now I hope that you can appreciate the benefits of compost, and realize that
compost can indeed solve many environmental problems. I also hope to convince you that there is a way to take care of
the mountains of garbage and refuse that we produce, a way that is infinitely
better than trucking it all to the nearest landfill.
scrap of matter that goes into the landfill costs us – three times over.
and most obviously, is the cost of collecting the stuff and hauling it to the
dump, not to mention the tipping fee, which in Steuben and Chemung counties,
New York, is at least $40 per ton. More
is the cost of replacing what was dumped.
These costs include the raw materials, many of which are becoming
increasingly scarce, the energy for production from sources that are becoming
increasingly scarce, manpower and transportation, also using energy sources
that are becoming increasingly scarce.
third cost is less tangible, but every scrap of organic material that goes the
landfill route is robbing the soil. By
dumping organic matter we are literally throwing away Nature’s most valuable
resource. All the nutrients pulled from
the soil by growing plants are being discarded, and the price of that is
compaction, erosion, less fertility, poorer crops or excessive use of
fertilizer, less healthy plants and greater use of pesticides, pollution and
general environmental degradation.
repeat what Sir Albert Howard said:
our towns are fed from the countryside, little or no return of urban wastes to
the land takes place. The towns are,
therefore, parasitic on the country.
This will have to stop.”
in a way I am trying to carry on where Sir Albert left off – trying to get
organic matter back into the soil.
However, we regularly produce vast amounts of trash that cannot be
composted. I must, therefore, address the rest of the
stuff cluttering our landfills – the inorganic, non-biodegradable stuff.
where the three R’s come in – REDUCE, REUSE and, if you must, RECYCLE. I say “if you must” because recycling can
use as much energy and resources such as water as the original production. Recycling organic material, however,
requires no energy other than a little sweat, and no extra resources.
USA is often described in superlatives – “the greatest this” or “the most that”
that the world has ever known, which may or may not be true. One title that is undoubtedly earned is the
most wasteful, and I HATE WASTE.
before I piled into compost, so to speak, I was thinking about waging a
campaign called War on Waste or WOW. It
could still happen, starting right here.
reduce. Reducing waste doesn’t necessarily mean reducing consumption. Most waste comes from excessive packaging, excessive
transportation, and, yes, excessive consumption, but in that case you spell it
are hundreds of ways in which very minor lifestyle changes can significantly
reduce consumption of water, gasoline, electricity, paper and so on. Whole books have been written on the subject
and everyone has his or her favorite tip.
the area where I live, we have abundant water, but even here there is a cost
incurred by its use – it has to be treated.
So, while extreme drought-induced measures may not be necessary,
judicious use of water is definitely good for the community. Rain barrel anyone?
“reduce” strategies include what I call TYOC (well, you’ve got to have an
acronym somewhere). As well as
re-useable grocery bags, you can TAKE YOUR OWN CONTAINER. Imagine how much Styrofoam and other
plastics you could avoid if you always kept your own mug in the car for use
wherever you stop for coffee. Take your
own re-useable plastic containers for deli items, or a plate for take out. (We can live with the small amount of saran
can spend money on fancy lunch boxes, or you can improvise your own from
whatever you have at home.
are very minor lifestyle changes, easy to manage, although they may get you
some strange looks, and minor panic, at the supermarket check-out. But they will soon become habit, and will in
no way “reduce” your quality of life.
Rather, I see some real improvements.
I prefer to drink coffee out of a ceramic mug rather than Styrofoam, and
I would rather drink water out of anything but plastic.
aside here on the subject of drinking water, which is perhaps the world’s most pressing problem. My sister once went to Timbuktu for the New
Year. It was, I think, one of her more
challenging trips even with several locals travelling with them as porters and
cooks and so on. One little boy
attached himself to them and decided that is was his duty to carry Sue’s water
bottle. At one point they stopped by a
muddy pool and the little boy crouched down to lap water from this highly
unsanitary source. Sue suddenly
realized that the boy had never seen clean water, and had no idea that that was
what was in her bottle.
a shocking reminder that we are incredibly well-off compared to most parts of
this is a difficult one. I, for
example, have a whole house full of stuff that I am going to use one day for
some really useful project. And,
sometimes I do. I guess you need to be selective in what you keep and to work
on the idea that you don’t have to re-use it all yourself. If, realistically,
you are not going to use it in the foreseeable future, get rid of it – sell it,
dismantle it and recycle the parts, give it away.
re-use coffee filters to cover the drainage holes in flower pots. (Dryer sheets
work well, too). I re-use up-side-down
cat-food cans and packing peanuts to fill the bottom of large planters. Old book shelves became raised beds for my
vegetables. I regularly contribute goods to the Salvation Army and I frequently
offer items on FreeCycle ( Somebody, somewhere has a use for your
really bothers me that so much construction debris goes to the landfill. All timber can be reused or ground up for
mulch or compost. It can also be burned
for heat. Nails and other metal elements could be melted down and made into
other products. Dry wall could be
crushed and the gypsum re-used.
