Anne Reichman thinks anyone can create a green home. And, she should know. As the director for Earth911.org, Reichman is responsible for overseeing the expansion of content, data and outreach on the web site and phone hotline, 1-800-CLEANUP. Before being green was a hip buzzword, Reichman was involved in both the public and private sectors of the recycling industry. She has 18 years of experience in the areas of recycling, hazardous materials, litter prevention and environmental education. Here, Reichman explains product stewardship and why personal responsibility is so important in everyday living.
You need to make a point to learn as much as you can with regards to what you are interested in doing. Also, remember not to be overwhelmed. There is a lot of noise on going green. You can temper that and go step by step. Start slow and make visible, easy changes. Once you’ve done that, you can move on to the more expensive or time-consuming things. This is a time of learning a new habit, and as with any new habit the key is consistency. You need to make it a smooth and easy transition that you can maintain.
That’s an interesting question, and I struggle with that sometimes. I’ve realized that everyone has made himself out to be an expert and that to me is very concerning. It’s very easy, with so many outlets of information, for you to get misinformation or to get information that you won’t fully understand.
Tap in to the news that’s out there. There are a lot of great web sites like ours or Idealbite.com that give great information on different products. The key is to look for credible individuals and credible organizations. Look for longevity in business and the reputation they have in the industry. It’s important to know that these people have a handle on the information.
They think they have to do it all at once. Some people feel pressure to do that, but they just need to find a place to start and make incremental changes. You have to remember, too, that for some things, there aren’t green ways available yet. Not everything has a least-hazardous or best-product option.
People often try to do things that are out of their range. The harder things to do are the more expensive things. For instance, I would love to replace my stove and dishwasher, but it’s not realistic financially for me to do that. I have to budget and think about where I can create the biggest difference with the funds I have available.
For some reason, we are programmed to start at the end of the process. It’s reduce, reuse, recycle. One thing people need to remember is to reduce the amount of waste you generate first, then reuse as much as you can, and then recycle it.
Make sure you can divert things like newspapers, aluminum cans, glass and cardboard to a recycling program. Food waste can become compost. There are such unique small composters to put under the sink or on the porch, and you can divert your vegetable waste and make a difference with that.
You can also take printer cartridges to be refilled or taken back for recycling, and take your electronics—cell phones, laptops and televisions—as well. I always recommend reuse first. If there is a school program that can use your computer or a work-related program that can use it, donate. Shelters will take your old phones and give them to residents to use. If that’s not possible, then find a recycling program.
Using CFLs—compact fluorescent light bulbs—are an easy way that anyone can save energy. The key with those is to also know how to dispose of them properly [because they contain mercury]. You can find out how to do that at a web site like Earth911.org.
Lots can be done in the energy area. [You can] turn off and unplug electronics when you’re not using them. Use more efficient charge strips or ones powered by solar energy. Also, reuse water. If anyone in our household has a glass of water that they aren’t going to finish, we pour it into a pitcher and use that to water our houseplants. Little things like that make a big difference.
If you don’t have anything in your area, the next best thing is to contact a local public-works department to see what the town is doing. Maybe it has the intention to provide that service, and if so, you can get a time frame for when it might begin. Or the town might have no plans to provide it, but will give you a bearing as to where your community is. Ask if a neighboring area has recycling plans that you can participate in.
You can also find like-minded people in your neighborhood or schools in the area to partner with to create a recycling program. Kids enjoy recycling. Civic groups like Girl Scouts or 4-H clubs are perfect opportunities to harness resources and enthusiasm.
Product stewardship is one of the newer buzzwords. It’s an approach where all stakeholders involved with a product—manufacturers, importers, retailers, government and the consumer—share the responsibility for reducing the negative impact to human health and the environment when it comes to the result of the production and end-of-life management of that product. It starts with the manufacturer, trying to make it acknowledge its responsibility to produce things with fewer chemicals.
As a consumer you may not have heard a lot about it, but you should know how to participate in the process, too. Sometimes you don’t have a lot of choices available to you, but you can have awareness. For instance, you can buy paper with no recycled content, or you can purchase 100% post-consumer paper. There’s your chance to participate in the product-stewardship process and send a message that you want that product.
I believe change is the only constant. I get bored if things aren’t changing and I take it as an exciting time and see it as a wonderful part of living.
…that it can be very exciting.
Deciding to go into the environmental area, because it established the path I’ve been on for the past 18 years. It has exposed me to some tremendous people and opportunities.
For more information on Anne Reichman, visit www.earth911.org.