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Living the Green Life

Be a Friend of the Environment: October 2021

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sunflower scarecrow holding a basket surrounded by sunflowers
Making a scarecrow is a great way to
repurpose clothing and other items.

Hop on a hayride, stuff a scarecrow, or pick a pumpkin. It is the time of year for pumpkin spice, apple cider, and all that the fall season brings. Autumn is here and what better time to prepare lawns and outdoor areas for the seasons ahead. Before you grab a rake, check out these fall lawn care and composting tips:

  • Try an organic-based mulch. Adding 2 to 3 inches of wood chips, shredded bark, shredded leaves, or straw can provide nutrients and shade out weeds in plant beds.
    Important - do not allow mulch to touch tree trunks - this can affect root and overall tree health.
  • Safely manage weeds in non-toxic ways:
    • pour boiling water over weeds and repeating to increase effectiveness;
    • pull weeds by hand; or
    • tame weeds between cracks and stone areas with vinegar (a high acid spray) to kill the above ground portion. Repeat to increase effectiveness.
  • Leave grass clippings on the lawn. You can get 50% of your lawn's nitrogen by leaving clippings on the lawn. This fall apply the other 50% by shredding leaves using a mulching mower and leaving them on the lawn.
  • Rules to follow when applying fertilizer:
    • fertilizers containing nitrogen, potassium, or phosphorus can be applied between April 1 and November 30;
      • "Look for the Zero" -- your lawn may not need phosphorus. It is illegal to add it to your lawn if it's not required - conduct a soil test to find out if your lawn needs it.
    • do not apply fertilizer within 20 feet of any surface water unless there is at least 10 feet of abundant/thick vegetation which can slow down and capture sediment; and
    • do not disperse fertilizer onto sidewalks and roads where it can easily run-off into storm drains or nearby waterways.
  • Turn and maintain existing compost piles.
    • Greens (i.e. food scraps) provide nitrogen.
    • Browns (i.e. fall leaves) are the carbon source and give the pile structure - allowing the movement of air.
    • Air supplies the oxygen for microorganisms. Turn or mix the pile to increase air and speed up the breakdown.
    • Water provides moisture. Pile too wet? Add some leaves, sawdust, or shredded newspaper. Too dry? Add some more water.
  • Collect leaves by your compost pile year-around. Add leaves throughout the winter -- they make good insulation, helping the compost pile to retain heat.
  • Compost pumpkins. You can do this in your yard or by taking them to a community drop-off spot where your local town will compost it.
    • Removing and roasting the seeds first, not only provides a tasty snack, but prevents any random pumpkin seedlings from growing in your compost during the next growing season.
    • Remove the candles from with the pumpkins that were lit as jack-o-lanterns.
    • Break the pumpkins into chunks if composting yourself, then cover with browns as not to attract bugs or animals.
  • Locate a year-round food scrap drop-off spot near you. You can drop-off qualifying items to be composted. Find a food scraps drop-off spot near you.
  • Time to plant -- grass in bare spots, some bulb flowers, and garlic. Remember, vulnerable flower bulbs need to be dug up and stored in a cool, dry place so they do not freeze.

DEC provides additional information on sustainable landscaping, fertilizing, and composting.

Did you know that?

  • A gas-powered mower emits emissions equal to a 20-mile car trip. The average gas-powered push mower produces 14.76 pounds of air pollution an hour. Electric mowers are much cleaner.
  • Compost usually takes 6 months to one year to be ready for use. Once ready, compost will be dark, crumbly, and smell earthy. Use it for lawns, gardens, indoor plants, landscaping, and more.
  • Food scraps make up almost 20 percent of the state's residential waste stream - and an even higher percent of methane released from landfill. More reason to compost year-round.
  • Letting grass grow longer makes it healthier. Aim for 2 ½ inches or higher for healthier, longer roots.