Concrete can be used to build retaining walls or crushed for pathways or
are not necessarily things you can do at home, but you can agitate and persuade
companies and municipalities to adopt more earth-friendly systems. There are even business opportunities in
intercepting trash on its way to the landfill.
example, Malcolm Beck – a mega-composter in Texas took on a most unusual challenge when the city of Dallas gave
rebates to citizens who exchanges their water-wasting toilets for more
efficient ones. What do you do with thousands of porcelain toilets? Obviously
they can’t be composted, but he ground them up in some monster “slow-speed
grinder” to reduce them to the size of gravel or sand and he sold them to
landscapers. Now that is what I call re-using!
started out as a farmer and so his book “The Secret Life of Compost (The "How-To"
& "Why" Guide to Composting - Lawn, Garden. Feedlot and Farm)
contains much information gained firsthand.
He now runs an enormous composting facility which could be an
inspiration for many a future entrepreneur.
is worth noting that in the poorer rural parts of the world, there is no
trash. Everything is re-used in one way
or another. Of course cities present
greater disposal problems but at the same time they provide a livelihood for
essence, I am begging you to think twice before throwing something away.
is not the same as re-using. Recycling is the process whereby suitable material
is sent to be processed into new material, in the place of raw materials. For
man-made materials, this is the last resort.
If you are conscientious about the first two R’s there won’t be that
much to recycle. There is a danger, I
think, in the mindset that says it’s OK to buy or use this because it is
is the most glaring example. Plastic is
made from two sources of energy – ethane and propane. It takes energy to make the plastic products in the first place,
energy to transport them to market,
energy to collect them again, energy to transport them to a recycler, and
energy to make a new product.
can be recycled in several ways: it can, of course be put out on the curb and
it can be composted. But it can also be recycled into very attractive handmade
paper which can be used as journals, writing paper or scrapbooks. Then there is papier maché, a widely used
medium for boxes, bowls, puppets and toys, even furniture and large-scale
general, however, recycling is good and if your community has limited recycling
– jump to it – tell them you want more.
Demand an extended recycling program.
it comes to organic matter, however, recycling should be the first, and only,
choice. Compost is a naturally perfect
According to National Solid Wastes Management Association just over 30% of the nation’s garbage
per person per day) is recycled.
But fully 66% of it (food, yard wastes, wood and paper) is compostable.
What a resource!
Being green is all about
the environment and sustainable living.
Making compost is the obvious first step because of the huge reduction
in organic matter going to waste, and the huge benefit of the end product to
gardens and farms. Your own backyard
pile will make a difference. But
don’t stop there: encourage others to do the same and explore the many minor
life-style changes that you can make to become greener.
Furthermore, as a community
really cannot call itself green if it is dirty and polluted, look at simple
ways to keep your neighborhood clean.
Some of the ideas listed
below have been mentioned elsewhere in the book, but:
are 100 ways to go green and clean:
Reduce and Re-use
Reduce water consumption. I realize that water does not end up in the
landfill, but it is a precious resource that is adversely affected by many
wasteful practices. Just because you live in an area with abundant water,
doesn’t mean that you can squander it.
We don’t know what climate changes will bring. Act on the side of caution, and develop an ultra-conservative
approach to water. It’s not difficult.
And a quick word to those who have access to well water and think that
you can use as much as you like because it is free, no you can’t. Wells tap into underground aquifers and
excessive use can lower the water table, which affects us all. It is just plain
irresponsible to waste water, regardless of its source.
low-flow faucets, showerheads, and toilets
Have your plumber re-route your gray water
to trees and gardens rather than letting it run into the sewer line. Check with
your city codes, and if it isn't allowed in your area, start a movement to get
Re-use rinse water for
house, patio and deck plants.
