Taking a look back at the year in 'green'


Dec. 26 has to be the most depressing day of the year. There’s nothing like Christmas and the holiday season to make you re-think what life is about, why we do the things we do and what it all means anyway.

Last year, frustrated with the hoopla once again, I noticed the Scrooge coming out in me soon after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a great holiday, in that the entire notion is to eat and give thanks that you’re eating. And eat again. And again. Until… it’s … gone.

Perfect. No gifts, not a lot of stress, and with the exception of wondering how long to cook the turkey or not forgetting to bring the frozen broccoli to dinner, there’s not a lot to think about.

Christmas, on the other hand, has somehow gotten out of control, has little to do with its original meaning and pushes people to the brink of insanity. And what, really, do you have to show for it other than bags full of wrapping paper, visions of the January credit card statement and spent kids (and grown-ups) sprawled out on the floor napping after a day of gluttony and utter chaos.

Granted, the look on a child’s face is priceless when they open something really special and I, as a young mother, can appreciate that.

But, I can also appreciate that they think pulling credit cards and business cards and pennies and quarters out of my (otherwise empty) wallet is fascinating and can be fun for hours. I can also appreciate that they pull the mixer out of the kitchen cabinets, take the silver rotating things out and proceed to “iron” clothes with it, and that Vaseline is a great hair product, as well as a pretty effective wall moisturizer. What I am saying is, Hannah Montana gear aside, kids need little more than some basic tools and an imagination to have fun.

Hence, the birth of the Coastal Point’s “Going Green” section.

“Green” — the word no one actually has an “official” meaning for — to me, means less is more. It means sustainable. It means reuseable. It means less expensive, not more, and it means cleaner, purer and better for you. It means you look at your children and not only think about them having fun right now, with the latest and greatest, but how to have fun for generations.

It means teaching them to have an imagination, to create, to think outside the box, and then to re-use the box for something really cool. It means teaching them to fish instead of just feeding them. It means teaching them the importance of clean water and clean air and how that correlates to good health and a clean environment. It means teaching them that eggs come from chickens, that carrots grow in the ground and you should probably think twice about eating something that God didn’t make blue.

In a sense, to me, green means back to basics. To a time of breastfeeding and cloth diapers. And dinner made from scratch. To a time of working with what you’ve got and liking it. To a time when running around the house 10 times was an answer for boredom and finding a litter of kittens on top of the Atari remote was more fun than actually playng with it. A time when cable TV didn’t exist and the three channels we had didn’t compare to playing on the tire swing or walking back to the dock. A time when we did stuff instead of watching other people do nothing and a time when people cared about things — and other people. And were aware of their environment.

As I said this summer in writing about the Community Supported Agriculture we participated in this year, the “Going Green” section of has taught me a lot about where things come from, what is in them, what is needed and what is not. It has taught me the term “locavore” and that antibacterial soap isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

It has taught me about hybrids and solar panels and AC converters and windmills and underwater turbines and more than I ever wanted to know about how DNREC works. It has taught me what a kilowatt hour is and why I should care. It has taught me about structurally insulated panels, geothermal heating and cooling systems and what an impervious surface is. It has taught me the importance of what type of plastic goes into baby bottles, that almost anything can be recycled, what is in my old light bulbs and why I should get new ones.

So, with that said, here is the year, in green, in review:

Greenlight

After our first Christmas recycling story in 2007, where we talked about re-gifting or purchasing curbside recycling for someone or shopping at thrift stores for a change, we officially started the “Going Green” section in January 2008.

We ventured into stories about solar panels to start off the section. We learned that CP Diver in Lewes bought a $400,000 system, half of which was eligible for reimbursement from the state, and we followed Flexera on their third residential solar panel installation. They have since gone on to do 35 more this year and are looking forward to a busy 2009.

In other months, we talked to Gary’s in Dewey Beach about their photovoltaic panels and to Funland in Rehoboth Beach about theirs. We also talked with individual residents who had put solar panels on their homes as one of the ways for them to conserve and/or produce energy.

Greenhouse

In February, we talked with Miranda and Hardt about their environmentally friendly building practices, what geothermal is, and how it works. We learned about tankless hot water heaters and how they help with instant hot water and water usage and efficiency. We talked with ESB Homes about hybrid homes, homes with both passive and active solar heating and Energy Star appliances.

Later in the year, we spoke with Michael Kwiecien of Explorer Homes about how to build green homes for less, and we talked with Steve Smith of Summer Hill Builders about building green by the ocean blue. We talked with Marie Cook Whaeler about her home that concentrated on inside air quality and also used things like active and passive solar heating for maximum efficiency.

We talked with Element Eco-Consulting about how to have a green project from start to finish, from the lot design to the plans to the architecture to the accessories. We also learned from Bob Thornton of Silver Woods that one of his Ocean View homes was the first home in the nation to be certified “gold” by the National Home Builders Association.

