Great Songs with an Environmental Message

Music, they say, is a universal language. No matter the instrument or where the music comes from– the notes, chords and scales are the same. They just work. There is no space between B and C or E and F on all instruments. We are all tuned internally and whether we can play it or not, we know what sounds right.

And they say music reflects the sentiments of the culture, from Blues to Rap. And for me, it seems like song-writers can often tap into the collective consciousness allowing us to really relate to certain songs.

Some of these songs have been around for half of a century now, playing in the background and in our subconscious. They have strong messages that are still relevant today.

Of course art is subject to interpretation. So some of these songs are commonly interpreted as having an environmental message, and some just really resonated with me. You can google “songs with an environmental message” and get many hits, with different interpretations of songs.

Here are some, from my perspective, that have really impacted me and why:

Last Great American Whale – Lou Reed – Listening to this song with a couple friends twenty years ago really helped shape my attitude toward environmentalism. In the second part of the song he sings:

Well Americans don’t care for much of anything
land and water the least
And animal life is low on the totem pole
with human life not worth much more than infected yeast

Americans don’t care too much for beauty
They’ll shit in a river, dump battery acid in a stream
They’ll watch dead rats wash up on the beach
and complain if they can’t swim

After the song one friend Jeff comments on how it’s cool the song has such a strong environmental message. Then Jack says, “Yes, he points out issues but offers no solutions!” So Jeff’s reply was that as an artist/musician, he’s not an expert or scientist, and creating awareness is an important first step.

So because of this, I feel I’ve tried to practice my environmentalism with a solution-based perspective. And I’ll admit, much of it is based on the bicycle, reel mowers, and re-use, but still forms of conservation.   

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Neil Young in Telluride – Photo by Todd Reinert

After the Gold Rush – Neil Young – “We got Mother Nature on the run, in the 1970’s, look at Mother Nature on the run, in the 1970’s.” In this song the chorus is straight-forward, but the title has great insight to the issue. Not just basic human nature, but greed has really driven climate change, in my opinion.  Regardless, Neil has stood up for environmental causes throughout his career. In 2014 he and Willie Nelson played to 8,000 people in rural Nebraska to protest the Keystone Pipeline.

Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology) – Marvin Gaye – The album What’s Going On, comes from the perspective of a young African-American soldier coming back from serving in the Vietnam War. So not only does the album point out the incredible social injustices going on, but environmental injustices also, especially on this song. “Radiation in the ground, mercury in the sea, Mercy, Mercy Me!”

Burn On by Randy Newman was released in 1972 on Sail Away, a few years after the 1969 Cuyahoga River Fire. The chorus puts it well, “The Lord can make you tumble, the Lord can make you turn, the Lord can make you overflow, but the Lord can’t make you burn! Burn on big river, burn on.”

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Photo from 1952 Cuyahoga River Fire that Time used for 1969 River Fire story

Although that 1969 Fire wasn’t the only time the river burned, and was not the most destructive, it got the most attention and made us aware of how polluted our rivers were from decades of dumping industrial waste. The Clean Water Act of 1972 was a result of this and other environmental disasters that were caused by the attitude that pollution was a necessary and acceptable consequence of industry. The Burning River That Sparked a Revolution

How the West was Won /  Wake-up Bomb / Low Desert – REM –  New Adventures in Hi-Fi was released in 1996 and was their 10th album. These three songs scream environmental messages, to me. How the West was Won is the first song on the album and sets the tone. The first verse then chorus;

Blood from a stone
Water from wine
Born under an ill-placed design
A stroke of bad luck,
Wrong place, wrong time
This flier is out of the lime

[Chorus]
The story is a sad one, told many times
The story of my life in trying times
Just add water, stir in lime
How the west was won and where it got us

The way we’ve settled the West, manipulated the scarce water resource, is an “ill-placed design”.

Then the song Wake-up Bomb is obvious to me, because we need to wake the hell up!

