30 days of going green: reduce, reuse, recycle and review

Thirty days seemed like a long time, but my time is already up and I can't believe it's gone so fast. To some people, the thought of living trash-free, carpooling almost every day and digging into a bin of dirt and worms with your bare hands seems awful. Fortunately for me, it wasn't. Throughout this entire escapade I learned quite a lot. I now see the beauty of composting and the fun in riding the bus. Most importantly, I can feel how much less of an impact I have on the earth. Just trying out this way of life has made me more conscious of the world around me and I'm much more willing to help it last.

Living trash free is not as hard as most think it is. The plastic take-away containers in the main campus cafeteria made breakfast and lunch possible on days when I didn't have enough time to pack my own food, but I had to remember to recycle them properly at the end of the day. However, nothing can beat the taste of the freshly prepared snacks I have been bringing to school, and it's nice not worrying about the mess or the money.

The hardest things to handle are napkins. Even though they are made from paper, you cannot recycle napkins after they've been used. I tried bringing my own handkerchief to school, but I found biodegradable wipes work better.

It is surprising how many places you can get to by riding the Big Blue Bus. When traveling to school, I took the 12 bus line to the 7 (Culver City to Santa Monica) and was there in 20 minutes. I saved money by not buying a parking pass, avoiding the potential for all those parking tickets and not having to feed the meter.

I also made money off the water bottles my roommates placed in our recycle bin. At the Santa Monica Recycling Center, and outside some grocery stores, there are plastic bottle-recycling machines that give you money for each bottle. Granted, it is only a couple cents per bottle, but the more bottles you store up, the more money you'll get on each visit. Talk about some motivation!

As for my composting, the worms are looking great. As an extra-credit option, the Sustainable Works organization at SMC teaches you how to help the environment. A group meets once a week and to cover a new chapter of sustainability and last week my crew paid a visit to the vermitech on the main campus. For those of you who have no idea what a "vermitech" is, it is basically a very expensive, very big, air-conditioned worm-composting bin for the entire school.

According to Sustainable Works Director Gina Garcia, the vermitech started with about 300,000 worms, but has now doubled to about 600,000 worms. She said the worms don't actually eat the food you put in the compost. As the food decomposes, the worms eat the bacteria that form off the food, and therefore stop mold from growing.

I was having a problem with flies in my compost. Garcia explained that as long as the food is exposed on top of the compost flies would sense it and stick around. If you burry the food under the dirt the flies won't be able to smell it anymore. Problem fixed.

Your compost may not smell too bad, but recycling, on the other hand, can stink up a room faster than a scared skunk. I came to the conclusion that it helps to rinse out any bottles, containers, or recyclable material with food residue of any kind. This keeps the flies, and the smell, far, far away.

Let's review: Public transportation minus waste, minus flies + worms = more money.

Every week, the Sustainable Works crew group goes through a checklist of ways to change your approach to environmental issues like energy, chemicals, waste and transportation. The little checkbox that appears every week—regardless of the issue—is the one marked "change your behavior," and I believe this is the most important one.

When I started, I was not looking forward to this project and cursed myself several times for embarking on a journey I did not think I could complete. But in the end, it really is just about getting and staying active. The more conscious you are of your actions, the easier it is to effectively help out our planet.