table. Composting is a circle of life and food. For those who don't know, and I'm sure many don't, table scraps (and other assorted items) can be recycled into fertilizer for new plants.

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According to Dictionary.com, composting is "a mixture of various decaying organic substances, as dead leaves or manure, used for fertilizing soil." It can include many other organic materials as well -- most of which you use everyday in your own kitchen. For instance, egg shells, banana peels, vegetable scraps, etc., can all be put into the compost to decompose into fresh, organic soil.

Composting can be done either inside or outside, but in areas with freezing weather, such as Wisconsin, composting can be done outside in summer but should be done somewhere inside in winter. Usually a basement or cellar is best, as the smell can get a little overwhelming.

Outside composting is relatively easy, and doesn't take a lot of room. For suggestions on a DIY compost pile, check out www.diynetwork.com.

Indoors composting is easier in cold weather, and it can be done with the help of some little wriggly garden friends -- worms. For these who don't like to touch worms (me!) you don't need to. They just need to be added to the pile of material being composted in a large container. You can purchase many different types of indoor compost containers online or at garden stores. The worms do not need to be added to outdoor compost bins, as they invite themselves. There are many types of starter kits in many sizes that can make this easier for the first-time composter. I will be starting this adventure myself soon, and I will definitely post an update after I get started.

To complete the circle of compost to food to compost, use your new, fresh, organic compost to grow your own fruits and vegetables. You will never have to worry about pesticides, as you know exactly what is in the soil! Gardens can be large or small and put almost anywhere. Plus, having your own plants indoors helps to freshen the air, as plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. They're basically the Earth's natural air purifier!

If you're not sure composting is the way to go, just put an empty bucket or pail with a lid somewhere in the kitchen where you'll be sure to see it, and start adding food scraps that would usually go down the disposal or in the garbage. When the bucket is full, decide whether you would rather dump that all in a landfill or into a compost bin for hungry worms. It doesn't require any effort after it's set up, and even if you don't use that beautiful compost to grow anything, you can spread it out in your flower garden or around your trees in your lawn. They'll love you for it!

A list of what to compost/not to compost:

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Reduce/Reuse/Recycle

RRRWe've all heard it... the three R's. Reduce/Reuse/Recycle. But what, exactly, does it mean?

Reduce means lowering are consumption. We live in a materialistic society, and we NEED STUFF -- or so the TV ads make us believe. The only problem with more stuff is more waste. We are also a throw-away society. More often than not, what we buy comes in individual containers, lots of times non-recyclable containers, or is meant to be used and replaced versus repaired.

Reusing means finding ways to use something more than once -- often not for its originally intended purpose. For instance, upcycling a glass tea container into a vase or a toothbrush holder. Ya know, the "do it yourself" type of stuff. Both of these methods of conservation use no or very little energy. Plus they're fun!

Recycling is what you do when you put our paper, plastic, cardboard, glass, etc., in those handy containers that the recycling company collects every other week. While it may seem like a good solution (and it is compared to throwing it in a landfill), it takes energy to recycle these items.

Keeping a "green mind" while shopping means actively thinking about what you're buying. Can the container be reused? Can it be recycled? Does the item come in tons of packaging that isn't necessary? Can it be divided up into other, reusable containers instead of being purchased in individual, nonrecyclable containers? Yes, convenience is a great thing, but throwing that non-recyclable lunch-sized bag of chips in the garbage is worse than dividing up a large bag of chips into sandwich bags that can then be recycled. It takes a little more time and effort, but in the long run, you'll feel better about it!

There is a reason why the order is Reduce, then Reuse, then Recycle. Keeping this in mind, you can easily become a more "green" consumer. Happy shopping!

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Your Carbon Footprint and Traveling Strawberries

Have you ever wondered how much energy you use? A carbon footprint is "historically defined as the total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent," Wikipedia.com. Most of the decisions you make on a daily basis will in some way impact your carbon footprint -- the amount of carbon the activity releases into the air. This excess carbon in the air is part of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

The scary part is, it isn't just the things you do personally, like driving your car, that contribute to your carbon footprint. For instance, those beautiful, delicious-looking strawberries in the grocery store in December in WI... where did those come from? They certainly weren't grown here at that time of year! They were grown in another part of the US, or even in another country, and shipped here by truck or plane. How much energy was used to power that truck or plane? By purchasing those strawberries, you are enforcing the demand for them and thus the energy required to bring them to you. This is one example of how a small decision can make a big difference in greenhouse gas emissions.

The Carbon Footprint Calculator is a free tool provided by the Nature Conservancy that will lead you step by step through the process of determining your personal carbon footprint. It also gives ideas on how to take action to reducing your footprint. It's a real eye-opener!

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By the way, you can still have strawberries in WI in December... just buy the frozen ones, or better yet, buy extras in the summer and freeze them yourself. Yum!

It Ain’t Easy Bein' Green

What does it mean to “go green?”

I am starting this blog as a way to collect and examine information regarding all aspects of becoming a green consumer and activist. Going “green” means to learn about and engage in sustainable activities that will help our planet and ourselves. Think of it as a broader take on the concept of Reduce/Reuse/Recycle. In each post, I will be highlighting a particular area of environmental concern, as well as providing easy ways the average person can use this information to make more Earth-conscious decisions and help protect our environment. The first step in changing is always the hardest, but knowledge is power!

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