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Living the Green Life

Be a Friend of the Environment: April 2021

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As seasons change, so do environmental concerns. That's why we are here with monthly updates to help you Live the Green Life and be a friend of the environment. Follow us on social media (the links are in the footer of this page) and share your pictures and ideas with us by using #LiveGreenNY in your social media posts--we'd love to hear from you!

Green Cleaning

Open the curtains and let the sunshine in -- spring is finally here! It's time for dusting, wiping, and clearing through the clutter. It's spring cleaning time -- but let's do so in a green way. There are natural household items that make terrific cleaners -- beneficial to saving time, money, and the environment.

Join us this month to learn about do-it-yourself cleaning products from drain cleaners to stain removers, how to safely clear your home of unused hazardous waste products, and how to use a paper towel roll to start a garden!

On April 22nd we celebrate Earth Day. Check out other upcoming events!

Green product solutions

Baking soda and white vinegar are two items that you probably already have in your home. Did you know besides being used for cooking and baking, these kitchen staples make great cleaners? Time to make your home sparkle and shine -- the natural way. Store these items in air-tight jars or reuse a spray bottle.

  • Unclog sinks without chemical drain openers.
    1. Manually remove hair or solids with a metal snake or plunger.
    2. Add half a cup of baking soda to the drain.
    3. Follow with a half cup of white vinegar.
    4. Wait until the bubbling stops.
    5. Quickly pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain.
  • Whiten laundry without chlorine bleach. Try adding a half-cup of borax to your laundry. Sunshine will whiten cotton and linen, not to mention the energy savings from line drying.
  • Make your windows sparkle by mixing 3 tablespoons of white vinegar, two cups of water, and one teaspoon of liquid Castile soap.
  • Polish metals with non-toxics. Polish brass and copper with a mixture of lemon juice and baking soda to make the consistency of toothpaste. For tarnished silver, place a piece of aluminum foil in a pot, add the silver, and cover it with 3" of water. Add 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of salt, bring to a boil.
  • Remove hard water deposits with vinegar. Soak your showerhead in undiluted white vinegar for two hours. Clean deposits off shower walls and glass with an undiluted white vinegar spray and a scrubbing sponge.
  • Clean your toilet bowl in a greener way. Pour one cup of borax and 1/4 cup of vinegar into the bowl. Let it sit overnight before scrubbing. Two denture cleaner tablets left in the bowl overnight will help remove mineral deposits. For plugged toilets -- certain dish liquids can help -- many break down grease and oils. Add to the tank, let sit and then try plunging again.
  • Cover the bottom of your oven with a 1/4" thickness of baking soda and spray it with water. Leave the mixture on overnight and wipe it off in the morning. No scrubbing required. Use borax and water to clean the bathtub with the same method.
  • Save your clothing with a stain remover.
    • 1/4 cup of baking soda;
    • 1/4 cup of white vinegar;
    • a drop of Castile soap; and
    • 2 cups of cold water (hot water sets stains).
    • Mix.
    • Spray on a stain, rub it in, let it sit, and then scrub it off.
    • Toss it into the washer if needed.

Green actions

Don't forget! Keep reusable bags in your car, entryway, and/or backpack.
Use them no matter what you're shopping for:
- clothing
-home improvement supplies, etc.

When cleaning up and clearing out, proper waste disposal is important. Dispose of paints, cleaners, lawn care, and other products safely and properly. Drop off medications you no longer need into a safe drop-off bin. Green actions you take both inside and outside the home can be beneficial. Use hot water to wash? Use a dryer to dry? Rethink your approach to clothing care and consider developing new habits which promote conservation. This leads to potential money savings and makes a difference to help our environment.

