WHY? Not only will this lower your energy bills, but energy production from coal, oil and natural gas is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. In the Northwest, these climate shifts appear to reduce our snow pack and water supplies, cause more-frequent damaging storms and have other serious consequences.
WHY? Cars generate air pollution that threatens human health and polluted runoff that affects stream health. Motor vehicles are responsible for a majority of the greenhouse-gas emissions in Washington that are contributing to climate change. Beyond the frustrations of gridlock, the increasing numbers of cars mean more paved roads and parking lots. This can lead to faster rain runoff and greater chance of floods, while decreasing groundwater recharge and flushing even more pollution into streams. Besides, gas is growing more expensive in more ways than one.
HOW? Research and purchase a fuel-efficient vehicle, use at least 5 percent biodeisel fuel or join a flex-car program. (Flex-cars can save lots of money by reducing gas, insurance and car payments to nearly nothing.) Carpool or take the bus, walk or bike to work or school one more days a week. Telework from home, if possible, or work a flex schedule. Combine chores into one trip around town.
WHY? When you leave your car or truck running while it’s parked or sitting still, the engine produces air pollution. This pollution contributes to problems like smog and global warming, besides being harmful to health. It is more gas-efficient to turn off most warmed-up vehicles than to idle for more than 30 seconds.
Idling exhaust is especially hazardous to children around schools, as parents and buses wait for kids. Carbon monoxide reduces the ability of blood to bring oxygen to body cells and tissues. Children’s asthma symptoms increase as a result of car exhaust and asthma is the third-leading cause of hospitalization in children aged 14 and younger. The risk of death is 17 percent higher in more polluted areas. Asthma is the most common chronic illness in children and the cause of most school absences.
HOW? A brief warm-up period upon starting a cold car may be necessary, but idling at every waiting location is not. To reduce air quality and health problems, it is recommended that you idle your vehicle no longer than 30 seconds -- not only around schools, but everywhere you drive. For more information on cars and buses, see EPA’s anti-idling Web site.
WHY? Water is essential to our homes, businesses and communities, plus the other life that shares this state with us. As our population grows, the demands on our finite water supplies continue to increase. Especially during recent low rainfall and snow pack years, our water resources are limited, particularly in summer months. This weather pattern makes conserving water even more essential.
HOW? Install low-flow toilets or use a toilet displacement device in the back of the tank. Install energy efficient shower heads and faucet aerators on water taps. These water-flow controls can reduce household water use by 70 percent. Take shorter showers and turn off the faucet when brushing teeth. Partially fill the sink to rinse produce or dishes, instead of letting the water run. Run the dishwasher only with full loads and, if pre-rinsing is necessary, use cold water. Run only full loads in the clothes washer and use cold water. Wash your car at a car wash that re-uses the wash water. If you wash the car at home, wash it over the lawn to avoid run-off down storm drains, and use a shut-off nozzle on the hose. Sweep, don't rinse the sidewalk and driveway. And for the really big water savers, see drip irrigation below under Yard and Garden.
WHY? Burn barrels don't burn very efficiently, thus generating a lot of smoke toxins, including dioxins. Even worse, almost all those pollutants are released close to the ground, where they are easily inhaled. Long-term health problems associated with toxic pollution include cancer, leukemia, asthma, immune system changes, learning disorders, birth defects and infertility. Also, burn barrels are illegal in Washington.
HOW? If you have a burn barrel, dispose of it. Re-use products and packaging as much as possible. Donate unwanted clothing, furniture and toys to friends or charities. Give unwanted magazines to hospitals or nursing homes. Recycle newspaper, plastic, glass and metal. Use a chipper to grind up branches and yard waste for mulch or compost. Compost your kitchen wastes. As a last resort, have your household waste picked up by a licensed waste-removal company or take it to a licensed disposal facility (landfill or incinerator). Never burn plastics or Styrofoam, as their smoke is extremely toxic.
WHY? Recycling saves resources, energy and landfill space and reduces air and water pollution. Paper comes from your forests and is often discarded to landfills after one use. This can waste landfill space and trees or forests that prevent floods, provide wildlife habitat and protect your watersheds, streams and drinking water.
Metals refined from mining ore leave poisonous mine tailings and require more energy to produce than re-refined, recycled metals. Careless dumping and dripping of used oil can accumulate to as much annual pollution as a tanker spill. Oil never wears out, it just gets dirty. So recycling used oil and buying re-refined oil, as opposed to carelessly discarding it, prevents pollution while conserving a finite resource.
