Keep your Halloween green by taking these simple earth-friendly steps

October is finally here and with it comes cooler weather, pumpkin everything and the favorite holiday of every sugar-crazed 6-year-old (or 6-year-old at at heart): Halloween. Honestly, who doesn’t love Halloween?

All that aside, Halloween is another one of those days when our choices can cause lots of long-lasting problems for the environment. Most candy is wrapped in a non-recyclable mix of materials that end up heading straight for the landfill or, if we’re not careful, littering our neighborhoods.

Specialty costumes typically don’t have another purpose and find themselves hanging in a closet, unused, year after year. Pumpkin carvings, and eventually the works of art themselves, often end up being thrown in the trash without a second thought as to how they could otherwise be used.

You can avoid these and other environmental pitfalls by keeping the following tips in mind this Hallow(gr)een.

Be creative (aka green) when choosing a costume. Before purchasing a new outfit to wear, check out your closet to see if you can make your own costume this year. Thrift stores are another great place to start the hunt for the perfect costume. If that doesn’t work out, try organizing a costume swap with friends and family; you never know what’s hiding in someone else’s closet that could be exactly what you need.

Keep your celebration local. Take the kids trick-or-treating in your own neighborhood, carpool to the pumpkin patch or bike to this year’s office Halloween party. There are plenty of ways to reduce your transportation footprint this Halloween season.

Hand out responsible treats. Most traditional candy wrappers aren’t recyclable, so you may have to be creative to green this part of the trick-or-treating experience. Look for candy in paper wrappers, and limit your output to one piece per child. Alternatives to candy – stickers, temporary tattoos and small toys – can be fun too, just make sure to pick products with limited packaging and plastic usage. You could even include printed instructions for ways to upcycle candy wrappers to get as much use out of them as possible and keep them out of the landfill. Lots of tutorials exist online for jewelry, pencil cases, even things such as belts and shoes. Encourage kids to be creative!

Use the whole pumpkin. Look up recipes that involve fresh pumpkin filling so that all those carving remnants don’t go to waste; try salting and roasting the seeds for an autumn snack. After Halloween, when those beautiful carved pumpkins start to shrivel up, don’t just toss them in the trash. Instead, add them to your compost pile for rich spring soil.

Help clean up. When taking your kids trick-or-treating, bring an extra bag to pick up trash you may see on the way. Organizing an early November litter cleanup in your neighborhood is another way to keep those candy wrappers off the streets; you could ask an area coffee shop to donate warm beverages to encourage people to come help out even if it’s cold.

1 macyMacy Gould is the AmeriCorps VISTA member who serves as Bluegrass Greensource’s green jobs coordinator, working with educators to ensure that students are aware of and prepared for the variety of green career paths that await them after high school. Macy is originally from Minneapolis but considers Lexington home and enjoys visiting her family in Colorado Springs. She recently graduated from Transylvania University. Outside of work, you could likely find Macy planning for her community radio show or taking a long walk downtown.

This article appeared in KY Forward on October 9, 2014.


This Fourth of July, add a little (or a lot) of green to your red, white and blue

Ah, today is the last day of a short week, and time for one of my favorite holidays. Actually, if it weren’t for the heat, Independence Day may be No. 1 in my book.

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Being in downtown Lexington, watching a parade, walking the streets and meeting people I haven’t seen since the last Fourth of July. Then there is the eating… barbecue, funnel cake and beer before 5 p.m. … it does not get much better! Oh, and there is the patriotic part, too.

So how do we include green in our red, white and blue celebrations? Here is a quick list of four simple things you can do on the fourth that can have a great impact on our local environment.

1. Watch fireworks in a group. Fourth of July would not be the same without fireworks. I have many great memories of sparklers, snakes and bottle rockets, but the greenest way to watch fireworks is in a group. One of the biggest problems with home fireworks is the litter. If you shoot something into the air, chances are you will not find its remnants and they will get washed into a stream during the next rain. Most communities have fabulous fireworks shows produced by professionals – go there, save money, be with friends and don’t catch anything on fire!

2. Conserve water – July in Kentucky is HOT. Drink lots of water, but use tap water in a reusable bottle. Remember, recycling is the third R in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – Reduce and reuse are the most important parts.

3. Use propane – if you are a gourmet chef and believe that charcoal is the only way to cook, skip this part. According to a study showcased on Earth 911 “as a fuel, LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) is dramatically more efficient than charcoal in its production and considerably more efficient in cooking.” Make sure to trade in your tanks when they are empty because this will save money as well as resources.

4. Make sun tea – I have to admit that I don’t like any sort of cold tea. I grew up on the West Coast, so sweet tea and sun tea are foreign to me, but I understand that you southerners love both. The idea of sun tea is great, though, and would make a nice, green addition to your holiday BBQ. If you need a recipe however, you will have to find a real Southern girl.

Happy Fourth of July!
1 Amy-SohnerAmy Sohner is executive director of Greensource and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with Greensource since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, two daughters and a multitude of pets.

This article appeared in KY Forward on July 3, 2014.


10 Tips for a Green Christmas

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Commit to making the holidays more environmentally friendly. Here are some ideas to help you start:

  1. Decorate your house with LED lights and you can use almost 90% less energy. It saves you money on your electric bill and helps the environment. Don’t overdo it! It’s the light that shines in our hearts that matters more than the quantity of outdoor decorations!
  2. Use a real tree.  Plastic trees last longer but are made of PVC, which is harmful to the environment.
  3. Recycle your Christmas tree. Just put it out on the curb to be composted or turned into mulch or wood chips.
  4. Recycle your old electronics. A lot of people get new phones or electronic devices for Christmas. Drop your used phone off at Bluegrass Greensource’s office and prevent hazardous elements like mercury, cadmium, and lead from ending up in landfills.
  5. Get creative! Make your own wrapping paper and cards by recycling the old holiday cards you’ve been saving for years and reusing old comic books, children’s artwork, scarves, towels, or unused clothing to wrap your gifts.
  6. Better yet, if you have a choice, send e-cards to friends and family members and save on postage, envelopes, and actual cards. And it’s green!
  7. Make your own gifts: bake a batch of cookies or other treats  for your loved ones and share the recipes.
  8. Give gifts of membership or experiences: a gym membership, music lessons, theater tickets, spa services, and more.
  9. Support local farms by purchasing local organic produce and meat for your holiday meals.
  10. Get in the holiday spirit and give the gifts that keep on giving back. Support local organizations by purchasing gifts from businesses that donate a part of their income back to the community. Or volunteer your time to help others and make their holidays a little brighter.