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Earth Day Suggestions for Your Garden and Home

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Sunday, April 22, is Earth Day 2007. Let´s reflect for just a bit on one human impact on planet Earth. Each year we produce an increased amount of solid waste and we´re running out of places to put it. In honor of Earth Day and in acknowledgement of our garbage dilemma, Tuolumne County Master Gardeners will celebrate Earth Day a little late this year. On Saturday, June 9, Master Gardeners, in collaboration with MRL Industries and Cal Sierra Disposal, will collect #6 Styrofoam, also known as expanded polystyrene foam (EPS). (Styrofoam is actually a trademarked product of the Dow Chemical Company.)

Mark your calendars for S.O.S. on June 9. S.O.S. stands for Save Our Styrofoam. This is a pilot project designed to gather polystyrene from private citizens as well as the business community.

Styrofoam is a disposal headache. If you´ve ever tried stuffing the polystyrene packing from your latest electronic purchase into a garbage can, you´ve experienced the problem. Extremely bulky, yet lightweight, it takes up lots of space in the waste stream (and in landfills), but its removal doesn´t add much value to what is known asdiversion numbers.”

In 1989, California Assembly Bill 939, known as the Integrated Waste Management Act, was passed because of the increase in waste stream and the decrease in landfill capacity. AB 939 established a hierarchy of approaches to our waste stream generation; source reduction, recycling and composting, and environmentally safe transformation and disposal. It also mandated a reduction (or diversion) of waste being disposed: jurisdictions were required to meet diversion goals of 25% by 1995 and 50% by the year 2000.

However, the 25% and 50% goals are based on weight. So, for example,green waste”—lawn and garden clippings and prunings, heavy from a high water content—is targeted for removal from the waste collection system. Styrofoam is ignored because its removal doesn´t add much to the 50%-by-weight waste stream diversion goal.

Master Gardeners are asking you to begin saving your polystyrene for collection day. Save clean white packaging foam (typically used to pack computers, TVs, appliances, furniture, wine) and rigid white foam insulation (typically used around building foundations). Remove any tape, stickers, labels, paint or cardboard. Please note that neither bubble wrap and packing peanuts nor used food containers can be accepted. On June 9th you can deliver your accumulated polystyrene to MRL Industries, at Camage and Nugget Roads, Sonora, between 9 AM and 4 PM. A Master Gardener volunteer will be there to help unload your car.

Timbron International, a manufacturing plant in Stockton, is eager to acquire all the polystyrene they can. They are committed to helping recycle polystyrene locally to be used to make extruded moldings for the construction industry. Their products are available for purchase at local home centers, and are both recycled and recyclable.

They have made a commitment to send a truck to pick up the polystyrene foam collected in Tuolumne County.

In addition to recycling polystyrene on S.O.S. Day, June 9, here are some other suggestions for ways to commemorate Earth Day:

Plant a tree. You´ll help reduce carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas—in the atmosphere (carbon sequestration) and celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day, all at the same time.

Create a compost pile. Recycle those yard and garden clippings and prunings intoGardener´s Gold” on-site. Keep your green waste out of the waste stream. Turn the compost pile you already have. Help nature´s decomposition process along.

Replace a light bulb. Exchange an incandescent bulb for a long-lived fluorescent one. You´ll help reduce energy use in your home, thus requiring less energy generation from the burning of fossil fuels and other sources.

Remove a noxious weed. Pull some ivy; remove your vinca, or tear out a volunteer broom plant (maybe even one that you planted in error). Plant a California native in its place. Hand pull a patch of yellow star thistle.

Don´t drive. Set aside one day to only walk or ride your bike (non-motorized transportation). Stay home and burn less fuel in honor of Earth Day.

Bring your own bag. We´ve all seen the plastic bags from local retailers blowing alongside highways or stuck in trees and shrubs. Carry your groceries in a reusable tote.

Use your own mug. To begin and end this column with polystyrene foam, when you buy coffee, have them fill your mug from home. According to the website, each year Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 (that´s 25 BILLION) Styrofoam cups. 500 years from now that Styrofoam cup you used will still be sitting in a landfill.

Let´s keep this material out of the landfill. Recycle it on June 9. For more information call the Master Gardener office at 533-5696.

Rebecca Miller-Cripps is the Master Gardener Coordinator for Tuolumne County.