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Circa 2009

There are things that we may hate to do, even though they’re part and parcel of being a responsible adult: Commuting to work, eating our vegetables, and breaking out the rags for some good, old spring cleaning. But if you consider green alternatives for each of these activities, you might enjoy them a bit more and save a few bucks to boot.

Long the province of kids, bicycles have become a viable transportation option. “Bicycle commuting is an excellent way to get exercise,” says KC Butler, who heads the non-profit California Bicycle Coalition. “It’s fun and environmentally friendly.”

Although the number of people biking to work is rising, it’s still a small percentage of total American commuters. While an estimated half of us live fewer than five miles from our jobs, according to Bicycling Magazine, only 1.67 percent of us make the trek using pedal power.

Butler would like to see more people riding their bikes, and promotes it as an everyday means of transportation and recreation. He coordinates California Bicycle Commute week each May, which features special activities organized by ride share agencies, cities, counties, employers, bicycle advocacy groups, bike shops and others who support the cause.

Not only is bicycle commuting a heart-healthy exercise, but it’s a space saver: 12 bicycles can be parked in the space that would be needed for one automobile. Traffic jams in the 29 major cities around the country cost commuters an estimated $24.3 billion each year. Driving consumes 43 percent of all oil consumed daily in the United States, and produces 60 percent of California’s smog.

Many bikes are suitable for commuting, but experts recommend that they be sturdy and equipped with fenders and lights, especially during winter months. When it comes to safety, bright clothing helps. Drivers will notice you if you have a headlight on the front of your bike and a red flashing tail light on the rear. Reflectors can strap to your ankle, or across your backpack. A helmet is mandatory equipment.

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California Bike Commute recommends choosing roads that have wide, outside lanes or paved shoulders, and they suggest that you check out the route ahead of time by driving it during your normal commute time to determine potential traffic problems. Also, make sure your bicycle is in proper working order. Not only should all mechanical parts be in good repair (e.g., brakes, tires, gears), but your seat and handlebars should be at the appropriate height.

Adapted bicycles for those who are disabled can take various shapes, from tricycles to quads (four wheels) with recumbent seats and hand pedaling. Bicycles built for two are another adapted design with such options as side-by-side hand cycles or recumbent seating. Whatever your ability, there are bicycles that can accommodate you and take you where you need to go.

Last year, my nine-year-old daughter had to plant a seed for a school science project and observe the growth of lettuce over a period of time. She was so fascinated by nature’s miracle of life that she not only nurtured the plant to maturity, but also to our family’s salad bowl. As family budgets shrink and food bills expand, growing your own food is one way to save money and resources. There’s no packaging on garden-grown vegetables. The food doesn’t have to be transported from distant farms, as your backyard garden is as local as you can get. In addition, home vegetable gardening gets you outside for some exercise as you plant, water, prune and pick.

First, consider the location and size of your vegetable garden. It must have proper drainage, good soil and appropriate sunlight. Another important detail is the arrangement of your garden. To maximize space, you may want to plant vegetables that only need limited room, and/or those that don’t grow too big. For example, watermelon or corn may not be the best choices for a small garden. In addition, put your tall-growing plants at the back side of your garden so that they do not block sunlight that smaller plants need.

Be sure that the kind of vegetables you want to plant are suitable for the specific season. Common winter and fall season vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, peas and potatoes. Summer and spring vegetables include beans, cucumbers, peppers, squash and tomatoes.

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Weeding and garden maintenance are further considerations. Weeds and foreign grasses can rob the soil of nutrients that your vegetables need. However, there is no need for chemical weed killers. A small vegetable garden can easily be weeded by hand.

To prevent access by hungry critters, such as small rodents, put a fence around your garden. Organic chemicals are an option for bugs. However, simple spraying with water is an environmentally friendly way to keep the hungry insects at bay. Those spiders and spider webs are more natural still. Spiders will prey on the insects that could be harmful to your garden. So, let them be.

If you live in an apartment or condominium, and want to do something more than water your Chia Pet, herb garden kits are one way to go. Hydroponic gardening kits, which allow you to grow vegetables in water, are another. Most hobby hydroponic gardens are less work than soil gardens because you do not have soil to till or weeds to pull; they can also be set up almost anywhere and can grow indoors year-round.

For the sake of full disclosure, I hate house cleaning. But I happen to be married to a woman who’s a bit of a clean freak. With three kids and a small dog, we try to use non-toxic and environmentally safe products. Fortunately, there are a host of green methods to make spring cleaning environmentally friendly and safe.

The quickest way to cut your cleaning time is to have less to clean. So, the first step is to let go of stuff that you never use. Go through closets, junk drawers, attics and basements and collect anything you haven’t used (or even thought about!) in over a year. Now see if any of those items could serve another purpose.

Separate out items that someone else might need. This includes clothes, books, toys, furniture and gadgets. Either donate them all to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army, or try selling them on Craigslist. There will be less clutter in your house, and you’ll lighten the load at the landfill. Now, you’re ready to clean.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), millions of tons of toxic cleaning products are washed down drains and find their way into our streams and lakes. In addition to polluting water supplies, the use of these toxic chemicals in our houses can negatively affect our health. As most people spend more than 90 percent of the time indoors, exposure to indoor environmental hazards has led to many health concerns. So buying eco-friendly cleaning supplies is a good way to protect our water resources and our bodies.

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Look for third-party certifications such as Green Seal or Ecologo to ensure that the product you’re buying is truly environmentally friendly. But you can get even greener than that: Most of your home—from carpets to toilets—can be cleaned with a combination of hot water, vinegar and baking soda. You can find a slew of recipes online. When you make your own cleansers, you bypass the costs that a manufacturer passes on to you to produce and ship a product, and you save because you don’t have to use gas to drive to the store to get it.

No matter how green your sprays and scrubs may be, if you use an entire roll of paper towels to clean your bathroom or kitchen, you’re not being eco-friendly. Instead of paper towels, try using old clothing and sheets as dusting or cleaning rags. Toss them in the wash when you’re done, and use them over and over again.

In general, sustainability experts recommend that you avoid cleaners that contain phosphates. Some dishwashing liquids and fabric softeners contain these chemicals, which promote rapid algae growth and pollute water supplies. You can eliminate the need for chemical fabric softeners by adding a cup of vinegar to your washing machine’s rinse cycle.

You can even let houseplants, herbs and hydroponic gardens do some of cleaning for you: Certain leafy greens—such as Boston ferns and English ivy—absorb toxic chemicals and help clean indoor air.

Healthier heart, stronger legs. Healthier diet, clean house. What’s not to like?

by Renne Gardner

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