HOW? Call 800-RECYCLE or click here to find locations near you.
WHY? Recycling is a continuous loop that works only if the collected materials are turned into products, bought and used again. Buying products made from recycled materials supports the markets for these products and keeps the cycle going.
HOW? Many items can be purchased with recycled content, so look for the recycling symbol when you shop. For instance, recycled paper products include tissues, paper towels, greeting cards, writing paper and computer paper. Fleece jackets, carpets and decking are made from recycled plastics. Some kitty litter comes from recycled paper. Re-refined oil is available. There are many other recycled items, so just look for them, or ask the store to carry them.
WHY? Single-use bags are a waste of trees (paper) or fossil fuels (plastic). They contribute to water pollution during production and landfill overload at disposal. Re-usable cloth or paper bags reduce these problems.
HOW? Purchase sturdy, light-weight, re-usable cloth bags and remember to
carry them with you in the grocery store or shopping. One way to remember
your bags is to keep your shopping list in them hung by the door, or keep
spares in your vehicle, purse or case. Many Europeans shop this way and
we can, too.
WHY? Toxic products can concentrate fumes in the air you breathe and harm your health. Young children can be especially vulnerable to these effects. Water down your drain also carries residues from your home, and many harsh household chemicals are not removed by sewage-treatment or septic systems. These waters later empty to underground water, rivers or Puget Sound. (Do you know the source of your drinking water and where your household drains go?)
HOW? Use safer cleaning products such as baking soda, borax and vinegar.
Use baking soda to scrub. Vinegar makes good window wash (mix 1/4 cup with
1 quart warm water).
WHY? To avoid accidental poisoning, especially in children.
HOW? Store cleansers and other chemicals in cupboards that are inaccessible to children, in original labeled containers with lids, inside a larger container that would hold any spills and far away from any drinking-water wells.
WHY? To avoid inadvertently polluting your water, air, soil or health.
HOW? Call 800-RECYCLE or visit the recycling website.
WHY? It saves resources that made those items, re-uses or recycles them into further use, reduces the cost to buy "new," and saves landfill space. This is an especially good time of year to donate to those less fortunate.
HOW? If you have large or small quantities of used or surplus building materials or large household items, post them on the 2good2toss Web site. Check the Web site to see if you live in a participating community. If not, call your local garbage service or recycling coordinator to find out about re-use opportunities in your community. Give clothing, toys or sporting goods to local charities.
WHY? Although properly used and maintained septic tanks can be safe and efficient, poorly located or neglected septic systems can pose a serious threat to drinking-water wells, your family's health, vegetable gardens, or nearby streams and lakes
HOW? Inspect your septic tank and have it pumped every three years or as necessary. Don't use septic-tank cleaning compounds or additives, since they can damage the system. Watch for signs of failure (standing water, foul orders, lush growth and backed-up toilets or drains). Install water-saving devices in your house to prolong the life of your septic drain field. Avoid overloading the system by spreading water-intensive chores (like laundry) throughout the week. Limit or avoid the use of garbage disposals; compost your kitchen waste instead (except for animal products, meats, etc.).
WHY? As our population continues to grow, our finite water supplies are stressed. Often, most of the water in household use is for yard irrigation, especially in spring and summer. Efficient irrigation systems (like drip systems) can greatly reduce water use and deliver water directly to root zones where needed, saving water and your money. Mulching after the rainy season can hold moisture in the root zone and prevent drying and wilt, lowering your plants' water needs and adding organic material to slowly improve soil.
HOW? Water only in the evening or early morning. Use drip irrigation systems to place water where it's needed and keep your water bills low. To make it even easier, put the drip systems on a timer. Consult your local Master Gardeners, visit or call your local garden store.
WHY? Pesticides are poisons that threaten water quality in our lakes and streams as well as our own health (especially children). Pesticides are short-term solutions and will not prevent future problems. They can also kill helpful insects, birds or animals.
HOW? Fortunately, there are alternatives to using chemical pesticides in the garden. Most insects and diseases attack plants stressed from poor growing conditions. Healthy plants, well suited to their environment, are the best prevention against pest and weed damage. Use compost to enrich and amend soils. Hand-pick harmful insects or spray them off with water or natural pest protection like soapy water or bT. Use the least-toxic pesticides (visit the WSU Cooperative Extension Web site at integrated pest management or for practices that can safely reduce pest damage).
