and Zack Metzler of Valley City Environmental
Services dismantle old computers and
home electronics recycled by Kent County
quick things you can do to be more environment-friendly.
Photography by Michael Buck
On the campaign
trail this past winter, Republican presidential
candidate John McCain de-politicized the
environmental movement in the U.S. with a
powerfully pragmatic statement on global
“Suppose that climate change is not
real, and all we do is adopt green technologies
which our economy and our technology is perfectly
capable of. Then all we’ve done is
given our kids a cleaner world,” he
“But suppose … climate change is
real and we’ve done nothing. What kind
of a planet are we going to pass on to the next
generation of Americans?”
Regardless of your political ideology, conspicuous
consumption is a gamble that’s quickly
falling out of favor. Maybe you’ve switched
from power-sucking incandescent light bulbs to
compact fluorescents. Perhaps your recycling
bucket sees as much action as your trash can.
And if you live in West Michigan, it’s
quite possible that your windows are covered
in plastic half the year — every year.
But if you think that’s all it takes to
live la vida verde, you’ve still got a
way to go.
There are many shades of green — from
pale seafoam (returning bottles and cans for
to deep forest (living off the grid on solar
or wind power, eating only organic food you grow
Deepen your green with the following suggestions.
1) Clean green. Some household cleansers emit
toxic pollutants when used indoors under certain
conditions, according to a recent study by the
University of California at Berkeley and Lawrence
Berkeley National Laboratory.
Lindsay DeLong, cleaning product specialist
at Harvest Health, stocks a variety of cleansers
that don’t have that problem. DeLong recommends
Bon Ami, an earth-friendly soft cleanser that
only costs $1.69.
When cleaning her house, DeLong uses a product
called Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds, a plant-based
all-purpose cleaner. She dilutes a capful in
a spray bottle filled half with distilled vinegar
and half with water.
“You can make your own cleaning products really
cheaply with stuff that’s not going to
damage brain cells when you use it,” she
Harvest Health has three West Michigan locations:
6807 Cascade Road SE and 1944 Eastern Ave. SE
in Grand Rapids, and 4150 32nd Ave. in Hudsonville.
local agriculture. Area farmers markets make
buying local a social event in the summer and
fall, but what’s a localvore to do the
rest of the year?
Join the West Michigan Cooperative (www.westmichigancoop.com).
Try it for free for the first two months. After
that, a one-year membership costs $35. And membership
has its perks! Members order locally produced
foodstuffs online — meats, eggs, dairy,
produce, dry goods, etc. — then pick up
their order once a month at Media Rare, 1111
Godfrey Ave. SW.
“People are busy,” said co-op volunteer
coordinator Tara Simmons. “You can’t
always make the farmers market during the summer,
so this is another option.”
3) Calculate your carbon
footprint. There are
several online tools available for households
and businesses to calculate their carbon footprint — the
amount of greenhouse gases produced as a byproduct
of one’s lifestyle choices or business
practices. One such site has a local connection.
The Web site www.chooserenewables.com was established
by Michael Ford, a renewable energy executive
at Grand Rapids’ Cascade Engineering. In
addition to the carbon footprint calculator,
Ford’s site is also an education tool and
an online store for products designed to help
consumers conserve energy and water.?
“(Carbon footprint calculators) are good tools
to make people aware that they’re not separate
from the natural environment,” said Rachel
Hackett, West Michigan Environmental Action Council’s
groundwater stewardship program coordinator.
Besides, without identifying a baseline, it’s
tougher to mark improvement.
4) When you can’t reboot, recycle. Kent
County’s computer and small electronics
recycling program helps keep lead and other heavy
metals out of landfills. That’s doubly
good: Not only does it keep those metals from
ending up in ground water, but it also re-circulates
copper, cadmium and other precious metals for
During normal business hours, individuals can
drop off these items at the North Kent Recycle & Transfer
Station, 2908 10-Mile Road in Rockford; the South
Kent Landfill, 300 100th St. in Byron Center;
and the recycle facility in downtown Grand Rapids
at 322 Bartlett St. SW.
