Here we are in the swing of summer again. While everything outside is lush and green is a great reminder for us to Go Green! Go Green is a worldwide campaign to create a healthier environment and take care of the world we live in through eco-friendly actions. Living in the Netherlands where preservation is extremely important (the majority of the country is below sea level), I have made several environmentally friendly changes that are a pretty standard way of life in my adopted country. I wanted to share them here in the hopes of inspiring more people to Go Green!
The biggest change I’ve made is in the way I get around. Bikes are a way of life in the Netherlands. There are special bike paths pretty much anywhere with their own traffic lights and traffic rules. I cycle into town, to work, to meet friends, to meetings, to classes. If I can get there in a 30 minute cycle, that’s the way I get there. And when I don’t cycle, I walk. Hubs and I take the car out about once or twice a week, if that. And that’s if it’s just me, just Hubs, or the two of us together. Sometimes we’ll go two weeks or more without even setting foot in the car. Not only does this lessen pollution due to CO2, it also saves a LOT of money. I know this is more often than not impossible in the US to use a bike as transportation, but see if you can start to use it here and there. Every little bit helps. If the school, grocery store, pharmacy, work, or a friend is close by, think about taking the bike out for a spin on your next trip instead of hopping into the car. You can buy saddle bags, wagons, and children’s seats for your bike at pretty much any bike store. Or try looking online.
Recycling is also a great way to be kind to your environment. Most plastics, glass, metal, and paper can be recycled. Look for a grocery store that will give you store credit for turning in bottles, both plastic and glass. Almost all the grocery stores in the Netherlands do this. It really makes a difference in your monthly grocery bill. Find a metal and aluminum center that will give you change for your scraps. There’s one in Frederick, MD called Reliable Recycling. Before I left for the Netherlands, they were paying $0.35 per pound of aluminum cans. Take anything you can’t get rid of to the nearest recycling center. Donate or give away old toys, clothing, shoes, and appliances. One man’s junk is another mans riches! Right by where we live (less than 100 meters) there’s a recycling center that also takes used clothes and shoes. You can also have a yard sale and make some extra cash! Be creative with the ‘leftovers’. Make a tire swing or a jump set with a pole set atop stacks of tires for your avid horseback rider. Cut pictures from old magazines to make collages, use junk to make coasters, notepads, scrapbooks, whatever you can think of – be creative! If you just have to throw it away, condense it first. Crush cans and plastic bottles, smash cartons, break down the glass, pop those addictive little bubbles in the bubble wrap, and stuff other trash into anything hollow that you can’t break down. This will allow more to be fit into you trash bags which will limit the space taken up in the landfill as well as save you money on trash bags!
My husband doesn’t use paper towels. We have napkins with dinner on occasion, but most spills can be taken care of with a dish or cleaning cloth. Better for the environment to wash a cloth than to add paper towels to the overflowing landfills. Reuse as much as you can. Refill bottles. Make sure your dishwasher is crammed full before you run it. Dishwashers use a lot of water and energy and this will save time, water, energy, and money! Use bath towels for a week before washing. When you dry yourself after a shower, you’re using a clean towel on a clean body. No need to wash a clean towel. By the end of the week, it’ll have collected enough dead skin that it will need to be washed, but not before that. Wear pajamas for a whole week. Unless you participate in the Sleep Olympics, your nighties won’t get soiled enough to earn washing after one wear. When you do do laundry, fit as much into each load as is safe for your machine. Consider air drying as much as you can and combining 2 loads of wash into the drier instead of one (most washing machines are smaller than dryers). Consider not using a blow drier for your hair. If you absolutely have to, I understand, but if you don’t need to, don’t. It’s really bad for the environment and, surprisingly enough, your hair.
Got a garden? If you don’t, you might want to think about it. They’re beautiful and peaceful for starters. They rid the atmosphere of CO2 and replace it with oxygen. They also provide food and shelter for other creatures. Plus gardening is relaxing and fun! If you already have a garden or are planning to start one, be sure to build a compost pile. Not only it is fantastic free fertilizer, it also diminishes the amount of waste that goes into the landfill. My “pile” is composting in a Cola Light bottle just like in Mr. Kemp’s 7th grade science class. Not only do I have a compost, I’m also re-using a plastic bottle which can eventually be recycled too!
Just say no to paper and plastic shopping bags! One thing that struck me instantly upon my arrival to the Netherlands was that stores rarely give you bags. You have to ask for them. Otherwise, they assume you’ll just shove it in your purse or backpack, carry it as is, or put it in another shopping bag. Pretty much everyone carries around a vinyl grocery bag with them on a shopping trip. Either that or they’ll bring a plastic bag from home. I’ve seen many a college student enter the supermarket with a plastic grocery bag overflowing with empty plastic and glass bottles and leaving with the same bag filled with groceries. Most stores here in the Netherlands have these bags or you can buy a store logo free one at a market or the Hema (the Dutch equivalent of Target). In the US, you can get them at most grocery stores. Buy one or two for the car or the house and let it be your shopping buddy. If someone offers you a plastic or paper bag or absent mindedly begins to shove your newly-bought items into one, just say “No thanks. I already have a bag.”
Don’t use heat and AC unless you really need it. Hubs has a rule: no heat after March and not before November. This one was tough, but really, you can live with sweatshirts, sweaters, slipper, socks, and blankets. To my amazement, AC is not a common commodity in the Netherlands. There’s a restaurant in the city center of Utrecht that proudly boasts in paint on it’s windows that it has AC. This is rare. The country seems to have both a figurative and literal Open Door Policy. They open doors and open windows, pull out their fans and take advantage of the breeze. And I’m still alive! And getting used to it actually (although I do miss it at some times more than others).
This last one’s tricky. Limit your water use. Have a bathroom cup for teeth brushing. Fill the cup with water and use it to wet your toothbrush, rinse your mouth and rinse the sink. You’ll use a lot less water this way. Make it a rule to turn off the tap whenever you are not actively using it. This includes while washing and drying your hands, brushing your teeth and taking a shower. Yes, you need water to lather up soap and shampoo and to rinse off, but not while your scrubbing. I have found that this one takes the most self-discipline. Also, if your tap water is safe to drink, drink it. Not only is it just as good as the bottled stuff (some studies say it’s actually better for you), but it saves money as well as the worry of what to do with the plastic bottle once your done.
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