Earth Day: Small ways to make a big impact

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

When Earth Day rolls around, it should always serve as a reminder that there are easy ways to live more in balance with the environment. They don’t cost you any extra money, they don’t take away anyone’s life, liberty or pursuit of happiness. They are simply your gift to the planet we call home.

Bottles awaiting their trip to the recycling center. Photo by Lacey Williams.

Here are a handful of tips to perhaps inspire you, if only for one day, to be greener.


When you recycle, you get a lot of return for the minimal effort it takes. By tossing that aluminum can into a separate can instead of with the regular trash, you are reducing energy consumption, preventing useful materials from wasting away in a landfill and supporting a healthy environment.

The EPA estimates that up to 75 percent of household trash is recyclable, yet we only recycle about 30 percent of it. Do your part to change this. Keep a milk crate or plastic tub next to the trash and think twice before tossing something in the trash. Junk mail, newspapers, cardboard, soup cans, glass and plastic bottles — these are just a few of the items that should always go in the green bin.

If your workplace doesn’t recycle, ask permission to start a new bin. Waste Management now offers business recycling in Sandpoint. Call (208) 263-2432 for all the dirt.

Walk or ride to work

For those of you who live and work in town, consider walking or riding your bike to work one day out of the week. Granted, this time of year can lead to humorous circumstances with the ever-changing weather. But you can’t call yourself a North Idahoan if you haven’t been caught in the random torrential downpour on a sunny day in April.

But seriously, if you leave the car at home one or more days a week, you save money on gas, you don’t have to worry about parking and you benefit with a little much-needed exercise.

The SPOT bus is also a great alternative. They’re in action seven days a week, and their routes cover Ponderay, Sandpoint to Dover. Check out there route maps and times at

Reduce your food packaging

When you’re at the grocery store, the checkers will usually start bagging your items right away. They’re efficient and good at what they do, but it only takes a moment to say, “No bag, thanks,” if you’re only getting a few items. Or better yet, keep a reusable bag or backpack handy. Plastic bags take upwards of 1,000 years to biodegrade. I always cringe when I see the ball of plastic bags under my sink grow larger. Take them to the grocery store and recycle them! Or do like my mom and cut them into strips and weave them into a reusable bag. It’s freakishly cool.

Members of the Festival at Sandpoint’s Green Team, the dedicated group of volunteers who make sure the music festival is as green as can be. Photo by Ben Olson.

Carry your own water flask. All those single use cups tossed away add up after awhile. And speaking of water, it can’t hurt to turn off the faucet when you’re brushing – something my girlfriend gently reminds me of from time to time.

Also, if your various utility companies and monthly billers have a paperless option, go for it.

Be thrifty

Underwear? Nope. But damn near everything else can be found at our local thrift stores. Not only are you saving money, but what you buy is being reused instead of tossed in the landfill. Plus, used goods come without any packaging. Double-plus good.

If it’s yellow, it’s mellow

Yeah, I went there. Traveling in third world countries, you often see those signs hanging in the bathroom: “If it’s yellow, it’s mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down.” The idea is you don’t necessarily have to flush every time you go number one. Unless you’ve eaten asparagus.

A quarter of all the water used in the home comes from the toilet, which uses anywhere from one to five gallons of water per flush. With the permission of your significant other, perhaps you can live as they do in the islands and let it mellow? By no means should you ever attempt this for number two. By no means.

I also had a friend who kept a brick in the back of his toilet. He said it reduced the water that filled the cistern every time. His head was also shaped a bit like a brick, so take that advice as you may.

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