There are many easy ways to be easier on the earth, environmental advocates want you to know.

Going greener need not be a grind

There are many easy ways to be easier on the earth, environmental advocates want you to know.

You could just give up. Wake up in the morning, read the latest about climate change or trash in the ocean or pollution emissions in our own Mon Valley, and it might seem that the only sensible course of action is to shrug and go about your normal routine, muttering, “There’s nothing I can do about that.”

There’s another option, and it need not involve living in a yurt and eating only raw garden vegetables, local environmental leaders are eager to say. From morning to night, there are little actions you can take that may not be obvious, but that, in the aggregate, make a difference to the environment.

“Being asked to ‘Save the world’ is daunting for anyone,” said Rachel Filippini, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution. “Start by focusing on environmental improvements you can make in your own home, neighborhood, your child’s school, your workplace, and/or your place of worship.”

Like what?

This morning

You can start by shortening that morning shower. It saves water and electricity, the folks from GASP note. (If you have a gas water heater, it’ll lower that bill.)

Breakfast is a huge composting opportunity. You can toss the banana peel, orange peel, coffee grounds and egg shells into a bin for transfer to the garden, where they’ll become healthy soil. Want to know how? Grow Pittsburgh would love to tell you.

You know this already, but driving alone is the most costly and environmentally damaging way to get just about anywhere. Several environmental leaders would ask you this: Ever try public transit, carpooling, biking or walking? If nothing else, think of the savings on parking.

If you catch a whiff of something foul on the way in, report it using the Smell PGH app, which steers stench data to the Allegheny County Health Department, which regulates air quality.

 
A PGH Guide to Living More Green by Maura Losch
 

This afternoon

You can keep a reusable bottle at your desk, rather than paying for — and then throwing away — a water bottle every time you get thirsty.

At lunch, say no to the plastic straw, urges Danielle Crumrine, executive director of Tree Pittsburgh. “Purchase a set of stainless steel ones – keep one in your car and your purse, and you’ll always be prepared to say, ‘No straw please,’” she suggests.

If it’s a Friday from May 10 to Oct. 25, you can take a lunch hour walk to Mellon Square, at Smithfield Street and Sixth Avenue, and pick up fresh produce and much more from the farmer’s market. There are also neighborhood farmer’s market options, listed at http://pittsburghpa.gov/events/farmers-market.

“Produce from large industrial farming operations have been found to contain high amounts of pesticides,” says Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, executive director of Women for a Healthy Environment, based in East Liberty. Farmers market produce may not all be organic, but it generally involves less use of chemicals, not to mention the fossil fuels needed to transport fruit and vegetables from distant climes.


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This evening

Taking out the trash? Pittsburgh’s recycling system isn’t perfect and some suburbs offer still-fewer options for recycling, but sorting your waste per your municipal regulations helps to keep some of it out of the dump — or worse yet, some empty lot.

“These materials are often what collects on vacant lots (litter, debris, and difficult to recycle items) and this issue disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable communities,” notes Anna Archer of Grounded Strategies, which turns vacant lots into gardens and play spaces.

Reuse is even more efficient than recycling; she notes that glass jars can be used to store bulk pantry items, and Grounded Strategies even finds ways to use discarded tires and old cinder blocks in its projects.

If your town doesn’t recycle glass, save your bottles anyway. The Pennsylvania Resource Council holds several glass collection events every month.

Running an errand doesn’t have to involve running your car engine.

“For each mile that you bike or walk instead of drive, you keep about one pound of greenhouse gas emissions from entering our atmosphere,” according to Scott Bricker, executive director of BikePGH. “Try biking to your friend’s home next time you’re invited. Or, try walking to the corner pharmacy next time you need to fill a prescription.”

His organization offers maps that highlight Pittsburgh’s ever-expanding network of bicycle-friendly routes and lots of education on how to put some pedal into your schedule.

Shop with a plan. “I do my best to plan out lunch and dinner and create a shopping list accordingly,” Ms. Crumrine tells us. “This cuts down on impulse purchases and reduces the amount of food that ends up rotting away in the fridge.”

Did you see reports of the plastic bag that found its way into the Hays eagles’ nest? Maybe think about that when you drop by the grocery store for a few things this evening. Instead of adding a few more plastic bags to the waste stream, you can toss a few reusable sacks in the back of the car (or bicycle saddle bag, or backpack) and tote them into the store.

“Locally, the riverside is dominated by trash bags floating and wrapped around tree branches. It’s far too much,” reports Bryce Aaronson, acting co-executive director of Three Rivers Waterkeeper. “Waterkeeper can’t help but think of a story we read recently of a giant whale that was found washed up on the shore in Italy with 48 pounds of plastic trash bags in its stomach.”

The choices you make on this shopping trip have environmental implications, too. GASP suggests that you look into environmentally friendly cleaning products. Vinegar or baking soda may work. You can do a lot better by the environment if you buy in bulk and then pour some into your reusable drinking bottle, environmental advocates note.

Ms. Naccarati-Chapkis suggests buying bulk beans, rice and pasta. The East End Food Coop is one source for bulk foods, she notes. Avoid artificial fragrance products for the home, as they may contain “secret chemicals,” she urges. “Instead simmer cloves, cinnamon sticks, or citrus peels on the stove,” or burn beeswax candles.


Over the weekend

Going out to shop or eat doesn’t have to be an environmental crap shoot. Sustainable Pittsburgh lists 140 Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurants at EatSustainably.org and environmentally conscious businesses in 42 communities at ShopSustainableSmallBiz.org.

Check your medicine cabinet for unused pharmaceutical products — but don’t flush them! Return them to your pharmacy, so they don’t end up in the rivers, Ms. Naccarati-Chapkis recommends.

If you’re going out shopping, think about getting rid of something, too. Check out Earth911.com for locations that recycle consumer items throughout the year.

Nancy Martin, education specialist at Pennsylvania Resource Council adds that you can support reuse by hitting “second hand retailers in our region such as Construction Junction, Pittsburgh Center For Creative Reuse and local thrift stores versus buying all brand new.”

Check your electric bill. If you’re not getting power from sustainable sources, you can get educated on your options online.

“Everyone plant a seed and try growing their own vegetables or herbs this spring and summer,” urges Jake Seltman, executive director of Grow Pittsburgh. “Even if you have just a small porch or window, if it gets six hours of sunlight during the summer, you can grow most all vegetables and herbs in a large pot or even a five gallon bucket.”

Why bother when tomatoes are cheap?

“When we garden at home there are a number of direct environmental benefits including attracting pollinator species, reducing stormwater run-off, and increasing cooling effects,” he tells us. “In addition, it can save you a trip to the grocery store and reduce your carbon emissions.”

If you’ve got a little more space, Ms. Crumrine suggests, consider planting a tree.

“When trees shade our homes and yards, they help to reduce energy costs during the hottest summer months, and the tree canopy protects us from harmful UV rays,” she notes. “Plant a fruit tree and get the added bonus of delicious seasonal fruit!”

Conveniently, Tree Pittsburgh and the City of Pittsburgh are giving away trees on Friday, April 26, in Market Square.

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542


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