Ever wondered if composting might be a viable option for you or how difficult it might be to get started?  Composting is something to investigate (and there are thousands of books and websites dedicated to the subject), as current estimates show that roughly 30 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream is composed of yard trimmings and food residuals.  Composting provides an option to reduce this amount of waste transported to increasingly dwindling landfill space.

Composting is excellent for the garden and is considered environmentally responsible.  At a basic level, compost is decomposed organic material (think food scraps or yard trimmings).  A mix of nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich items is required to produce the best compost.  Examples of nitrogen-rich (or green) items include: coffee grounds, crushed egg shells, fruit and vegetable peels/rinds, tea bags, and green leaves.  Examples of carbon-rich (or brown) items include:  cereal boxes, coffee filters, dead or dry leaves, shredded brown paper bags, and straw.  These examples are by no means exhaustive, with many other items being compostable.

For the garden, compost improves plant growth and quality as well as overall soil quality.  Some of the environmental benefits of composting include decreased volume of trash transported to landfills and less reliance on chemical fertilizers (also a positive for your wallet!)

Having a back yard or extra space is helpful, but not necessary for composting.  For small scale composting, there are generally two options available, open-bin or containers.  Plenty of container and closed bin options exist for purchase, with various sizes, including counter-top versions.  With a little creativity and an increased amount of composting programs as well as awareness, even composting in an apartment setting is possible.  If you have access to a back-yard, an open-bin set-up may be ideal.

Extensive literature and sources exist for how to best fit composting into your daily life – it is worth checking out in an effort to see how you can help reduce landfill waste.

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As you upgrade to newer, more efficient technologies or your older models begin to falter,it’s time to consider your plan for recycling appliances. taking proper care to recycle or properly dispose of electronics and appliances is an important step in supporting a sustainable environment.  Taking a few extra steps to recycle or ensure proper disposal is a worthy effort, and becoming easier to accomplish with an increase in manufacturer programs as well as local recycling programs.

If you are upgrading, but the existing item is still in working condition, consider donation.  Some donation centers will pick up, while others operate drop off-centers – either way you can benefit from a tax write-off.  This is an excellent way to help ensure the item is not discarded prior to the end of its useful life.  Another idea might be to consider swapping your item (again, assuming it is in working condition) for something else you need.  Swapping services are a great means to recycle as well as save money by avoiding the cost of brand-new items.

If either donating or recycling is not an option, research e-waste drop-offs or pick-ups in your area.  New programs and incentives are constantly being developed to address handling e-waste.  Also check with your utility as there are some programs that will credit or rebate you for upgrading to more efficient appliances.

Manufacturers and retailers have also developed recycling or trade-in programs which are worth looking into – often times there will not be a fee, although sometimes a small fee may be applied.  With some recycling or trade-in programs, a credit towards a new purchase is provided.  All these options are worth researching to find the best fit for sustainably managing upgrades and replacements of your appliances and electronics.

Appliance Recycling Guides:

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The home office space is becoming more vital.  Telecommuting is on the increase.  Awareness is increasing around the benefits of telecommuting, such as less congested commutes and decreased energy use office buildings.  Employers are touting the option to telecommute as a recruitment tool and it is a trend that does not appear to be reversing anytime soon.  With this trend, the importance of being able to access your files electronically from various locations is essential. You need a paperless office.  But there is another, more sustainable benefit to electronic files – less paper – which also means less purchasing, printing, and storing.

Going paperless often means “less paper” (at least at first), but the benefits remain.  From an environmental perspective, the two major benefits include using less paper, and ultimately, requiring less space, which directly relates to less energy used for heating, cooling, lighting, etc..  Think of a typical office building and the amount of space dedicated to file cabinets – this space is heated, cooled, and lighted (at least to some extent).  On a smaller scale, and in your own office, the space dedicated to file storage may not be great, but moving towards paperless will help you avoid future clutter and stacks.

A key step in reducing paper in your home office is managing unnecessary postal mail – this includes junk mail, catalogs, marketing efforts, credit card offers, etc.  You can research efforts on removing yourself from unsolicited mail and telemarketer lists – there are services that will help get you off these lists for a small fee.  Here’s a great guide to remove yourself from junk mail lists.

Instead of making a paper copy or printing out a duplicate and storing the item in your paper filing system, invest in an office scanner.  Utilize electronic fax technology as opposed to traditional paper-based fax machines.  Get comfortable with digital signatures – this can save countless print outs and they are easily filed away in your digital filing system.  Implementing these measures will get you on the way to your paperless office.  As a final note, invest in a back-up system, such as an external hard-drive or a remote online storage service – this is an essential component to minimize your risk associated with computer failure, natural disasters, etc.

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There are several variables determining the best-fit green car option for you.  Fuel costs, performance, and vehicle cost are primary drivers in choosing a car.  Vehicle technologies have developed rapidly over the past decade and accessibility to technology has increased.

The most commonly available advanced vehicle technology on the roads today includes alternative fuel vehicles, electric vehicles, and hybrid vehicles.  We have also seen an increase in production of more fuel efficient models, which certainly should not be discounted.

Pros and cons exist with each option, but investing in a vehicle that burns less fossil fuel is a positive step to:

  • help reduce air pollution
  • lessening U.S. dependence on foreign oil
  • save money spent on fuel

Choosing to drive a green car represents an individual choice that yields communal benefits.

