Tips on Helping the Environment and Yourself

By Dale J. Harrington

I recently found the following quote: “Environmental sustainability doesn’t mean living without luxuries, but rather being aware of your resource consumption and reducing unnecessary waste.” (Author Unknown) The main focus in this article relates to “resource consumption and reducing unnecessary waste.”

Some of the ideas include reducing household energy use, disposing of disposables, recycling, donating items, saving water and drinking from the tap instead of from single use plastic containers. If you do not like the flavor of your tap water, get a filtration system.

Reduce Use of Single Use Plastics

I believe most of us have used single-use forks, spoons, knives, cups, bags and food storage containers. We rarely wash these for future use. Therefore, they often end up in landfill. Most of the containers we get from a restaurant for our “take home” extra food items end up in the landfill. I have a sister-in-law who takes her own reusable container to a restaurant for her leftover food.

When you make purchases, consider the item’s life expectancy: How long can you use the item? Keep in mind that stamped dates are often conservative estimates. Will it have more than one use? When you’re done with it, will it end up in landfill? Start investing in reusable containers to replace items you most often throw away.

Although some plastic bags we get in the grocery store may be recyclable, use reusable cloth or netting bags (or at least look for biodegradable bags) when purchasing fruits and vegetables.

Recycle Clothes You No Longer Need

Consider donating clothing to a not-for-proit organization such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or American Cancer Society. There are four Goodwill stores in our area. They are in Walnut Creek, Moraga, Pleasant Hill and Concord. There is a Salvation Army store in Pleasant Hill. Throwing a useable clothing item in the trash deprives someone who could benefit from it.

Conserve Water

Water conservation can involve low-flow shower heads, water-efficient toilets and running shower water into a container until it is warm, rather than letting it go down the drain. My wife and I have a plastic bucket in the shower, and we use the water for outside plants or to flush a toilet. Take shorter showers. Turn the water off while brushing your teeth. Use your clothes washer or dishwasher only when you have a full load.

Some of these suggestions may seem like they could not make much of an impact, but we need to think beyond our self. If everyone in a community were to take these steps, the impact could be significant.

Winter Considerations

On cold days wearing a jacket or sweater in the house enables us to set the thermostat at a lower temperature. Use dimmer switches for lights to save energy and money on your utility bills.

Not burning wood in a fireplace helps keep the air cleaner. Several years ago, I lived in Benicia and drove to San Jose on Interstate 680 every day. During the winter, when I got to Danville, I could smell fireplace smoke in my car even though my windows were closed. In fact, there were times I could even see the smoke.

This problem was even more prevalent when I was young and I lived with my parents in West Sacramento. Not only did many people burn wood in their fireplace, but during the fall, leaves from trees were piled in the gutter next to the curb and then burned. At least we do not have that problem in the East Bay.

More about Plastics

Many food containers retain part of the product on the inside when we have used what we want. Two examples are peanut butter containers and mayonnaise containers. These containers can be processed more easily and efficiently by the recycling center if we thoroughly wash the containers and dry them before putting them in the recycling bin.

Brad Waite wrote a comprehensive article about plastics and their effect on the environment. The Rossmoor News published it on Dec. 12, 2018. Read it here, in the Earth Matters blog, on March 20, 2019. The article reminded me when I was young, the milkman delivered bottles to our house. When we were to receive a new delivery, my parents would place the empty bottles out on our porch to be retrieved when the new full bottles were delivered.

This was so different from now, when we dispose of our milk containers. Even recycling causes processing issues.

Present day recycling of paper, cardboard, metal cans and plastic containers is an improvement over what existed many years ago. When I think of all of the present-day recycled items that used to go to landfill, I shake my head.

Thank goodness we have made progress and continue to do so.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, February 27, 2019. Email Dale J. Harrington at:

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