Something Simple: Junk Mail and Online Billing

Saturday was the Great American Cleanup, and I spent some time picking up trash with my daughter near the Bel Air mall in Mobile.  Most of the trash from this area ultimately ends up in Dog River after a heavy rain, making a mess for area residents.  As we picked up the many forms of Styrofoam, plastic and paper, it made me think that one of our biggest problems (besides the fact that people litter!) is that we need to reduce the amount of trash we produce in the first place.

There are two very easy ways you can reduce the amount of paper you receive or produce.  One is paperless billing and the other is to opt out of junk mail that comes to your home every day.  Paperless billing is relatively easy to do these days.  Many creditors and billing agencies offer paperless billing, and all it takes is a trip to their website to find out how to subscribe.  You may not think paperless billing makes a big difference, but a recent article on reuters.com states that each household that switches from paper statements to online payments can save 24 square feet of forest each year.

I recently switched to paperless billing for my cable company.  Each month, I receive an email with my billing information, and I have now set up automatic withdrawals from my checking account.  If you don’t like automatic withdrawals, check with your bank to see if they offer online payments.  My bank allows me to set up and pay my bills online, and I rarely ever place a bill in the mail.  This online payment system saves me time each month and eliminates the money I would spend on stamps to mail those bills.

A slightly less simple but also effective way to reduce paper is to opt out of junk mail.  A recent news report on CBS reported that Americans receive 90 billion pieces of advertising mail every year.  Although it’s not as simple to reduce junk mail, two websites can help you for free.  CatalogChoice.org and DMAchoice.org both allow you to choose which types of mail you would like to stop receiving and help you through the process.  You can opt out of credit offers, catalogs, magazine offers and the many other junk mail to reducing paper and the amount of time you spend sorting through unwanted mail.  Although it takes some time and you must follow through to report any unsolicited pieces of mail you continue to receive, it is well worth the time it takes to go through the process.

Take a few minutes to look into these mail-reducing options. They will save pounds of paper, acres of trees, and reduce aggravation at the mailbox. Let’s make a difference, today and every day!

Giving: Support a Waterkeeper

Hi everyone! For our last Make-A-Difference Sunday we want to give a shout out to the Waterkeeper Alliance and all our fellow Waterkeepers, both in the United States and abroad.

Waterkeeper Alliance is an international organization with 200 Waterkeepers worldwide in 6 continents and 19 countries. Waterkeepers empower their communities to stand up for their right to clean water and ensure that our waterways are swimmable, drinkable, and fishable. Waterkeeper Alliance’s goal is to protect every river, creek, bay, and lake in the world through research, education, partnership, grassroots advocacy and dogged determinism.

Waterkeepers fill in when agencies don’t or aren’t able to monitor and enforce pollution permits.  We use the rule of law to stand up for our waterways and fight to insist that clean air, clean water and healthy communities are a public right – the public trust – not just an afterthought.

Why?

You should consider supporting a Waterkeeper if:

(1) You like going to the beach, swimming, and boating.

(2) You support access to safe, clean drinking water.

(3) You live on or near a body of water that is important to you.

(4) You want to protect our waters for the use and enjoyment of future generations.

How to Support 

(1) Find a Waterkeeper in your area.

(2) Get involved with your local Waterkeeper. Find out what their issues are and if there are volunteer opportunities or projects coming up.

(3) Make a donation to your local Waterkeeper. Nonprofit organizations depend on financial support and in-kind donations to keep doing what they do.

Together we can make a difference!

Shopping Saturday: Second-Hand Shopping

Earlier this week we talked about spring cleaning, and giving away the excess stuff in our houses. We shared a sampling of the various charities, organizations, and businesses to which you can donate or sell items for which you no longer have a use.

Today the focus is on the other end of this, second-hand shopping. There are several reasons, both environmental and economic, to consider buying gently-used items rather than brand new.

First, buying used items contributes to a green lifestyle by reducing waste and reusing items that would otherwise end up in landfills. Every year enormous amounts of energy, water, plastic and other materials are used to make new clothes, consumer goods, and the packaging to contain them. When you purchase a second-hand item in place of a new item, you reduce your environmental impact.

Don’t forget to bring your reusable shopping bag!

Secondly, second-hand shopping can save you money. Most of the time second-hand items are available for a fraction of the price of new clothes or furniture. If you are buying from a small locally-owned business, that money goes back into the local economy, or to a great charity if it’s a shop like Goodwill or the Salvation Army.

