Friday, February 2, 2007

Living Green

This is going to be the year when our family takes recycling into the 21st century. Global warming is having such an impact on the condition of our world that if we don’t do something soon, our grandchildren and great grandchildren may not have a world to call home. I realize that individually, my family may not be able to have a major impact on global warming, but we can change our lifestyle habits and do our part. If every family would take recycling and conservation seriously, then maybe one by one we can make a difference.

I have always been a big re-user of newspapers and junk mail because these are both biodegradable. I use newspapers to start the foundation of new beds in my gardens. When I decide on the location of a new bed, the first thing I do is clear the area and then lay down thick wads of wet newspaper to cover the ground. After sprinkling a small layer of garden soil over the newspaper, I start layering the bed with leaf mulch, grass clippings and other yard waste. These garden beds are best when allowed to “rest” through a few seasons before planting, but they can be planted immediately, depending on how much organic material you have on hand. Because I have one acre to care for, I have pounds and pounds of yard waste to supply new beds. The newspaper barrier will break down in the soil almost immediately and provides the moist dark environment to attract earthworms.

Earthworms are the workhorses of the garden. Why dig and till the soil when you can wait a few months and let the worms do their thing? Worms live a charmed life—all they do is eat, poop and reproduce. Their voracious appetites allow them to eat all types of garden and kitchen waste and all that eating leads to pure gold; composting gold that is. As the earthworms tunnel their way through layers of newspaper, leaf mold and grass clippings, they leave behind aerated soil and worm castings, which fertilize the new soil.

With the introduction of a paper shredder to our home office, junk mail is a pleasure to deal with. I have always composted my junk mail, but because much of the paper is colored or thicker than normal newspaper print, it takes much longer to break down. Now, whenever we bring junk mail into the house, we automatically shred it. This eliminates the chance of identity thief, plus the shredded junk mail decomposing much faster because of the smaller size. This fall, I dug several large holes throughout my gardens in anticipation of planting new trees this spring. All fall and winter I have been filling these holes up with shredded junk mail and kitchen scrapes. I keep the holes covered with a layer of leaves and every few weeks I stomp down the holes and stir them up with my garden claw; this allows air to circulate which improves the decomposition. When it comes time to plant my trees, I will have nice big holes full of nice rich compost. There is nothing better for a new tree than loads of organic matter.

Aluminum cans have always been a recyclable item in our home, typically being sold by the pound. The past few years, our use of aluminum cans have greatly decreased, so we are lucky to get $25 a year for our cans, but in past years, we have gotten upwards of $100 a year for cans. However, food cans is not something I have been in the habit of recycling. It has been so convenient to just throw these cans into the trash and forget about them, but Christine has made me see the error of my ways. Since this past November, we have religiously been washing out cans and removing the labels (which go into the compost piles) before throwing the cans into the recycling bag. I have also used soup cans to sprout herbs and veggies in my kitchen windows.

Glass jars are an item that we reuse more then recycling, because there are so many uses for old glass jars. They can be used for all types of storage problems, from the kitchen to the garage. Baby food jars are great for small nuts and bolts, pickle jars are good for refrigerator storage, and commercial size jars can hold sugar, flour, or tea. During the holiday season, I always make fireside coffee, hot cocoa, or spice tea mixes as well as soup and cookie mixes to give to family and friends. Collecting jars throughout the year is a must in order to have enough containers for my gift giving.

Currently, our major recycling problem is plastic bottles—water, soda, milk, mustard, ketchup, you name it and we are drowning in plastic. Two liter bottles are great for making mini greenhouses for spring transplants, but there are only so many you need before you become over-run. Water bottles are reused as often as possible, but we still accumulate dozens within a month’s time. Although it is a little more trouble to recycle these bottles, it is well worth it in the long run if it keeps them from entering our landfills. Cat litter buckets are great to use in place of a five gallon bucket for yard projects and milk jugs can be turned into bird feeders.

I still have relapses, I am human after all, but Christine is trying to keep me straight. As a matter of fact, she has taken on the responsibility of the plastic bottles and soup cans; I just have to provide routine transportation to the recycling center. I know what you are thinking, my life is busy enough without adding trips to the recycling center, but fifteen minutes every other week is not too much to ask in the war to save our planet. Once it becomes habit, going to the recycling center will become routine. Start small, save newspapers or compost kitchen waste, but just get started. Our future generations are counting on us all.

© Bobbi Rightmyer, February 2007