How You Can Help Save the Planet

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Photo by Fotolia/Diego Cervo
Riding your bike to work or school is good for both your health and the world's.

OK, gang. Earth Day (April 22) is over. Remember all the slogans and the buttons and the long lists of great ideas that will save the planet? Where are they now … now that we should be living them?  

Maybe — with the politicians and the slogan-sellers and the button manufacturers already three “causes” on down the road  — it’s worth the effort to go back and reconsider at least one of those lists. This one, distributed by “Priority,” is as good as any. It doesn’t have all the answers and real purists are guaranteed to be offended by at least six different points. But the concern and good intentions shine through.  

Tips for Environmentally Friendly Living

1. Don’t use colored facial tissues, paper towels or toilet paper. The paper dissolves properly in water, but the dye lingers on.

2. If you accumulate coat hangers, don’t junk them; return them to the cleaner. Boycott a cleaner who won’t accept them.

3. Use containers that disintegrate readily. Glass bottles don’t decompose. Bottles made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) give off lethal hydrochloric acid when incinerated. (That’s the soft plastic many liquid household cleaners, shampoos, and mouthwashes come in. Don’t confuse it with the stiffer polystyrene plastic, used mainly for powders.) The Food and Drug Administration has now approved PVC for food packaging, too. Don’t buy it. Use decomposable or “biodegradable” pasteboard, cardboard and paper containers instead. If you can’t, at least reuse non-decomposable bottles; don’t junk them after one use.

4. Don’t buy non-returnable containers. Hold aluminum can purchases to a minimum.

5. At the gas station, don’t let the attendant “top off” your gas tank; this means waste and polluting spillage. The pump should shut off automatically at the proper amount. (True, too, for motorboats.)

6. If you smoke filter-tip cigarettes, don’t flush them down the john. They’ll ruin your plumbing and clog up pumps at the sewage treatment plant. They’re practically indestructible. Put them in the garbage.

7. Stop smoking.

8. Stop littering. Now. If you see a litterer, object very politely (e.g. “Excuse me, sir, I think you dropped something”).

9. If you’re a home gardener, make sure fertilizer is worked deep into the soil — don’t hose it off into the water system. Phosphates (a key ingredient) cause lake and river algae to proliferate wildly.

10. To reduce noise, buy a heavy-duty plastic garbage can instead of a metal one. Or sturdy plastic bags, if you can afford them. They’re odor-proof, neater, lighter.

11. When you see a junked car, report it to your local sanitation department. If they don’t care, scream till someone does.

12. If you don’t really need a car, don’t buy a car. Motor vehicles contribute a good half of this country’s air pollution. Better, walk or bicycle. Better for you, too.

13. If you have to car — commute, don’t chug exhaust into the air just for yourself. Form a car pool. Four people in one car put out a quarter the carbon monoxide of four cars.

14. Better yet, take a bus to work. Or a train. Per passenger mile, they pollute air much less than cars. Support mass transit.

15. If you still think you need a car of your own, make sure it burns fuel efficiently (i.e., rates high in mpg). Get a low-horsepower mini-machine for the city, a monster only for lots of freeway driving.

16. If bagged garbage overflows your trash cans, shake it out of bags directly into the can and tromp it down to compact it.

17. If you have a fireplace, burn wood — not murky cannel coal.

18. Burning leaves or garbage is already illegal in many towns. Don’t do it. Dispose of such material in some other way.

19. If you see any oily, sulfurous black smoke coming out of chimneys, report it to the sanitation department or air pollution board.

20. There’s only so much water. Don’t leave it running. If it has to be recycled too fast, treatment plants can’t purify it properly.

21. Measure detergents carefully. If you follow manufacturers’ instructions, you’ll help cut a third of all detergent water pollution.

22. Since the prime offender in detergent pollution is not suds but phosphates (which encourage algae growth), demand to know how much phosphate is in the detergent you’re buying. Write the manufacturer, newspaper, congressmen, the FDA. Until they let you know, use an unphosphated — nondetergent — soap. (Bubble baths, you may be happy to know, do not cause detergent pollution.)

23. Never flush away what you can put in the garbage. Especially unsuspected organic cloggers like cooking fat (give it to the birds), coffee grounds or tea leaves (gardeners dote on them).

24. Drain oil from power lawn mowers or snowplows into a container and dispose of it; don’t hose it into the sewer system.

25. Avoid disposable diapers if possible. They may clog plumbing and septic tanks.

26. If you see something wrong and you don’t know whom to contact, bombard newspapers, TV and radio stations with letters. Get friends to join in. Media will help with the message if you’re getting nowhere in normal channels. Remember: Publicity hurts polluters.

27. Help get antipollution ideals into kids’ heads. If you’re a teacher, a Scout leader, a camp counselor, a summer playground assistant, then each children about litter, conservation, noise … about being considerate — which is what it all comes down to.

28. If you’re in a relatively rural area, save vegetable wastes (sawdust, corn husks, cardboard, table scraps, etc.,) in a compost heap … instead of throwing them out. Eventually, you can spread it as fertilizer — nature’s way of recycling garbage.

29. Remember: All power pollutes. Especially gas and electric power, which either smog up the air or dirty the rivers. So cut down on power consumption. In winter, put the furnace a few degrees lower (it’s healthier) and wear a sweater.

30. Use live Christmas trees, not amputated ones, and replant them afterward. City bound? Contact your parks department.

31. Protesting useless pollution? Don’t wear indestructible metal buttons that say so.

32. Fight to keep noise at a minimum between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. Studies show that sounds that aren’t loud enough to wake you can still break your dream cycle — so you awaken tired and cranky. By the same token, be kind to neighbors. Suggest that your local radio and TV stations remind listeners to turn down the volume at 10 p.m.

33. When you shop, take a reusable tote with you as Europeans do — and don’t accept excess packaging and paper bags.

34. Patronize stores that specialize in organically grown food in biodegradable containers. There’s probably such a health food store near you.

35. Radicalize your community. Do something memorable. One group is giving Polluter of the Week awards to deserving captains of industry. In traffic jams, other groups have handed out leaflets titled, “Don’t You Feel Stupid Sitting Here?” The leaflets list advantages of car pools and mass transit. 

36. You, as a citizen, can swear out a summons and bring a noisy neighbor to court. If the problem’s bigger than that, talk to a lawyer about a class-action lawsuit. A group of people, for instance, can file a class-action suit against a noisy airline or a negligent public official.

37. Last, and most important — vitally important — if you want more than two children, adopt them. You know all the horror stories. They’re true. Nightmarishly true. And that goes for the whole American economy: Unless we stop fanatically producing and consuming more than we need, we won’t have a world to stand on.