Gardeners can help the environment & save money, too

illustration on gardeners saving money
Photo illustration by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

“Just because something is good for the environment, it doesn’t mean you have to spend more money for it,” said Albert J. Gilewicz. “Sometimes you end up paying less.”

Gilewicz, who describes himself as a pragmatic environmentalist with a background in engineering and business, will present “The Garden Revolution: A Call to Trowels” at the meeting of the Ken-Sheriton Garden Club at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 576 Delaware Road, Kenmore.

Gilewicz holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s in business administration. He has 35 years experience providing practical environmental consultation to individuals and major corporations.

potato image for composting in Buffalo
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

His presentation focuses on the potential impact 90 million gardeners in the United States could have on climate change following the concept of “think global and act local.”

“Regardless of your belief in global warming, there are things you could and should do to make the environment better,” he said.

He said he wants to discuss the issues without all the political noise that often surrounds them. His tips will work for you whether you are a Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative.

One way gardeners can help the environment and save money at the same time is by composting. If you don’t compost, the kitchen waste that you throw in a garbage can goes to a landfill or refuse incinerator, he said.

When you compost, not only do you keep that waste out of landfills, you save money because you don’t have to go out and buy another bag of compost or topsoil for your garden, he said.

While many gardeners compost their leaves, some may not compost kitchen scraps for fear of attracting rats or other pests. Gilewicz notes that you can overcome that obstacle with your choice of composting bin. (You can use a garbage can as a composting bin. To try to speed up the composting process, drill air holes in the garbage can.)

EPA diagram dry
Diagram courtesy Environmental Protection Agency
EPA diagram wet weather
Diagram courtesy Environmental Protection Agency

Another environmental problem we have in many areas of Western New York is that we have a combined sewage and storm water system. When we get a heavy rainfall, it can overwhelm the system, as you can see in the diagrams at left. Untreated sewage is discharged directly into our waterways. That’s why our beaches sometimes get contaminated and have to be closed after a heavy rain.

Gardeners can help by using rain barrels. The barrels catch water from the roof and hold it in place instead of adding it to the storm water system.

You can use the water from your rain barrel to irrigate your gardens. You save money because you don’t have to pay for municipal water.

A bonus for gardeners is that you’re pouring rainwater, rather than chlorinated city water, on your plants, he said.

In Western New York, our water is much cheaper than in other parts of the country, he noted, so we may take this precious resource for granted until we hear about a disaster like the recent chemical spill in West Virginia that contaminated the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people.

“Boy, did people learn the value of water then,” Gilewicz said.

But for me, all it took was a broken water line in our neighborhood to show me that another bonus of having a rain barrel is that you always have an emergency supply of water available. My neighbor contacted me that morning when she discovered there was no water and she couldn’t take a shower for work. I told her I had heard that the water was supposed to be on shortly, but if it wasn’t, she could use water from my rain barrel to shampoo her hair and wash up. She laughed. I was serious. It certainly would have been easier and cheaper than driving to the store for several gallons of bottled water.

In our telephone interview, Gilewicz mentioned other ways people can save money while helping the environment. CFL light bulbs cost more to purchase initially, but they use less energy and you save money in the long term. If you lower your thermostat at night when you’re snuggled under the covers, you can raise it to a comfortable temperature during the day and still save money.

“I’m not saying we should all go live in a cave,” said Gilewicz, who keeps his house at 70 or 71 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. “Just be prudent.”

If you have an errand to do and your destination is within a mile, walk or ride a bike there. One gallon of gasoline is equal to 20 pounds of carbon in the atmosphere, he said. Gilewicz lives in Snyder, where he has a supermarket, bakery and meat market that he walks to.

“I had to rethink what I was doing and retrain myself,” he said. “I ended up being healthier, I use less gas, I save money and I reduce my impact on the environment.”

Another way gardeners can help the environment is by speaking up. There are 90 million people in this country actively involved in gardening in one way or another, from mowing the lawn to growing vegetables, he said, and politicians will listen to them.

One more thing we can do is to avoid imitating the talking heads on TV.

“Be willing to discuss things and not scream,” Gilewicz said. “If someone can convince you of a better way to do things, admit it, shake hands and move on.”

5 Comments on “Gardeners can help the environment & save money, too

  1. Laura, this is a very interesting question. This is something I’ve puzzled over, too. If I use a small sheet of toilet paper to remove makeup, I often throw it in the garbage can. But then I remember that it’s still toilet paper. If dispose of it in the toilet, maybe I’m keeping it out of a landfill. (I would wait to flush it.) I don’t know if I would flush a facial tissue because I would worry about the plumbing as well as municipal pipes getting clogged– Those wipes that are supposed to be flushable are causing headaches for municipalities. You want to know about the impact on the environment, but there’s also the germ perspective. One nice thing about paper tissues is that they are disposable. With cloth handkerchiefs, people use them once, stick them in a pocket, use them again, stick them back in the pocket, and so on. They might use the same handkerchief for days before washing it (at least I knew people who did that in the old days). I would think from a germ perspective, paper would better. Great question.

  2. I have had a question in my mind for a while. I wonder if he would know, or someone else who reads this. What is better for the environment: blowing your nose into a handerchief and putting it in the laundry; blowing your nose and throwing the tissue in the garbage; or, blowing your nose and flushing the tissue in the toilet? I would really appreciate an email with the answer,, if anybody knows or can find out. Thanks!

  3. Mike, I actually have two rain barrels and got a third one for Christmas that hasn’t been set up yet. They’re so convenient to use! Thanks so much for the link to this interesting video. In this model system, they take all the waste water from the house (apparently this includes water from the toilets) and send it through a series of large tubs that hold sand, gravel and plants. After several days, the water has been filtered and is clean enough to use to irrigate the landscape. It’s a very cool concept.

  4. great article! I am very jealous of your rain barrel.

    The article reminded me of grey-water systems I’ve seen. I saw a cool concept in the design of the Ohio State Encore solar decathalon house

    here, all the water from the house is “treated” by running it through bins that have gravel and plants. So you get to combine water reclamation with gardening!

  5. Sounds like an excellent talk, one many should heed the suggestions. Conservation landscaping takes into account the tips in this post.

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