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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: How to practice environmental sustainability every day

Do you strive to live a sustainable life? What does it mean to you to practice sustainability? People look to the practice of sustainability for different reasons, but many choose to reduce, reuse and recycle for the environmental benefits.  This is called environmental sustainability.  Current frustrations with recycling programs have people looking for other ways to “do their part”and many people like to include positive lifestyle changes in their plans for a new year.   The University of Florida’s sustainability experts can provide you with tips and ideas to introduce you to a sustainable lifestyle.

Where can you start?  We will provide you with some tips and ideas in the following areas: water, energy, waste, landscaping, and wildlife.

Water
Make water conservation a habit. Indoors, turn off the water while brushing your teeth and shaving.  Repair leaks and run only full loads in both the washing machine and dishwasher. Look to water conserving products such as toilets, faucets and showerheads.  Many water utilities currently have rebate programs for such products. Contact your water utility provider to see what programs they offer.

We use much of our potable water outdoors for lawns and landscapes.  Conservation of outdoor water use can be accomplished by following the principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™. Install plants that will require little to no supplemental water and if watering is needed, use a rain barrel or micro-irrigation. Maintain your automatic sprinkler system and timer seasonally to use water efficiently.  Remember, even in Florida, plants go through a dormancy period in the winter and need less water.

Energy
Do your part to reduce energy use in and around your home. You could also see a money savings on electric bills as well! Choose lamps and lights that are energy efficient and use CFL (compact fluorescent light bulbs).  CFL bulbs use about 25% the energy of incandescent bulbs. Remember, they cannot go in the trash, take them to a recycling facility. Many home improvement stores will collect the bulbs to recycle.

You can also landscape to increase energy efficiency! Plant trees to shade the air conditioner unit and cast shade over your home and yard in the summer months.  Use mulch for walkways instead of cement to keep the yard feeling cooler.

Waste
To reduce waste, be aware of what you purchase.  Recycle when possible and try to buy in bulk to eliminate excess packaging. Avoid disposable versions of products such as razors, silverware, drinking straws, pens, batteries and cups. Reuse cloth grocery bags donate unused items such as furniture and clothing.

In the landscape, mulch with recycled or by-product mulches. Choose mulches such as melaleuca, pine bark and pine straw, fallen oak leaves or chipped tree-trimmings.  By choosing the appropriate type of mulch for your landscape you can reduce weeds and erosion and even water use.

Compost items from in your yard as well as in your home. What do you do with your orange and banana peels, coffee grounds and shredded paper?  Did you know you can create a wonderful soil amendment while at the same time reducing the amount of trash you send to the landfill?  By composting these items you can reduce waste and create a free soil supplement (your plants will thank you)!

Mixing compostable materials together is easy in a compost bin.  Choose a bin that works for you and place it in an easy-to-access part of your yard.  Keep a water source nearby (rain barrels work great) and mixing tools as well.   Store your kitchen scraps indoors in a bucket and add them to the bin as needed.  Composting is easy and fun!  Get the family involved and watch your curbside trash shrink!  Practicing the “art of composting” is rewarding to both the environment and to your landscape.

Landscaping
Use the FFL checklist to help you landscape efficiently.  You can find the checklist here. Reuse items in the landscape for fun and unique yard art, reduce yard waste by planting low-maintenance plants that will require minimal pruning, and do what you can to conserve water.

Wildlife
It is important to think about native wildlife when practicing sustainability. Landscaping with wildlife in mind can be easy. Remember, if you want to provide the elements of habitat (food, water and shelter) that all sources of food should be in the form of plants. Many animals feed on berries or utilize nectar.  Contact the Extension Service for a list of plants and the animals they attract.

For more information on ways to live sustainably, contact UF/IFAS Extension Polk County at (863) 519-1041 or visit us online.  The Plant Clinic is open Monday-Friday, 9:00 am-4:00 pm to answer your gardening and landscaping questions. Visit us in person, give us a call, or email us at polkmg@ifas.ufl.edu.

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