Monthly Archives: February 2012

How to Correctly Dispose of Old Medications

Many people have expired or unused over the counter or prescription medications in their homes. They just sit there because you don’t pay attention to them once you don’t need them. With over the counter meds, you may have purchased too much, and it’s pretty common to receive more of a prescription drug than you need too. How can you correctly dispose of these medications?

You have a few options. The FDA suggests looking into community drug take-back programs, and that’s certainly a good option if it’s available for you. You can check at to see if there’s a program in your area. These programs can handle the safe disposal of medications for you.

The problem is that take-back programs aren’t available everywhere. The FDA’s next bit of advice is to check the label of the drug to see what it says about safe disposal. Some say they’re safe to flush, others are not safe to flush.

Another alternative is to throw them into the trash. To make the drugs unusable, you can mix them with something. Some suggest taking them out of the bottle so that they aren’t so easily recognized as medication. The FDA very clearly says to NOT smash capsules or tablets; just mix them with kitty litter or something else that people won’t want to go through.

They say some medications can be simply flushed down the toilet, but you need to be aware of the list for that, as well as consider the potential for environmental impact. The FDA has a list of meds they say can be flushed safely, but not every state agrees that you should do this.

What About Drugs in Our Water?

The problem with flushing medications is that you’re putting them straight into the water, and they don’t always get well filtered out. This isn’t just a problem for human consumption; it impacts wildlife as well.

This is why states such as California, Minnesota, and Florida (as well as other states) prefer that old medications go into the trash if you can’t find a take-back program or a hazardous waste program to handle them for you. California has some very clear instructions (PDF) on how to package medical waste for disposal in the trash.

That said, a major cause of medication in the water is what passes through our bodies when we use medication, not just dumping it in the toilet. If you want to limit your contribution to that, you need to think about your medication use. You may or may not be able to do anything about cutting back, depending on your own needs.

The ecological harms are still being studied, and you can learn more about that on the EPA website. If you haven’t looked at this before, you may be surprised by how many products are causing the problem, including body lotions, sunscreen, cosmetics, as well as medications. It’s great motivation to really think about the products you use, not just for your own health, but for the environment.

Just Who Are You Keeping Up With Anyhow?

It’s pretty much in our nature to be interested in what other people have. It’s interesting, and sometimes you get some neat ideas. It’s probably a part of why Pinterest has taken off so well – we like seeing what has caught other people’s attention. But really, who are you trying to keep up with when you buy stuff, and why?

I had a talk with my daughter about this recently. She was bemoaning the fact that she doesn’t have her own cell phone, iPod, etc., yet she says all her friends at school do. She’s in fourth grade, so I can well believe that these days most her friends have such things.

We had a little talk about why she doesn’t. In large part, it’s financial. I see no need to strain our budget just to have the cool gadgets. It’s under enough strain as is. But it’s also because we don’t need them, and she doesn’t need them.

She does have an MP3 player. It’s a few years old, doesn’t play games or look cool in any way. But if she wants music, it’s there for her just as soon as she recharges the batteries, and my husband has a huge library of music to go through. She’s not exactly deprived of the chance to carry her music with her if she’d like. It even plugs into her clock, which is nice since we get lousy radio reception here. It just isn’t the “right” brand.

Lots of us have the same problem even as adults. You see what someone else has, and you want it too. You end up buying stuff you don’t need and sometimes isn’t even the best choice for your own needs. That’s great for marketers, but not so great for the environment and possibly not that good for you either, especially when it means you end up spending more money than you should have.

Sure, there are times when you learn about products you really do need, are great for the environment (at least relatively speaking), etc. through friends and family. Sometimes it’s worthwhile. It’s just that more often it isn’t.

Rather than keep up with others, keep up with yourself. Really think about what it is you need. Consider which products suit your budget and sense of environmental responsibility. You’ll probably be happier with your purchases in the long run that way. You may even find that simplifying works better than buying more in some areas of your life.

How to Make the Basics of Going Green Into a Huge Sacrifice

One thing that annoys me is how some people act as though going green is a huuuuuge sacrifice. They pay attention to the bigger steps some people choose to take and declare that the environmental movement as a whole wants that for everyone, or that environmentalists want people to live in caves, that sort of thing. With just a little more effort, you can be cranky about even the smallest eco-friendly steps you can take, and make them sound like a major sacrifice.

Declare That Energy Efficient Homes Are Too Expensive

Whether you own a home already or are looking at one, decide that going energy efficient is way too expensive. Just look at the cost of all the appliances.

Pay no attention to the simple things that will save a lot of energy over time, such as insulating your hot water heater, weatherstripping doors and windows or buying a programmable thermostat. They’re all too much trouble. Pay no attention to the savings you can get for doing each of these things.

Certainly don’t consider buying energy efficient appliances when you actually need one. Efficiency doesn’t have to be a consideration, does it?

Don’t Worry About Personal Care Product Safety

Ugh. Someone wants you to research the safety of the stuff you use to take care of yourself? Shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, moisturizer and all that? That’s way more trouble than it’s worth. You probably expect me to make it all at home myself, right?

Dismiss the mild toxicity of some of the ingredients. It hasn’t bothered you yet, so why should it matter? Certainly don’t bother to consider the safer products that are right there on the store shelf too. ┬áCan’t be as good as what you’re used to using.

