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It's natural sustainable living

From composting to homemade cleaners, more homeowners are going green. Photo by - Brian Basham1 / 4
Sandy Gunderson says a mixture of baking soda and white vinegar makes a great drain unclogger. Photo by - Brian Basham2 / 4
Sandy Gunderson assembles a large rain barrel that is available for sale at the Becker County Household Hazerdous Waste disposal site at the county landfill. Photo by - Brian Basham3 / 4
A simple compost bin and rain barrel available at the Becker County Household Hazerdous Waste facility. Photo by -Brian Basham4 / 4

We've all heard phrases like "green living," "go green or go home," "think green," and "give green a chance."

But what does "going green" really mean in terms of day-to-day home living?

Sandy Gunderson, who serves as coordinator for Becker County's household hazardous waste, recycling and waste education programs, believes it can apply to any number of things that people do to conserve resources and energy -- from as little as taking your recyclables out to the curb for pickup each week, to a full-on sustainable lifestyle.

The important thing is to do something -- because even the smallest things can add up to a major impact if enough people do it, she added.

"You don't have to do it all, just do what you can," Gunderson says.

For instance, when buying food at a grocery store, take a look at the packaging: Does the food product come with a lot of extra packaging, and can the packaging be recycled, composted, or even reused?

Rural Detroit Lakes resident Robin Turnwall says that composting has had a significant impact on how much waste his family generates.

"Compost makes the world go 'round," he joked.

The Turnwalls put virtually all of their waste into the compost bin, with the exception of meat, bones and dairy products.

Turnwall says he started composting almost by accident.

"I had all this vegetation that was just piling up , and someone suggested putting a little wire fence around it," he said.

Eventually, that pile of vegetation turned into what Gunderson calls "black gold" -- compost can be used for any number of gardening tasks, Turnwall noted.

"It holds water well, and it's full of natural fertilizer," he says.

Compost can be used as mulch or potting soil (mixed with black dirt), it acts as a natural fertilizer, and has the added benefit of "keeping the weeds down," Turnwall said.

With just a minimal amount of maintenance, a fresh pile of rich compost can be produced in as little as a couple of months.

"Ultimately, Mother Nature will just do her thing, but if you are attentive -- turn it once a week and keep adding to it -- you can have fresh compost within two to three months," Turnwall said.

The Turnwalls have five composting bins on their property; he recommends that every home have at least two: One active bin for adding new material, and a second that has already been filled, where the material is in the process of being broken down into compost.

"My bottom line is that it's fun to do, it's productive, and it (composting) is good for so many things," Turnwall said.. "I'm a big believer in it -- it's so rewarding.

"You can go out there and put your hand through that compost, and it smells like rich earth. It crumbles in your hand -- it's just beautiful."

Another side benefit is that the Turnwalls have reduced the waste they generate so much that they only have one small trash bin that gets picked up by the garbage man every other week -- "and it's usually not full," he says.

In addition to composting, the Turnwalls also use rain barrels to gather rainwater from roof gutters and other areas where runoff occurs regularly.

The rainwater can then be used to keep gardens, hanging plants, trees and shrubs moist. It can also be used to feed a rain garden, Gunderson noted.

"Our biggest (rain barrel) holds 275 gallons," Turnwall said.

Using a watering can to keep plants and trees moisturized can be good for both mind and body, he added.

"What great exercise -- and there's something very therapeutic about watering a plant," said Turnwall. "Therapists would be out of work if everybody had a compost pile and a watering can."

Rain barrels and compost bins are just two ways that home owners can incorporate "green living" into their everyday lives, said Gunderson.

When giving gifts on Christmas, birthdays and other special occasions, she said, consider buying things that don't require a lot of wrapping -- or use alternative packaging, like plain brown or white paper that can be easily recycled.

Using energy efficient appliances -- clothes washers and dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators and even furnaces -- is another way to conserve energy and save on your utility bill at the same time, Gunderson noted.

Another is to make "green" improvements around the house, such as programmable thermostats, shower heads with aerators built in, low-flow toilets, better insulated windows and doors, and making sure any leaks or other needed repairs in sinks, showers, tubs and toilets are fixed.

"A running toilet can waste 2 gallons of water a minute," Gunderson said, while adding an aerator to your shower can not only save 3 to 4 gallons of water per minute but "will give you a better shower."

Walking or riding a bike to work can also be a major energy saver, she added. "We depend on cars too much."

And when you're out walking, you can do your part to improve the environment by picking up litter as you go, Gunderson said.

Another way to "live green" is to reduce the amount of toxins in your home by replacing chemical cleaning supplies with more natural cleaners.

For instance, vinegar and baking soda can be used as a drain cleaner as well as for cleaning toilet boils and sinks, said Gunderson.

"Lemon juice and vegetable oil make a great furniture polish," she added, while a mixture of vinegar and water can be used to clean mirrors, windows and other glass surfaces.

In general "vinegar is a great sanitizer and deodorant, and sugar and salt make great abrasives," Gunderson said.

One thing to be careful of with sugar and salt, however, is that they can sometimes attract ants and flies, she added -- but if your kitchen is infested with fruit flies, setting out a bowl of apple cider vinegar on the counter top may help combat them.

In general, some of the best items to have on hand are vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice and vegetable oil, said Gunderson, because they can be used for many other purposes besides cooking.

Bonnie Juma is one local resident who really believes in the benefits of making your own household cleaners.

"One of my favorite things to do for carpet cleaning is take a huge bowl of baking soda and add essential oils (aromatic liquids derived from flowers, herbs, seeds, etc.), then stir it up really well, so the baking soda takes on the aroma of the essential oils, then sprinkle that over the carpet," Juma said.

"Peppermint is especially good for removing odors (from the carpet)," she added, noting that lavender is another good carpet aromatic to use.

"Then I just vacuum it up, and that will do a lot to freshen the carpet and remove odors."

"Straight lemon oil is great for removing any scuff or smudge marks on floors and other surfaces," she added.

Juma also makes her own all-purpose home cleaner from natural ingredients such as vinegar, borax, baking soda, natural palmolives and essential oils.

The type of essential oil that Juma uses depends on what type of cleaning she needs it for -- for instance, "tea tree oil makes a great wide-spectrum germ killer" for mold, fungus, bacteria and viruses, so Juma uses it to make bathroom and kitchen cleaners.

"I typically make enough of the all-purpose cleaner to fill about a dozen bottles at a time, which will last me about half a year," she said. "It's not only much easier on the environment, and on people, but it also saves a lot of money. It's very cost effective."

Another favorite household tip of Juma's: "I always have a diffuser of essential oils running in my home to clean the air."

Eucalyptus is a good one to use when someone in the house is suffering from a cold, she added, but when it comes to deciding what type of oils to use, she has just one tip. "Keep it simple."

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454