RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—I met Ernie by chance while covering Natural Products Expo West in California earlier this month. I was in Anaheim as a green nerd, analyzing the newest, coolest eco-friendly and organic products on the market. Ernie was in town for a completely different reason, decked out in University of California Santa Barbara athletic attire to cheer on his beloved men's basketball team, which he's been following for decades. We wound up side-by-side on barstools during a midafternoon lull, sharing basketball small talk, drinks, and a bite to eat. Picking at my quesadilla, I told him about my project to turn my family farm in Pennsylvania organic and raise dozens of happy, free-range chickens. Ernie (probably in his 70s) commended my efforts but went out of his way to assure me that he wasn't "a tree-hugger or an environmentalist or anything like that."
Then, in one of those "never-judge-a-book-by-its-cover" moments, Ernie ordered another drink with "no straw." The bartender slammed down a drink in a Collins glass, with a red straw sticking blatantly out of the top. Ernie just shook his head and mumbled something about "571" under his breath.
THE DETAILS: Ernie explained that after reading a few articles about the gigantic blob of plastic trash forming in the middle of the Pacific Ocean—and the sea animals and birds that mistakenly eat it and wind up starving to death—he's been cutting back on using plastic. In just a few months, he explained, he'd turned down 571 straws. He convinced several other regulars at his favorite northern California watering holes to adopt strawless drink ordering as standard of bar-time protocol. "One night, a guy couldn't understand why I wasn't using straws," Ernie explained. "So I took him down to the harbor and showed him." He let the straws and other plastic debris lapping along the shoreline do the talking.
"So I'm known as No-Straw Ernie back home," he continued with a laugh. I wanted to hug him, but instead I shook his hand and headed back to the Expo, trying not to forget a word of our conversation before I could write it all down.
Read on to find out how to be green by making similar decisions in your everyday life.