Re-green

Recycling, the subject that originally sparked the green issue for us, came up again with the question of “What actually happens with single-stream recycling?” Where does it all go? We touched on that in the March issue, and Delaware Solid Waste Authority continued to sprinkle the “green” news.

We did an article on East Millsboro Elementary earning recognition for their Earth Day Project that turned into a school-side recycling effort. Sussex Tech also earned an award for a recycling project at their school and was recognized by U.S. Sen. Tom Carper. We also touched on what you are supposed to do with dead CFLs and other materials that are considered hazardous. And in June, we touched on where you can rid of your old TVs (they can be recycled, as can cordless phones, cell phones, video cameras, VCRs, electronic toys, monitors, keyboards and computers, etc.).

Also, many of the area’s towns either signed up for or renewed curbside recycling for their residents through DSWA. We did learn that the Millville recycling drop-off center would close and then that the proposed spot for re-opening a local drop-off would not happen after all. But Lower Sussex continues to look for a suitable place and does currently have centers at 33086 Burton Farm Road, east of Frankford; one in the town of Frankford, near the water tower; one in the town of Dagsboro at the Masonic lodge; one in the town of Selbyville across from town hall; and one at 39415 Inlet Road, off Route 1, just before the Inlet Bridge, on the right heading south – all for people not considering, or not yet considering, curbside recycling.

Green air and water

Although neither made it specifically into the “Going Green” section, we learned that Greg Menoche of Millsboro had a giant windmill in his front yard and was planning on saving lots on his electric bill, and we learned that UEK of Frankford would potentially be getting a grant from DNREC to try out tidal power at the power plant in Millsboro.

In July, we heard that residents overwhelmingly said “no” to a new landfill at the powerplant, only to have DNREC approve it in October. Then, the Center for the Inland Bays’ Citizens Advisory Committee came up with an appeal to the decision, but the CIB voted on a softer version to give to their DNREC partners, in hopes that the conversation started could progress into something without alienating their partnerships.

We wrote about Green Delaware and what they are doing for the environment and advocacy, and we learned about rain barrels and rain gardens and what they do.

Fenwick Island had representatives from Artesian water company come and explain how water gets to the tap, and Bay Colony received a DNREC-sponsored Clean Marina award in June.

Greenwheels

In August, we learned about hybrids and how they offer quite a lot of bang for your buck. Since then, we have seen gas prices drop from more than $4 a gallon to $1.59 a gallon and have seen the auto industry still get a lot of heat about the need to build better, more efficient cars.

We also learned in addition to making fresh, organic local granola, Michele’s Granola’s delivery truck runs on old French-fry oil. Maybe less dependence on foreign oil is attainable after all!

Green clean

We learned that you don’t have to buy a Clorox product, even if it is plant-derived, when you can use good old-fashioned baking soda and water and vinegar for cleaning. We learned that soap can be made to be free from sodium laurel sulfate, although the stuff is still used in everything from toothpaste to shampoo to laundry detergents. We learned how to plant an organic garden, how planning and research go a long way in not having to use fertilizers or pesticides and that working with what you’ve got can be the ultimate lesson in soil quality and how to make things grow.

Green eats

As for eating greener, we learned that the local, organic movement is growing right around here, much as it is everywhere. For the people who choose local and organic food, there is local granola, local free-range beef and chickens, local organic vegetables and turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a growing locavore movement in the area. We have Bella’s Cookies in Milton for dessert, with vegan and gluten-free selections and just about anything else you could want, within driving distance.

In the summer, we have great farmers’ markets where everything from eggs to honey to vegetables is locally grown and available. As for green treats, we learned another way of looking at Halloween and the massive amounts of candy filled with red-dye No. 4 and high-fructose corn syrup.

Some news transcended the “Going Green” section, although it had lots to do with the environment and looking at things differently, such as news about Bluewater Wind and the Fenwick Island Environmental Committee, which learned this year about everything from water to electricity to rain gardens to the Pollution Control Stategy.

We ended the year out with another “I’m dreaming of a green Christmas” article, in which Ryan Saxton wrote about how having a locally-cut fresh tree can be a green way to celebrate the season. And we touched on the Center for Inland Bays again and their end-of-the-year STAC meeting about wastewater options, and the possibility of recycling the fly ash generated from the power plant that stayed in the forefront of the news this year.

So, as we close out another Christmas and holiday season, we look back on all that we have learned this year. The term “green” and what it means for our area has blossomed this year, and we have had the privilege of reporting on it. Delaware, and specifically Sussex County, have come a long way.

And this first year of our “Going Green” section has taught us quite a few things about ourselves. We learned to be aware. To be more aware of our surroundings, to also be cognizant of the fact that things come from somewhere. Water just doesn’t magically come out of your tap. Your home is not warm by default, and food just doesn’t show up at the door. Everything is part of a process. And the process matters.