Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Earth Day: Getting greener every year

Tomorrow, April 22nd, is Earth Day. Ordinarily that would mean dressing Z in a green shirt and dropping her off at Montessori, where she she would get to add a rock into the jar for biking or scooting to school. But tomorrow is also Take Your Kids to Work Day, so my girls will spend at least part of the day with me at the agency.

Honestly, Earth Day isn't that big a deal to me. Not because I'm a heartless peddler of petroleum products, but because I try to make responsible choices every day. Many of the changes we've made over the last couple of years have become so much a part of our daily living that I don't even think about them as "green" any more. But in honor of Earth Day and the National Geographic Green Guide for Families book club that I missed because of my skin afflictions, I want to share our not-too-crunchy but still earth-friendly practices in the hope that I can inspire one more family to do the same.

As I've blogged before, we reduced our usage of paper towels by mopping up spills with super-absorbent, washable microfiber cloths instead. We've also cut way back on our plastic bag usage, sending sandwiches to school in a washable box and washing and drying the baggies we do use (Josh actually scolds me if he finds a Ziploc in the trash). With a low-flow shower and toilets, we use less water than most inside the house and our rain barrel collects water for the garden. We've cut back on our gas-powered dryer, opting to line dry clothes on a folding rack next to the radiators. And I'm thrilled to say that thanks to early potty training, we've reduced our consumption of disposable diapers to zero!

Like most people these days, we drink water out of reusable bottles and shop with reusable bags. We reuse those plastic bags that sneak into the house as trash can liners and kitty waste disposal bags and I supply our art table with nonconfidential print-outs from work so that the girls can draw on the blank side.

Thanks to Oak Park's inclusive curbside recycling program, we can recycle almost all kinds of plastic, metal, paper and glass. Easy-peasy.

What else are we doing?
We avoid the use of toxic chemicals, cleaning the house with vinegar, baking soda and water wherever possible (even our twice-monthly housecleaners are chemical-free). When a stronger brew is required, we choose an earth-friendly choice from Method, Clorox Green Works or Trader Joe's. Most of our light fixtures sport CFL bulbs, our heat is on a programmable thermostat and we have newer window AC units that we turn off when a room is vacant. When we're on a de-cluttering binge, we Freecycle and donate instead of trashing. And after watching Food, Inc., we've also pledged to buy organic meat, dairy and eggs. Yes, it costs more, but I feel like we can afford "vote with our wallets" in favor of sustainable agricultural practices and humane treatment of animals.

What can we do better?
Although we've considered it, we haven't started composting. My friend Carrie bought a worm bin, and I'm waiting to hear how that's worked out for her before I commit to making my own soil out of food scraps.

We didn't join a CSA this year. I wasn't thrilled with our investment the summer we shared a CSA share with our neighbors; I'd rather buy my favorite fruits and vegetables from the farmer's market than figure out what to do with a bag of beets and turnips.

Although we've largely replaced book buying with borrowing from the library, we still get too many catalogs and magazines and we waste electricity. I can't get Josh to turn off the lights in his basement office or the laundry room, and I'm sure our electronics are responsible for sucking power when they're not in use (although we're about to remedy that with an iGo Power Smart Tower).

I'd also like to do a better job of saving and organizing craft-worthy materials like old socks, toilet paper rolls and food containers. I hate watching clutter pile up on my counters, so I'm more likely to just recycle stuff that could first be repurposed.

Photo courtesy of NASA