WHY? Fertilizers and herbicides rinse into downstream creeks and lakes. Studies have shown urban/suburban streams carry more fertilizers and pesticides/herbicides than some rural agricultural streams. Chemical pesticides (poisons) can pose hazards to humans, especially children, as well as pets, fish in streams and the environment. Excessive fertilizers harm aquatic life and can cause rapid plant and algae growth that threaten the safety of boaters, anglers and swimmers or later decompose and rob the water of oxygen, resulting in fish kills.
HOW? Try to pull weeds instead of poisoning them with chemicals. After soil warms by summer, cover the ground under your plants with a thick layer of organic mulch to reduce weeds and conserve moisture. (Visit the Cooperative Extension Web site for more information and materials. Use compost to enrich the soil and hold moisture. Use a mulching lawnmower to keep nutrients available to lawn roots, instead of using fertilizers (less work bagging and raking, too!).
WHY? Yard waste makes up a large percentage of landfill garbage, but what a "waste"!
HOW? Yard waste can be easily composted, and various simple methods and designs for compost bins are available (visit Master Gardeners.) Some local governments even provide free compost bins. You also may compost using worms ("vermicomposting") and build a worm bin that generates very rich soil for your garden.
You may contact a chipper business through your landfill, or rent a chipper and share the cost with your neighbors, who can also share the mulch. If you do opt to burn, always contact your local fire department for a burn permit, and remain aware of safety practices and burn bans.
WHY? Small engines contribute large quantities of carbon dioxide (climate-affecting gas) and pollution to the air, even more per hour than a car. If you must use one, be sure it's tuned up to emit as little exhaust as possible and to prevent engine fluids from leaking on the ground. Consider a push mower if you have a small lawn, or a cordless battery-powered re-chargeable lawnmower (which is quiet!).
HOW? Contact your local lawn-equipment service and repair store.
WHY? It will free your time from summer mowing and watering, reduce lawn chemical applications, conserve water and save on your water bill.
HOW? Consult your local
for beautiful native-plant options and sources. You can remove the lawn
or reduce the size of the lawn and still have a beautifully landscaped
yard that requires less maintenance and less water.
WHY? Rain water and snow-melt from rooftops would usually soak into the ground to recharge underground water aquifers. Sending the gutter and downspout drainage into the yard (away from the house foundation) allows this natural process to continue. Consider the unnecessary contributions to storm-water overflow when all the neighborhood rooftops empty onto driveways, curbside gutters and down storm drains to nearby creeks.
HOW? Divert the downspout away from pavement and into the lawn, yard or garden. Extend the downspout, if necessary, to keep water away from the house foundation.
WHY? Pet and animal waste is a major contributor to bacterial pollution in stormwater runoff to streams, lakes and Puget Sound. It is a human health and environmental health problem that results in shellfish-bed closures, lake pollution, etc.
HOW? Scoop your pet's poop and properly dispose of it, preferably in the
toilet (but not leading to a septic tank) or buried in the back yard. You
also can seal the waste in a plastic bag and throw it in the garbage. When
walking your dog past other yards, go prepared. Small bag dispensers are
available to attach to your dog's collar or leash. Then take the used bag
to the nearest trash can. Also, in rural areas make sure fences and structures
keep cows, horses and other livestock (and their manure) out of streams.
WHY? It's fun and rewarding. As our communities spread into more wild or rural areas, habitat for fish and wildlife is continually squeezed smaller. Birds, animals and butterflies can all be drawn to a habitat that contains food, water, cover and nest sites. You can enjoy the natural beauty of a garden complete with entertaining wildlife theatre (not to mention natural pest control).
HOW? Many native plants will provide cover and food for butterflies, birds and wildlife. Birdfeeders attract birds, and small, clean bird baths provide water. Nest boxes provide nest sites for cavity nesters like swallows which will eat a lot of mosquitoes. Stream sides and lake shores can be landscaped to protect habitat for fish and other aquatic critters. You can turn your backyard into a wildlife sanctuary with the help of ideas from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
WHY? Vehicles cumulatively contribute more air pollution and carbon dioxide (climate-warming gas) than any other source. In the Northwest, a warming climate appears to reduce our snow pack and water supplies, cause more-frequent damaging storms and has other serious consequences. Washington's worsening traffic congestion also is resulting in more accidents and more time wasted in commutes. As more land is lost to solid pavement and parking lots, the rain and snow-melt run off faster into floods, instead of seeping into the ground to recharge valuable drinking-water and irrigation aquifers. More pavement also means less habitat and agricultural land.
