Friday, July 15, 2011

Lawn Dilemma

I live in surburban Long Island, and that basically means that I am expected to maintain my lawn according to the exacting standards of my meticulous neighbors--a lawn, in other words, that is plush, green, and free of unsightly weeds and crabgrass. And that is no small feat when temperatures on the Island reach 100 degrees in July and August as they are often known to do. When that happens my beautiful grass dies, but ugly weeds and crabgrass seem to thrive. It's almost as though they're mocking me by grown to epic heights, while the grass that I had struggled so hard to establish in June withers away.

Perhaps there's not much we can do about dead lawn patches in the heat of summer (other than keeping the sprinkler on all the time, which is no real solution), but don't pesticides at least off us the opportunity to get back at those ungodly weeds? Pesticides are indeed an easy way to ensure a weed free lawn, but at a huge ecological cost. They leach into our groundwater, kill helpful organisims in the soil, and may be responsible for the astronomical rates of breast cancer in places like Long Island.

So does this mean that we basically have to give up on a weed-free lawn. Not exactly. Ed Thompson, founder of the Molloy College Sustainability Institute, believes that the same results can be achieved without having to poison ourselves. Here's what he has to say:

Of course, there are other viable options as well. A friend of my, Kathy Reba, has been trying for years to convince me to get rid of my lawn entirely. "Why don't you just plant perennials in place of a lawn?" she is always suggesting. While this might be an option in some places, my neighbors in Nassau County might look askew at such a development.

A better option for me--and something I've been working on for the past two years--is to replace my regular lawn with a zoysia lawn, which requires much less water and care. A zoysia lawn also stands up much better than traditional lawns to the punishing heat of summer, and is so dense a turf that no pesticides are usually needed on it.

But more on the zoysia issue later....

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Story of Stuff

According to the EPA, Americans generate 236 million tons of garbage each year. 164 million tons of garbage eventually end up in landfills, including...

26,800,000 tons of food
8,550,000 tons of furniture and furnishings
6,330,000 tons of clothing and footwear
5,190,000 tons of glass beer and soda bottles
4,200,000 tons of plastic wrap and bags
3,650,000 tons of junk mail
3,470,000 tons of diapers
3,160,000 tons of office paper
3,070,000 tons of tires
2,820,000 tons of carpets and rugs
2,230,000 tons of newspapers
2,060,000 tons of appliances
1,520,000 tons of magazines
1,170,000 tons of wine and liquor bottles
970,000 tons of paper plates and cups
840,000 tons of books
830,000 tons of beer and soda cans
780,000 tons of towels, sheets, and pillowcases
540,000 tons of telephone directories
450,000 tons of milk cartons
160,000 tons of lead-acid (car) batteries

for the rest of us, there is someone out there who is tackling the problem of our human waste in a way that is both informative and engaging. This modern visionary is Annie Leonard, who several years ago began to do an extensive study of what happens to all the stuff we buy and then dispose of. The results of this personal odyssey were captured by Leonard in her animated documentary, The Story of Stuff.

Now Leonard has gone one step further by taking the basic ideas that she developed in her film and writing one of the most illuminating books that I have read in recent years--also entitled The Story of Stuff. What separates Leonard from many other environmental activists is that she never seems to have an ax to grind. Leonard simply lays out the steps involved in the production and disposal of our human stuff and explains in an objective and fairly dispassionate way what the consequences of this system are.

Leonard's documentary and book should be considered required reading for anyone who is concerned about the future of our planet.....Just be sure to get the book from your public library instead of buying it, so you don't unintentionally commit eco-hypocrisy!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Problem with Fluorescent Bulbs

According to the EPA, "If every American home replaced just one light bulb with a [compact fluorescent bulb], we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars." Fluorescent bulbs also use about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer.

Over the past two years, I have begun to replace all of the standard light bulbs in my house with fluorescent bulbs. I like to think that this simple change is as good for the planet as it is good for my wallet. There's no doubt that I'm probably saving some money over the long run by using fluorescents, even though they cost about about 10 times the amount of standard bulbs.

My problem with fluorescent bulbs is that they contain on average about 20 milligrams of mercury. That's enough mercury to contaminate 20 million acres of water. If this mercury somehow ends up in the food chain, it can cause severve damage to the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver.

None of this would matter if people using fluorescent bulbs actually recycled them, but in fact only about 25% of the 700 million florescent bulbs being sold each year are recycled by consumers. The rest go into the garbage and then into landfills, where they have the potential to wreak havoc on the environment and on human health.

My question: are fluorescent bulbs really all they are hyped-up to be? Sure they save energy, but at what ecological cost?

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