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Baby Steps to Going Green
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Just how green you want to be is up to you, and living a “greener” lifestyle just might prove to be easier and more rewarding than you think. First decide what part of your life you want to change first; how you eat, where you shop for clothes, the car you drive or the brands of paint you use to redecorate your home, etc. Nowadays green products and services can be found just about anywhere including online and in your neighborhood grocery store. Start becoming familiar with things that are green as well as things that are not so green – and for the true novices out there we are not talking about colors. The term “green” is used to reflect environmental mindfulness.
Take baby steps. For example, the next time you sort through, note all of your bills and notices that could have been send to you electronically and start making arrangements do so. Receiving and paying bills online will not only conserve paper but it will also save you in postage! Be sure to have a paper recycling bin nearby to dispose of all the “junk mail” in. If your town does not have a paper recycling program, now is a good time to email your local municipality and encourage them to do so. Email requests to companies sending you unwanted catalogs and advertisements and ask to be removed for their mailing lists. The less paper we use, the less damage will be done to our forests and water supply. Yes, that’s right water supply. The chlorine bleach used to whiten paper leaks into our rivers, streams and drinking supply.

Paper use in inevitable, however it is important that when used it be conserved and recycled. There are chlorine-free paper, and recycled paper options on the market, however we still need to be mindful of our trees. Worldwide consumption of paper has risen by 400 percent in the past 40 years with 35 percent of harvested trees being used for paper manufacture. Americans toss out over 3O million trees every year in news print alone! Another green option here, read your news online. Save money and print on both sides!

Now that we have you thinking about reducing paper consumption, let’s move on to plastic. Due to their relatively low cost, ease of manufacture, versatility, and imperviousness to water, plastics are used in an enormous and expanding range of products, from paper clips to spaceships. They have already displaced many traditional materials, such as wood; stone; horn and bone; leather; paper; metal; glass; and ceramic, in most of their former uses. As convenient as plastics are, they are also toxic and hard on the planet. Due to their insolubility in water and relative chemical inertness, pure plastics generally have low toxicity in their finished state, and will pass through the digestive system with no ill effect (other than mechanical damage or obstruction).

However, plastics often contain a variety of toxic additives. For example, plasticizers like adipates and phthalates are often added to brittle plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to make them pliable enough for use in food packaging, children's toys and teethers, tubing, shower curtains and other items. Traces of these chemicals can leach out of the plastic when it comes into contact with food. Out of these concerns, the European Union has banned the use of DEHP (di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate), the most widely used plasticizer in PVC. Some compounds leaching from polystyrene food containers have been found to interfere with hormone functions and are suspected human carcinogens.

Moreover, while the finished plastic may be non-toxic, the monomers used in its manufacture may be toxic; and small amounts of those chemical may remain trapped in the product. The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has recognized the chemical used to make PVC, vinyl chloride, as a known human carcinogen. Some polymers may also decompose into the monomers or other toxic substances when heated. Also, the manufacturing of plastics often creates large quantities of chemical pollutants.

Plastics are durable and degrade very slowly; the molecular bonds that make plastic so durable make it equally resistant to natural processes of degradation. Unfortunately, recycling plastics has proven difficult. The biggest problem with plastic recycling is that it is difficult to automate the sorting of plastic waste, and so it is labor intensive. Typically, workers sort the plastic by looking at the resin identification code, though common containers like soda bottles can be sorted from memory. Other recyclable materials, such as metals, are easier to process mechanically. However, new mechanical sorting processes are being utilized to increase plastic recycling capacity and efficiency.

While containers are usually made from a single type and color of plastic, making them relatively easy to sort out, a consumer product like a cellular phone may have many small parts consisting of over a dozen different types and colors of plastics. In a case like this, the resources it would take to separate the plastics far exceed their value and the item is discarded. However, developments are taking place in the field of Active Disassembly, which may result in more consumer product components being re-used or recycled. Recycling certain types of plastics can be unprofitable, as well. For example, polystyrene is rarely recycled because it is usually not cost effective.

Research has been done on biodegradable plastics that break down with exposure to sunlight (e.g., ultra-violet radiation), water or dampness, bacteria, enzymes, wind abrasion and some instances rodent pest or insect attack are also included as forms of biodegradation or environmental degradation. It is clear some of these modes of degradation will only work if the plastic is exposed at the surface, while other modes will only be effective if certain conditions exist in landfill or composting systems. Starch powder has been mixed with plastic as a filler to allow it to degrade more easily, but it still does not lead to complete breakdown of the plastic. Some researchers have actually genetically engineered bacteria that synthesize a completely biodegradable plastic, but this material, such as Biopol, is expensive at present.

Here are some green tips for limiting plastic use. First, shop for products that contain minimum packaging. Not only we these items will be easier to open, but they will be easier on the environment. Invest in some reusable shopping bags and take them with you wherever you go. In fact, some grocery stores will even give you a small discount if you bring your own bags in. The use of plastic water bottles has been on the rise ever since they hit market, however the amount of bottles that are actually recycled are significantly lower than the actual consumption rate. Evidence also suggests that the petroleum based plastic used to make these bottles is also hazardous to humans. Consider investing in a reusable stainless steel bottle and fill it yourself. This will not only save you money, but it will save the planet and possibly your health.

Once you start greening-up your paper and plastic use, think about going green in other areas in your life as well. You will soon discover that not only are you saving the planet but by reducing and reusing you are also saving the green in your wallet. When in doubt, remember the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Helpful links: The National Recycling Coalition (NRC)

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