Thursday, April 15, 2010

Making a Difference with Small Improvements

One of the first things I noticed after we moved to New Hampshire and I was commuting over the state line every day was the difference in the level of cleanliness on the sides of the highway. Where the sides of the road along Route-93 in New Hampshire are relatively clean and well kept, the sides in Massachusetts have more garbage and tends to be more overgrown in some spots. At first I thought that maybe New Hampshire commuters were more conscientious about their littering habits (think Woodsy the Owl from the 1980's commercials - "Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute!" - after all, a big owl is right in line with the whole "woods of New Hampshire" thing.

Then a little while later I saw something on the side of the road in New Hampshire that I don't really see in Massachusetts. The NH-DOT has people out there regularly (once a month or every other month) with trash bags picking up the trash. They gather up all the garbage that people lose from their cars or just outright throw out of their windows, put it in bags on the side of the road, a truck comes by and collects the bags and VOILA! The sides of the highway are clean. It is rare in Massachusetts to see this regularly; when I have it has been correctional work-release programs and even then it's on an inconsistent basis.

As often happens when my thoughts wander, I then began to think about how far the environmental movement has come in the last 50 years. If you've ever seen the movie or read the book "A Civil Action", then you know that American industry did a darn good job before we knew better of damaging our environment, and the average American - who also didn't know better - helped in that process with pitching garbage on the ground without a second thought. Since then, there are all sorts of ways to recycle used material into new, we're looking for renewable energy resources, and all the messes made of the environment by previous generations are being cleaned up by the US Environmental Protection agency. Yet, people still exist that think that throwing their garbage out the window is a fabulous idea; two years ago after I had just gotten my car back from getting body work done, I got hit in the new paint job with a Minute Maid juice bottle thrown from the window of a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

My day continued and I had my review mid-morning. One of the things that was noted on my review was that I "implemented many small improvements in the process that have added up to increased efficiency for the business." So this of course made me start thinking about all the small things that we all can do to make a difference in helping the environment (these things tend to go on all day when they pop in my head)... like... not throwing our juice bottles out the window, as a simple example. Just sayin'.


In all seriousness... there are two specific areas that Americans can help in that are pretty normal and/or popular activities that we all do regularly - shopping and drinking coffee.


There are two things that are available now that people can do to make the use of shopping bags a bit more environmentally friendly. They are:
  1. Get some reusable shopping bags - and remember to take them out of your car when you use them. Not only do you cut down on the number of those wonderful "these are not a toy" plastic bags that don't biodegrade - there are many of them available for people with all sorts of fashion sense. You can get bags from your favorite store, homemade ones, or just some pretty darn stylish ones. Some of them even support causes - the ones I got from Shaw's are pink and support Breast Cancer Research.
  2. A lot of grocery stores have a repository now at the entrance of the store that you can return your used plastic bags to be recycled. I'm assuming they're just made into more grocery bags... but it's certainly a better alternative to having hoodlums light them up over campfires and make popping noises. Or throwing them away so they accumulate in a landfill someplace.
Me? I opt for the reusable shopping bags; admittedly I sometimes forget to take them out of the car, so then I try to remember to catch the bagger and say paper... but sometimes I miss that too. But I do indeed prefer the reusable bags to the bags the store provides. Right now I have a whole bunch of them from various places. They fit a ton of food and most of them are made pretty sturdy. If you get them from your grocery store they're usually only a couple of dollars, but if you're looking for something more stylish and fancy - why not also support handmade goods artists and get one on Etsy?

Other things you can do to help the enviroment - keep an eye for your favorite stores' flyers & sales to be sent to your email (Bath & Body Works, Kohls, and a lot of grocery stores do this). Do you use your credit or debit card to shop? If you do - why not convert to paperless statements? You'll be saving lots of trees!


There are a few different things with coffee or other hot beverages that you can do that are easy and are great ways to take steps towards helping the environment.
  1. Reusable coffee mugs. This might seem like an obvious one - but it's amazing how obvious it is not. As Americans we value convenience, and there's nothing more convenient than someone else providing things for you. However, we generate a lot of garbage every year in hot beverage cups alone. Starbucks is doing a promotion today where everyone who brings in a reusable travel mug will get a free cup of brewed coffee. They are also encouraging people to take a pledge to use reusable mugs rather than standard paper mugs. Let's say I got my one cup of coffee every day from Starbucks. If I did that and switched to using my own mug - I would save 7 trees every year. If 10 people did that - 70 trees every year. I use my own mug every day at work rather than the styrofoam cups my company provides. I would like to start remembering to keep a clean travel mug in the car incase I want coffee when I'm out. See? Simple, easy... and can be stylish if you get the right mug!
  2. Reusable coffee cup sleeves. I have to admit that I love those stupid cardboard sleeves that are available to slip over my cup and keep my hand from burning or freezing. These are another item that are made in a reusable format and are small enough to keep in your car, pocket, or purse. Not that I love to promote handmade goods or anything, but there are a large variety available on Etsy. One of these years I'm going to crochet one for myself - I made one once for a swap and it was super easy!
  3. Do you garden? Did you know that used coffee grounds make great compost for your flower beds? Starbucks will often have grounds available at their shops for their patrons to take for free (or at least they used to, and I'm sure if they don't immediately they might if you talk to the manager). If you don't take it - it will just get thrown away, so you might as well ask. My guess is that your local coffee shop owner would be willing to do the same, so if you have an in - talk up the manager and ask.
That's all I have for now that I can think of... but I encourage everyone to think of different small ways that you can help out the environment. Maybe you'll bike or walk somewhere instead of drive, start to bring your lunch in reusable containers - the possibilities are endless!

What do you do daily to add your small part in to helping our planet?

1 comment:

Laura Haven said...

Love the post, Danielle! I get coffee grounds from starbucks when I am growing things in my garden. It's a great way to get free compost!