The first verse of Low Desert is about a car crash, but I think the whole song is a metaphor about society and our impending environmental car-crash. It’s a perfect metaphor. The crash takes place “where we never belong, and people thrive on their own contempt”. So, “if you had to guess or make a bet, would you place yourself inside of it?”

Idioteque by Radiohead – This song is commonly interpreted as having a strong environmental message, though the band doesn’t say. How can we not interpret some of these lyrics, with the haunting and intense music, as a commentary on our greed, over-consumption, and views on climate change?

“Everything all of the time. Ice age coming and Ice age coming, let me hear both sides, let me here both sides. Throw it in the fire. We’re not scaremongering, this is really happening, this is really happening. Take the money and run take the money and run. Everything all of the time.”

Where Do the Children Play? – Cat Stevens – This song was in Harold and Maudeand on the soundtrack, but it was written and released before the movie, also in the early 70’s. What I’ve always appreciated about this song is that he acknowledges that there are benefits with progress, while pointing out that there are faults also.

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Whoops – Blues Traveler – He has so much to say in this song that I don’t need to interpret any of it, just listen to it. “We’re cutting down the air we breathe.” “Earth was a Heaven and we did not know.”

These songs, this music, came with the beginning of the environmental movement in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, after Rachael Carlson wrote Silent Spring, and environmental disasters happened from the Cuyahoga River to the Love Canal. But there also seemed to be much more put out again in the 1990’s, after, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, we started hearing about Global Warming, and Al Gore put out Earth in the Balance.

There are so many more of these songs with subtle and not-so-subtle messages. Thank you to the artists that make us think and put these messages out there!

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Why I Live a Car-Free Life and What I Get from it

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First, I suppose I should make a disclaimer, I haven’t owned a car in 10 years but I have used and ridden in friends’ cars over that time. And I will again, but not owning a car works for me. So there is another disclaimer, although it is not totally genuine. I’ve been told more than once that it is easier for me, as an avid cyclist, than it is for most, but I still think we can all depend on cars less. Yes, there are compromises but the trade-offs are so worth it. “Live simply” isn’t just a bumper sticker, and oh the irony. Ever since I worked at SmartTrips from 2000 to 2004 promoting alternative transportation, especially bicycles, I have been told that “it’s not as easy for everybody as it is for you.” I’m going to say that it is for a lot of the athletic people out there. How much energy, effort and money do people put into skiing and even learning to ski? But that’s the thing, it’s an attitude, and it offends people. It’s choices. Living close to work may not make for the first choice in jobs or where you live, but to me, being outside more, experiencing the seasons, and so much more, makes it worth it. I don’t mean to sound like I have all of the answers, no where close. I have had two surgeries in the last two years for two different over-use injuries, and have been in and out of work because of that. I don’t like offending people either, but I am a little passionate about this.

The point is, I love it, being Car-free and using a bike to commute. And I just want to spread the good word. There are so many reasons, here are two of my earlier blogs showing a few, So many reasons for Conserving Fossil Fuels other than Climate Change and Cost$ of owning a car v. bike commuting costs.

I heard someone else say this once but I agree, “Whether I’m having a good day or a bad day, if I get on my bike it always gets better.” It’s true, if it’s a bad day at work, or we just lost a soccer game, at least I get to ride my bike after. I love dressing for the weather and being outside, and granted, sometimes it’s hard, but so is being in traffic. I like never being stuck in traffic.

The Why:

I have always ridden a bike and loved it, it just made sense to me. As a kid in Memphis I was way into soccer. Before I had my driver’s license I got onto a travel team but didn’t have a ride to all of the after-school practices. I thought I couldn’t be on the team because I couldn’t get a ride, but I could ride my bike less than two miles each way, so I made the team.

When I moved to Ft. Collins in 1992 the wide streets, ample bike lanes and bike trails made it easier, as well as the culture and attitude. So I loved being able to ride my bike to work on a daily basis, because as a FedEx driver I was stuck inside a vehicle all day. The benefits were more personal as my environmental ethic would develop from here. Bike tour - Glacier

In 1998 I  hitched a ride with some friends to Portland, Oregon. From there I got on my bike and rode north on 101 around the Olympic Peninsula, then east across the country to the coast of Maine, down the east coast and Blue Ridge, eventually to Memphis, Tennessee.

