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Green Party

“What are you doing for Earth Day?”

That’s the question posed to me by a friend this past Saturday night, before inviting me to an open house this weekend at Structured Green furniture store. It’s a question that I haven’t heard before.

Granted, when the topic came up, I was at the Sentient Bean for Port City Music’s excellent-but-too-short concert. Along with its iconic neighbor, Brighter Day Natural Foods, this fair trade coffee shop and organic vegetarian café is Ground Zero for Savannah’s green community, the folks most likely to elevate Earth Day to full holiday status.

Nevertheless, it seems something of a turning point in Earth Day’s evolution when celebrating the day is brought up in a casual conversation, not unlike those perfunctory, late June grocery store encounters of “Got any plans for Fourth of July?”

It’s also nice to see that Earth Day festivities are leaning toward becoming a little more festive, and a little less apocalyptic. Not that we Earth-dwellers don’t have plenty to worry about.

At an academic level I’ve understood for years that the planet is running low on most natural resources. But somehow, the national 70-cent spike in gas prices since last April, and the 2007 drought-induced ninety-day warning on Atlanta’s water supply, instilled in me a sense of urgency and personal relevance about the state of the environment that I’ve not felt before.

Earlier this year, when the city turned off the water on our block for a day to replace a fire hydrant, I bought two gallons of water for coffee brewing, teeth brushing and other critical needs.

On the plus side, I paid much greater attention to water usage that day, and only used part of one gallon.

On the minus side, my seven hours of resource conservation was a bit unrealistic since I’d showered before the disconnection, and the toilet didn’t get flushed until after the water was back on.

For 2007’s Earth Day I spent about ten minutes in a traffic jam on Drayton Street, hoping to drop off at the Forsyth Park Recycle Rama a dirty dozen of chemicals that have accumulated in my home over the years.

A former photography student roommate left behind some paint thinner, aerosol spray adhesive, spray-on water repellent, and glue remover. A long-gone do-it-yourself home repair episode resulted in a quart of wallpaper stripper, two old cans of paint, and some glazing putty.

The source of the leather tanner aerosol spray or the gallon of hydrochloric acid? That’s anyone’s guess.

Fortunately, I abandoned last year’s line of cars waiting to dispose of chemicals before reaching the Park Avenue drop station. A call the next week to the recycling organizers revealed that had I hung in there, inching forward in my Subaru and burning up gasoline, the paint cans would have been the only items in the stash that would have been taken.

For the rest of it, Jackie Jackson-Teel, the water resources planner at Metropolitan Planning Commission, sent a helpful email with two attachments outlining where and how I might go about disposing of many of these chemicals. John Denion of the City of Savannah offered additional guidance.

Proper disposal of these toxic or semi-toxic fluids includes mixing them with kitty litter or sand, spraying the aerosols into a box to empty the canisters, or letting paints evaporate into solid form.

They also suggested inquiring at paint stores, photography supply outlets, and local colleges as other ways to pursue eco-friendly disposal of some of these chemicals. Meanwhile, a friend took home the hydrochloric acid for a cleaning project.

With many common household items, appropriate disposal can involve a day of errands, traveling from the battery store (dead flashlight batteries) to the oil-change place (motor oil for a now-stolen lawn mower) to the dry cleaner (wire hangers.)

These tasks seem like a lot of effort and scientific research for a former English major with a lazy streak. That’s why most of these items are still in my garage, but I’m determined that for 2008 I’ll finish this task I started over a year ago.

Then, as a reward, perhaps there will be an Earth Day potluck party somewhere in town on Saturday night, or maybe I’ll drop in on that open house.

After all that work saving the planet, I’ll be ready for a little celebrating.