HOW? You can get valuable exercise by walking or biking to work or relax and let someone else do the driving in a carpool, train or bus. You'll also save money on gas and vehicle maintenance. Telework from home, if possible, or work a flex schedule and don't drive on your day off. Use conference calls in place of meetings requiring travel. Research and purchase a fuel-efficient vehicle or join a flex-car program. Flex-cars can save lots of money by reducing gas, insurance and car payments to nearly nothing.
WHY? Recycling paper and cardboard saves forest fiber and trees, conserves landfill space and reduces pollution from production. Buying and using recycled paper provides a market for recycled paper. It helps "close the loop" between what you recycle and what you use.
HOW? Call 800-RECYCLE or visit
Ecology's recycling site.
WHY? Saves paper (forest fiber and trees) and conserves your file space.
HOW? Set your computer and printer to double-side your copies, or just save data electronically to a hard drive, diskette, CD or memory stick.
WHY? Paper and Styrofoam cups are a "one use" waste of materials and landfill space. Bringing your own mug keeps your beverage warm longer and shows your personal commitment to environmental stewardship.
HOW? Choose a mug, thermos or container you enjoy and carry it with you.
Hang it from a strap in your briefcase or bag.
WHY? Reducing air conditioner use saves energy and greenhouse-gas emissions from coal, oil and natural gas. (See why conserve energy below). Why should you need a sweater to stay comfortable inside a cold room in summer?
HOW? Turn up the thermostat a degree or two, or ask your building maintenance staff turn it up. Send a memo explaining the change and asking staff to wear cooler clothes. Tell them why these changes are being made, but don't let the room get too warm.
WHY? Not only will this lower your energy bills, but energy production from coal, oil and natural gas is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gases contributing to global climate change. In the Northwest, these climate shifts appear to reduce our snow pack and water supplies, cause more-frequent damaging storms and have other serious consequences.
HOW? The old adage "turn off the light when you leave the room" is still
good advice. Turn off your computer when not in use for several hours or
more. (According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, modern hard
disks are not significantly affected by frequent shut-downs as the older
models were.) Install compact fluorescent lights that last longer and use
less electricity. Shut down office machines at the end of the day and use
WHY? As population pressures grow in our state, the livability of our state is increasingly challenged. The executive order on sustainability for state operations encourages building, transportation, paper use and energy-use practices that support a sustainable environment, economy and society for Washington. These actions are not limited to state offices. Others can benefit from employing these practices, especially as prices come down with the volume of state use. Many of these practices also save money in the long run.
HOW? Meet or exceed the best management practices encouraged in the executive order establishing sustainability and efficiency goals for state operations. Use the high performance standards of the new green-buildings law, which makes Washington the first state to require new public buildings meet “green building" standards of energy efficiency, water conservation and other environmental standards. You can find more information on Ecology's Web site.
WHY? Growing numbers of people are using wild lands, and the pollution they leave behind can add up, damaging habitat and reducing the beauty of the area you came to enjoy.
HOW? Pack out all trash; don't litter. Dispose of human waste properly.
Use designated trails to preserve the beauty of Washington parks and wild
lands. Do not drive off-road vehicles through streams or rivers, as this
can crush salmon nests, damage gravel beds and cause suffocating erosion
and sediments down stream.
WHY? Every year wildfires ravage huge swaths of Washington forests and rangelands. While some fire is naturally caused by lightening and natural to the ecosystem, many of these fires are human-caused. In drought years like we've recently had, moisture in the trees and soil is so low that fires burn very hot, fast and far. It can be a painful surprise to see how fast that little flame towers into a raging forest fire, not to mention fines for starting the fire. Not only is the forest damaged, but local people can lose their homes and livelihoods. Even those roadside burns can escape into something bigger in dry summers. And did you know that there's a $1,025 penalty for tossing a lit cigarette on the ground?
