Saving the Planet One Lightbulb, Grocery Bag, and Ice Cream Cone at a Time
When Brandi hears about Nike's Reuse-a-Shoe program, which grinds the rubber, foam, and fabric from old athletic shoes into materials for playground surfaces, she can't wait to tell the boys' preschool about it. As Matthew and Dale check out the boys' closets, the conversation turns to greener choices in clothing. Growing cotton requires tremendous amounts of water plus chemical insecticides and fungicides. Matthew favors industrial hemp, one of the oldest and most efficient sources of textile fiber, no longer grown commercially in this country because of its erroneous association with marijuana (although the two are from the same plant, they are cultivated differently). Industrial hemp has no illicit uses. "I'd like to change the face of hemp in the world," says Matthew. "Almost every canvas in the Louvre is made from hemp. It was an important crop in the United States until after World War II, made into ropes and cloth. But then it got this connotation of 'reefer madness.'"
By the time Mexican takeout arrives for lunch, everyone's "wasteful" radar has been turned up. "It's ironic to get so many paper napkins and plastic utensils," Brandi comments, realizing that it's easy to tell any restaurant delivering food not to send them. She also likes the idea of a "bring your own mug" policy for coffee hour at the church, saving endless numbers of Styrofoam cups. "Our town won't recycle cardboard that has touched food," says Evan. That means pizza boxes get thrown away and end up in a landfill. "Some political person is making the decision that recycling costs more than landfill replacement," says Matthew, urging the Drakes to speak with municipal authorities about changing the rules. And he asks the family to consider a meatless meal every week, limiting the amount of feed and water necessary for the animals as well as reducing the manure polluting rivers and streams. (Here's a statistic any adolescent boy would love: The Worldwatch Institute estimates that flatulent livestock emit 16 percent of the world's annual production of methane.)
Clean water is an increasingly endangered commodity in our world. And toilets are water hogs: About 40 percent of the water used in the average home gets flushed away. That amounts to more than four billion gallons of water in the United States each day. Federal law now mandates that all new residential toilets be low-flush models, which consume 1.6 gallons of water or less per use, compared with as much as five gallons for the conventional kind. In one of the Drakes' bathrooms, Matthew and Evan peer into the tank to see if there's room for a brick—an old-fashioned but still viable idea for reducing the amount of water used. There's not, but a plastic jug filled with water or pebbles will serve the same function.
Matthew's enthusiasm for transportation alternatives is infectious, and the American way of getting around is increasingly hard to defend. If people who live less than five miles from work or school rode their bikes instead of driving, they would cut their CO2 emissions by a ton each year. If just one member of each U.S. household did this, they would eliminate more than 115 million tons of global warming pollution annually. Brandi's church and the boys' school are both within a mile of the Drake home, so Matthew plants the biking idea for spring weather. Evan's commute is 25 miles, but he could consider carpooling with neighbors. If each commuter car carried one more passenger once a week, gas consumption would go down by almost eight million gallons.