Be a friend of the environment: October 2021 tips

Compost fall leaves and pumpkins. Photo credit: Scott Stevens

Creepy crawlers -- can't compost outside? Then consider a worm bin -- known as vermicomposting. This is done with red wigglers. This can provide a soil amendment for your house plants or gardens.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) - get creative when it comes to preventing and reducing pests. IPM can help you think outside the box when it comes to pest management. This multi-faceted approach looks at cleaning up areas that may attract pests, exclusion fencing, organic, biological, and other practices. Chemicals may be used but in lesser quantity and combined with other deterrence measures.

Green costumes -- use items you already have around the home to dress up this Halloween. If you need items to complete your costume, consider borrowing or visiting a thrift shop. Pass used costumes onto others. You can even make your own costume from recyclables like cardboard. You will be able to show off your creativity and be a friend of the environment. If trick or treating, do so safely and don't forget to bring your own reusable bag.

Treat with no trick - If providing treats this Halloween look for items with safe but more environmentally friendly packaging -- such as paper or aluminum. For trick or treaters it is best to wait until you get done to enjoy your candy and snacks. But for those who might not wait, consider putting a small garbage pail outside by your front door to make sure wrappers end up disposed of properly instead of on the lawn. Learn how to Recycle Right NY (leaves DEC's website).

Tell someone your hike location and anticipated return time.

Hiking and tick safety - Ready to hit the trails to view spectacular foliage this season? Be sure to pack the hiking essentials and remember the principals of Leave No Trace TM (leaves DEC's website). While you're out there, check yourself, your family, and your pets for ticks. Take steps to be tick free like tucking your pant legs into your socks and adding duct tape around pant and sock openings - sticky side out.

Savings in store -- buying in bulk is great if you prepack your own snacks to save on packaging waste. But buying in bulk is not helpful when you buy more food than you can use before it goes bad. Plan out your purchase and make smart shopping choices.

Like our food shopping tip? Then be sure to visit this page next month as we prepare for the holidays with ideas on how to reduce waste food. Make sure to share your fall lawn care and composting advice with us using #LiveGreenNY.

You Asked, We Answered!

Q: Anywhere to recycle pillows?
Check with animal shelters or wildlife rehabilitation centers to find out if they will take pillow donations. Another option would be to reuse or upcycle pillows:

  • use the stuffing to fill other pillows, stuffed animals, or to create throw pillows;
  • reuse it as a pet bed; or
  • make it into a kneeling pad while gardening.

Q: Can I donate ripped or torn items?
These items are accepted for textiles recycling but, in general, only items in good condition are accepted for donation. However, you should check with the facility to make sure what items they do and do not accept. Some places will take ripped or torn items and send them for textile recycling. Make the most out of ripped or torn items by:

  • cutting up old t-shirts to make wiping cloths;
  • saving old sheets and towels to cover floors or furniture during projects;
  • stripping the old item for parts - buttons, zippers, etc.; or
  • using old jeans to patch up newer ones.

Q: Do you have educational materials about recycling textiles?
Learn more about recycling textiles on our website and about other items you can recycle. Don't forget to keep up on how you can be a friend of the environment as we update the Living the Green Life page each month.

Q: What about shoes?
Donate footwear that is in good condition. Check with shoe manufacturers to see if they have a recycling program. Secondhand sports equipment stores sometimes accept sports footwear. Some footwear is also acceptable in textiles recycling programs. Check the list before putting items in textiles recycling bins.

Q: What are the textiles turned into when they are recycled?
45% are reused as clothing, 20% are recycled into fibers, and 30% are reused as wiping cloths. Examples of what other recycled items can be turned into:

  • Plastic bottles can become a park bench
  • Paper can become a new newspaper, paper plate, egg carton, kitty litter, or sheetrock.
  • Magazines - packaging
  • Cardboard boxes - paper bags and new cardboard boxes
  • Cans = cans, bicycle, and car parts
  • Glass = can be recycled repeatedly into new glass
  • Plastic = laundry bottles may be buckets, toys, or stadium seats
  • Carpet, fleece, winter jacket fill may be from a recycled water or soda bottles