MARTINEZ -- Tough economic times can have an upside. Cost-cutting often coincides with environmentally friendly practices, according to "waste sleuth" Todd Sutton.
"How you can Become a Sustainable Citizen," is a 90-minute PowerPoint presentation which grew out of the enthusiastic response to Sutton's Martinez composting classes, said Michael Chandler, Martinez senior management analyst.
"We asked him to develop a course that would appeal to people interested in environmental issues and educate them on a variety of ways that they could easily apply sustainable practices in their everyday lives," Chandler said. "As it turns out, many of these practices can also save people money, so it provides tangible benefits on a variety of fronts."
Sustainability is the newest catchphrase for environmentalism with an economic-awareness factor. It usually refers to considering the fiscal impact of environmental requirements on cities or states. At a Saturday class, Sutton focused on individual actions that help improve the environment, and provide the ancillary benefit of financial savings.
Martinez beat California's July 1 deadline for mandatory commercial recycling and offered two public workshops in conjunction with new requirements. The Martinez solution, which took about six months to work out, has a fiscal component as well.
Businesses had been required to pay for refuse removal with recycling as an optional extra before the law. Now, as in residential refuse removal, both services are rolled into one.
The sustainability program is part of the city's history of keeping up with new environmental regulations. The Martinez Global Warming Action Plan was approved in 2006. California State AB32 passed in the same year and is intended to reduce greenhouse gasses to 1990 levels by 2020. Both documents have public education and sustainability components.
Sutton outlined compelling reasons for behavioral change, showing how making the effort to make small lifestyle changes will avoid the pain of an unsightly earth with dirty air and water, save money and protect future generations.
Bay Area residents are generally aware of basic, good environmental practices, but Sutton said an understanding of how material goods can be conveniently reused, recycled, restored -- or maybe never purchased in the first place -- leads to a higher level of conservation.
For example, he explained that recyclable plastic bags should not be tied because recycle conveyor belts sort materials by various methods such as gravity, magnets and by hand.
"Those tied bags of bags can foul up machinery and sometimes you have to stop the belt and use a cutter to get them open," Sutton said.
Plastic bags can be recycled at the grocery store or visit www.PlasticBagRecycling.org to find other locations.
Some of the small changes Sutton described hearken back to forgotten past practices. During the Depression and World War II, the idea of wasting water or fuel, not eating all of one's food, or throwing out a usable item would have been serious. It went beyond bad manners, it was unpatriotic. Gasoline was rationed, "victory gardens" were common, and many did not have enough to eat.
A garden can be filled with vegetables, fruit trees and flowers for the table. Surplus food can be shared, frozen, dried, canned, preserved and donated. Waste site surveys show that about 40 percent of the landfill refuse is food, according to Sutton.
Residents left his presentation with a wallet-sized card listing 10 practices for saving money and helping sustain environmental health. Among the suggestions:
"Suppose you don't need an office chair. Don't just throw it away," Sutton said. "It only takes a little more effort to donate it, give it away or sell it at www.freecycle.org, www.craigslist.com or simply put it out in front of the house with a 'free' sign on it."
They can account for up to 10 percent of a monthly PG&E bill, Sutton said. And unplug everything unnecessary when going on vacation.
"Paper does grow on trees," he said. "Don't print, and if you must, print on both sides."
Sutton noted how often Americans use disposable dishes and silverware for convenience, suggesting that earth-loving guests could get in the habit of bringing their own plates, cloth napkins and utensils in a cloth sack and taking them home after an event.
He recounts the number of times each object must be reused to compensate for the environmental impact of creating it.
"You have to use a plastic bag 11 times," Sutton said. "Composting and knowing how to recycle makes a big difference."
Contact Dana Guzzetti at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 925-202-9292.
The next Sustainable Citizen class will be from 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, Nov. 3, in Martinez City Hall council chamber, 525 Henrietta St. RSVP for the class at SCrsvp@cityofmartinez.org. To learn more, visit www. cityofmartinz.org, and under the services drop down menu, go to refuse and recycling, and free workshops; or go to http://youtu.be/sC_ECvj044g (short video).