  • Donate unwanted items, or be sure to recycle right by checking the guidelines provided by your municipality or waste hauler. You could also find ways to upcycle any of those items that have reached the end of their useful life.
  • Precycle before you buy -- think through future purchases to reduce, delay, or eliminate the creation of waste. Ask yourself a few questions before purchasing:
    • Do you already have something at home which can fulfill that need? If not, is there a similar item with less packaging and plastic waste?
    • Is it durable and will it last you a long time?
    • How you will repair this item if it breaks or dispose of this item when it has reached the end of its useful life. Will you be able to donate it or sell it?
      Asking ourselves these questions when making purchasing decisions has the potential to greatly reduce the amount of waste that each of us produces.
  • Use latex paints instead of oil-based paints, which contain solvents that evaporate easily and give off fumes. Water-based latex paint has better color retention and releases less pollution into the air. Read about the New York State postconsumer paint collection program.
  • When you discard cleaners, beauty products, medicine, auto fluids, paint, and lawn care products -- do not flush them or rinse down drains. Make sure you dispose of these items properly at household hazardous waste events and facilities. Also, take pharmaceuticals to special collection locations. Learn more about waste management.
    • Check with your local municipalities for hazardous waste collection events. Make sure to check their list of accepted items. Some events may require you to register before you can attend.
  • Dispose of excess fat and grease, diapers, and personal hygiene products in the garbage can. These materials can clog pipes, cause raw sewage to overflow, or cause problems at water treatment facilities.
  • Have your hot water tank flushed once a year, or carefully do it yourself. Mineral sediment can significantly reduce the amount of hot water available.
  • Wash and rinse in cold water. Your laundry will still be clean and using cold water saves the average household $60 a year.
  • Dry outside. We all know that clothes hung outside to dry have that great fresh scent. But did you know you can also save up to $25 a month on electricity? Keep clothes relatively wrinkle-free by putting them on hangers and then onto the clothesline. (Be careful with knitwear - they can be left with hanger marks on the shoulders). Another tip is to put line-dried towels in the dryer for just five minutes to remove stiffness.
    • If you don't have the option to line dry, you could try an indoor drying rack or dryer balls to help reduce drying time. Taking the time to clean your dryer vent can help with airflow and reduce drying time as well.
  • When raking and cleaning out yard areas for spring -- remember less can mean more. Low maintenance methods are a natural fit. Use native plants that have already adapted to New York's local environment. Make a plan to use less water, little or no fertilizer or pesticides*, and prune less. You will find that this will also involve less of your time. Less product means less money spent and more savings for you. Less time on lawn work means more time to go out and enjoy nature.
    *Remember, native plants have defenses against many pests and diseases. Since most pesticides kill indiscriminately, beneficial insects become secondary targets in the fight against pests. Reducing or eliminating pesticide use lets natural pest control take over and keeps garden toxins out of our creeks and watersheds.

Did you know that?

  • waste disposal is getting more costly in terms of both money and environmental impacts. Recycling helps, but it is only part of the answer. Remember to precycle as well.
  • most New Yorkers dispose of about 3.8lbs. of solid waste per day. All the more reason to reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost.
  • "upcycling" is when you take an item or items you already have and create something of greater value -- such as a piece of art. Give upcycling a try -- create a mini rain garden (see our April showers tip below) from an existing planter or other repurposed container.

Be a friend of the environment: April tips

Consider compost -- think ahead to the coming fall and consider starting a compost pile this spring. Compost is a year-round solution and a great way to reuse. From gathering items such as leftover food scraps to coffee grounds -- you can learn how to make a nutrient-rich mulch-like substance to use in your gardens. Composting takes greens, browns, water, and air -- and some care. Read more about reducing wasted food from households. If you don't have space to compost at home, find a food scraps drop-off spot near you.

seeds in soil in reused paper towel rolls ready as starters for planting
Reuse and grow -- start seeds indoors in repurposed containers.

Grow a taste for vegetables -- Reuse yogurt containers, egg cartons, or paper towel rolls for seed starters. Save leftover vegetable scraps and the seeds from fruits to regrow instead of buying seed packets. (Make sure you use seeds native to New York.) This is a terrific way to involve the kids in a hands-on activity. From an indoor vegetable starter garden to an outdoor herb garden -- make use of your compost to help your plants grow. Kids might also enjoy eating vegetables more when they help to grow them. Enjoy the whole planting process from seed to harvest. Share virtually with us using #LiveGreenNY.

At the car wash -- Most vehicles need a good cleaning from winter snow and slush -- both inside and out. Use a commercial car wash to prevent chemicals from flowing into the land and storm drains -- and eventually local streams and lakes. Looking to save money but still help to protect NY's waters? Opt for washing your car on the lawn instead of on the road or driveway.

April showers -- bring May flowers and rain gardens are a great way to catch the water from downspouts and rooftops. Add a fine mesh screen on top to prevent mosquitos from breeding in the water and to keep out debris. Drip irrigation or soaker hose systems can deliver the water to your garden. Rainwater is also ideal for houseplants as it doesn't contain chlorine or other chemicals found in municipal water supplies.

Mark your calendar -- April 22nd is Earth Day. Be sure to check out our related tips. Also, April 30th is Arbor Day -- take part in a socially distanced tree planting to show your appreciation of trees as we all enjoy their benefits. Important to note that from March 16th to May 14th there is a ban on open burning in New York -- help prevent pollution and wildfires. In May there will be a special Living the Green Life focused on water. New York State has recognized the importance of water during the first week of May for the last 36 years. Of course, throughout DEC's 50 plus year history water preservation, conservation and safety have been priorities.

