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Environment

Being a Green Consumer

By: Larry Bricker

Kermit the Frog once said, "It's not easy being green." Even though modern life can be complicated and the choices confusing, being a green consumer doesn't have to be hard. Being green just means consuming less and making choices on a day to day basis with some thought towards the consequences.

By the nature of the way we live we have a distinct effect on the environment through the consumption of resources and the disposal of wastes. In a sense we are drowning in our own affluence (or is that effluence?). Consider the following facts:

1. The solid wastes generated in the U.S. in ONE YEAR could pave a highway 24 lanes wide and 1 foot deep from Boston to Los Angeles.

2. Laid end-to-end, the 18 billion disposable diapers thrown away in the U.S. each year could reach back and forth to the moon 7 times!

3. About 80% of what Americans throw away is recyclable, yet we recycle less than 10%.

4. The amount of used, non-recycled motor oil that is dumped in the U.S. each year is 10-20 times the amount that leaked from the Exxon Valdez, and it only takes one quart of oil to contaminate 2 million gallons of water.

The consequences can be staggering. Landfills are overflowing and leaking toxic substances into our water supply. Incinerating trash causes air pollution. Our oceans, lakes and rivers contain medical wastes that are either radioactive or potentially pathogenic. Plastic waste is killing wildlife. Not to mention we are throwing away valuable resources that could be recycled.

So what can we do about it? Obviously we can never reduce our consumption to zero. But we can start by looking at the four R's of being a green consumer:

1. REDUCE garbage volume by minimizing the amount of materials you bring home from the store. Ask yourself if you really need it. Avoid unnecessary packaging. Think about where it's going to end up after it leaves your hands. Practice "precycling" by making environmentally sound decisions at the store and reducing waste before you buy.

2. RE-USE whatever you can. Avoid throwaway products and wherever possible choose to purchase durable goods that you can maintain and repair. Instead of just tossing, sell or donate those things that you no longer need.

3. RECYCLE those things that can be recycled in your community. Practice "precycling" by selecting recyclable products and packaging when you shop. Start a compost pile for your yard trimmings and food scraps. (That will also reduce your dependence on artificial fertilizers.)

4. REJECT products that are over packaged, non-biodegradable, and that are disposable by voting with your dollars. Businesses only sell what the public buys and will change to meet your buying habits.

The frequently quoted adage "Think globally, act locally" has never been more timely. A better way to read it would be: "Local actions have global consequences". This doesn't mean that you need to feel responsible for all the environmental problems, but taking individual responsibility is where the solutions can begin. Because while no ONE person's green consumerism will solve all our environmental problems, multiplied by thousands or millions, it will make the difference.

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