Beyond the Bin: Summer’s here – time to get your green on

Summer’s finally here – the season of picnicking, gardening, home improvements and everything outdoors. Color it all green this summer!

Who doesn’t love to picnic and eat outside? All too often, al fresco dining involves a disproportionate reliance on single-use products – disposable plates, utensils, cups, napkins … . Some of the waste is unavoidable, but there’s a lot you can do to minimize the eco-impact, especially if you’re eating or entertaining at home.

Start by using plain, noncoated paper plates. Along with paper napkins and towels, they can be added to your home compost pile or your Black Earth Compost curbside bin.

Drinking cups are tricky. Use regular glasses whenever you can (easy to do at home). Never buy paper cups; they’re trash after one use. Plastic cups may be recyclable, but they’re still single use, so limit their use to one per person.

Bring real utensils in a large ziplock bag. Rebag them after the meal, and pop them in the sink or dishwasher when you get home.

For many, summertime also means eating out more than usual. It’s a great opportunity to observe the use of single-use items in your favorite dining spots.

Plastic straws in every glass and take-home containers made of Styrofoam are major (and very preventable) contributors to our waste stream. If your favorite restaurant provides straws only when requested, uses real drinkware and utensils, or packs leftovers in plain cardboard containers, express your approval and appreciation.

If there’s room for improvement, have a friendly chat with your server or even the manager/owner. That’s how change gets started.

In Newburyport, summer means gardening. And gardeners use water — often too much, and often inefficiently.

Strive to make every drop count. It may seem counterintuitive, but a single deep watering (the equivalent of 1 inch of rain) per week will do much more for plant health and growth than a daily spritz. Deep watering encourages deep root growth. The exception: Coddle your new plantings and vegetable garden with frequent H2O.

Far and away, the biggest outdoor use of water is for lawn maintenance. The natural growth cycle of grass plants is green-up in spring, dormancy in summer, and renewed growth once autumn rains begin.

Instead, we subject grass to unnatural, forced growth all summer long through a constant supply of moisture and added chemical nutrients.

From an ecological point of view, lawns should be absolute last priority. Let your grass follow its natural growth cycle and go dormant in July and August.

Put your energy and resources into the rest of your landscaping — trees, shrubs, hardy perennials and food plants. If you’re planning new landscaping, ask your designer to draw up a waterwise plan with limited lawn. Water is the source of life, and our most precious resource. Use it respectfully.

Skip the chemical fertilizers. There is absolutely nothing better or more natural for soil improvement than compost. Consider learning to make your own.

The next best thing is to sign up with Black Earth Compost to have your table scraps picked up weekly (cost: $99.99 for an entire year). You’ll earn a double bonus: Besides reducing your trash substantially, you’ll get a discount on your purchase of finished compost. Get the scoop at www.blackearthcompost.com.

Are you shopping for any garden tools this summer? Consider replacing your gas-powered tools (lawnmower, weed whacker) with electric models.

They’re quieter, nonpolluting and just as efficient. A word about leaf blowers: Avoid using a leaf blower when a rake will do the job just as well. If you must, buy a smallish electric model for use in just the tight spots. Mother Nature will thank you for it!

Take advantage of the good weather to clean out your basement and/or garage. Got paint? Liquid paint cannot go in the trash, but there’s an easy solution.

Unwanted-but-still-usable latex paint that’s still in its original container can be recycled! Bring your unwanted latex paint to the Recycling Center on Colby Farm Road on the first Saturday of every summer month. This special recycling program runs only through Sept. 8; the charge is $1 per can.

For all other types of paint and household chemicals, Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day is coming up on Saturday, Aug. 24, at the DPS facility, 16A Perry Way.

Start now to gather up all those cans. For a complete list of what’s accepted, search for “hazardous waste” on the city’s website: www.cityofnewburyport.com.

Welcome summer! Go green!

For additional information on all aspects of recycling in Newburyport: www.cityofnewburyport.com (click on “Recycling, Energy & Sustainability Department”) or call the recycling office at 978-499-0413.

Nancy Roeder is a member of the Toward Zero Waste Newburyport Committee. Her family’s household trash averages less than two pounds a week.