While riding through Glacier National Park in Montana, I camped next to an older (than me at the time) couple that was biking across the country the opposite direction. She was very nice and asked many questions as we were both setting up tents at the same time in the Bike-in campsites. At one point she asked me what I planned to do after my bike tour. I said I was considering applying for the Peace Corp. That’s when her husband spoke up, and he was really rude about it. He put down joining the Peace Corp and suggested I stay here to make a difference. He went on about it, and I was very put off by it. Some my favorite people and greatest mentors were in the Peace Corp, and were very productive in their work. And they were a big part of shaping my environmental ethic.  Like when I told my housemate Jack that I could borrow a rototiller for prepping our garden in 1993. He pulled out and showed me the dobba, his African gardening tool, basically a hand-made club with a horizontal blade, for pulling the soil apart, then breaking the clods up. He says, “No way! The majority of the world doesn’t use fossil fuels to grow their food. Why should we?” 

So, back to the rude guy in Glacier Park. He was very opinionated and almost obnoxious. His wife had to tell him to back off a few times, but some of what he said stuck with me. He said, “teach people here how to fix flats and use their bikes for commuting. Make a difference here. We’re not perfect in the US!” When I got back to Fort Collins shortly after my bike tour I never did apply for the Peace Corp, but was offered an hourly position at SmartTrips, a city program promoting alternative transportation, especially bicycles. Down my path I went.

SoldiasI worked at SmartTrips for four years, and lived on Soldias farm the last two of those. The farm was 12 miles outside of town, but because of my bike tour I was comfortable in the weather, I had all of the gear, and I liked the long rides, so I tried not to drive into town more than once a week.

After working at SmartTrips and moving to town, I started my bike courier service in 2005 hoping to create a business based on conservation and a career in sustainability, also as a positive protest to invading Iraq. Again, it just made sense to me. I was comfortable on a bike year around, I knew the town well being a FedEx courier and doing most of SmartTrips deliveries and errands by bicycle. Since I had been in town for a while and wasn’t using my car, and it had stopped running from not being used and maintained anyway, I was happy to get rid of it when the opportunity presented itself.

Now I’ve been officially Car-Free for 10 years and I embrace it more and more! There are trade-offs but they are so worth it to me. I still have a ways to go figuring it all out, but that’s life.

Here are just a few Benefits:

  • Daily Exercise, it feels good to get the blood pumping on a regular basis.
  • Outside more, experience the seasons.
  • Less stress, never stuck in traffic.
  • Bike commuting is very social. You can ride and chat with someone going your way, or stop and talk much easier than when in a car.
  • Money savings (gas, insurance, maintenance, car note)
  • Not contributing to:
    • Oil company profits
    • Pipelines under Rivers! Destructive Oil Exploration and Transport!
    • Destroying watersheds, ecosystems and indigenous peoples water supplies to get us fuel for our cars.
    • Adding Greenhouse Gases causing Climate Change
  • Learn to appreciate staying closer, and all our town has to offer!
  • It’s more fun!

Thanks for reading another one of my rants!

To Protest All Pipelines Boycott Oil Companies at the Gas Pump!

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The success so far, and support of The Sacred Stone Protest Camp has been amazing and awesome! The wisdom, authority (in so many ways), and organization of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others, has led to a halt in construction of the Dakota Access pipeline for now, which sets a precedent. JUDGE DENIES PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION, BUT OBAMA ADMINISTRATION HALTS CONSTRUCTION AT MISSOURI RIVER CROSSING.

The general premise for this protest is that all pipelines leak and pollute water supplies, and that the Dakota Access Pipeline is going right through their only water supply, so they they don’t want it. Seems reasonable. Dakota Access is planning on running the pipeline under the Missouri River.

This happened in 2011 when the pipeline ruptured under the Yellowstone River, Ruptured Pipeline Spills Oil Into Yellowstone River.

