By Larry Jergins
Just as paint can make an older New Orleans house look fresh, a few updates on the inside can help improve your home and the environment.
Since we’re all spending more time inside our homes because of the pandemic, simple changes like adding plants — or a splash of color to walls (our youth teams can help with that) — can brighten up a kitchen or living room.
Adding indoor plants and brighter colors will benefit you and your family, but other updates, like recycling, will benefit the New Orleans community. And driving our cars less, as we’ve done in recent months, can reduce our global carbon footprint.
We all can make a difference. Every one of us can help preserve our Crescent City traditions and history by making our homes more environmentally friendly.
Here are six ways to improve the environment in your home:
1. Get Energy Efficient
Using energy-efficient appliances, adding more insulation to your home, and sealing up your windows will bring your heating and cooling costs down, saving you money.
All three of these improvements also will improve the environment, because the less energy you use, the more you shrink your carbon footprint.
2. Waste Not
Think of recycling as a sorted affair. Separating paper and plastics from garbage makes a big difference over time. All your recyclables won’t go to a landfill, so you are improving the environment in your own home.
New Orleans makes recycling easy with curbside pickup. Just put your plastic soda and shampoo bottles, shoe boxes, and even your junk mail in the bin at the curb.
Composting is another way to reduce your household waste. With your kitchen scraps and yard trimmings you have the makings of a compost pile that will help fertilize your flower beds and vegetable garden.
3. Grow Native
You can’t miss the native wisteria, the Louisiana phlox, and magnolias in the Crescent City. Those colorful displays of nature are native to our humid climate.
That means these plants are environmentally friendly. They don’t need extra TLC, and they improve your home environment by feeding and sheltering the insects and animals that are part of the natural ecosystem in your neighborhood.
If you want butterflies in your garden — plant native!
The natives also make great indoor plants. Instead of using aerosols to freshen the air, let the plants work for you. Tropical plants will clear the air of dangerous pollutants and some will even keep spiders away.
Another bonus of planting native trees? They’ll live longer, and their shade will shield your home from the sun and help keep things a little cooler.
4. Put Down the Chemicals
Modern cleaning products, pesticides, and herbicides are toxic, synthetic chemicals that can damage the environment. They may even make you or your family sick.
Simple is better. You can wipe down your kitchen with white vinegar (the smell goes away), and ward off ants with coffee grounds. It’s easy to search for green solutions to keeping your home clean and pest-free.
5. Buy in Bulk
Think outside the box, and the plastic bottle. When possible, bring your own shopping bags and glass jars and fill them with staples such as flour, sugar, and dried fruits.
You’ll generate less trash and save money in the process. And avoid buying bottled water. More than 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year.
6. Drive Less
One of your biggest contributions to pollution is probably sitting in your garage or in front of your house right now. Your car.
If you think New Orleans’ summers are hotter than they were when you were a kid, you’re right. And one of the reasons is car travel. The City of New Orleans approved a climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gases. Leave your car at home — that’s one way you can improve the environment.
We all saw the drop in greenhouse gas emissions during the COVID-19 quarantine (a 17% reduction in April, for example). That shows how driving the car less (not that we set out to do that) can improve the environment.
How all of us can make a difference
Building, rebuilding, and refreshing houses is helping to revitalize New Orleans. Youth Rebuilding New Orleans is also helping teachers to purchase homes in the communities we serve. But the mission of YRNO goes far beyond hammers, nails and paint to rehab homes to improve the lives of the teachers and families calling Crescent City home.
Since we’re all stuck at home now more than we’d like to be, let’s make the most of it. Making some or all of the small changes above will improve the insides of our homes, our New Orleans community, and reduce our global carbon footprint.
Larry Jergins has worked in his county waste management division for 20 years and recently became certified as a recycling specialist. His favorite project is turning Christmas trees and yard waste into mulch for the community.