Simple lifestyle changes can create big effects on the environment

02/24/2012 12:00 AM

02/24/2012 9:41 AM

Talk about living “green,” and you’re likely to spark a debate.

Some will celebrate it as saving the earth and preserving our way of life. Others will argue that it infringes upon their right to be as wasteful as they want to be in the name of independence. Still others see it as a political agenda.

But the reality is, we have to find space to put our trash, and how we dispose of our waste can affect water and air quality – two essentials for that independent life we all crave.

In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican, has championed “green” initiatives across the state, even holding an energy summit this past year in Wichita. He has pushed for a conservation plan to save prairie lands in the Flint Hills.

But living green isn’t always about big policy decisions.

Individuals and businesses have found it just makes sense. Reducing waste saves money. It’s as simple as that.

Small changes can have a big effect if enough people take part.

Here are a few ways that residents in south-central Kansas can make simple lifestyle changes to save our resources:

• Compost: More than a quarter of what we send to the landfill is food waste, leaves and yard clippings. We could keep that all at home, compost it and use it as food for our lawns and gardens. While it will decompose in our yards, it doesn’t react the same way in a landfill, surrounded by all our other trash. It can seep into the ground and create harmful gases. The Sedgwick County Extension Center has helpful guides to create a compost pile. Once you do that, it takes only about three minutes a day. You can even compost newspaper, cotton balls and fish.
•  Landscape with native plants: Add some of that Flint Hills beauty we’re always bragging about to your yard. You can create small areas or entire landscapes using sunflowers, tall grasses, coneflowers and black-eyed Susans, just to name a few. Kansas State University has an online database to help you pick your plants. Experts at Dyck Arboretum in Hesston are available to help individuals, neighborhoods or businesses plan their landscapes. Using native plants requires less water, and less mowing and maintenance.
•  Make a rain barrel or a rain garden: Use less water, and cut your bills, by collecting the water that falls from the sky and leaving it on your property. Stormwater runoff picks up fertilizer, oil and all sorts of pollutants as it runs along the streets and through the drains and out into our waterways. A rain barrel collects water that can be used on plants or lawns during dry spells. A rain garden directs the downspout directly to the plants. Both help cut pollution and preserve water quality. Some local residents have put in entire systems at their houses, using multiple barrels to collect hundreds of gallons to use watering their lawns.
•  Stop using the plastic bags, already: Sure, they’re convenient. But they also cause pollution. They get into the oceans and kill fish. Buying reusable cloth bags are an easy way to cut waste. When they ask, “paper or plastic,” say “No, thanks, I have my own.”
• Recycle: Whether it’s curbside pickup, or a weekly trip to the recycling center, reusing or recycling your glass, plastic, paper, cardboard and other waste preserves natural resources. If you recycle paper, you don’t have to cut down as many trees. It also creates jobs.

Find new ways to improve your environmental living by visiting Kansas Green Teams online at www.kansasgreenteams.org/green-guide.

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