NY Times article “Ruptured Pipeline Spills Oil into Yellowstone River” and photo

In my opinion, because of the times where people are more and more empowered to stand up for what is right, enabled by social media and other movements, and because of so many past wrongs, The Sacred Stone Protest Camp has been successful. So let’s build on that, continue to support those tribes, and reduce our consumption of oil.

For decades major oil companies have been destroying water supplies of indigenous people around the globe, like in The Niger Delta. There are unprecedented rates of cancer among the indigenous tribes in that region from all of the oil development. Here is a NY Times article and quote on what the major oil companies have done to the Niger Delta, Far From Gulf, a Spill Scourge 5 Decades Old, “The Niger Delta, where the wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface, has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates.”

There were similar, successful protests recently in the Amazon, http://amazonwatch.org/news/2016/0324-indigenous-women-unite-to-defend-the-amazon-mother-earth-and-climate-justice.

There is water contamination, habitat destruction, old growth forest removal, and more happening all over the globe for oil. We can’t burn oil to go to every protest, but we can stop using their product. We can stop giving them our money to continue this shit. Boycott as a form of protest! Ride your bike, use the bus. Don’t give those oil companies your money. Every time we go to the pump we’re supporting what the oil companies are doing.

We can also support politicians like John Kefalis, who proposes bills for a Front Range commuter rail, and is up for re-election in the fall.

It’s easy for me to use a bike for transportation as a life-long cyclist, fit dude with no kids, and my cross-country bike tour hardened me a little. I know cars are necessary for most. But we’ve been duped, tricked and fooled by the oil and auto industry for a century. See my post about the Great American Streetcar Scandal, What do Roger Ratrailer and gas pricebbit, George Bush Sr and Cuba have in common?, or just google it.

We have to treat oil like the precious resource that it is, and conserve it as much as possible. Just because it’s cheap for us, doesn’t mean we should burn it carelessly. And really, it’s not cheap when you consider all of the subsidies it gets and how much our military protects the transport of oil around the world! (see this post, So many reasons for Conserving Fossil Fuels other than Climate Change)

 

Car-Free Knee Rehab!

20160831_102205Well, I got me knee scoped a week and a half a go, and the Doc said that I can ride my bike already. Just have to be careful, build up, and do my exercises. Woot!

So, I did get a ride to surgery from my friend Todd. But as I was coming off the anesthesia his wife was getting off work from the hospital. So  I was able to “carpool” home from my surgery with my friend Jenny.

Then, I rode the bus to and from my first physical therapy/Doctor appointment. And he told me that I can already ride my bike!

Riding the bus took a little 20160831_105640more time that getting a ride, or even riding my bike, but I still saved a car trip and didn’t need to bother anyone else. Now I realize that I could have used the bus last year during my hip rehab and had a car-free hip rehab. Now I know.

Transfort, Fort Collins’ bus system, does service all of town, but many routes only run hourly. If you can’t use your bike or walk the whole way, you can make Transfort work. Here is the route map, http://www.ridetransfort.com/img/site_specific/uploads/ALL_ROUTES_MAP.pdf.

iridetherforeisaveWhen the Downtown Transit Center (DTC) first opened I worked for SmartTrips and had an office there. So I almost enjoy transfers at the DTC. That building definitely has a female ghost from the Old West when it was the train depot.

I’m glad I had my recent bus adventure. Now I’m comfortable using the bus when I can’t get there on my bike. It’s getting easier and easier to live without a car.

I do admit I would rather commute by bicycle, but the bus is a good back-up for saving a car trip!

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So grateful that the doctor said I can ride my bike instead of having to use a stationary bike for rehab!

Both Gas-free Lawn Care and Native Grass Lawns are about Conservation

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I started my bike courier service, my reel mower sharpening shop, my blog and the gas-free lawn care service all to promote conservation, and more specifically, to help use less gas.

