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One Month at a Time: Trying to be less awful to the earth

Sunday morning, I checked my garden and took stock of what I had and what was coming in.

Yellow blossoms covered my tomato and cucumber plants. A row of beets I’d planted looked bushy and green. In a couple of months, the bulbs might be about the size of a billiard ball. Right now, they were smaller than the end of my thumb.

Two Thai peppers dangled from a healthy, emerald green pepper plant. I’d cheated on those peppers. They’d replaced plants I’d planted too early and had died.

I had one zucchini, approximately the size of a No. 2 pencil. It might be ready to eat soon, but not today.

“Oh man,” I muttered and pulled a few weeds out of the dirt. “I’m going to starve.”

Well, probably not, but I would need to find a reliable source of local food.

New month, new mission — maybe a mistake

I began thinking about the idea of “going green” during FestivALL.

I’d gone out to Ice Cream and the Arts in Elk City, which promised free Ellen’s Ice Cream.

Scoops of vanilla ice cream were served in stiff paper bowls at one table. You could add toppings at another table.

The bowls were odd and reminded me of fast-food restaurant drink carriers.

The container felt light in my hands, but sturdier than the usual Styrofoam containers that get parceled out at church potlucks, company picnics and backyard barbecues.

The spoon was some kind of pressed wood, like the kind used in old-school toy airplanes.

Both were supposed to be biodegradable. After a year or so, they’d harmlessly return to the earth and become part of the soil — Hakuna Matata, circle of life and all of that.

Still, I thought it was a cool idea.

Styrofoam and plastic bowls are eternal. They don’t break down and will outlast everything but student loan debt.

The biodegradable bowl and spoon seemed smart, like a step in the right direction, but what did I know?

Sort of oblivious

Over the last couple of years, I’ve heard more and more that we shouldn’t use a host of ubiquitous, formerly innocuous products because they’re bad for the environment.

First, they came for the plastic straws, which environmental groups said cluttered up waterways and sometimes found their ways into the nostrils of majestic sea turtles.

That much seemed true. I saw the video of a crowd of people pulling a straw out of a particularly unhappy reptile’s nose.

Then, they came for the plastic bags.

This had been coming for a while. The thin, plastic bags from the grocery store have been a nuisance almost from the moment clerks stopped asking “paper or plastic” in the checkout line when I was little boy.

Over the years, the store bags have become flimsier and flimsier. Now, you have to practically double bag anything heavier than a couple of cans of pork ’n’ beans just to get everything in the house, which always leaves me with a great big wad of plastic bags after my groceries have been put away.

Being somewhat conscious that it would be best to reuse some of these somehow, I typically set aside about half, which I use to muck out my car or to clean up after my little dog, who occasionally decides that it’s too wet, too cold or “too Monday” to go outdoors.

Sometimes, it’s hard to blame her.

The bags aren’t really saved, of course. It’s only a stay of execution. Eventually, they all go into the trash — out of sight, out of mind.

But those grocery bags turn up everywhere, don’t they?

You find them crumpled up in ditches alongside the road, crammed into the dirty corners of back alleys or even just inexplicably lying pristinely in the middle of the woods, miles from civilization.

Maybe the deer are shopping at Walmart now?

More about common sense than an inconvenient truth

Whether you believe in climate change and global warming or think that’s all nonsense cooked up by the dirty hippies and their willing co-conspirators — most of the world scientific community — it’s hard to argue that being environmentally conscious is a bad thing.

Pollution is somebody’s garbage. Almost nobody (except, perhaps, for the West Virginia Manufacturers Association) wants more cancer-causing chemicals in the water. We all enjoy breathing and conserving energy is thrifty.

Being thrifty is good, right? That’s why extreme couponing is cool. You save money you can spend on something else, like wrestling tickets or an electrical hook up for a dryer.

That’s what I’d spend the extra money on, anyway. You could spend your money on something else.

Through the month of July, I’ll be going green and even trying to figure out what being green really means because I don’t know that I really know anymore, if I ever did.

The power is yours?

Most of my ideas about conservation come from the cartoon “Captain Planet,” which I watched as a kid but hated because I thought it was shabbily written and preachy, but there wasn’t much else on at the time.

All I think I know is that I should try to use less and waste less of what I do use.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll try to live up to that and reduce how much energy I use and how much nonbiodegradable waste I produce, while attempting to maintain a lifestyle that doesn’t make me pray for a sudden meteor strike on my home.

This is a bigger leap than it sounds.

I don’t recycle anything, not even aluminum cans or paper. A couple of months ago, I dropped off some old clothes in the rear of a Goodwill. Even when I did that, I was about 90 percent certain that everything I left was going to go in the dumpster.

There was already a pile of rain-sotted, rotting donations lying by the back door.

On average, my house generates three full bags of garbage per week, which seems reasonable for a household that includes one adult who cooks from scratch most of his meals, a couple of pets and a part-time, teenage resident who eats whatever isn’t bolted down.

Beyond that, I don’t think a lot about how much I drive, how much electricity I use or how much water goes down the drain, just as long as I can afford to pay the bills at the end of the month.

There is very little forethought on my part.

Is going green more than just swearing off plastic grocery bags and remembering to turn out the lights?

I guess we’ll see.

A lot to do in one little month

While I’m looking into figuring out how much energy and water I’m using and how much I could be using, I’ll check out recycling in Kanawha County, which doesn’t seem to exist outside of Charleston city limits.

At least, nobody is picking up recycling out where I live.

What do we recycle now, anyway? Aluminum? Glass? 8-track tapes?

And there is the question of what to eat. Most of my food (and probably yours) comes from exotic, far off places — like Chile, Ecuador and Indiana.

Almost nothing I eat is grown or raised in this state (or in an adjoining state, actually), including local foods I like. The pepperoni in a pepperoni roll wasn’t made in West Virginia, but likely came from a factory in Iowa or Minnesota (Hormel).

My favorite local, craft beer is probably not made with locally grown barley.

We don’t grow very much barley here in West Virginia.

Why is this important?

The farther something has to be transported, the more energy and resources are used to process, store and move it from a farm to a production and packaging facility and then to the market.

Buying locally raised and made goods eliminates a lot of travel, so for the next month, I’ll try to get along with what comes from nearby producers or at least get a better idea of just how far the food on my table is traveling.

Some of this is easy. Charleston has a good farmers market. Affordable fresh veggies and fruit aren’t a problem.

Meat, cheese and everything else might be.

Still, I’m hopeful.

After I checked my garden and realized that I would not be living off my beets and zucchini crop, I drove to my local grocery store and spent $16 on four reusable grocery bags — two, general purpose canvas bags and two synthetic bags with zippers that were supposed to keep cold things cold and hot things hot.

Then I left the store and went shopping.

Reach Bill Lynch at, 304-348-5195 or follow @lostHwys on Twitter. He’s also on Instagram at and read his blog at

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