The county works with Valley City Environmental,
which dismantles, refurbishes or strips the devices
down to the screws and recycles them.
“Five years ago, they were charging us to get
rid of this stuff,” recalled Dennis Kmiecik,
director of solid waste operations for the county’s
Department of Public Works. “But they’re
taking it for free.”
5) Lug your mug around. Coffee is one of the
largest international trade industries in the
world. Understanding and shopping for coffee
with an earth-friendly pedigree can make an impact.
Certified organic coffee beans are grown without
chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Shade grown/bird-friendly
coffee trees are planted within a natural environment — no
clear-cutting. And Fair Trade-certified coffee
farms use sustainable practices in exchange for
a guaranteed minimum price for the yield. It
amounts to a few pennies more per pound of coffee
beans than other farmers not working toward the
Fair Trade certification. But in the coffee-producing
nations of the world — mainly Africa, the
Pacific Islands, and Central or South America — a
few pennies go a long way.
However, in terms of sustainability, probably
the most important thing coffee drinkers can
do is to remember to use a travel mug.
“People are pushing for more compostable or biodegradable
paper cups,” observed Christine Horton,
sales associate for Water Street Coffee Joint
in Kalamazoo. “But really, even if the
paper cups are recyleable or compostable, a lot
of times they don’t wind up being recycled
or composted. They still end up in landfills.”
6) Bring your own grocery
bags. This summer,
China plans to ban plastic shopping bags in an
effort to fight pollution. Local retailers aren’t
going that far, but the region’s biggest
grocers do have plans to encourage their shoppers
to use reusable bags.
Meijer stores began selling non-woven polypropylene
shopping bags late in 2007. At 99 cents each,
the company has sold more than 40,000 bags per
week since launch — topping half a million
by early February.
“They’ve been very successful,” said
Frank Gugliemi, director of public relations
In February, Spartan launched bag programs at
D&W Fresh Markets, Family Fare, Glenn’s
“We’ve all been learning more about the
cost of paper bags and the cost of plastic bags,
and also the environmental issues associated
with them,” said Jeanne Norcross, vice
president for corporate affairs. “And this
is certainly an opportunity for us to offer our
customers a grocery bag that is 100 percent recyclable
and reusable — because it’s the right
thing to do.”
7) Personal care products
that care for the earth, too. “Some people have sensitivities to
sodium laureth sulfate, which is the foaming
agent in soaps and shampoos that you get at the
grocery store,” said Susie DeBoer, bath
and body care buyer for Harvest Health (www.harvesthealthfoods.com). “It
can be irritating to the skin. But they’re
cheap and (it) makes their products lather up.”
Harvest Health stocks several soaps, shampoos
and shower gels that are free of foaming agents,
as well as artificial scents and dyes, including
Aubrey Organics, Dr. Bronner’s, Desert
Essence, Hugo and Jason. The store even stocks
a formaldehyde-free nail polish called Earthly
Delights, and an ammonia-free herbal hair coloring
product called Naturcolor.
8) Click and save. Next time you plan an event,
skip the paper invitations. For most social events,
an e-mailed invitation (www.evite.com) will work
fine without tripping any etiquette snags.
Of course, there are exceptions, according to
Jodi Bos, president of In Any Event, a Grand
Rapids event planning service.
“I personally would not recommend an Evite for
a wedding,” Bos said. “I have heard
of it being done, but then when I do hear that,
I also hear, ‘Can you believe that? I got
a wedding invitation via e-mail!’ People
don’t respond really positively to it.”
That said, Bos does have recommendations for
couples looking to lessen the waste generated
by their big day, including cutting down on the
number of pieces within the invitation (which
could be as many as seven), and shopping for
environmentally friendly papers. GR