I most recently started the Gas-free lawn care service because I have all of the equipment for it, and hod carrying was way too hard on my body. In the middle of May the constant heavy lifting at work hurt my knee. So I had to quit the stone mason job. It was good timing as I was just getting busy in my shop sharpening reel mowers. And I had wanted to offer Gas-free Lawn Care since Enviro Lawn Care left town a couple years ago. It just made sense. So I started :

Rob’s Gas-Free Lawn Care and more

Using Reel Mowers, Hand Tools, and travelling by Bike and Trailer only, to maintain lawns quietly and non-polluting, in North Fort Collins! Human-Powered, Gas-Free Lawn Care;

  • Basic Service – Lawn mowing using a Fiskars Reel Mower (human powered), which cuts the grass quietly, and like a pair of scissors. This is better for the grass plant, opposed to the violent, impact cut from rotary mowers (gas or electric).
    • Trimming grass, bushes, and shrubs with hand clippers or shears
    • Edging the lawn with hand edger, able to create an edge with spade if needed
    • (Quiet) Clean-up using broom and rake, no leaf blowers!
  • Additional Services –
    • Yard waste removal, by bicycle and trailer
    • Fertilize with push spreader using organic fertilizer
    • Hauling by bike and trailer (hourly rates)
    • Garden tilling, by hand, with garden fork or rake (hourly rates)
    • Shrub and Tree (low level) pruning with hand loppers or shears (hourly rates)
    • Compost set-up (hourly rates)
    • Minor Xeriscaping and Native planting help (hourly rates)

No more expensive than traditional lawn care but quiet and non-polluting, without burning any fossil fuels at all! Call Rob for a quote at 970-231-6794.


And other things fell into place too, like finding everything I needed second-hand, at yard sales, thrift stores and on Craigslist. That Fiskars mower I have really does work well, and new it costs $250, but I got it off of Craigslist for $100. Then shortly after that, I sold two mowers without even trying, which paid for the Fiskars. When getting advice from Marty who did this here before, he called that Fiskars mower a “real workhorse”.

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Marty suggested getting an electric/rechargeable line trimmer to make trimming faster. But I can’t do it at this point because first, human power works!, and then there are so many environmental impacts that go with; rechargeable batteries, new plastic products, and products from China.

Plus, I keep finding great lawn and garden equipment really cheap at yard sales and thrift stores.


An example of the “and more” part in the photo below, which includes minor landscaping, xeriscaping, pruning, garden or compost set-up, and native planting.

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Over a thousand pounds of flagstone hauled by bike and path installed with hand tools

Bikes and reel mowers are great, practical tools for saving oil from being extracted, refined, transported and burned. Using both bikes and reel mowers on a regular basis helps keep us fit also.

But greater conservation, especially of water, can be achieved when sustainable concepts like Xeriscaping and planting native grass lawns, are applied first.

We are in a semi-arid, high desert climate with an average of only 12-14 inches of rainfall per year. We also get more than half of our municipal water supply from the Colorado River, on the other side of the Continental Divide. So Kentucky Bluegrass doesn’t really make sense when Buffalo and Blue Grama native grasses grow so well here without nearly as much water. But Kentucky Bluegrass is what’s planted and many folks rent or don’t know how to change their lawns.

Another component of the “and more” part to Rob’s Gas-free Lawn Care and More, is that I offer to help customers take out their non-native grass lawns and plant native grasses. So if you want a turf-like lawn, I think planting Buffalograss and mowing it with a reel mower makes for a very “green” lawn.

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Cody Buffalograss
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This yard is Cody Buffalograss. It is more turf-like, doesn’t need water and can be mowed to look like a lawn.
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Yard with all Blue Grama. It doesn’t need to be watered and the city allows you to let it grow without mowing it. This yard hasn’t been watered, besides rain, all year and the photo was taken in late July.

Bike-In Campsites do so much for the Local Bicycle Community

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Bike Campsite somewhere on the Northern Tier Route

Campgrounds throughout the Pacific Northwest have campsites just for bicyclists. These campsites cost less because they have less impact, use less space and fewer resources than car sites or RV sites.

