Sometimes, it's what you don't buy that's most important for being environmentally conscious and avoiding toxics in your everyday life.
"Stop being a throwaway society," said Lilibet Clarke, one of the coordinators of the Green Community Festival held the last Saturday of each October in downtown Peapack-Gladstone.
The event — designed to give people tips on how to go green on a regular basis, and to showcase businesses that sell organic products or preserve the environment — each year attracts both visitors and participants from throughout the Somerset Hills area.
Clarke has adapted some of her own habits to avoid adding trash to landfills.
Instead of grabbing disposable utensils or purchasing a stream of styrofoam or paper cups, Clarke carries a set of bamboo silverware and her own coffee cup for use whenever she picks up a meal or coffee on the run.
"I have never been turned down," even in convenience stores, she said.
Other ideas she puts into effect in her own life include mixing her own household cleaner, made of vinegar and baking soda, and storing it in old glass bottles to which she adds a spray top. A squeeze of lemon can work wonders for refreshing a sink, she said.
"You don't have to go out and buy all that plastic," Clarke said. "It's toxic," she added of the many of the ingredients in common household cleaners and other products.
Her other advice might be as appealing to penny-pinchers as to Mother Earth.
"Get things repaired instead of just tossing them," Clarke advised. Make a list when heading into a store — and stick to it — instead of just picking up items with enticing packaging, she said.
Clarke suggested Care2.com as a good online source for suggestions of habits to adopt in everyday life.
Longstanding habits of thriftiness may finally be coming back into vogue. The English Farm in Liberty Corner, for example, sells its eggs in recycled egg cartons and asks that customers return the cartons when they come back to purchase more fresh-off-the-farm eggs. (The eggs taste great, too.)
Joseph Speeney, chairman of the Bernards Township environmental commission, has been a longstanding proponent of having local residents, including multi-family housing developments, adopt organic lawn care. Such products are safer for both people and pets, said Speeney and others who support abandoning chemical lawn pesticides and fertilizers.
Speeney said everything residents need to know is online at the township's website.
A list of organic lawn care providers in New Jersey also is online, he said.
"My next biggest hot button is indoor air quality, impacted by cleaners, paints, radon, ventilation system, etc.," Speeney said. He said some tips are on a government website.
"In our home we clean with white vinegar, and have a pretty serious HVAC system and hydronic radiant floor heat throughout, a HEPA air exchanger, radon fan, and no-radon granite," Speeney said. He said he uses paints that emit no or minimal toxic fumes.
Although he didn't start the program, Speeney has been a vocal supporter of the township's decision to go pesticide-free in caring for municipal parks and other public properties, a program put into effect a few years ago. The school district later adopted a similar policy.
Speeney said he is encouraging the township school system to adopt an indoor air quality program that would switch to the use of non-toxic paints and green cleaners.
Speeney said the environmental commission will hold an Organic Lawn Care Poster Contest for township fifth graders, with final judging to be later in May. A pesticide-free t-shirt will be given away to each school's winner, he said.
"The key message is that organic lawn care basics are easy enough for a child to understand," Speeney said.
Advice for oganic gardening also comes from a manager at Back to Nature Home & Gardens, which just opened off Valley Road on Earth Day, April 22:
“After a long, cold winter we are all ready for warm weather! What better way to get in the spirit, than to go outside and plant organic vegetables,” said Amy Seuberth, managing partner at Back to Nature. She offered a few tips for getting started.
Deep, Rich Soil: Building up your soil is the most important factor in increasing your vegetable turnout. A deep, rich soil means stronger, deeper roots which enables more nutrients and water to reach the plants. The fastest way to get a deep layer of fertile soil is a raised bed.
Sunlight: Choose an area that receives at least six hours of full sunlight daily. If you do not have a sunny spot to grow, consider planting vegetables in containers so you can move them to the sunniest location (deck, driveway, etc.)
Good Drainage: Plants and their ‘helper’ organisms need air to survive. If you don’t have enough drainage they will smother. Raised beds are good choice for increasing drainage.
Space Smartly: Overly tight spaces can stress plants and make them more susceptible to disease and insect attack. Too much space can increase weeds. For example, lettuce should be planted with 6 to 12 inches between plants, and 1 to 3 feet between rows. Carrots need 3 to 4 inches between plants and 16 to 30 inches between rows. To reap optimal results make sure tonote the correct spacing needs for your vegetables prior to planting.
Grow Vertically: Grow space hungry vine crops, such as tomatoes, beans, squash and melons, vertically on trellises, fences, or stakes. This will add visual height and interest to your garden. Your plants will also be less prone to fungal diseases because of improved air circulation.