Wake Up And Smell The Planet

Helping You Help the Environment Each Morning


We bet we can guess what your morning routine looks like: You gently click off your solar-powered alarm clock, crawl out of your hemp sheets, don organic cotton slippers and a recycled fleece robe, and shuffle across your bamboo floors to the bathroom, where you bathe in rainwater and botanicals harvested from your own garden.

Not quite? Good.

Our mornings look a little different too, and we're here to praise reality. No one expects you to live a life of environmental perfection. It's hard enough to just get out of bed. But if you find yourself questioning the greenness of your routine, a few changes can help lighten your impact … and maybe even assuage some of that guilt hanging over your bedhead.

Starting with your daily morning shower or bath there are some simple steps you can take to ensure your bathing experience is as water-friendly as a sea turtle:

  • Fix any leaks around the faucet or showerhead (even small trickles add up to gallons of water wasted per week).
  • Buy aerators for all of your faucets. These are mesh faucet ends that can cut the gallons-per-minute water usage by up to 40%. (They are easy to attach, but they may need occasional rinsing when clogged.)
  • Get a low-flow showerhead, easily installable by even a tepidly intrepid person. You'll cut your water usage from about 5 gallons a minute to 2.5 gallons a minute.
  • If you want to feel squeaky clean of conscience, collect the cold water that runs while your bath or shower is approaching a toasty temperature and use it to quench your plants' thirst.
  • Finally, make sure you have an efficient water heater that's in working order, since warming your water accounts for 17% of home energy use. Electric heaters are generally more efficient than gas, but electricity production wastes more energy. If you're really gung ho on finding an alternative, consider a tankless heater, solar heater, on-demand heater, or a heater hooked up to the furnace in a symbiotic relationship.

Crazy Little Thing Called Lunch


Lunch! What a great invention! Such a nice break, smack dab in the middle of the day—an authorized excuse to step away from your grueling routine. As a concept, lunch needs little in the way of improvement. But as you might expect, being thoughtful about how you engage in this edible endeavor can make the midday respite even more of a treat. Here are some helpful tips and pointers to get you through your lunch safely, and just a tad bit greener:

  • No more plastic food containers; instead try using old-school strategies to wrap your food. Waxed paper can be used for sandwiches (either tie it with string or secure it with rubber bands). Loosely enfold cookies and carrots in butcher paper or napkins, the latter of which can be handily reused to wipe the crumbs from your shirtfront. Add a thermos of soup, and you've got a retro-chic lunch pail.
  • Use aluminum foil. Aluminum is practically 100% recyclable, and does not degrade as it is recycled—apparently, it can be reworked into infinity without losing quality. Plastic, by contrast, loses quality each time it is recycled, and eventually must be chucked. Here's just one motivational factoid: Americans are said to throw away enough aluminum in three months to rebuild our entire commercial air fleet!
  • What we call Styrofoam is actually expanded polystyrene, known as EPS. It's made by heating polystyrene particles, pouring them into molds, and injecting them with steam. It's still not the best item to use, but it's still better than Styrofoam. And if you're having trouble figuring out how to transport your Phad Thai in your bare hands, accept the EPS box and balance it out by keeping a set of silverware and cloth napkins in your desk drawer.
  • Ditch the individual bottled water…I know you may think you do, but in most situations, you do not even need a plastic water container. If you're at a desk, or in the kitchen, or even at spinning class, glass or ceramic vessels are fine (Grizzly Adams types may favor a metal canteen). There is no good reason to use plastic water bottles in everyday life unless you are a professional cyclist or mountain climber.


Everybody's Workin' For The Weekend


It is, in the immortal words of R. Kelly, the freakin' weekend. He's about to have him some fun — are you? Most of us view our weekends as sacrosanct — two days of blessedly uninterrupted time that we can use any way we see fit, whether that means working, playing, tidying, traveling, or just sitting quietly for a few moments of contemplation. (As if.) Whatever your plans may be, there are plenty of ways to go green.

A gas barbeque is the most efficient — even more efficient than your regular stove — and burns more cleanly than wood and charcoal. Of course, it doesn't lend that yummy flavor to barbecue that makes it … well, barbecue. If you're keen on using wood, go for sustainably harvested hickory or mesquite. And keep an eye on the rise of corn grills, which burn dried kernels. Whatever you choose, know that charcoal is, for lack of a better word, gross. It can contain coal dust, limestone, and borax, among other things. On top of that, lighter fluid is as bad for you as you'd think from the smell. Would you cook lasagna just after spraying oven cleaner?

  • Despite the fact that lawns made purely of mowable grass are downright unnatural, there are 40 million acres of lush lawn in the United States. Some 54 million people mow their lawns each week in the summer, using 800 million gallons of gas a year. In some cities, two-thirds of available fresh water goes on lawns, and more than 5% of urban air pollution comes from gas-powered lawn widgets.
  • Seventy million pounds of pesticide get spewed on home lawns, trees, and shrubs a year, polluting groundwater and sending phosphates and nitrates into lakes and streams, where they generate algae blooms that choke other plant life. All so you can keep up with the Joneses! So quit it with the lawns. Embrace native species and a less manicured look, set up a system to catch rain for watering the garden or lawn, and tell the Joneses to mind their own business.
  • Partially decomposed deciduous leaves are generally considered the world's best mulch, with a special name: leaf mold. Your trees will appreciate being mulched with their own leaves for the winter, and the rest of your plants won't complain either.

You can rake piles of whole leaves around trunks, or run the (push) mower first to chop them into smaller pieces. (Chopping serves two purposes: the leaves will decompose more quickly, and the wind will blow them about less easily.) Plants of all sizes can use 2 to 3 inches of leafy mulch; just leave a couple of inches of open space around the base for air circulation. In the early spring, you'll see that the leaves on the bottom have decayed into succulent crumbs.


Let's Go to Bed


It's been a long, green day and at last it's time to hit the hay. (Don't worry—we are not about to recommend you use a mattress stuffed with lumpy straw.) Whether you use your bed for turning in or getting turned on, we have a few notes from the nightstand. And when it's time to turn off the lights forever, we offer some options for resting in peace. The first step in your evening ritual may well be putting the kids to bed. As you shuffle your pajama-clad wee ones off to slumberland, keep these suggestions in mind to ensure you both have green dreams:

  • Choose bath toys that aren't made from vinyl
  • If you're sudsing up with bubble bath, avoid products with the ingredients, “PEG,” “polyethylene,” “polyethylene glycol,” “polyoxyethylene,” “-eth-,” or “-oxynol-.” These chemicals come with a byproduct called 1,4-Dioxane, a suspected carcinogen that you probably don't want near your splashing spawn.
  • Instead of conventional soap, use olive-oil-based or organic soap.
  • Use that time to read or tell stories with a green bent.
  • Dry them off with softer-than-soft bamboo towels.
  • Dress your kidlets in secondhand or organic cotton sleepwear—or one of your old T-shirts.
  • Tuck sleepy youngsters into bed with organic, pesticide-free sheets and a wool mattress.


-- Excerpted from Wake Up and Smell the Planet by Grist.org, Skipstone, 2007

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