An alternative fuel vehicle is considered a dedicated, flexible fuel, or dual-fuel vehicle.  An alternative fuel green car is designed to operate on at least one alternative fuel.  Hybrid vehicles are powered by an internal combustion engine that runs on conventional or alternative fuel and an electric motor the uses energy stored in a battery.  The battery is charged through regenerative breaking and by the engine and is not plugged in.  Electric vehicles use a battery to store the electric energy that powers the motor.  The battery is charged through plugging the vehicle into an electric power source.  Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technology also exists (the battery is charged through an electrical power source rather than regenerative breaking).

Before Buying a Green Car

  • Consider your driving habits  – how much city versus highway driving, do you plan on doing?
  • What is the availability and proximity of alternative fuel stations or charging stations where you live?
  • What can you afford?  Putting yourself in debt to get a green car is not sustainable living. (Don’t forget to factor in Federal an State incentives.)

Find more on tax incetivs at  FuelEconomy.gov -  tax incentive information center,

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Where you live or grew up is bound to shape your perspective of trees and nature in general.  You may not necessarily notice them because there are so many, or you may seek out shade and protection of the few that are around.  Whether you are in a rural, suburban, or urban setting, trees play a large role in your environment and function as a living infrastructure for green living.  The benefits of trees are broad and cover environmental, social, communal, and economical areas.  As a result, nurturing, planting, or supporting groups that advocate for trees, is an excellent way to promote sustainability within your community for generations to come.

A basic benefit to trees is that they provide an aesthetic, natural component to our lives.  But beyond that trees can add value to your home (i.e. trees are factored into home appraisals and tend to appreciate in value as they mature), help to cool your home as well as neighborhood, and provide protection from winds.  Trees alter the climate you live in by improving air quality, supporting water conservation, reducing energy demand, and attracting birds and wildlife.

The green living benefits to air quality cannot be emphasized enough – trees absorb carbon dioxide, and in turn produce oxygen.  They also absorb other pollutants such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide.  The leaves of trees and bushes also function to remove dust and particulates from the air.  The benefits to water management should be emphasized as well.  Trees can help with water absorption (avoiding flooding) as well as help to purify the water on the way down by catching certain pollutants.

So plant a tree or some shrubs!  Either on your own property or organize a group.  Schools, churches, or community centers are a great place to organize a planting event that often offers access to land and eager volunteers to help with the planting and nurturing.  If that is not an option, support non-profits or groups that advocate for trees and urban forests.

Wondering what kind of tree to add to your landscape?  The Colorado State Forest Service has a great downloadable guide to Trees for Conservation.Want to identify tree species on the go?  There’s a smartphone app for that: Leafsnap.

 

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Conserving water is a simple way to contribute to the resolution of a complex ecological issue.  A general estimate is that the average American uses 100 gallons of water per day, including showers, hand washing, dishes, toilet usage, laundry, etc..  This equates to roughly 3,000 gallons a month.  Extrapolate those numbers out to community, state, and national levels, and you can see where even reducing household water usage levels by 2 – 3 percent a year (or 2 – 3 gallons a day) could have a significant cumulative impact on water conservation efforts.  Not to mention if you conserve water you also lower water bills.

The bathroom and kitchen are two areas of the house with the greatest water consumption.  Some common bathroom and kitchen water efficiency efforts simply include being aware of running water and modifying your behavior accordingly.  Upgrading to more efficient equipment and implementing water flow controls is also an option.

For example, leaving the water run while you brush your teeth (or shave) can quickly add to your monthly usage.  Consider that the average bathroom tap runs at 2 gallons a minute, leaving the tap run while you brush your teeth (assuming brush time at one minute, two times a day) could equate to an excess of 4 gallons of water used per day (or 120 gallons per month).  Along this same line, shortening your showers by a just a minute or two can shave gallons off your water usage.  Choosing showers over filling the bathtub also provides another option to conserve.  As for the kitchen, if you are washing dishes by hand, fill the sink or a bowl with water, rather than washing dishes with the tap continuously running.

Another large water hog is the toilet.  Upgrading to a newer, more efficient toilet is an effective option.  Some older toilets can use between 4 – 7 gallons of water per flush, where as the more efficient, low flow toilets use on average 1.5 gallons of water per flush.  While replacing equipment may not be an option, identifying and fixing your toilet for leaks is another way to potentially save water and money.  A common and inexpensive test involves putting dye in the tank, waiting roughly 30 minutes, and then checking the bowl for dye – if dye has leaked into the bowl without flushing, you have a leak that is wasting water and costing you money.  Check your seals if you’re a do-it-yourself-er, or bring in a plumber to take a look.

For both the bathroom and the kitchen, installing a low-flow faucet shower head and/or low-flow faucet aerators provides a relatively simple and inexpensive means to conserve water.  High efficiency dish-washers and laundry machines also provide a great opportunity.  While these upgrades are more capital intensive, you can realize significant water (and utility) savings over the long haul.  A high-efficiency dish washer also means less pre-washing or rinsing of dishes up front.  Also, minimizing garbage disposal usage helps to reduce water consumption.  For regular tips on ways to conserve water – visit Water Use it Wisely or 25 tips on water conservation at earthyeasy.com.

As a final note, if you are thinking of upgrading to more efficient, water-wise equipment, you should check with your local water utility as some offer discounts or rebates on high efficiency equipment.

What’s your best tip to conserve water?

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