5Ws+1H: What It’s About: Simple steps help folks ‘go green’

Using environmentally-safe cleaning products can help prevent pollution in waterways such at the Illinois River.

It’s been 51 years since the first Earth Day, and while the world has made strides to improve the environment, humans can still do things to improve the planet’s land, water and air.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made everyday cleaning more important than ever, but many products can have a negative impact on the environment. Chemicals from cleaning products are often washed into the streams and rivers, leaving behind contaminants that accelerate growth of some plant life and deplete oxygen in the water.

“There’s all sorts of green cleaning recipes that are all less toxic than the alternative we normally use,” said Heather Winn, family and consumer science educator at the OSU Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County.

Winn shared several recipes for cleaners that can be used instead of the harsh chemicals. For a no-streak glass cleaner, mix 1/4 cup of white vinegar, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, and 1 quart of warm water. The solution can be applied using a sponge or poured into a spray bottle. An all-purpose cleaner can be made using a 3-1/2 cups of water, 1/4 cup of white vinegar, 2 teaspoons of baking soda, and 1/4 cup of liquid dish soap. To clean out a toilet bowl, sprinkle baking soda in the bowl, drizzle vinegar on top, let it soak for at least 30 minutes, and then scrub with a toilet brush.

It’s never too early to learn about natural resources and why the environment should be protected. Winn said Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” can teach kids a lesson or two about environmental destruction.

“The book, even though it’s a children’s book, really is talking about that and keeping things clean,” Winn said. “That’s a story you could read to kids to talk to them about the environment.”

Becoming more energy efficient is perhaps the easiest way to start, as there are a variety of no-cost measures to save on electricity. Saving energy can help reduce air and water pollution, and conserve natural resources. It could help lower electricity bills, too.

Energy conservation can limit the number of carbon emissions, which are believed to play a large role in climate change. One easy step to preserve energy is turning off electric items when they’re not in use, such as lights, TVs, video game consoles, computers, and more. Unplugging devices such as TV and computers can prevent phantom energy, as certain appliances continue to draw electricity even when turned off.

Water conservation also has its place among Earth Day initiatives. Only around 3% of water on Earth is fresh water, and of that, about .5% is safe for drinking. Using water-saving techniques can divert less of it into the waterways, reducing wastewater treatment costs and the amount of energy used to treat, pump and heat the water, which can decrease energy demand and prevent air pollution.

Some water conservation efforts may include taking shorter showers, using a water-saving shower head, turning off the faucet when brushing teeth, only washing full loads of laundry, and running the dishwasher only when it’s completely full.

Winn also shared a quiz, developed by the Oklahoma Home and Community Education group, for people to determine how green they are. It includes 20 steps people take to improve the environment. Those who take one to five of those steps are “basically brown”; people who take six to 10 steps are “green sprouts”; those who check off 11 to 15 steps are “growing green”; and anyone who checks off 16 to 20 steps is “true green.”

• I check to see if something can be recycled before I throw it away.

• When given the choice of buying a product made from recycled paper or new paper, I choose the recycled paper product.

• I compost frequently.

• I use rechargeable batteries.

• I take my own cloth shopping bags to the store.

• When given a choice of buying an organic apply or non-organic apple, i choose the organic one.

• I would choose low-VOC interior paint over regular paint.

• I research companies and invest in those with environmentally responsible practices.

• I buy environmentally sensitive cleaning products or make my own low-toxic products.

• I don’t use pesticides inside my home.

• I tested my home for radon.

• I don’t let the faucet run when brushing my teeth or shaving.

• I collect rain water in a rain barrel or other container to use for watering plants.

• I have shortened my showers to five minutes.

• I have replaced at least half of the light bulbs in my home with compact fluorescent light bulbs.

• I turn the lights off when I leave the room for more than minutes.

• If given the opportunity, I would install solar or wind energy in my home.

• I will spend a little more for an environmentally sensitive product.

• If I see an empty water bottle in a trash can that is next to a recycle bin, I will move the water bottle from the trash to the recycle bin.

• I encourage others to make environmentally conscious decisions.

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