Sustainability in Suburbia
As the green spears of daffodil leaves start to pierce the soil I am reminded that a year has passed since my family was served with a county code enforcement complaint about our home. We do not aspire to have an emerald green lawn, boxy borders of evergreen hedges, and showy yet stinky Bradford pear trees. Our lot is a quilt of forest, fruit trees, raspberry and blackberry brambles, kiwi vines, blueberry bushes, vegetables, herbs, native plants, and other ornamentals.
We have been glad to answer neighbors’ questions about what we’ve put into the ground, and what’s going in next. Other neighbors have found our adventures in balancing “pretty” and “productive” landscaping to be unsavory and abnormal. This experience in keeping the “green” in greenery made me think about how people can uphold sustainable living while being a part of suburban sprawl.
Three areas of sustainability that reduce human impacts on the environment point to the green mantra that most people are familiar with: reduce, reuse, recycle. It turns out that the things that my family does to be environmentally conscientious have also saved us money. Let’s take a look at some of these cash and Earth saving ideas in the context of this anonymously submitted complaint.
One of the items on the list was that we had containers and trash cans in our driveway (not a violation if the containers are covered). These were holding trash and recyclables. Recycling or even redeeming plastics, newspapers, junk mail, cans, and glass bottles is an activity that many people already do. We were able to find a recycling facility that accepts commingled recyclables for free, saving us about $50/year. In fact, due to how much we recycle, we end up collecting more recyclables than we accumulate trash.
We are trying to take this a step further by buying products with less or no packaging. Some ways to do this are by growing and sharing your own produce, shopping at farmers’ markets, and finding other local sources of goods. We save money by giving friends fresh, plump blackberries and potted herbs as gifts for summer soirees or just because. Seeds harvested after the fall crops have senesced are also welcomed for trade or as gifts.
Diligent watering is necessary for the garden to survive the heat of a southern summer. For the past two years we have been harvesting rain water from our roof. Our homemade rain barrels (encouraged by the county, not a violation) are made from 55-gallon food-grade drums that we got for $25 each. With six of them set up we can harvest about 300 gallons of water to be used in our vegetable, fruit, and flower gardens that surround our home. Using less county water has cut our monthly bill by a third.
Finally, our biggest “reduce, reuse, recycle” money saving project has been reusing building materials. When we moved into our house there was a huge, poorly built deck attached to the back. With the help of a few strong friends, we were able to take it apart while keeping most of the wooden boards intact (a violation if the wood is not stored inside a garage or shed). We have since made several large raised garden beds for asparagus and seasonal crops, terraces for strawberries, a cold frame, and raised platforms for the rain barrels to make draining them more efficient. We also built what was noted on the code enforcement complaint as an “unsightly wooden box”. The unsightly wooden box is a castle, a rocket ship, the Millennium Falcon, a picnic area, and a refuge from lava – in other words, a fort for the kids (not a violation).
Suburbia – where McMansions sprout out of humble old homesteads, more plastic water bottles end up in the trash than in recycling, and little white signs with a red circle-backslash over a round headed family warn of a chemically sprayed lawn. People are constantly bombarded with green media – is too much diluting the real message? Here is the message: Everything is interconnected. We share the air, land, and water. Use natural resources with care – and they will take care of you.