Green Living — A Beginner’s Guide

If you’re just beginning your green journey, it may seem like there’s so much to catch up on: organic food, holistic medicine, natural fibers, hybrid vehicles, and so much more. In general, green living is about making changes to reduce the amounts of natural resources we humans use (and, more importantly, waste), and to becoming a caretaker of our remaining natural resources. It’s about working toward sustainability for our society and our planet.

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Individual Americans use 100 to 176 gallons of water at home each day. Photo: © Ieva Geneviciene - Fotolia.com

Historically, industrialized societies have acted as if resources and land were infinite — and burned through them with that mindset. We Americans use a relatively large amount of resources — much more than our fair share. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “The average African family uses about 5 gallons of water each day, while the average American individual uses 100 to 176 gallons of water at home each day.”

The following statistics from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and James Madison University provide a startling picture of Americans’ waste habits and the powerful effects of recycling:

  • The average American family produces 100 pounds of trash per week, that’s 3 pounds of waste per person per day.
  • More than 1 billion trees are used each year to make disposable diapers.
  • Americans throw away about 10% of the food we buy at the supermarket. This results in dumping the equivalent of more than 21 million shopping bags full of food into landfills every year.
  • In a lifetime, the average American will throw away 600 times their adult weight in garbage. This means that a 150-pound adult will leave a legacy of 90,000 pounds of trash for their children.
  • The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries estimates that more than 200 million trees are saved each year due to current recycling efforts.

1 ton of paper made from 100% recycled stock saves:

  • 7,000 gallons of water (recycled paper uses 35% less water)
  • 60 lbs. of air pollution effluent (recycled paper creates 74% less pollution)
  • 4,000 kWh of energy
  • 17 trees
  • 3 cubic yards of landfill space
  • $35 per ton of waste disposal fees

Avoid the Hype

As businesses realize there’s money to be saved by “going green,” they also realize there’s much money to be made by selling the green movement in a consumerist fashion. For example, I witnessed earlier this year many businesses giving away or selling so-called reusable shopping bags to customers. These polypropylene bags were hardly thicker than a plastic shopping bag and lasted about as long. That’s not helping anything but a company image. We have to get real — and that means distinguishing what’s really helping from what’s hype, and then making real changes.

Let’s keep this process focused on what it’s about: love for the Earth, respect for Earth’s resources, and keeping ecosystems functioning and abundant for Earth’s creatures and the generations to come.

Plant a Tree

Planting trees is one of the most impactful actions we can take to help restore balance to the Earth. Trees are incredible — sucking up carbon gases like gigantic sponges, creating habitats for innumerable creatures, purifying the air and water, building soil by the ton, feeding us with fruits and nuts, sheltering us from wind and sun, creating rainfall through transpiration, giving us timber and fiber to build our homes, heat them and make other products. They hold the soil together with mazes of roots, preventing it from washing away in rains. Our very lives and the life of the planet depend on trees.

Here are some tips to get you started with tree planting:

  • Go Native. Native trees have evolved for millennia to be perfectly adapted to your area — withstanding bugs, drought, storms, and snow with ease. Trees also fit into the ecosystem with other native creatures, giving them shelter and food. I’ve noticed after large storms that nonnative trees are damaged much more severely than native varieties. Depending on your location, the native trees vary widely. In much of the US, oak trees, maples, birch, elm, hemlock, redwoods, red bud, poplars, walnuts, and chestnuts are all fine choices. A bit of quick research will tell you which trees are native to your area.
  • Consider Fruit Trees. You can grow the best fruit you’ve ever tasted in your own backyard. Get trees from a local, reputable nursery that specializes in fruit trees. In temperate regions, such as the Midwest, you can grow native varieties of apples, plums, cherry, peaches, paw paw, pears, grapes, persimmon, walnuts, or mulberry. In warmer climates, go for avocado, citrus, carob, olive, pomegranate, almonds, pecans and dates. In tropical regions, choose coconut, cherimoya, guava, mango, soursop, bananas, rambutan, lychee, breadfruit and macadamia. Dwarf trees are genetically very small and can fit in nearly any back yard to produce bountiful fruit. Get healthy, medium-sized trees and follow growing directions found online or at the nursery. Nut trees are an excellent choice too, grow very big, and produce prodigious crops.

Buy Local Food

With peak oil looming around the corner, and the multinational corporation-based food system in serious question, supporting local farmers and food systems is critically important. Most supermarket fare is trucked in from across the US or around the globe, traveling thousands of miles in refrigerated trucks, to the great expense of petroleum and food quality. Without new technologies, it is an unsustainable system.  And because food shipped long distances must be picked before it’s fully ripe, it often lacks the full flavor of its locally harvested counterparts. Fresh food tastes wonderful, and local food is thousands of miles fresher than food that travels long distances.

So what counts as local?  Some definitions of “local” recommend staying within a hundred mile radius, and this is sensible.

Support local farmers by purchasing food at farmers' markets.

Support local farmers by shopping at farmers' markets. Photo: © Average American - Fotolia.com

You can support hardworking local farmers in many ways. Farmers’ markets are a great option. They’re now popular throughout the US, and some are open throughout the year. Many health food stores sell delicious local produce. Online, you can find sources for local u-pick farms, specialty foods, meat and dairy products, honey, and other items. Every time I go food shopping, I buy local food. It’s the first step to reweaving the local food web. If the farmers stay farming, we stay fed. Try it — you’ll love the fresher, tastier, more distinct, and much more nutritious food.

Reduce Waste

Reducing waste isn’t just about recycling more and throwing away less. It’s also about the amount of disposable things you buy and use. This includes items such as shopping bags, plastic bottles, disposable razors, diapers, and cheap goods that will likely break soon.

Buy or make a sturdy, long-lasting shopping bag, or use a backpack when you go shopping. Obtain a quality metal or glass water bottle, and fill it with filtered tap water, instead of using imported, bottled water. Choose organic-cotton, cloth diapers to use at least part of the time, to help reduce waste from disposables. Always buy the best-quality goods that you can afford, and avoid flimsy, plastic goods that will soon be in the trash. In the long run, you’ll save money, while providing a better quality of life for yourself and your family.

Recycle

Recycling reduces the waste sent to landiflls.

Recycling reduces the waste sent to landfills. Photo: © Joy Fera - Fotolia.com

Recycling is an absolute necessity. We all produce trash, and most of it is recyclable and valuable when reincarnated into a myriad of other items. If you don’t already recycle, it’s a very important step toward green living. If your local trash company does not provide recycling services, request them. Recycling is easy and fun, and brings about a sense of responsibility and accountability for what we use and where it ends up.

Compost

Hundreds of tons of biodegradable kitchen waste get lost in landfills every year. Consider starting a compost pile in your yard. Then you’ll have plenty of excellent fertilizer for the fruit tree you just planted. There are many resources online and in your local library on how to start a healthy, productive compost pile.

Make a Commitment

Going green is a process and a commitment. It’s a commitment to living healthier and more in harmony with our Mother Earth. But don’t expect to achieve a green lifestyle overnight. As philosopher Lao-Tzu wrote in the sixth century B.C.E., “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So take one step at a time, if that’s all you can do. But begin your journey to green living today. It’s not that hard to do, and every bit you do makes a difference. So what are you waiting for?

Blake Cothron

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)_

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