Beverly Davis is unloading a paper bag full of trash.
She deposits it all, item by item, on the kitchen table -- the used paper cup, the cream cheese wrapper, the empty Lean Cuisine box.
This is what Beverly and her husband, Randy Davis, have saved from the trash this week -- little tidbits they would recycle, if they knew for sure they could. Newspapers and aluminum cans, sure. Those go straight into the bin. But what about this stuff?
Kathy Keller-Mielke, then of Fort Worth's environmental management department, is here to tell them yea or nay. Empty sugar bag? Yes. Empty newspaper bag? No. Styrofoam cup? Definitely not.
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Beverly holds up a single drinking straw she has saved, just in case. Can it go in the recycling bin? Can she keep this little red straw out of the landfill?
Keller-Mielke laughs and shakes her head.
"You guys," she says, "are just as obsessed as I am."
Meet the Davises
Life before the Green Challenge
The Davises were already eco-conscious. In recent years, since they became empty nesters, the two have devoted time and energy to making their lives Earth-friendly.
They compost. They turn up the thermostat. They've installed solar lights and double-paned windows for efficiency. They trade magazines with friends so each issue will be read several times before it's recycled. They rinse out their plastic bags to use again and again. The Davises really do care about each drop of water, every piece of plastic.
How the challenge changed their habits
Beverly started taking canvas bags to the store to avoid more plastic bags. Randy did some maintenance to make the house more energy-efficient. And the challenge made them both look a little more critically at their habits they've already developed.
Beverly, for instance, has long shopped for produce at an open-air market -- but during the challenge, she noticed how many fruits and vegetables were from other states and other countries. Now she's looking for a farmers co-op so the couple can eat more local produce that’s grown in the region.
The daily log
Their best new idea
Beverly observed how much water she was wasting in the kitchen, just by preparing dinner. Instead of letting it go down the drain, she put an old aluminum wash pan in the sink to capture the runoff. Now, when she's finished in the kitchen, she has a gallon or two to use on her plants in the house or the back yard. "This is almost second nature," she says, "and no real effort at all."
What didn't work
When he discovered that his bank offers free coffee in Styrofoam cups, Randy saw an opportunity: He wanted the bank to offer paper cups instead. He went to three bank branches, trying to start a paper-cup revolution.
It seemed like a great idea -- but then recycling advisor Keller-Mielke broke the news. Because they get wet, paper cups can't be recycled, either.
Of course, Randy can always take his own reusable mug to the bank, saving a single cup from the landfill, but that wasn't exactly the sweeping change he’d had in mind.
The next step
The Davises have a new enthusiasm for the basics. They plan to rebuild their composting bin, buy a tankless water heater to save energy and water, and install a new gutter system so they can harvest rainwater. And they're already sharing what they've learned with friends, family and colleagues.