What do hedgehogs know about spring?

Oregon’s hedgehog has declared early spring! We’re declaring spring cleaning season.

On Groundhog Day, Oregon Zoo’s resident weather-critter predicted an early spring. So now is the time to get a jump on spring cleaning tips.

First: Out with the old

If you have extra paint, finish, solvent or adhesive lying around, it’s time to let go. Studies show that storing materials in your home that contain volatile gases may create unhealthy air even with the lids on. It’s especially important for families with asthma; as many as 75 different ingredients in home maintenance supplies are linked to asthma.

You can find where to safely recycle or dispose of these items at http://search.earth911.com Give this site a try! It will also tell you, according to zip code, the nearest places to recycle electronics, carpet, and those hard-to-get-rid-of plastics.

Oregonians can also call 1-800-732-9253 to find out where to take household hazardous waste. Most facilities that handle hazardous waste will also take toxic cleaning supplies. They often recommend that the best way to dispose of cleaning supplies is to use them up over time or give them away. But don’t throw them in the trash or dump them down the drain!

When you take care to dispose of things properly instead of throwing everything in the trash, you’re being a real friend to Oregon’s environment. Some states ship their waste over the border, but most of Oregon’s household waste ends up in one of Oregon’s 27 landfills. The more toxic stuff ends up there, the more likely it is to leach into our waterways. But here’s the good news: Oregon is wasting less than ever before! Half of our waste is recycled, and we now trash about 30 pounds less per person than we did a decade ago. It’s still a lot of waste: about 1,232 pounds per person each year.

Then: In with the green!

Don’t underestimate the power of baking soda, vinegar, castile soap and hydrogen peroxide. A simple green cleaning kit will save you cash, improve your health, and do no harm when it goes down the drain.

When you buy pre-mixed products, beware “greenwashing”— terms like “100% natural” and “earth-friendly” sound good but don’t mean anything. Consumer Reports offers a handy site that will tell you if a label is misleading: eco-labels.org

If you’re in charge of cleaning supplies for an entire building, check out “Green Seal.” The group certifies products that not only meet health and environmental standards, but also work effectively! They have certified a few consumer products, but they have a much longer list of products for use in schools, office buildings and other institutions.

A green cleaning partner

The Port of Portland, a member of OEC’s Healthy Purchasing Initiative, has been using Green Seal certified cleaners for years at its headquarters building and Portland International Airport. The alternative cleaning products help keep their on-site natural wastewater treatment system running smoothly and create a healthier and safer work environment for their employees and janitorial staff. The Port believes that cleaning without toxics is so important, they’re helping us get the word out by sponsoring this issue of Living Green.

Finally: The outer touches

Windows, grills, decks, patio furniture — the words alone make spring arrive faster! But remember: any cleaning product or grill-gunk that goes down the storm drain can end up polluting our water.

Grill: Scrub your grill grates with soapy water and steel wool, and then heat it up to burn off any remaining grit. Clean the outside of the grill with baking soda.

Patio furniture: Castile soap or mild dishwashing detergent will clean up most lawn furniture. Full-strength vinegar in a spray bottle can be used on mildew stains. To clean and deodorize patio umbrellas, try a cup of vinegar with a squirt of dish detergent.

Decks: Try hydrogen peroxide from the health care aisle for removing concrete stains or killing mildew. You’ll want to wear gloves and a mask for protection just as you would with bleach. But unlike bleach, it breaks down easily in the environment without causing harm.

Do your washing on the lawn: If you are using something more toxic than vinegar and baking soda, consider washing your wares on your lawn. That way, the ground can do its job as a natural filter, rather than letting suds run directly into waterways.

Bonus trivia fact

If you’ve read this far in our blog, here’s a special insider trivia bit for you. Have you noticed a change in the floors at Concourse C in the PDX airport lately? They now have a satin sheen instead of a high gloss. That’s because the Port is avoiding wax and the harsh chemicals in floor strippers. Instead, they are using abrasive pads to polish the terrazzo floors.

Thanks, Justin Snow, for letting us use your creative commons photo of Acorn the hedgehog.

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