In spring of 2008 I stopped using plastic bags because I learned that millions of our plastic bags are in the Pacific Ocean killing birds and fish. In the spring at Santa Monica College I heard Marcus Eriksen read from his book "My River Home: A Journey from the Gulf War to the Gulf of Mexico" about taking a raft he made of soda pop bottles down the whole length of the Mississippi. Eriksen worked for Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, California, which does research on plastic bags in the Pacific Ocean. In late spring he and his colleague took Junk, a raft they made out of plastic, and sailed it from California to Hawaii doing research all the while on plastics in the ocean.
I decided if Erikesen could sail the raft across the Pacific I'd quit using plastic bags. Whenever I went grocery shopping, I trained myself in a new habit of bringing my cloth bags to haul my groceries home. A lot of community groups gave out free cloth bags so I have quite a collection. I also bought organic cloth bags for $30 to bag fruits and vegetables rather than using the small plastic grocery store bags. I don't have all these plastic or paper bags cluttering up my drawers or needing to be recylcled, so cloth bags are definitely more convenient.
Also, I started composting in my mother's backyard. I took a class in composting that the L.A. Parks and Recreating holds at its Griffith Park composting facility:
After the class I bought one of the low-cost big green composting bins they had for sale. Learning how to compost was very easy, and I got two households to compost: mine and my mother's. Actually it was amazing to watch how the compost reduced itself. Keeping up the compost doesn't take much time--just add more fruits, vegetables, leaves, lawn clippings and water. One needn't take a class. In a half hour Internet research one can find out how to compost. By composting, getting rid of the plastic bags, and recycling all paper, metal, and plastic in the blue bins, I've reduced my trash for landfill quite a lot.
Also in 2008 I helped plant three trees. I donated money to Treepeople to plant a tree as a memorial for two friends who had died: my mother's old friend Delores Smith and our family friend Dr. Saul Niedorf. I find it comforting that out there in Southern California there is the Delores Smith tree and also the Dr. Saul Niedorf tree growing.Treepeople, who have planted one million trees in the Los Angeles area, can be found online at
I also got a free tree from the Los Angeles Conservation Corps which was planted in the parkway in front of my mother's house and I've ordered another tree from them for the parkway. In Los Angeles people can get free trees from either Los Angeles Conservation Corps or LA DWP as part of Mayor Villaraigosa's initiative to plant a million trees My mother's garden already has a fig tree, an orange tree, a tangerine tree, and a lemon tree, and we've ordered a fuji apple tree. I've also had bougainvillea planted around my mother's back window to shield the house from the sun.
In the spring my brother and I planted our first vegetable garden in my mother's backyard. I figured if I want to green the earth I'd start by learning about our backyard soil, so did a test to see how quickly the soil absorbs water and also put store-bought compst to improve it before we planted We used Pat Welsh's excellent book "Southern California Gardening: A Month-by-Month Guide" as our bible. We planted corn, beans, tomatoes, carrots, watermelon, strawberries, radishes, and herbs--basil, sage, parsley, rosemary. I used the basil to make pesto, the carrots to make carrot cake, and we enjoyed eating the corn. We didn't plant in the fall but I want to resume planting as soon as possible. Though a few things didn't work out--the watermelon, for instance or the zuchinni--but we learned a lot and are proud of our first vegetable and herb garden. I had to learn how to dry and store our rosemary and sage.
Lastly, when my mother's water heater broke, I got her a tankless water heater which saves energy and water. The tankless water heater does cost more than the gas water heater, but over the long run it will reduce electricity and water bills so the cost between the two water heaters will be the same. My mother's washing machine also quit, so I got a Energy star washing machine and a $200 rebate from L.A. DWP. We got a rebate for the tankless water heater also. I've been trying to buy all paper products which are recycled as well as non-toxic cleaners such as Bon Ami cleanser and Trader Jo's cedarwood and sage multi-purpose cleaner. By careful shopping at stores like Trader Jo and Vons one can find non-toxic cleansers and paper that are about the same in price as the standard cleansers and paper goods or only a bit more.
I've also enjoyed the whole process of going green this year, especially the gardening. I love to cook, and love to go to the garden, clip off rosemary or sage or tomatoes or lemons from the lemon tree--nothing could be finer. I'm sorry we let the garden go fallow in the fall but hope we'll have a bigger, better garden using our own compost. In the end I think I saved money through all these measures. Now my brother I am are planning our garden so we'll soon do a winter planting but we live in L.A. and crops grow year round!