Finally, for the fashion-conscious, shopping second-hand shops provides you with a variety of unique choices. You can find sporty, chic, or girly clothes that none of your friends are going to have. The same is true of furniture and other home decorations. Shopping this way is adventurous and allows you to be creative and resourceful. Second-hand shops can truly make your style yours!

And of course, we can’t forget books! In Mobile, be sure to check out Bienville Books on Dauphin St.

So how can you find a good deal when buying secondhand?

Here is a list of items that are best to buy used. It includes things like furniture, tools, and of course clothes! This way you are saving money and helping the environment.

Also, keep a running list in a small notebook or on your cellphone of the items you are looking for. Whether it’s lampshades, picture frames, dress shoes, or Nancy Drew books,  if you have a goal in mind when you walk into a second-hand store, you won’t be as overwhelmed and you’ll have a better chance of finding what you’re looking for and not spending money on things you don’t really need.

You can also consult this guide for further advice about second-hand shopping:

Tips for Thrift Shopping

Now as far as where to shop, there are countless stores and shops out there just waiting for you! Here are a few in Mobile, reply in comments about other stores around Mobile Bay that you love to shop. And if you’re not form the coast, let us know where you shop where you live!

Seconds on Sage

Penelope’s Closet

Goodwill

Salvation Army

Divine Consign (women’s clothes)

Divine Consignment (furniture and home decorations)

Bienville Books

Something Big: Stormwater Runoff

 Today we are talking about stormwater runoff and pollution because the cities around Mobile Bay suffer from litter and water pollution problems in a big way. Stormwater pollution is such a large issue because it is what we call “non-point source pollution.” This means that pollution comes from numerous discrete sources, making it difficult to quantify and difficult to eliminate. In addition to explaining what stormwater runoff is and what causes it, we will also share ways that you can make a difference stormwater-wise.

What is stormwater runoff? 

Stormwater runoff occurs when rain from storms flows over the ground. Impervious (non-absorbant) surfaces like driveways, sidewalks, and streets prevent stormwater runoff from naturally soaking into the ground. Litter and contaminants that have been left on the ground are swept along with rainwater into our storm drains. Stormdrains direct rainwater to the nearest waterway; this water does not go to a treatment plants or pump station. Eventually, the pollution finds its way into our many waterways, Mobile Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Simply put, stormwater runoff is important because it impacts our waterways and environments in many ways. Everything that lives in the water, feeds from the water, or drinks the water can be impacted by stormwater pollution. This adversely impacts our health, the environment, and our economy.

Problematic Pollutants 

–  Litter on roads and in parking lots and parks 

–  Cigarette butts

–  Untreated wastewater from failed septic systems

–  Oil and antifreeze from leaking cars

–  Garden and lawn chemicals

–  Household cleaners and chemicals that are disposed of improperly

–  Construction site runoff

–  Pet and livestock waste

–  Mardi Gras parade debris

Who causes stormwater pollution? 

We all do. Stormwater pollution is the result of industrial activity, our personal everyday actions, and our local land use policies. Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do to make a difference regarding our stormwater quality.

Some Things You Can Do

1. Pick up pet waste and deposit it in garbage cans, flush it down the toilet, or bury it in your yard. 

2. Wash your car in the yard instead of the driveway, or go to a carwash that properly handles its wastewater.

3. Divert down spouts to grassy areas instead of driveways and sidewalks. May we also suggest a rain garden?

4. Use natural fertilizers on your lawn and garden only when necessary and always apply according to package instructions.

5. Don’t put anything down a storm drain – Remember, storm drains lead directly to our Bay!

6. Sweep sidewalks and driveways instead of hosing them down.

7. Use native plants in your garden – they require less watering and maintenance. 

8. Help pick up litter and dispose of it properly. 

9. Harvest rainwater for watering your plants through the use of a rain barrel. 

10. Participate in clean-ups or stormwater education programs.

Great American Clean-Up

This week is the Great American Clean-Up, an effort of the part of Keep America Beautiful and countless other organizations to keep our communities and our environment clean and healthy. In Mobile, AL, you can participate in a clean-up event TOMORROW (Saturday, April 28th) from 8am-noon at the Springdale Mall on Airport Blvd.  Join the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, Partners for Environmental Progress, Keep Mobile Beautiful, Mobile Baykeeper, and others this Saturday to clean up the Dog River watershed. Meet at Burlington Coat Factory at the Springdale Mall. Register as a team or as individuals through HandsOn South Alabama or by calling Keep Mobile Beautiful at (251) 208-6029.

Weekend Project: Patio Container Gardening

A few weeks ago Elyse, Development Director at Mobile Baykeeper, shared the story of how she got started composting. Today she invites us into her backyard again to share her “container garden” farm. Make sure to read our post about windowsill gardening too!