This is the case with all agencies’ campgrounds, from US Forest Service campgrounds, State and County level campgrounds, to a Corp of Engineers campground near a dam in northern Idaho. That COE campground has a bike-in area with four tent pads, a fire ring, bike rack and a picnic table that was built as an Eagle Scout project.

States like Washington, Idaho and Montana recognize the value in campsites for cyclists. According to the Washington Bikes website, http://wabikes.org/2015/01/08/bicycling-means-business-in-wa/, “Bicycle riders spend over $3.1 billion in the Washington state economy and outdoor recreation contributes significantly to supporting rural economies statewide.”

I was able to camp at many of the sites in the Northwest when riding Adventure Cycling’s Northern Tier route in 1998, https://www.adventurecycling.org/routes-and-maps/adventure-cycling-route-network/northern-tier/.

So living in Fort Collins as a full-time bike commuter and bicycle advocate, I wonder why there are no bicycle campsites at any of the many different agency campgrounds in Larimer County. We are even lucky enough to have a well-funded City Natural Areas program, which owns and protects large swaths of land outside the city, within a days ride or half a days ride from town. Between Soapstone, Bobcat Ridge and Gateway Park, it would be easy for the City of Fort Collins, which works so hard to be a high-level bicycle community, to build at least one bike-in camp area and then use it to help promote bicycle travel. I have mentioned this to both the Director of Natural Resources and the Bike Coordinator for the city several times.

I think that there are two big, indirect benefits from installing bicycle campsites in our regions’ campgrounds. First, if you build it they will come. If maps show a bike-in campsite within less than a days ride from strong bicycle community, people will ride to it. And they’ll buy the gear for it. So if they have gear for bike travel, and are strong enough for it, then they have gear and are strong enough for bike commuting year around.

Second, multiple campgrounds with bicycle campsites within a region will bring in bicycle tourism and generate positive revenue, as shown in the Washington Bikes article above and the following story from Montana Public Radio..  http://mtpr.org/post/four-montana-state-parks-getting-new-bicycle-campsites#stream/0.

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Adventure Cycling tour group on the same route in 1998

Working toward Zero Waste

Equinox Zero waste staion
Blocking that garbage can like a hockey goalie blocking the net!
From Wikipedia,
 The internationally recognized definition of ZERO WASTE adopted by the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) is:

“Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.”


 

The goal for the Zero Waste stations for Green Events is to recycle everything that is recyclable and compost everything that is compostable, and then send as little waste as possible to the landfill. We measure this by weight, and the six events I’ve worked we have had a 95% or better diversion rate. This means that only 5% of the waste generated at the event, by weight, goes to the landfill. The rest goes to be recycled or composted.

Vendors in this town are pretty good about buying the most eco-friendly products (utensils, cups) they can. Before the event I go around to the vendors and figure what can be recycled and composted. So besides figuring what waste goes where for the waste stations, I sometimes do this at their counters..compost me

Fortunately, most paper products can be composted, including waxy cups and paper plates with food. Paper is a natural carbon source so it actually helps balance out the nitrogen source from food, like adding dead leaves.

Although the fork in the photo is made of plastic, many vendors are getting utensils made from corn, which can be composted. You can tell if a utensil is made from corn if it bends and doesn’t brake, and typically it won’t be white, but beige. Plastic utensils break when you bend them.


 

20150920_101946My favorite part of working these events, besides satisfying my neurosis of conservation, is the way people react to my neurotic behavior. I really do block the garbage can with cardboard and eyeball everything being thrown out. I’ll make people wait in line so that I can make sure everything goes in the correct bin. And most people appreciate it. I get many people telling me “Thank you for doing this”, or they will pull their kids aside to watch me be OCD over trash.

So the international definition tells us that the concept ‘Zero Waste’ is not literal, but a goal, to guide us toward Zero Waste.

For bringing the Zero Waste concept home, besides recycling, I think a home compost system is key. Even if you don’t garden, you you can still use your finished compost to fertilize your lawn, trees, shrubs and flowers, while you avoid throwing food into the landfill. See.. A Home Compost System is the Backbone to a good Garden!