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Friday, March 28, 2008

Left Holding the Bag - Forever

By James Stevenson, Pinellas County Extension Educator

Q: “Paper or plastic?”
A: How about: “Neither, thank you, I’ve brought my own bags.”

Plastic grocery bags have become a world-wide scourge; perhaps you’ve noticed their fantastic aerodynamic abilities? According to Plastic Bag Economics (, plastic makes up 80 percent of the volume of litter on roads, parks and beaches. It makes up 90 percent of litter in the ocean. A square mile of ocean features 46,000 pieces of plastic.

Plastic bags take decades to breakdown, whether they end up in landfill, the ocean or an incinerator. Typically a plastic bag is used for less than 20 minutes, yet will take up to 1,000 years to rot away.

Plastic bags in the ocean are life threatening for sea inhabitants—they are often mistaken for jelly fish and eaten. They can’t be digested and cause death by slow starvation or suffocation. The dead animal’s body decomposes and frees the plastic bag to roam the ocean again.

According to the Times, one of the UK’s leading daily newspapers, a million seabirds are estimated to be killed by plastic each year, plus 100,000 seals, sea lions, whales and dolphins (

Re-usable shopping bags are slowly working their way into peoples’ lives—not a minute too soon! I’ve heard some people say that they forget to bring their re-usable bags to the store when shopping. I was one of those people, until I began collecting canvas bags. They are becoming widely available, and are often free give-aways at green markets and home shows. I’ve now got a collection of about ten bags. I keep half of them in the car; I don’t think I’m ever 10 feet from one!

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Re-Fill ‘Er Up!

By James Stevenson, Pinellas County Extension Educator

Do you buy a new car every time yours runs out of gasoline? No? Well, each time many household products run out, you can do the same as with the auto: fill ‘er up. Companies are beginning to offer re-fills for many products. Dishwashing liquid, laundry soap, spices, and many more are offered in packaging which is much less substantial than the original container. Support this technology and hopefully more products will be offered as re-fills. This really is a win-win-win situation. The manufacturer saves money on packaging, passing the savings on to YOU and with less containers heading to the landfill, the planet benefits; one dispenser at a time! Scan the aisles the next time you are shopping. Look for refills for many products. Here’s another tip: you don’t HAVE to put refills in a product-specific container. Be creative! Pinellas County does not have much glass recycling capabilities (yet), so take that wine bottle, wash thoroughly, fill with a sachet of dishwashing liquid, pop a corked, pouring spout on top, and you’ve got a recycle-chic dispenser for the kitchen!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Who’s the Boss?

By James Stevenson, Pinellas County Extension Educator

Wanna score some points with the Brass? How about offering to help green the office? Your efforts could save the company hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year. Greening an office is just as easy as greening your home. Unfortunately most offices do not have a champion making sure that waste is avoided. Here are a few tips to help you evaluate the office, and some suggestions to take up the ladder:
  • Conduct energy audits to determine current use and identify conservation opportunities:

  • Purchase or replace obsolete equipment and appliances with those certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR® Program

  • Replace older fluorescent fixtures with newer, low-mercury CFL

  • Use programmable thermostats to ensure reductions during off hours and keep thermostats at 78 degrees or higher

  • Reduce hot, outdoor air from entering the building and eliminate the loss of cooled air with weather stripping and caulking around windows and doors

  • Insulate hot water piping from water heaters to the wall or ceiling pipe; wrap tanks in an insulating blanket if the water heater’s energy factor is less than 59 degrees

  • Lower the thermostat on hot water heaters; 115 degrees is comfortable for most uses

  • Turn off PCs, monitors, printers, and copiers nightly and on weekends. If unable to switch off the entire computer, turn off the monitor and printer

  • Turn computers, copiers and other office equipment to low-power standby mode when not in use

  • Use laptop computers and ink jet printers, if available, since they use 90 percent less energy than desktop and laser printer.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dirty Talkin’

By James Stevenson, Pinellas County Extension Educator

Look under your kitchen sink, check the kitchen closet, have a glance under the bathroom sink. Throughout an average house, a myriad of cleaning products lurk, awaiting their chance to tackle grease, grime and germs. Some of these warrior chemicals are extremely toxic to humans and the environment alike. Some form deadly fumes when mixed. And yet the b’gillion gallons of cleaning products produced each year eventually find their way into landfills, drains, sewers, and ultimately the Environment. We ultra-sanitation-conscious Americans generate 1.6 million tons of waste each year from common cleaning products with potentially hazardous ingredients.

Consider using green cleaning products in the home. There really is no need to use a sledgehammer to crack a walnut is there? These green products clean just as well as their deadly counterparts, and will leave you with a sparkling clean home and a feeling of having done the right thing!