Use less water in the shower: get wet, soap up and
then turn the water on to rinse off
your shower. In
South Africa during a drought, there was the competition to see who could come
up with the best water saving tip, and the winner was “bathe with a
friend”. A few years later, the UK
suffered a drought – it didn’t rain for three weeks – and they had a similar
contest. One very daring woman suggested: “Shower with your husband”. Well, you can’t believe the uproar it caused
– shocking, immoral, decadent. All the while the South Africans were happily
bathing with their friends without showing significant moral decline.
young kids together
you are committed to baths, use the water on your houseplants or garden
pre-wash dishes going into the dishwasher
rinse under running water: fill a second sink or large container and rinse in
your teeth using only half a cup of water: half-fill you tooth mug, dip your
toothbrush in it, clean your teeth, spit directly into the outlet, rinse with
two small mouthfuls of water, rinse your brush in the remaining water and pour
it down the outlet.
11. Don’t buy bottled water; instead
invest in a water filter and
drink water from the tap. And watch The
Story of Bottled Water (http://storyofstuff.org/bottledwater/) for an excellent explanation of where the bottled
water mania came from. Quite apart from
the problems with the containers, you don’t know where the
water comes from, whether the source is pure, or whether the source is being
strained; think about how much energy is being used transporting the water,
first to the bottling plant, and then to market; studies have found that
bottled water loses out to tap water in taste tests over and over again; and the quality of bottled water is not
necessarily as good as that which comes out of your tap (remember tap water has
been treated at great expense and is considerably more regulated than the water
that goes into bottles). Last but not
least, it is expensive, up to 1000 times what water out of your tap costs. I would much rather drink local water than
enrich the Pepsi-Cola Corporation.
12. Do only full loads of laundry, or use the appropriate water level for the size of
instant water heaters in each bathroom to avoid running the water while it
wash towels after several uses. In hotels,
opt to reuse towels and sheets.
for and fix leaky faucets and pipes both indoors and out.
sparingly. My brother got married in
drought stricken South Africa with sever water restrictions, which taxed the
ingenuity of his future mother-in-law. She brought in a number of porta-potties
and each indoor toilet had a neatly lettered sign saying :If it’s yellow let it
mellow; if it’s brown flush it down:..If you must flush tissues down the toilt,
throw them in and wait until you need to flush. Even 1.6 gallons is too much for one tissue, which could, of
course, go into the compost instead.
your gardening practices in ways that will conserve water. For example:
up a rain barrel
lawn with shrubs, groundcover, gravel or paving
the lawn with fine compost
the lawn to increase water absorption
grass to not less than 3”, leaving the trimmings to form a mulch
Water when the air is cool to reduce evaporation
only when necessary, that is when soil is dry 2” below the surface, or when
plants look thirsty. More plants are
killed by overwatering than underwatering. (Garden centers take note)
drip irrigation instead of sprinklers. The bags from boxed wine can be filled
with water (cut off the end, fill, and then
fold over and secure with a clip.
I tried to fill via the tap; it’s not easy!) and placed under a
vegetable plant with the tap barely open. Not only will you have a steady
source of water, but also the bag will heat the ground.
Use a watering can instead of a hose
Use a hose nozzle
deeply and less frequently to encourage root development, which leads to
greater drought resistance
Replace at least some exotic hybrids with native
plants which can survive without additional water
heavily wherever possible.
the soil in areas where rainwater runs off.
you have a problem with run-off, consider planting a rain garden. For more information go to http://www.raingardennetwork.com/
your swimming pool into a sunken garden
a commercial car wash, especially one that recycles water.
II. Reduce energy consumption. Every watt of electricity, lump of coal,
gallon of gasoline or cubic foot of natural gas not used saves the consumer
money and keeps CO2 out of the atmosphere. We owe it to the planet to all do our bit.
your refrigerator down
in cold water when feasible; always set the rinse cycle to “cold.”
22. Hang clothes outside to dry (There is a lovely Italian song
with the line: Saranno allegri come panni ad asciugare fuori – they’ll be as
happy as clothes hung outside to dry)
23. Make your next appliance an energy efficient model (look for the “energy
24. Use a programmable thermostat
the heat down a few degrees and wear an extra sweater
furnace filters regularly
ceiling fans and turn off the AC
the temperature on your hot water heater.
the water heater and pipes
windows, weatherstrip doors and plug up any air leaks
instant water heaters that work only when needed
local produce, locally made products and locally produced services. (And read
Animal Vegetable, Miracle)
in season to reduce the energy used in transportation. (And read Animal
incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent or other long-life ones
off lights and electronics when you leave the room.
your cell phone charger from the wall when not using it.
off energy strips and surge protectors when not in use (especially overnight).
pool or take the bus.
or ride a bike to work
your next car for fuel efficiency
your tires inflated to the recommended pressure and your car will run more
miles on less gas.
the speed limit, and combine all your errands for the week in one trip.
your house with deciduous trees
your house a light color in warm climates and a dark color in cold climates
turn on lights until you have to — open your curtains and enjoy natural light.
to compact fluorescent bulbs
III. Reduce use of paper
a bag for purchases (a friend tried to do this at an upscale store at a mall,
and was told that she could not walk out of the store without one – company
policy – so she mailed the bag to the CEO and said he could dispose of it in
his trash as it wasn’t going into hers.