HOW? Check the fire danger with your local fire department or ranger station before you go into the woods, or check Department of Natural Resources' county burn-risk Web site. Bring small camp stoves and set them up carefully to avoid ignition of nearby materials. Never throw cigarettes or smoking materials from your vehicle, especially in summer. Not only can you start a fire but you could be fined up to $1,025!
WHY? Vehicles can account for a lot of air and water pollution, but less so if they are well-maintained.
HOW? Maintain with regular tune-ups and fix fluid leaks. Recycle used oil
and dispose of oil filters and antifreeze properly. Call 800-RECYCLE or
check Ecology's Web site for locations. Never
pour anything but clean water down a storm drain, since most drains go
straight to streams or rivers. Get vehicle-emission checks in designated
areas. Close the loop by using re-refined oil. Wash your car at an approved
commercial car wash that recycles its water. If you do wash your vehicle
at home, park it on gravel or grass and use a shut-off hose nozzle and
phosphate-free soap. Keep litter bags in the car and use them.
WHY? Using durable dishware, etc., helps reduce waste to the landfill, litter and wasted resources from one-time use. Leave a clean picnic site to help preserve the rich natural resources, habitats and parks that make our state such a beautiful place to live.
HOW? Use durable dishes, cloth napkins and tablecloths, not paper or plastic. Avoid disposable Styrofoam coolers and use a durable cooler.
WHY? As more people come to enjoy the water, more boats add to the cumulative pollution and pressure on formerly pristine waters. A growing number of our lakes and rivers require clean-up plans, and Puget Sound shows troubling evidence of decline.
HOW? Keep your boat motor well-maintained to help reduce pollutants from
the exhaust and fluid leaks. Use low-phosphate cleaners when detailing
the boat to reduce polluted runoff that causes overgrowth of aquatic weeds
and algae. Remove plants and aquatic life from your boat, trailer and accessory
equipment before leaving the boat launch area to avoid spreading invasive
weeds from one water body to the next. Use sewage
and always keep engine oil out of the water. Prevent marine debris that
harms wildlife by stowing all your litter (and maybe even picking up some
that others left behind).
WHY? It's an opportunity to focus attention on learning and activities to take good care of the earth systems which we depend upon and affect. A sustainable state or country has a healthy economy, society and environment and all three rely on each other. We certainly depend on a healthy environment for our clean, abundant water, air and food, flood control, climate and natural resources.
HOW? Check you local newspaper for activities or organize your own. Visit the Earth Day Network to locate past events or ideas. Plant native trees and shrubs, especially around degraded stream banks. Conduct a beach or stream cleanup, or neighborhood litter pickup. Attend or organize talks on local environmental issues, water, climate, land use, global issues. Lead a youth group or church field trip to a wetland or prairie or woodland to discover the interwoven life there that's active in summer. Join your local stream team or watershed stewards group.
WHY? Many of our streams are degraded and in need of restoration not just for fish but for the health of the whole watershed system. As salmon return to streams, they bring essential nutrients from the sea and deposit them in the watershed when their bodies decay after spawning. Restoring a stream for fish vastly improves the health of the stream and surrounding area for all the life dependent on that part of the watershed. It also improves flood protection in many cases, not to mention water quality. Many local Stream Teams or Watershed Steward programs teach local people of all ages how these systems work and engage them in restoration activities such as monitoring, tree planting, cleanups and community education -- and it's fun! There are opportunities for family and friends to participate together.
HOW? Contact your local county
WSU Cooperative Extension office
and ask for information on local Stream Teams or Watershed Steward Programs.
Or look in your local phone directory for contact numbers.
WHY? Because a local "sense of place" is important to understand the implications of local decisions and opportunities that affect your own community and its environment. Most people live in Washington because they value this place and its quality of life. Be an informed citizen as change takes place and participate in local decisions.
HOW? Watch the newspaper for local announcements and events. Read the local section and environmental column. Visit the Web site of your local radio station for local events, or Department of Ecology's Public Events Calendar. Attend community workshops, meetings and hearings. Become informed, participate and let your voice be heard.
WHY? Because now that you have become informed, you can see the value of others in your community becoming involved, too.
HOW? Bring them information about local participation opportunities, ask your local county or cooperative extension agent for 4-H education resources or Master Gardener resources, local nature-walk interpretive trails, etc. Be a voice for what you have learned and engage others in taking action to learn about and sustain their local places.
Copyright © Washington State Department of Ecology. See http://www.ecy.wa.gov/copyright.html.