I spent the last week at my parent's house in Small Town, KY, population 8000. From a green perspective, my parents have the dual disadvantage of living in a small town and living in the South. (Southerners are near and dear to my heart, but let's face it, they are not the fastest bunch to jump on the green bandwagon.)
In my parent's town, there is nary a Whole Foods in sight. In fact, you'd have to drive 45 miles to find a wider organic selection than is stocked at the local Walmart. You'd think there would be some character-filled local shops to peruse, but their town, like so many small towns, has sold out to the big box store and the fast food franchise.
And then there's the driving...Most people around there live out in the country, so it's a drive to get anywhere - not to mention the couple times a week you have to head up to the big city to get anything you need. Or just to find some entertainment. And you can forget about public transportation. Plus, many people (including my parents) drive big pickup trucks. In a farming community, a truck is pretty essential in case, in my mom's words, "ya need to haul somethin'."
In the back of my mind, I knew that my parents had a tougher time going green in their town than I did in Raleigh, NC (population 300,000 and a fairly progressive Southern city). But I didn't realize how tough they had it until my mom commented while changing lightbulbs one day, "I'm still not sold on those funny lightbulbs, filling our landfills with toxic substances." (She meant CFLs and was referring to the mercury they contain.)
"Well, they shouldn't be going into the landfill," I replied. "You should be taking them to your hazardous waste drop-off spot."
My mom burst out laughing. "We don't have a place to drop-off hazardous waste."
My mouth dropped. "Then where do you take your hazardous waste?"
She didn't answer, just shrugged.
I paused for a minute, thinking this over. "Well, the bulbs should last for seven years, so maybe by then, you'll have a place to take hazardous waste."
Another laugh from my mom. "Erin, we just got recycling this year!"
I figured my mom had to be wrong. It's illegal to put hazardous waste in the regular trash. Right?...So I visited their city's website and learned that although they don't accept hazardous waste, they also don't tell you what to do with it. I tried a dozen different ways to google my question and came up with nothing. Of course, at this point I could have called the sanitation department, but that seemed like too much effort (I don't live there afterall).
My mom and I came to a similar dead end while trying to figure out the best way to go about adding more insulation to their home. Energy auditors? Not in their town.
So what' s a country mouse to do? I'm sure the answers to both of our searches are out there, but if it takes so much work to find the answer, how many people are going to put forth the effort? I've found that when it comes to going green, most people want to take the lazy route. They want easy answers, they don't want it to cost more, and they don't want to be activists.
I don't say all that just to lament my parents plight. Instead, I am looking for solutions. I am sure some of you readers live in a small town. Some of you might even live in small towns in the South. What easy suggestions do you have for going green in a small town?
Here are some ideas I've thought of:
- Plant a garden. Land is a category where country mice have a big advantage over their city cousins. My parents have a gorgeous acre of land out in the country. They already have a small vegetable garden and an herb bed, but there's still plenty of room to grow more. I've almost talked my mom into getting some bees. :)
- Catch the rain. My parents have talked about getting some rain barrels. (And since they don't live in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, it's legal!)
- Bring your own bag, water bottle, thermos, waste-free lunchbox, etc. Especially if you live in a place where you can't recycle, you should try to cut back on your waste wherever you can.
- Compost - another way to lighten your load on the landfill if you can't recycle.
- Make your own cleaners. One of my mom's complaints in the past has been, "They don't sell Seventh Generation around here." Why do you need Seventh Generation when you can make your own? (Besides, I think they've started selling Clorox GreenWorks at Walmart, and even though I'm skeptical of anything Clorox puts out, that line was made in cooperation with the Sierra Club.)
- Watch your energy use. Use a programmable thermostat, slay your vampires, and switch to CFLs. (But first find your hazardous waste drop-off.)
Top photo by David Paul Ohmer of a Lexington horse farm. There's a similar farm to this one just over the hill from my parent's house. :)
Bottom photo by teliko82.