Skip the Reusable Bags

Bringing your own bad to the store is just way too much trouble. You might even have a few, but actually bring them? Too much trouble and way too embarrassing. Besides, you like saving up those plastic bags for when you need them and just throwing out the excess.

Never Combine Errands

You’ve got a lot to do, but there’s no need to be efficient about it just because it’s better for the environment. You can just ignore the benefits to your own day.

Don’t Keep Your Tires Properly Inflated

You don’t really need to worry about gas mileage or wearing out your tires sooner than necessary, do you? You can just fill up as needed, and replace the tires when the wear is too much. No big deal, right?

Keep Drinking That Bottled Water

Tap water? Carrying a reusable water bottle? That’s just not for you. Besides, you love the taste of your preferred brand. Cost isn’t a factor, waste isn’t a factor. It’s just too inconvenient to head for the tap every time you need a drink of water or to refill your bottle. Far better to get a supply at the store and just crack open a new one.

Skip the Recycling Bin

It doesn’t matter if your area wants all recyclables in one bin or sorted by type. It’s way too much trouble to think before you throw it in the trash. Just throw it all away. Not like you benefit personally anyhow.

Keep Using Those Harsh Chemicals to Clean Your Home

It doesn’t matter that you have to use gloves when you’re cleaning your house or that you have to keep your cleaning supplies well away from children. They’re powerful and make cleaning a lot easier. You’re not worried about what they put into the air of your home or that they make your eyes water if you forget to open the window. Besides, you don’t really trust that simple things like vinegar and baking soda can really do the job. They probably take too much time and effort to use anyhow.

Obviously, I’m being sarcastic in the above. These are things I’ve done, and not one is all that hard, certainly not harder than skipping them, and most I like better.

How Does Your School’s Garden Grow?

My kids’ school has been pretty interesting this year. It’s an International Baccalaureate candidate school, so they’re trying a lot of new things right now. Each class has taken on a community project. For my son’s class, that’s starting a garden at the school.

School gardens have become more popular in recent years. School have come to see the value of gardening as a way to teach science to children and to show them what fresh produce looks like. Students get to see how seeds grow into plants and how plants produce fruits, vegetables and flowers. They can learn about bees and insects which are valuable to the life cycle of the plants, and the ones which are damaging to it.

Our school is just starting it’s gardens. This weekend they had volunteers come on campus to prepare garden beds, and they’re having a seed drive to collect seeds. We sent quite a number from my husband’s stash of seed, as in our current situation we just don’t have the space to plant many of them.

Later this week, the school will have groups of students planting seeds. The plan is to grow both vegetables and flowers for the kids. It’s not going to be easy, as not all the spaces chosen for gardening have sprinklers installed already, and those areas will have to be watered manually.

If your children’s school is gardening already, I hope it’s a wonderful experience for them. If not, maybe it’s a good time to bring up the subject and see what it would take to put aside a little space for a school garden. It doesn’t have to be huge, just enough space to be educational. Civil Eats has a good article on a few school garden programs across the country.

Is Your Community Walkable?

One of the easiest ways to get some exercise is to take a walk. All you really need are your feet and a place to walk. Sadly, a good place to walk isn’t something all communities provide, as many were designed more with driving in mind. Some neighborhoods don’t even have sidewalks, so people who want to walk there have the choice of walking on other people’s lawns or on the street, neither of which are really great options.

Walkable doesn’t just mean you can take a walk around the block for exercise, of course. A community is even more walkable if you can reasonably walk (or bike) to do errands such as going to the store or to school, or even to work.

What’s the Problem?

A big part of the problem is that many people live far from work, making it impossible for them to consider walking or riding to work. That can be a reasonable choice, such as when you change jobs and it’s farther from the home you already live in, or if your work isn’t in a safe neighborhood. These things happen.

My husband’s job, for example, is in a downtown area that coworkers immediately warned him we would not want to be in. We got lots of advice from them on better areas to live in, and eventually picked one. None of the places would have been even biking distance, especially in wet weather or much of summer, when temperatures often break 100┬║ F.

Many people don’t have shopping conveniently near either. Admittedly, groceries get heavy really fast, especially if you like to stock up for the week rather than shop daily.

For kids, there’s also the fear parents have for them these days, even when they live in relatively safe areas. Many parents are all too aware of the potential dangers out there, and for them, the balance falls on the side of protecting them from admittedly rare problems. Sure, there are neighborhoods where you absolutely don’t want your kids roaming, but many parents don’t let their kids roam where they should.

Where Are the Solutions?

It’s never easy to solve this kind of problem. A part of it comes down to our own choices, and a part is how communities are developed. You have to look at both.

Community development takes significant time, and changing an existing community to something more walkable is even more difficult. Developers need to be encouraged to include sidewalks in their communities, and to think about walkability just as they consider driveability. Prioritizing cars over feet will always lead to less walkable areas.

As an individual, you can choose to live in more walkable areas when possible, and to take advantage of that. Get out and let developers see that people are using the walking areas and they have more motivation to add them to future developments.

I also believe this means giving kids more freedom to explore. I really enjoy Free Range Kids, and while I don’t always agree with everything there, the idea is generally good. Kids need to be allowed age and skill appropriate independence, but many parents are too afraid to let their kids have it, despite the statistics being in their favor.

You don’t have to get it all perfect; it’s not always practical or even possible to find a place to live where you can walk, bike or even get public transportation to most places you’d like to go. Just have some degree of walkability be a factor as you search for a place to live.