Living Sustainably on Capitol Hill

A Guide

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Sustainability. While the word has an environmental nuance, the definition also includes associated economic and social benefits.  It’s really not that difficult to incorporate sustainability into a Capitol Hill lifestyle, and it can even be fun–and save you money.

Walk, bike, and get to know your neighbors.

 This may seem obvious, but with amenities expanding on the Hill and parking becoming increasingly difficult, walking or biking to your destination is the best way to get where you’re going.  It’s also a great way to stay in shape, find Little Free Libraries, and those free goodies that folks are passing along out on the sidewalk.

Ditch plastic bags.

 While most people carry reusable bags for shopping, many people still use plastic bags when they buy produce.  Forego the plastic produce bag.  Your produce can be weighed without a bag, and it will survive the trip home.  If you really need a bag, use a reusable cloth bag or a plastic bag you already have. Tell your friends to do this, too.

Line-dry your clothes, inside or out.

Air-drying your clothes will reduce your carbon footprint, keep your house cooler, and help your clothes last longer. Styles of indoor and outdoor retractable clothes lines and collapsible drying racks abound. Frager’s Hardware offers several models, and if they don’t have them in stock, you can order them online and have them delivered to the store for free pick up.  Even reducing your dryer use by one load per week adds up!

Line drying clothes is possible even in small spaces. Photo: C Plume

Get creative with your food – and composting.

Shop at one of the Hill’s several farmer’s markets, buy local produce – which has a lower (transportation) carbon footprint, and support the local farm economy.  Ever tried making your own yogurt (and keeping those plastic containers out of your waste stream)? Interested in learning how to minimize the food you throw away?  The local blog Eat-or-Toss has “Use-It-Up” recipes as well as insight into …you guessed it… whether a food is okay to eat or if it should be tossed. When it comes to disposing of food, compost it, and return those valuable nutrients to the soil.  If you don’t have space for a compost bin, the DC Government operates a fruit and vegetable food waste dropoff at Eastern Market (by the Rumsey pool) year-round from 9am-1pm every Saturday.  If you’re looking for a more “hands-on” experience, join the DC Community Compost Collaborative, and drop off your food waste at any one of five community gardens on the Hill. A short training is required.

Switch to LED lights – and other more efficient appliances.

While compact florescent (CFLs) were all the rage just a few years ago, LED technology is far superior, providing still longer-lasting bulbs without the mercury or “warm up” time. The DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DC SEU) has a guide to help determine the best light for your needs as well as rebates for more efficient appliances and thermostats for your home or business.

Go solar.

Through 2019, the federal solar tax credit allows you to deduct 30 percent of the cost of installing a solar energy array on residential or commercial property. This credit drops to 26 percent in 2020 and to 21 percent in 2021. The credit, coupled with the sale of solar renewable energy credits (SRECs), means that most DC homeowners can recuperate the cost of their solar array in three to four years, a real bargain!  Solar United Neighbors/DC provides a wealth of information to help you navigate the process. Want to get away from coal power but don’t own your home or not ready to install solar? Subscribe to Pepco’s Community Solar program to get credit on your electric bill for the solar energy generated at a different location.  You can also sign up to have Pepco deliver renewable energy to your home through a third-party provider. See DC’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) Energy Choice DC for more information.

Create a pollinator garden.

Native plants have many advantages: they’re perennial, meaning that a one-time investment will render plants for years to come; they’re adapted to our local climate, minimizing maintenance and watering needs; and pollinators – bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, and more – love them.  Plant native plants, and you’ll help ensure the survival of these critters that are vital to our own survival.  Frager’s Hardware and W.S. Jenks & Son both carry a wide variety of natives that will grow in shade or sun.

There’s a vibrant community of people on the Hill – and across DC – who are taking small actions and sometimes even lifechanging steps to make their lives more sustainable. What are you going to do?

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler.  She is also the Vice Chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, however, perspectives expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.