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Love Match: NRDC and a Greener US Open

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They will be slammed, sliced, top-spinned and smashed. In fact, by the time the Open's over, all 60,000 or so of Wilson's finest will be beaten silly by the likes of Federer, Wozniacki, and Nadal But this isn't the end of the line for these tennis balls, though they will have seen more action in an afternoon than their buddies will see in a life time. Because these Wilsons, lucky enough to be chosen for the US Open, get not just a second life at Billy Jean King's National Tennis Center but get a third as they are donated to other youth/community programs.

It's not just the "after-the-Open" life of the balls that the United States Tennis Association (USTA) cares about. 18,000 to 20,000 Wilson tennis ball cans will be recycled as well. And if you are one of the lucky 700,000 to shag a seat in the stadium, be sure to recycle. The USTA is conducting consumer waste recycling of plastic and cans and operational recycling of cardboard and glass. Even the food waste, including the bio-based utensils, plates, cups, etc, will be composted this year.

I wish there were more opportunities to compost our food waste elsewhere in our otherwise very green NYC. There's a truly enviable program in San Francisco. As my colleague, OnEarth editor, Laura Wright, discovered earlier this year, the average family of four throws out about 122 pounds of edible food per month. Some 13 percent of all municipal solid waste consists of food scraps and edible cast-offs from residences and food-service establishments -- restaurants, cafeterias, and the like. That's about 30 million tons a year, or enough food to feed all of Canada during that same period.

What are the consequences of all that waste? When all that food decomposes in landfills, one by-product is methane, which has 20 times the global-warming potency of carbon dioxide. Based on Environmental Protection Agency data, rotting food may be responsible for about one-tenth of all man-made methane emissions. There are other resources to consider as well: 25 percent of all freshwater and 4 percent of all oil consumed in this country are used to produce food that is never eaten.

But I digress. We were talking about the greening of the US Open, much of which has been encouraged through a partnership between USTA and NRDC. My friend Allen Hershkowitz, NRDC's resident "green your game" guru, likes to pause to point out the Open's paper procurement. "This year, the National Tennis Center and the USTA decided to use only 100-percent recycled napkins," he notes. "Over the course of the two-week event, those recycled napkins left roughly 300 trees standing in sensitive forest ecosystems like Canada's boreal forests, which used to be a favorite source of wood pulp among tissue manufacturers."

Want to keep trees standing at home? Allen reminds us to consult NRDC's Shoppers Guide to Home Tissue Products to find napkins, tissues, toilet paper, and paper towels made from 100-percent recycled paper.

The other resource we save by using recycled paper is water, which can be fouled almost as much by chlorine-based detergents as by the pulping of wood. But what should we do about our tennis clothes -- is there a safer, greener way to keep one's whites white? At NRDC Simple Steps, we get this and other questions like it pretty often. We recommend adding Borax or Arm & Hammer Washing Soda in with the detergent. As a fabric softener, throw in 1/8 of a cup of white vinegar. Clothes are clean and smell clean, not like "perfumes," and the whites are white.

Another green cleaning question I get from sporty types, parents of athletes, etc is: "How to get the stink out of sports equipment?" I love this question, having been a women's ice hockey player in college and having coached my sons' team for a number of years (until they were bigger than me). As you probably know, bacteria grows on the skin and combines with sweat to produce body odor (BO). Often known as "perspiration odor," BO can attach itself to socks, shirts, sports equipment, yoga mats, and bedding, causing unpleasant and sometimes embarrassing smells. Yuck. What you need if you want to neutralize and eliminate BO and perspiration stains without harmful chemicals are: essential oils -- thyme (yes, I'm serious) and Australian tea tree oil, vinegar, salt, and baking soda. That's it. No need for toxic disinfectants and air fresheners. Salt by the way is powerfully antibacterial. It is also the only ingredient in this toolkit that can work to remove perspiration stains. I recommend you follow the directions for use given on simplesteps.org.

So how about some other tips? Now that you're in your stink-free sports clothes, all set to go to the Open or inspired to show off your own skills at the local courts, consider your sunscreen, the bottle you're toting your water, and the mode of transport you use to get there. Here's something we can all love: The US Open is urging attendees to use mass transit, and is even handing out MetroCards. Just imagine if half the attendees chose to take mass transit rather than drive to a match, and let's say the average distance an attendee would drive if she drove is 10 miles (one-way trip). The reductions in CO2 emissions would be roughly 2,002,000 pounds if half or 350,000 attendees used mass transit. Game, Match, Set!

As for the container you tote your beverage in, please say "no" to single-serving bottled water. Did you know that every second, the US consumes 1,500 plastic water bottles? An estimated 38 billion of these end up in landfills each year -- enough to circle the globe 150 times. Just as disturbing: a single 1-liter bottle of water requires 3 to 5 liters of water and ¼ liter of oil to manufacture and takes 700 years to decompose. And I've got some news for you -- Not only does bottled water contribute to excessive waste, but it costs us a thousand times more than water from our home faucet, and there is no guarantee it is any safer or cleaner. Do yourself a favor and tote your own water in a stainless steel, BPA-free bottle. And support measures to protect your local drinking water supply.

Finally, sports fans, slather on the sunscreen, but not just any sunscreen. You want to look for products that have "broad-spectrum protection"; these sunscreens will effectively shield against both ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation, which causes sunburn, and ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation, known to damage skin and cause skin cancer. And when possible, choose sunscreens that physically block the sun (using minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) in preference to chemical absorbers, which can have effects on the environment and possibly on your body.

Standard lotions with mineral blockers are an opaque white when applied. Lotions with nanoparticles of these minerals are transparent upon application, but it may be best to avoid these. While Australian research in 2006 did not find that nanoparticles in sunscreens entered the body, there is other research indicating that if they did (such as through open cuts), they could reach the brain via the bloodstream.

The USTA is greening their operations because it's smart and responsible business -- but also because they want to show their fans that it can be done on any scale. But while they're greening a stadium complex, sports fans can learn how to green their own game. Looking for more green living facts and advice? Check out NRDC Simple Steps. We've got news-you-can-use for any situation and every occasion. Check out Eat Local as you plan your Labor Day grilling menu. Download our Label Lookup app to your iPhone for use when you are shopping. And join our CO2 Smackdown to learn more ways to save energy, water, money and the planet!

This post originally appeared at OnEarth.org.

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