Thursday, July 14, 2011

Recycle, Re-Use, and Reduce: Doing our Part for the Environment

We recently posted an article about our town transfer station. We are fortunate to have an active recycling center that is a huge benfit to the community. 
This article is about some of our own practices. We have been reducing our use of energy and plastics, finding new uses for things we no longer use, and recycling everything we possibly can. Here are some of the ways. 
Reducing energy usage
Our most significant reduction in energy usage is the car. Needing a new one a few years ago we bought a Prius even though it's price was a bit more than other economy cars. Our gas usage is now a third of what it used to be- a big savings especially with the price of gas having gone up. In summer our gas mileage is 60-62 miles per gallon, and in winter it is around 50. Getting this kind of mileage does require making slight changes in driving habits. There are techniques to driving a battery car that we have also applied to driving the pick-up truck to save gas with that also. We've even figured out how to get it to climb our hiilside driveway on the battery- using no gas at all.
Another big drain on energy is the now-old-fashioned incandescent light bulb. Compare 26 watts to get 100 watts-worth of light. Marsha prefers the compact florescents for doing needlework and installed them throughout the house when it was built 11 years ago. That’s nearly a 75-per cent savings on lighting.
How, if, and when we use household appliances has been thoroughly scrutinized. Among other appliances, the clothes dryer is an energy monster. So, we use the solar dryer as much as possible (that's a clothesline if you haven't guessed). This eliminates bleaching since the sun does the work of disinfecting. If you want your clothes to come out fluffy, dry them in a light breeze. There is no substitute for the fresh scent of air-dried clothes, towels, and sheets. 
Plugging our electronics into surge protectors with on/off switches is another, altho smaller way (hey, it all adds up) to save on the electric bill. TV, DVD player, stereo, and computers are all completely turned off when not being used. If you see little lights glowing they are not off, and are still using electricity. Even the cell phone charger uses phantom electricity and is unplugged when the phone is not charging. 
Kitchen appliances that have a non-electric alternative have been ousted. Out went the food processor in favor of a chef's knife. It's amazing what a simple knife can do- from mincing to chopping to slicing in the same time it takes to haul out and set up an appliance. It takes less space to store a knife and is much easier to clean.
Out went the electric pasta maker in favor of a hand crank machine that makes wonderful raviolis, noodles and spaghetti. There is real satisfaction in creating something by hand instead of letting a machine do it for you. And again, there is little if any time savings with the electric alternative.  
There is a list of appliances that we don’t have and don’t need: electric can opener, electric knife, juicer, bread machine, yoghurt maker, waffle iron, etc. We don't miss 'em.
Practicing plastic, can and paper avoidance
We eat virtually no processed food and use very few things that come in plastic or cans. Even buying organic foods from far away places requires fuel to get them here. As much as possible we subscribe to the hundred mile diet, eating food grown in our own garden or bought from local sources. Grass fed beef, raw milk and raw milk butter come from a local organic farmer. Eggs are bought locally. We've started a new tradition of going up the road to a u-pick for strawberries (click here for the whole story on that)
We use cloth napkins when we have dinner guests, and grab a kitchen towel for the purpose when it's just us. No need to buy the plastic wrapped paper variety. We have no paper towel dispenser since there is no roll of paper towels to put into it. Anything we could use a paper towel for can be done with a rag, cotton towel, or a sponge. We like trees of the alive-and-growing variety, so it makes more sense to us to use a quicker growing resource like cotton. 
Before we ditched the automatic coffee maker we used permanent filters that could be washed instead of the paper ones. Now we brew coffee the old fashioned way on the stove in an enamel pot. (You just cannot make “cowboy coffee” in a drip pot). 
Our vacuum cleaner does not use throw-away bags to collect the dust. It has a removeable canister that we empty into the garden where the dust becomes mulch.
Our favorite local restaurant, Krista's up the road in Cornish, uses compostable pressed-paper containers for take out or left overs. A little research found that these containers were first made a few towns over in Westbrook, Maine. If your favorite restaurant doesn't do so, ask them to use compostable packaging. Why put good food into styrofoam? 
It's a little bit of a challenge to replace plastics with other forms of food storage. We've gotten rid of plastic storage containers by re-purposing glass jars. For freezing we bought a selection of glass containers that have plastic lids. These are great because we can bake with them also.  Zip lock bags however, still have us in a quandary. 
Getting the most out of food and fabric and other stuff
Composting fruit and vegetable scraps from outside organic sources brings new energy into the garden. Composting scraps from our own harvests completes a circle- from seed to plant to food with scraps going back into the earth as food for new seeds. Composting is essential to organic gardening because of this cycle of events. And it makes the yard and garden faeries happy. And the gnomes, too. 
Stalks from broccoli and cauliflower, ends of onions, and trimmings from many veggies are collected in the freezer (make this appliance pay for itself!) until there are enough to cook into a really hearty soup stock. Same thing goes for meat bones, but we don’t compost the bones- this would attract every wild predator for miles around.
It makes good cents to us to buy clothing made of natural fibers. Old towels, sheets, tee shirts, jeans, socks, etc. have a second life after we've worn or used the heck out of them. They are used for cleaning, washing windows, and as painting rags. And sheets make great drop cloths. Used natural fiber fabrics not needed for rags are cut up into pieces and used as mulch in the pathways of the garden.
Giving away excess garden produce and still-good clothing is a great way to move things along and we've done this many times. We call it “feng shui.” If you don't need it, someone else might. We've donated many items to the town dump's "Take it Shoppe," books to the library for their annual book sale, plants to local fundraiser plant sales, and so on. There are plenty of opportunities to be useful to the community while at the same time downsizing our stash of stuff.
Buying selectively
We don't buy what we don't need and don't go shopping if we don't need something. But when we do buy stuff, it seems that some things are way over-packaged, and we always think about where the packaging might end up. Packaging is a monster blight on the landscape. Bottle deposits in Maine do a great job of keeping our roadsides looking nice. We wish New Hampshire would do the same! 

We try to do our part to keep Mother Earth happy with our sojourn on her planet.  Please share your ways of reducing consumption, reusing materials and recycling. -G.H. 

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