I like her attitude.)
your own containers for take-out items or food from the deli counter.
your own coffee mug for take-out, and to meetings
take your own bags to the supermarket
off junk mail lists.
paperless for bill paying and bank statements
put out full garbage bags (because everything that can rot is going into the
compost, the dry garbage should not smell, even after a couple of weeks)
55. Avoid excess packaging
when choosing product brands.
products in bulk re-using your own large storage bags or containers
concentrated products to reduce packaging. Examples are concentrated fruit
juice, laundry detergent, fabric softener and window cleaner.
58. Use cloth instead of paper to clean your kitchen. Be
frugal, and make these rags out of old towels and t-shirts.
cloth napkins daily instead of paper.
Invest in old-fashioned napkin rings for each member of the family, and
only wash the napkins when they are soiled.
products that use recyclable and recycled materials whenever possible
gifts creatively in repurposed paper
both sides of printer paper:
advantage of the double-sided printing option
on to both sides
kids draw on the back side of single sheets
the back side to print stuff for home consumption, like a travel itinerary or
Pollution. This includes
reducing one’s use of toxic products, especially ones that can get into any
body of water and reducing the amount of waste that you generate, because
anything that cannot be recycled are broken down should be considered a
you do end up with plastic bags, reuse them when walking the dog, or as trash
64. Only buy plastic items you can re-use.
65. Use china or enamel crockery rather than
plastic or paper plates and bowls. Use real cutlery rather than plastic.
school lunches in reusable containers with lids.
an electric shaver or a higher quality razor with replaceable blades.
plug-in appliances instead of those that operate on batteries.
a filter for your kitchen tap
a re-useable water bottle
styrofoam and throw-away tableware
cleaning products :
helps to clean and deodorize, will act as a scouring agent, polisher, stain
remover, fabric softener. Use to clean plastic, vinyl, carpet, silver,
stainless steel, drains, and refreshes your fridge.
helps to clean and deodorize. Use on wallpaper, painted walls, and floors. Use
it with your detergents to remove stains and boost the cleaning power.
helps remove stains, wax buildup and mildew. Use to clean windows, fireplaces,
grout, paint brushes, glass, and coffee pots.
you have a baby, consider using cloth diapers instead of the horribly polluting
disposables. The National Association of Diaper Services can help you find a
service near you. And, yes, you can use plastic bags to get dirty diapers home!
Matches instead of disposable lighters
a Diva Cup for your monthly
76. Reduce toxic waste
by purchasing paints, pesticides and other hazardous materials only in the
quantities needed, or by sharing leftovers.
still avoid pesticides altogether, or, at the very least, greatly curtail their
use. This applies to Chlorox and Lysol
and other sanitizing products. Remember
what pesticides do to bacterial and fungal populations in the soil? Remember
how the greater population of “good guys” keeps the “bad guys” in check? The same is true in the kitchen and
bathroom. By all means keep things
clean, but don’t kill off beneficial bacteria.
away your goods and find new ones at FreeCycle or similar.
wine containers make excellent alternatives to bricks for shelving, useful
storage for stacks of tax-related documents or great magazine holders
80. Donate to and shop at your local Goodwill or
Salvation Army store
newspapers/junk mail into handmade paper or papier maché
shredded paper in your compost
newspapers as mulch
everything your city will accept. If you’re not at home, take the extra steps,
(literally), to find that recycling can.
your batteries to a recycling center.
your technology. Dell, Hewlett Packard, Apple, and IBM, among others, offer
up garbage off sidewalks
neighbors to do the same
to neighbors about Integrated Pest Management to reduce pesticide use
90. Encourage neighbors to compost or set up
stores to use re-useable shopping bags (discount when you bring it back)
stores to carry products with less wasteful packaging
liquor stores to take back empty bottles
your city to have public recycling bins
to your city management about composting
to your neighbor about composting
your money where your mouth is—invest in green companies
an environmental organization that you like - Greenpeace, the Nature
Conservancy, Sierra Club or whatever – and support them financially or by
my Compost Club