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Going Green in Orland Park to Reduce my Carbon Footprint

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When I was a child, my mom explained that my dad saved scraps of aluminum foil, the miracle kitchen asset that made cooking so much easier. It was a habit he picked up during World War II when conservation was important and everyone pitched in to fight a threat to the country.

Now, we have a bigger threat to the world. Saving the environment.

A newspaperman all my life, I was used to saving newsprint and dropping them off at charitable homes that sold it for pennies on the pound. It seemed like a lot of effort just to make a few dollars, although the idea was noble.

But when all that turned into "Greening," I started to be a little skeptical. And the first time I saw the new police headquarters in Orland Park, the Chicago suburb where I live, surrounded by uncut grass, foot tall weeds and crude roughage, I almost laughed. My instinct was maybe the mayor was upset with our police chief, Tim McCarthy, the hero secret serviceman who took a bullet for President Ronald Reagan back in the 1980s.

Then came recycling, and the futility I saw in my mother saving all that aluminum foil in large balls under the sink pantry overloaded my logic.

Our environment has a problem. A lot of it comes from wasted energy, most from gasoline usage in cars and lawn mowers. Our ground is poisoned with fertilizers just so the grass can look pretty for about 10 weeks every summer. With water rationing now a common part of life, that green window is even shorter.

Recycling was my tipping point. I became a believer.

There was a time when we would dump four to six bags of garbage every week in two large garbage cans. Ever since the village provided those large blue recycling containers, we throw out less than one bag of garbage a week while the recycling container overflows with aluminum, plastics, paper and cans.

The balance shift in favor of the environment from six bags of unusable waste to six bags of recyclables was amazing.

So I guess it was inevitable that I would make one more change. No, I haven't purchased a "cross-over" energy efficient vehicle. They're too expensive. I'm upset that the auto industry, reeling from poor management and sloppy product, is trying to take advantage of the shift to gas and energy efficiency by raising the price of the cross-over cars.

I spent $100 to buy a push lawn mower. OK, maybe I was a little lightheaded at the time. But I love to mow my own lawn. It's the one thing I can still do. I can't fix my car any more. It's too complicated.

I like to mow my own lawn. I pretend that it's great exercise. Part of me is nostalgic for the days when I was a kid and we actually used a push mower. No one had a gas engine lawn mower when I was growing up on the South Side of Chicago. If you did, you converted it into a go-cart.

Chicago homes were packed together tighter than sardines in a can, and the space between them was called a "gangway." The few steps in front was the "stoop," where we all enjoyed the August humidity.

When you said cut the grass, people thought about marijuana. Most Chicago homes had very little grass. So a push mower was about all we needed.

Then came the suburbs, the glorious Valhalla of wide open spaces and rambling lawns. Oh those big suburban lawns looked so inviting when you bought those huge four bedroom properties with no money down, a flexible mortgage and a lot of debt.

Pretty soon lawn care became a lifestyle.

I'd spend a lot of time during the week thinking about how I was going to manicure the lawn over the weekend. I'd edge it. Cut it short in the fall. High in the spring and summer. Fertilize it either through a lawn care service or spend $30 on a 50-pound bag of Scotts fertilizer and weed killer. Had to kill those weeds.

The lawn mower cost about $650. It lasted about three years before it needed repairs. It burned gas worse than my 1964 Chevy Super Sport with the 327 engine that I had while a senior at Reavis High School.

The more I read about my suburb, Orland Park, talk about reducing our "carbon footprint," the more I started to think maybe I should pitch in and green it up a bit, too.

The day I bought the push mower, of course, it was drizzling rain and the grass was wet. But I had to try it out. Right away. That's what baby boomers do. Rush into everything, head first. It's been 40 years since Woodstock and 50 since I last pushed a push lawnmower. Let's do it!

Grass clippings, normally mulched in the gas guzzler Toro, were strewn everywhere and clinging to my Skechers. My wife is not going to be happy with those clippings trailing all over the house, the driveway and the beautiful Malibu-lighted stone pathway on the side of the house.

It does a great job cutting, when the grass isn't too bunched up and in a straight line. I had forgotten the push mower isn't as versatile around those corners or the weird angles of my landscaped property.

By the time I finished, I think I sweated off 50 pounds. Felt like it anyway.

When I looked in the mirror, I saw what they really mean when they talk about greening. I looked like the Hulk with far less bulk. My face was completely green from the stress.

Enough with the nostalgia. I wonder if I'll use it one more time.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and Chicago radio talks how host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com.)