Home Recycling Program Washington DC
Capitol Heights, MD
Capitol Heights, MD
Home Recycling Program
The dishwater is eventually used to irrigate the garden, and the compost fertilizes it.
Thanks to our purchase-and-pitch tendency, the generation rate of municipal solid waste (trash or garbage) has nearly doubled in 40 years - from 2.7 pounds per person per day in 1960 to 4.5 pounds in 2000 - for a total of 231.9 million tons. Fortunately, our recycling rates are also on the rise, with a 6.6 percent increase in tons recycled from 1999 to 2000, or 1.4 pounds per person per day. But there are still steps we can take to improve these figures.
The EPA recommends the familiar three-R approach: reduce, reuse and recycle: Reduce the amount and toxicity of trash you discard by purchasing durable, long-lasting goods and seeking products and packaging that are as free of toxins as possible. Source reduction is the preferable method of waste management because it actually prevents the generation of waste in the first place. Reuse containers and products by repairing, donating or selling them. Reusing an item, when possible, is preferable to recycling because it does not need to be reprocessed before it can be used again. Recycle as much as possible, which includes buying products with recycled content. Recycling, one of the best environmental success stories of the late 20th century, turns materials that would otherwise become waste into valuable resources and generates a host of environmental, financial and social benefits. In 1999 alone, recycling diverted 64 million tons of material away from landfills and incinerators. To recycle successfully, first find out if your community has a recycling program in place or if there are recycling centers where you can take your items. "Even if there isn't a recycling center, there are usually companies who are picking up some limited recyclable materials," Ellen says. At Ellen's home, the three-R approach is in daily use. China and glassware are used instead of paper plates and disposable cups, even when feeding a large crowd. Although this makes more work for Becky, who handles the kitchen cleanup, she says, "At least it's not going to the landfill." Ellen also reuses instead of replacing items wherever practical, choosing products made from recycled materials, such as carpeting and building material, as well as frequenting thrift shops and secondhand stores. "Most of our furniture is "experienced,'" Ellen laughs. Energy Conservation The Mackey household has turned energy conservation into a game. "When the energy bill comes," Ellen says, "we look to see how much we used this month compared to last month, and figure out how we can do better." She proudly notes, "We've gotten really good at reducing our energy consumption! I insulate and weather-strip, hang reflective solar curtains - anything that can reduce heat exchange."
Other conservation methods she employs include washing clothes with cold water, reducing the temperature of the water heater, installing a programmable thermostat, replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescent models and operating the dishwasher on light wash/air dry. "All these changes make small, incremental differences that are cumulatively significant," Ellen says, "and can really increase your cash flow." If you're not sure where changes should be made, ask your local energy provider to conduct an energy audit to identify areas needing improvements. Or conduct a simple home-energy audit, following the directions at the Energy Savers website (www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/energy_savers). With gas prices always in flux and usually on the rise, you can reduce your fuel bill by choosing a car that offers great gas mileage, keeping it in good running order and then planning your trips efficiently to get the most bang for your gas buck. Visit www.fueleconomy.gov for more fuel-economy and gas-mileage information. Eco-Landscaping A picture-perfect lush green lawn, prized by so many homeowners, isn't part of Ellen's landscaping design. Instead, she chose a xeriscaping plan, featuring a drought-tolerant native-plant rock garden and desert-grass lawn with wildflowers, which conserves water, eliminates the need for fertilizer and pesticides, and creates a sense of place. The Mackeys' compost tumbler, which churns out rich humus from the discarded organic matter the Mackeys feed into it, provides nutrients for the soil it on a regular basis. "Compost smells wonderful, very earthy," Ellen says. "And it breaks down very quickly." According to the EPA, yard trimmings and food scraps make up about 25 percent of the waste generated by U.S. households, so by composting, homeowners can greatly reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills or incinerators. Even apartment dwellers or those with limited space can "container compost." Called vermicomposting, the process takes place inside a container, where red wiggler earthworms turn food scraps into rich, brown matter ideal for use as plant food. For more information about composting, contact your local sanitation district or visit the EPA's composting page (www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/compost.htm). Eco-Friendly Shopping To be an environmentally aware consumer, you should choose products with a minimum of packaging material, or those made from recycled materials or that can be recycled when empty.
Sites such as EcoMall (www.ecomall.com), HealthyHome (www.healthyhome.com) and Environmental Home Center (www.environmentalhomecenter.com) are good starting points for those who want to green up their shopping list. When it comes to purchasing cleaning products, Ellen points out that many of the items designed to make your home bacteria free might also adversely affect your interior air quality, causing new problems while ridding the home of the original bugs. The Mackeys rely on cleaners like Simple Green and biodegradable and biocompatible laundry and dish soap from Oasis, which is structured for gray-water systems and breaks down into plant fertilizer. Even their gift giving is eco-influenced. Homemade jam from the Mackeys' fruit bushes and native plants imaginatively potted in animal-shaped containers are just two of their homegrown gift ideas. Other suggestions include donations to worthy causes, subscriptions to environmentally focused publications, or tickets to the zoo or aquarium. More gift ideas can be found at the Eco-Home (www.ecohome.org) and Childsake (www.childsake.com) websites. Getting the Kids to Go Green While you may be ready to incorporate some or all of these changes into your home, you might find that other family members are a little resistant. Although lifestyle changes can be challenging, you'll find your undertaking stands a greater chance of success if you can gain the cooperation of all the family members.
Parents should educate their children about the consequences of their decisions and how certain changes can not only reduce expenses but also safeguard the environment. Older children can research ideas and develop suggestions, as well as be in charge of implementing environmentally friendly ideas - along the lines of a junior "eco-police." By turning it into a family project, everyone gets a green education in evaluating choices from an ecological point of view. Becoming more environmentally responsible doesn't necessarily demand a major commitment of time or money. What it does require is an understanding of the impact our decisions and choices have on the environment. It's up to us to decide how positive the effect will be. Nancy Christie is a freelance writer based in Youngstown, Ohio.