My husband affectionately refers to my collection of pots on our deck as “the farm.”  I started “the farm” as a way to help my two grandsons understand that fruits and vegetables have to be cared for and do not just appear in the grocery store.  I wasn’t ambitious enough to want to care for a real garden plot so I started my farm in a variety of buckets, pots and containers.

I have had the most luck with tomatoes, potatoes, corn, green beans, Rainbow kale, lettuce, strawberries, Myer Lemon, and various herbs.

I have attempted several times to grow cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash and have finally given up.  Every year I will have beautiful blossoms and then some insect bores into the stem and everything dies.  Last year I planted all three in a large upside-down tomato planter, and I had a little better luck with my cucumbers. I still only got a few zucchini before the boring critter destroyed the plants, and didn’t get any yellow squash.  That is one group of vegetables that I will purchase locally.

The most fun have been the potatoes.  In fact, as you read this, I should be uncovering my Yukon Golds.  It will be fun to see how many I have this time around.  I was lucky enough to receive a potato grow bag but potatoes can be grown in black heavy-duty leaf bags or the bag that your growing mix (potting soil) came in as long as it has plenty of drainage slits.

Home-Grown Potato, in Potato Grow Bag

The Potato Grow Bag, from Gardener’s Supply, has made growing potatoes very easy.  Place the bag in a sunny spot where it will get 6 or more hours of sun each day.  Roll the sides down so the container is about 8” deep; fill with 4” of good potting soil; place 5 seed potatoes on soil and cover with 3” of soil.  Seed potatoes should be about the size of a lime and can be cut in half if very large.

When the potato foliage has grown to about 8”, unroll the turned over edge of the bag and add about 4 more inches of soil.  It is OK if some of the foliage is covered.  Repeat process until bag is full.

The joy of using the porous Grow Bag is that it is hard to over water.  The soil should be moist but not soggy and in the hottest part of the summer, you may need to water everyday.

Through last summer I watered, watched for beetles, and did nothing else.  I am glad I was warned that toward the end of the growing cycle that the foliage would wilt, turn yellow, and look terrible.  At this point, stop watering, wait another two weeks and then dig out your potatoes!!!  You can dump out the dirt and find your potatoes but watching my two grandboys dig for them is more fun.

Do you have the urge to become a container gardener? If so, I hope you’ll join me! The experience has been so fun, rewarding, and delicious.

Check out these resources to learn more and get started:

Little House in the Suburbs: Guide to Alternative Gardening

How to Plant an Outdoor Potter Herb Garden

Container Gardening For Food

Let us know in comments what’s growing on your patio! Make a difference!

 

UPDATE:

Check out the potatoes Elyse unearthed! The one next to the glove is the biggest one she has ever grown. The smallest one is about the size of her thumb. Congratulations, Elyse!

Yukon Gold Potato Harvest

Water Wednesday: 10 Ways to Conserve at Home

Usually we talk about ways to keep our water clean on Water Wednesday. This week we are talking about 10 super simple ways to cut down on your water use at home.

(1) Fix leaky faucets (and toilets!).

(2) Take shorter showers, or try showering one time less a week.

{Reducing a 10-minute shower to 5 minutes saves 12.5 gallons of water if the showerhead has a flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute–even more if the showerhead has a higher flow rate.} www.allianceforwaterefficiency.org

(3) Collect rainwater to water your flowers or houseplants. You can do this with a rain barrel or on a smaller scale with buckets.

(4) Turn off the water when brushing your teeth, shaving, or lathering your hands.

{Turn off the water while brushing your teeth and save 25 gallons a month.} http://www.wateruseitwisely.com/

(5) Empty your water bottle or glass in a houseplant instead of pouring it down the drain.

(6) Load up the dishwasher instead of hand-washing. Also, when it comes time to replace your dishwasher, invest in a high-efficiency model. This will save water, energy, and money.

{When comparing only the water used inside the dishwasher, handwashing uses an average of 23 gallons more per session (Stamminger, et. al., 2004, European Comparison of Cleaning Dishes by Hand, Univ. of Bonn) or up to five times that of a new dishwasher.} www.allianceforwaterefficiency.org

(7) When washing dishes, turn off the tap when you’re not using it.

(8) Don’t run the garbage disposal; compost food waste instead.

(9) Only run the washing machine when you have a full load.

{Conventional washers built before 2011 typically use about 40 gallons per load; resource-efficient washers may use as little as 15 gallons per load.} www.allianceforwaterefficiency.org

(10) Insulate water pipes so that hot water heats up faster, reducing the time the tap has to run.

