Employ down-to-Earth tricks for a 'green' lifestyle
The mailman must get miffed at Peggy Greenough.
The 53-year-old homemaker and her brood subscribe to “Better Homes and Gardens,” “Architectural Digest,” “Cooking Light,” “Newsweek,” “Time,” “Popular Science” and — the mother lode of thick, slick glossies — “Vanity Fair.”
Add in this family of five’s subscriptions to “The Boston Globe,” “Wall Street Journal,” “New York Times” weekend edition and “The Concord Journal,” as well as the 20-odd cookware and clothing catalogs that arrive monthly, and the weight would make even a pack mule groan.
And yet, a lone trash barrel stands sentinel each week outside their home. It’s enough of an anomaly that Greenough’s neighbors have begun to talk.
“Like most people, I probably just started out doing newspaper, bottles and cans,” says Greenough about her 9-year recycling efforts. Eventually, “you start to think about the mail you get, paper towel tubes … I even think about a Post-It note now and put that in recycling.”
Greenough is a far cry from a tree hugger. She doesn’t drive a Prius, grow her own vegetables, or compost. And she disdains that swirly, soft-serve look of candescent fluorescent bulbs, claiming their glow has all the ambience of a CVS aisle. But when it comes to recycling, Greenough is a zealot.
“We all should be doing something,” says Greenough, who confesses that her efforts may be offsetting some environmental guilt. “[Americans] use a lot of energy. That lifestyle — an affluent lifestyle that generates a lot of waste and uses a lot of energy — has an impact.”
Thanks to Al Gore’s global warming documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” going green is now a moral imperative to a certain subset. But the typical soccer mom is unlikely to swap the SUV for a hybrid any time soon, and the average Joe (or Jane) hasn’t yet embraced solar paneling. That said, they can make simple, practical, eco-friendly changes at home that just may help save the planet.
For example: Declare war on your dryer, says C.C. King, 49.
King, a mother of two, including a teenager, sees gobs of laundry each week. And yet, her 17-year-old dryer gets fired up about once every six weeks. The household makes do with an outdoor clothesline as well as a web of lines hanging in the furnace room.
“It takes longer, but it’s actually very pleasant to be outside hanging laundry,” says King, a sculptor, community activist and co-founder of an arts and environment program. “There’s a whole ritual to shaking it out, hanging it up, being outside. And it smells good. But the bottom line is, I do it for the energy savings.”
The dryer is usually the second-largest energy-consuming appliance (after the refrigerator) in the home. Al Gore lists air-drying laundry as one of the top 10 things a family can do to reduce its carbon footprint.
”It’s not a hard thing to do and it makes such a difference,” says King. Besides, she adds, your clothes last longer.
At King’s home, the thermostat is set at 60 degrees, the toilet doesn’t get flushed unless it stinks, zip-lock plastic bags are sacrilege, and composting is down to a science.
“If everybody were to live like Americans, we would need the resources of seven Earths in order to be sustainable. We are living beyond our resources,” says King, fearful about the Earth her children and grandchildren will inherit. “When resources get scarce, things get ugly.”
Going green for Kate Jezyk means washing most laundry in cold water, lugging canvas bags to the grocery store, and blocking junk mail altogether vs. tossing it in the recycling bin.
Jezyk, 39, credits Oprah with spurring her to action. On a recent green-living episode, the talk show queen gave the nod to California’s Pankaj Shah, an anti-junk mail crusader who founded GreenDimes. For a $20 annual fee, Shah’s for-profit, Web-based company www.greendimes.com will stop 90 percent of your junk mail. What’s more, GreenDimes will plant 10 trees in your name.
So far, 3.5 million pounds of junk mail have been stopped and nearly 700,000 trees saved since the company’s September 2006 launch, according to the running “impact” counter on GreenDimes’s Web site.
The Jezyks also installed compact fluorescent bulbs in most light fixtures. Despite their oftentimes institutional glow, CFLs use 70 percent less energy than typical light bulbs and last up to 10 times longer.
If every American household substituted just five compact fluorescent light bulbs for typical incandescents, “it would be equivalent to taking eight million cars off the road for a year,” according to TheDailyGreen.com.
“We have about 10 in our house — in outside porch lights, the foyer, and the basement …places where it doesn’t matter if the bulb is ugly because the fixture hides it,” says Jezyk.
Jezyk, a mother of two toddlers, belongs to a babysitting cooperative involving 18 families and a collective 34 kids. The group recycles maternity clothes, Halloween costumes, books, car seats, cribs and kids clothes. One pair of OshKosh overalls, for example, might outfit five of the co-op’s children before finding a final resting place.
The cooperative’s Mary Hanisco, 40, is considered the “greenest” of the bunch. A Georgia transplant who grew up on ham hocks and jowls, Hanisco is now a vegetarian. “I’m not one of those PETA types,” she says. “I just wish there was more moderation (of meat consumption) and it was produced in a more humane way.”
According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock production generates nearly one fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases. That’s more than transportation.
“I am trying very hard to remove all plastics from our life,” says Hanisco, a textbook editor, who has kicked the plastic water bottle habit for health as well as environmental reasons.
The plastic used to make disposable water bottles is made from petroleum. The Earth Policy Institute estimates it takes more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually to make water bottles for American consumption.
What’s more, 60 million plastic bottles end up in landfills and incinerators every day — a total of about 22 billion last year, according to the nonprofit Container Recycling Institute of Connecticut. That means less than 15 percent is recycled.
“Then there’s the transportation issue, of shipping bottled water all over the place when everyone has water right in their homes,” says Hanisco. “It’s just not worth it.”
Jeff Fullerton, a 37-year-old acoustical consultant, has “greenified” his home and lifestyle. For starters, he drives a biodiesel car. He also bought a century-old home in 2003, and turned it into a more energy-efficient, sustainable abode.
He calls his upgraded, two-family house an “experiment” in using green technologies. His residence boasts salvaged pine floors, a porous driveway and walkway allowing rainwater to seep back into the earth, and an efficient heating/cooling system that replaced a 30-year-old single furnace shared by the two apartments.
As for his green lifestyle, Fullerton joined neighbors on the “Low Carbon Diet.” Much of the dieting ideas are just common sense, says Fullerton, but “remarkable because people don’t always think about them.”
For instance? Turn off the water when brushing and shaving. And try taking a five-minute shower. Better still, fill your watering can with shower water that would otherwise go down the drain, says Fullerton, and use it to water indoor plants.
Outside his house, a barrel sits beneath a downspout to collect rain water for his raspberry bushes. Some towns sell inexpensive rain barrels to promote water efficiency, Fullerton says. He has taken his own rain barrel to another level, literally — he elevated it 10 feet above ground to provide better water pressure.
”I’m hoping to set it up with a battery-operated timer and a sprinkler to automatically water the lawn next summer,” says Fullerton. “I save several 55-gallon barrels of water every year by watering my outdoor plants with the collected rain water.”