(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 22, 2008. We are re-airing it to celebrate this year's Earth Day. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
April 22, 2008 is Earth Day. Many events will be well publicized throughout the world to raise awareness about our shrinking natural resources and the impact that wasting them has upon our environment. "Going Green" is a frequently used phrase that is getting a lot of media attention of late, but most of us as gardeners, have been using sustainable practices for many years. We compost our bio-degradable waste, conserve water, and limit our pesticide use to attract beneficial insects to our outdoor spaces.
As gardeners, we are constantly in touch with our environment, and most of us try to garden in a responsible and sustainable manner. We do little things in our own homes, and around our property to conserve water and energy every day, never thinking that these actions will ever make a big impact upon the welfare of the earth. One gardener's actions might not, but Dave's Garden now has a membership of over 300,000 world-wide. As a group, we can make a big difference by doing just a few little things.
Replace incandescent bulbs
If every one of us replaced the three most used incandescent light bulbs in their homes with compact fluorescents, that would be nearly one million power-hog light bulbs that would no longer be putting a strain on energy resources. The drop in your power bill each month will be nice, but the less power that each home uses also determines how much power has to be produced. If you have already converted your light bulbs over to fluorescents, think about purchasing a package of these bulbs for someone else. The elderly and people on fixed incomes probably opt for the cheaper incandescents. All of us know someone who might not be able to afford replacing their light bulbs. They also make a wonderful and responsible shower gift for couples just starting out. Dave's Gardeners can make a measurable impact this Earth Day by each pledging to change to fluorescents, or helping someone else to do so. Little things that can make a big difference.
Convert to re-useable shopping bags
Every week, the vast majority of us head for the supermarket to do weekly shopping. We lug home our purchases in plastic shopping bags which are a drain on our natural resources. The plastic bags are a product of the petro-chemical industry and are manufactured using part of the oil that is pumped out of the ground around the world. This alone, should make people think twice about the gazillions of these bags that are thrown away each day. If each Dave's Garden member just started using six cloth shopping bags, we could eliminate over one million, eight hundred thousand plastic bags per week! I love my cloth bags. They are stronger and hold more. Also, as anyone who has had a flimsy plastic bag split, and the contents spill out all over the ground well knows, plastic isn't the safest container for anything breakable. Re-useable bags can be made from cloth, or better yet, from recycled plastic. Some supermarkets even give a discount of a few cents for every re-useable bag a customer brings in. Cloth bags save no one anything if they are not used, so immediately put them back in the trunk of your car as soon as you unload your groceries. I also keep a small one folded in my purse, so that I never forget when I run into the bookstore or the hardware store, saving yet again, another plastic bag. As with the light bulbs, if you are already using your own bags, make sure that a friend or neighbor has some too. They make wonderful and responsible shower gifts as well. Little things that can make a big difference.
Use cloth instead of paper
How many paper towels and paper napkins do you use each week? We like to keep things clean, so we are constantly wiping up and cleaning. Paper is made from wood pulp, and although trees can be replanted, it's not the most earth-friendly or economical way to go. Thousands of trees are sacrificed each week, and the used paper products are carried to the landfills in fuel burning garbage trucks. Each home may not think that a roll of paper towels and a package of paper napkins will make much difference in the amount of garbage generated each week, but if each Dave's Gardener made an effort to reduce the amount of disposable paper they generate, it would add up to a massive pile. Sometimes it is necessary to use paper; that just can't be helped. But if each of us made sure that we had washable alternatives handy, we could make a huge difference. Old tee shirts can be cut up to make cleaning towels, and cloth napkins would add an elegant touch to any meal. If you are already using cloth instead of paper in your home, a couple sets of cloth napkins for a friend, or shower gift for a young couple will be appreciated, and reduce the amount of paper that is needlessly thrown away each week. Little things that can make a big difference.
Don't spread invasive weeds and plants
As gardeners, we love the outdoors. We enjoy our gardens as well as parks and preserves. Something that few of us realize, is that most pest plants are spread by unwitting hosts. Non-native species usually have few natural enemies, so they are very hard to remove once they have taken root in any area. As we set out for a day of bird watching, or hiking along trails, most of us never think about our shoes. The little bits of soil that cling to our soles may contain the seeds of non-native species, which are transported to areas that may not have them yet. This goes both ways. You can also transport these bad guys back to your own yard and gardens too. Before heading out, rinse the soles of your shoes. Before heading home, do the same. A damp cloth placed in a baggie is all that is needed. Just throw it in the laundry when you return home. We cannot easily un-do what has already been done, but we can all be responsible for our future actions. Little things that can make a big difference.
We belong to the largest network of gardeners in the world. As a group, we have already made a difference in how the mail-order industry treats its customers. The Garden Watchdog is a highly respected, and sometimes feared tool that Dave's Gardeners are responsible for creating. We have changed the world once, so we've demonstrated that it can be done. Ordinary gardeners built the Watchdog one review at a time. We can make a measurable impact on our environment as a group too. These four suggestions are small and inexpensive ways that one person can incorporate conservation into their everyday lives. If we implement these as a united group, it will produce a massive result.
Little things that can make a big difference!