These are only a few ways to save water at home. How else do you conserve water?

For more ideas, check out these resources:

Residential Water-Saving Tips, from the Alliance for Water Efficiency

100 Ways to Conserve, from wateruseitwisely.org

25 Ways to Conserve Water in the Home and Yard, by eartheasy.com

Take-Action: Spring Cleaning and Giving Things Away

Spring is a time of renewal, a time to clear out the old and bring in the new. After all, it’s not called Spring Cleaning for nothing. But many of us, myself included, get bogged down in the idea of cleaning out our house. Sometimes we wait so long that we feel overwhelmed with the task before us. Questions like, What should I get rid of? What if I need it later? What do I do with all of this stuff? keep us from taking that step of clearing our home so we can have an uncluttered living space.

Today I will answer a few of those questions. This Take-Action Tuesday is about taking the needed steps to clear out the excess stuff in your house and hopefully make a difference in someone else’s life in the process. Some things you may already know and some may open your eyes to several great opportunities to help others while clearing out what you no longer need.

 

Sorting

You are probably familiar with the general “rules” for sorting the stuff you go through. One pile is for keeping, one is for giving away, and the last pile is the trash can. If you have not done this for a while, it can be daunting to know where to start. I have stood in front of my closet staring at my clothes with the best intentions, but remain frozen with indecision. If this happens to you (phew…I’m not alone!), take it slow. You don’t have to get it all done in one day.

A few tricks include finding the stuff you haven’t used in the past couple of years. If you haven’t worn it in the past year, you most likely won’t wear it in the future. In full disclosure, I have a red silk Chinese shirt that I refuse to part ways with. I remember last wearing it in 2002, but I am convinced I will wear it again. If you find yourself in this situation, move onto something else you can get rid of. Once you start, the process gets easier, I promise. You will soon find yourself motivated by the empty space before you. Another trick is to put these items in a box under your bed or high in the closet. Out of sight, out of mind. If you don’t miss them after 6 months, let them go.

If you need a little push to get motivated, these women have some great guides on their blogs about getting organized in your closet and throughout the rest of your house:

Spring Cleaning Wardrobe Detox

High Straightenence

 

Give Away

Once you have your “keep” stuff back in its proper closet, shelf, or cabinet, and the trash is outside, what do you do with the giveaway pile? There are many options available, but the key is to do it fast before items find their way back into your home.

 

Donations to Charities

You can make donations of gently-used items to thrift stores like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. You can also find local charities with attached thrift stores. In Mobile, try Seconds on Sage, Penelope’s Closet, and Mobile SPCA Second Chance Retail Shop, to name a few. There are many others out there—look online or contact your favorite charity to see if they have a store or if they can use donated items. Some organizations may not have a storefront, but they may hold rummage sales to raise money. These are great places to donate gently-used clothes, toys, movies, and appliances.

Donations to Shelters

Also consider charities that help high-risk populations like homeless shelters and women’s shelters. Many of their clients come in with the clothes on their backs and need many items that we might take for granted. Most of the charities around town have wish lists on their websites that you can use as a guide. For example, many shelters can use your collection of shampoos, conditioners, and lotions that you accumulate from various hotels. Many women’s shelters will take your unopened “free with purchase” make-up gifts from department store cosmetic counters.

 

Consignment

If you want to make a little money and your items are in good condition, consider selling your clothes at a consignment shop. Consignment shops sell your items for you and take a small portion of the sales. This is a great option if you are getting rid of fancy clothes, barely-used appliances, or items that have never been opened/worn. There are stand-alone consignment shops and there are also consignment events like the Wee Exchange that lets you sell children’s clothes, toys, and equipment two times a year. This is a great way to make some money for updating your wardrobe, getting that things you’ve been saving for, or just to put in savings for a rainy day.

 

Freecycle

Another option is free-cycling, which is giving away your unwanted items to someone who does want them. There are freecycle websites and yahoo groups in most cities where you can post what you have or what you want (usually smaller items like egg cartons and old magazines). Look for one in your area at freecycle.org.

 

Upcycle

You can also try your hand at upcycling your stuff. While it’s not the same as giving it away, it does transform an item with no use into an item you will use and enjoy. A google search can give you an idea of the possibilities for upcycling a particular item. Pinterest is also a fantastic resource for this kind of thing. You can find tutorials for everything from turning Mardi Gras beads into a chandelier to making a jewelry box out of an old board game. Start your search on our Pinterest page!

 

Good luck on your spring cleaning and finding new homes for your stuff. Perhaps this will be the year that my red silk shirt makes it to someone else’s home!