Grappling with Green

by King County EcoConsumer Tom Watson

Are you thinking this is another article about everything that you should be doing to make your home greener, but that you don’t really have time to do? It’s not! This is more about how to think about the whole idea of a green home.

First of all, most of us are already doing lots of great things to reduce the environmental impact of our home, and keep our family healthy and safe. Feel good about what you do, and try not to feel guilty about what you don’t do. Guilt doesn’t help anything.

But it does make sense to take the environment and health into consideration when we make purchasing decisions. Environmental impact shouldn’t be the only consideration when buying something, but it should be right up there with other considerations, such as price, the way a product looks, and convenience of use.

Pick your battles

Another key to realistically “going green” is to think about what your household’s other needs are, and then make environmental changes that complement those. For example, do you have infants, elderly people, or people with asthma or allergies in your home? If so, you may really want to emphasize indoor air quality. Just say “no” to chemical air fresheners. If you have odor problems, deal with them at the source (take out the garbage more often, or change the way you handle pet waste), rather than spewing a bunch of mystery chemicals into your home with so-called air fresheners.

Or maybe your household is really short on money, if someone is between jobs for example. In this case, you will want to emphasize green measures that save money. You could stop buying single-use water bottles by the case, and instead buy a couple nice reusable bottles and drink tap water (most of our tap water around here is pretty awesome). Or you could dry your clothes on a clothesline, rather than running your clothes dryer so much.

Do you want to get in better shape, lose a little weight, and eat healthier? How about creating a new vegetable garden (some muscle power and sweat required, but not too much) and growing some of your own food?

But remember: Be realistic. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, and don’t start big green changes unless you are really committed to following through.

Recycling ain’t everything

Here’s another piece of cheap advice (my specialty). Recycling is fantastic, but it’s just a piece of the green-living pie. We tend to get obsessed with recycling around here, but we also need to think about the big stuff. Would your energy bills be lower, and would your family be more comfortable, if you insulated your home better? If so, then start with an energy audit, and go for it. Other big things we can do include driving less and eating less beef. And those big changes might just be a great fit for your family.

And while we’re on the subject of recycling, don’t forget: Recycling isn’t just putting your bottles or cans or paper in the recycling bin. That’s just collection. Recycling also involves the transportation and processing of the collected material, and then that stuff needs to be turned into a new product or packaging, and then marketed and sold. Only when you have gone through that whole process have you truly accomplished recycling. So, be sure to buy recycled products, such as recycled-content toilet paper. Don’t laugh – it’s much higher-quality these days, and it’s done the job for us just fine at my house for years.

Use what you’ve got

Let’s wrap this up with one of my favorite sayings: Use what you’ve got! Use the specific interests, resources and enthusiasm of your household members. Do what’s fun, and what fits. Because there are so many ways now to be green, don’t waste your time trying to get yourself or others to make changes they aren’t excited about.

And speaking of using what you’ve got, here’s something else you’ve got: Me! Feel free to contact me individually if you have a question, at tom.watson@kingcounty.gov or 206-296-4481 (that’s my work number – I’m not quite crazy enough to give you all my cell number). Thanks again for reading, and for all the great green stuff you’re already doing!

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