When autumn leaves start to fall

colorful leaf on a lawnRight about now your yard is likely filling up with leaves. But instead of raking, blowing, and bagging them, you can put these leaves to good use and help protect the environment: just mulch them with your lawn mower. Mulching provides a natural lawn fertilizer, helps prevent weed growth, conserves water and protects waterways from runoff pollution.

Some tips:

  • Mulch when leaves are dry or only slightly wet.
  • Set the mower blade to its highest setting.
  • Remove the bag that collects clippings.
  • With heavy leaf cover, you may need to make more than one pass. Make the second pass at right angles, perpendicular to the first.
  • Reduce leaf clutter to dime-size pieces.
  • You’re done when about half an inch of grass can be seen through mulched leaf layer.
    • If you’re done and can’t see any grass whatsoever, reattach the bag and go over the grass one last time to pick up some of the leaves. Place bagged leaves in your garden beds or compost pile.
  • Consider mulching on a weekly basis during the height of the season to prevent a challenging amount of leaves from accumulating.

You can mulch leaves with any type of lawn mower. If you prefer a mulching blade, they can be purchased at most hardware and home improvement stores.

If mulching isn’t an option, you can bring your leaves to a community collection center. Some yard waste drop-off facilities also offer residents opportunities to obtain mulch or compost at low cost. Search RecycleSpot to find a center near you.

A number of communities also offer curbside yard waste collection in addition to regular trash and recycling services. Search by community in RecycleSpot to see if your city has this service (and call to verify). If you don’t have municipal leaf and brush curbside collection, there are private companies that also manage lawn refuse. RecycleSpot includes a list of many providers; contact them to find out about costs and procedures.

Zoo’s penguin exhibit built with animals and environment in mind

Helzberg-Penguins-Blog-Post-PhotoThe Kansas City Zoo buzzed with activity when it opened the new Helzberg Penguin Plaza in October. The new facility was designed with both penguins and the environment in mind. Greenability Magazine organized a tour of the facility in January, sharing information about how the zoo made sustainable decisions when building this regional amenity.

For the penguins’ comfort, the lights in the exhibit are automated to mimic the schedule of the Southern Hemisphere. To conserve energy, the lights in the employee area turn off automatically when not in use. The air and exhaust systems turn off automatically when the doors to the outside open. Additionally, 64 solar panels were installed on the roof to offset some of the energy used in the building.

To save water, the 100,000-gallon tank is filtered instead of drained. Used water is routed to holding basins that filter, sanitize and then return clean water to the exhibit. The system processes water at a rate of 945 gallons per minute, completing a full cycle in about half an hour!

The Helzberg Penguin Plaza is also a LEED-certified building. The exhibit was constructed with 20 percent recycled material, and 75 percent of all construction waste was diverted from the landfill.

Sustainable product websites help you shop smart for the holidays

paper-art-215838_640When you’re faced with a shelf full of products, it’s hard to know what the best choice is for you and for our environment.

An easy way to help keep our air clean is to shop at locally-owned stores or markets: the shorter the distance a product has to travel, the fewer emissions enter our air. But shopping smart can reach beyond local shops. Several websites add transparency and product information to the decision-making process.

  • GoodGuide.com helps you buy “safe, healthy, green and ethical products based on scientific ratings.” Products receive scores in three categories: health, environment and society. You can look up your favorite products to learn their scores, or scan a bar code at the store using the mobile app.
  • BetterWorldShopper.org lists the top 20 best and worst companies based on five categories: environment, human rights, animal protection, community involvement and social justice. They intend to rank “every company in the world,” and you can buy the complete shopping guide for $10 (plus shipping).
  • Try to find holiday cards like these that use soy-based inks to cut down on solvents, and buy 100 percent recycled paper to reduce air pollution associated with growing and logging trees. Or, you might consider sending a Christmas e-card instead.
  • WaterPrint.net explains how much water it took to get a product to you, whether it’s your daily apple or the jeans you’re wearing. It was originally designed as a free iPhone app, but also has a mobile version available via the website.

Larger corporations have caught on to the eco-trend, as well:

  • Target recently launched its Sustainable Product Standard, designed in partnership with GoodGuide, which adds packaging and water quality scores along with GoodGuide’s rankings.
  • Last year Amazon started Vine.com, a site which determines if products are sustainable, organic or energy and water efficient, among other standards, before selling them.
  • eBay encourages green shopping with a separate site for green buyers and sellers.

With these resources, you can help our air quality AND check off all the presents on your lists this year.