I Love My Park Day is taking place on May 1 and 2. This volunteering experience asks for the public's help with cleaning up and restoring New York's parks, historic sites, and public lands. Want to get outdoors and help your local environment? Learn more about the event and how to register on the I Love My Park Day webpage.

Seasonal preparedness -- Solar panels in general do not need a lot of maintenance. But make sure your panels are clean and free of debris for optimum effectiveness. Also, have your air conditioner checked and serviced if needed to run efficiently. Make sure furnace filters are changed for peak performance during both heating and cooling seasons.

Watering cans and flower pots reimagined -- Before you go out and buy a new watering can or flower pots this spring -- inventory what you already have. Yes, consider precycling. Be creative and imaginative. That pitcher which once held lemonade -- that you no longer use would make a great watering can. Any object such as a simple plastic milk jug can be repurposed to water flowers and plants. Look at containers, bowls, cartons, and other items, such as teacups, as possible planters. You can add color and character as you watch both your savings and greenery grow. Show us a photo of your upcycled planters or watering tool with #LiveGreenNY.

Chime in -- Love the sound of wind chimes? Why not upcycle and make your own? One option is to reuse a wire coat hanger. Reshape the hanger into a circle if you choose and then hang old metal spoons attached with reused ribbon or yarn. Hang at varying heights where there will be some overlap to create the "chime." Another option is to take the rings off of unused mason jars and use them as your chimes. This is a great activity to involve the family. Kids can enjoy upcycling to make their own wind chimes and "dream catchers" from items no longer used around the home. When complete, enjoy the sights and sounds of your upcycled creations. Be sure to share a picture with us using #LiveGreenNY.

In the bag -- remember to bring your reusable bag whenever and wherever you shop this spring. Some cities and counties across NYS have adopted a 5-cent paper carryout bag reduction fee, so preparing ahead of time can help avoid any potential paper bag fees in your area. If you are getting groceries delivered, save the brown bags and reuse them when you shop in-person. Or save the brown bags to make your own gift wrap for birthday packages and more. Otherwise, please place them in your recycling bin if they're dry and residue-free.

Delivery and takeout -- Over the past year, prepared food delivery and takeout have become more common. If you are using this option, be sure to say "no" to disposable silverware and napkins as part of your order. If you don't need condiments with your meal, say "no" to those options. In the special instructions box, if available, decline these items and use reusables you already have at home or in your backpack, purse, or another bag.

Mask disposal -- Consider using a washable, reusable mask if possible. But if you do use a disposable mask or filters, please be sure to properly discard these items after use. These items belong in the garbage -- not in your recycling bin or as litter on streets or in waterways. Proper mask use and disposal can help safeguard us all and also protect our environment. Also, properly dispose of gloves, face shields, and other health-protective items.

Like our rain garden tip? Then make sure to visit this page again next month when we provide information about water use and conservation. Also, share your photos and ideas about green cleaning with us using #LiveGreenNY

You Asked - We Answered!

  1. Best ways to reduce water waste?
    • Set up a rain barrel to collect rain water to use for your outdoor and indoor plants.
      • a rain gauge can help you to avoid overwatering of your plants and/or lawn.
    • Keep your shower time under 5 minutes.
    • Only wash full loads of laundry and dishes.
      Read more about how saving water makes good sense!
  2. I know mylar balloons are terrible for the environment. Are latex balloons okay?
    Balloons, regardless of material, cause harm or death to wildlife, litter communities, and contribute to plastic pollution. If you have to use balloons, make sure to tie them down and dispose of them properly. Don't let them go! Looking to decorate, celebrate the act of letting go, or commemorating a loved one? There are alternatives to balloon use:
    • homemade bubbles
    • craft reusable pinwheels
    • reusable paper decorations (i.e. banners, streamers, paper pompoms)
    • plant native flowers or trees to remember loved ones
  3. Plastic packaging and bottles. Is it as big an impact to try and eliminate them as I think it is?
    In 2020, the Bottle Bill helped to recycle 5.5 billion plastic, glass, and aluminum beverage containers. But each NYS resident still generates about 3.8lbs. of waste each day! Preventing waste in the first place has the highest environmental benefit.
    Tips to decrease waste:
    • Say no to single-use plastic when you can.
    • Choose plastic-free and reusable alternatives.
    • Reusable produce bags and shopping bags.
    • Reuse plastic items that you could not avoid.
  4. What can I do to help reduce pollution?
    Be intentional with your daily actions and plan ahead!