Saturday, February 16, 2008

Welcome to Gentle Planet and Sustainable Living

Welcome to Sustainable Living! I'm glad you found this blog and I hope that the information and reflections you find here will be useful to you. I invite you to respond if you find something helpful or if you have discovered something worth sharing with others.

It has become important to me to do my part to educate the public on what is sustainable living and how to make it a practical and possible part of their daily lives. My concern is for our children and their future. I fear that our rampant unrepentant consumerism in this country is on a unstoppable downhill slope. Our houses are too big. We buy things we don't need and soon will not not want. Our landfills are filling. Newer, bigger and better things are being manufactured, marketed and purchased with what seems to be a planned obsolescence, with no thought of what will be the ultimate destination yet another thing. Our technology allows me to set in my home and type this but computers, cell phones and other electronic devices are changing so rapidly that they are becoming our biggest disposal problems with their use of heavy metals and complicated ingredients.

Yes, when we are finished with something, we can throw it in the trash can. Then what? Does the average American think at all about where it goes from there. According to the website (, the United States generates about 230 million tons of trash every day. That is between 4 and 5 pounds of garbage for each person each day. That is unacceptable and absolutely unsustainable. We cannot continue indefinitely doing this. Less than one fourth of all this refuse is actually recycled. According to the University of Colorado at Boulder (, this leaves us with a legacy of 90,000 lbs. of trash per person over the course of the average American's lifetime. How much of this ends up in our streams, rivers and lakes? How much of it are we ultimately eating, drinking and breathing?

We have to stop thinking that when we throw something in a trash can, it magically disappears. Our ecological awareness is the equivalent of an infant thinking that when we play peek-a-boo, the person actually is gone! As responsible world citizens, we must begin to make ourselves aware of absolutely everything we consume. For each and every choice, we must consider where it came from, do we really need it, will we actually use it, and where will it go when we are finished with it.

EcoLiving has become one of the hot topics today, but what does ecology friendly living really mean? Most of realize that buying something that touts the word "green" does not necessarily mean that it is earth friendly. In fact, using words like "green", "natural", and, of course, "organic" are some of the most effective marketing tools today.

There are national standards for using the word "organic" but package designers and marketing moguls seem adept at fuzzing the rules. If it doesn't have the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic seal, it isn't. Plain and simple. But you will see on packaging "naturally grown" which may mean just grown, outside in nature. "Contains organic ingredients" may mean that less than 1o% of the ingredients may be organic. Many products that use these misleading labels may even contain genetically altered ingredients.

Most consumers are not going to take the time to educate themselves on this maze of meanings. If they see the words natural or organic, they believe it must be. American consumers have a long history of trusting that the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies will protect them. They have failed to see the erosion of consumer protection backed by lobbyists from mega-chemical companies (i.e. commercial fertilize and pesticide or herbicide products) and big agri-business.

So how do we educate ourselves as consumers? How do we educate our children so that they can make healthy informed choices? The National Organic Program of the United States Department of Agriculture ( has strict standards on what is or isn't organic. Visit their website for detailed information on what the standards are and what they mean for you as a consumer.

So what can you do today that will make a real difference? As I write this I can see across the street what some of us have come to believe is the national flower for the 21st century - a tattered plastic bag flapping, caught on the branches of a tree. Many countries around the world have recognized how insidious these bags have become and are either banning them or heavily taxing them. Don't wait for it to become a government issue. Do you need a plastic bag for one or two items at the store? Will you re-use that bag for a purpose that would justify accepting it? Then refuse it. Take the item and your receipt and feel good about not throwing that gently used bag away when you get home.

Buy organic when possible.

Buy locally grown and seasonally appropriate fruits and vegetables.

Support farmers markets.

Walk or ride a bike instead of driving.

Use and re-use cloth bags or baskets when you shop--not just at the grocery store--every store.

Think before you buy.

Think before you throw away.