If you want to live a greener lifestyle, there’s no better person to ask than Don Preister.
The former Nebraska legislator and current Bellevue City Councilman hasn’t generated trash in three years.
“One step at a time is the way to get there,” said Preister, who leads a zero-carbon footprint lifestyle. “I didn’t get to where I am by doing everything at once.”
Daniel Lawse, an Omaha father of three and chief century thinker at the sustainability consulting firm Verdis Group, adds this suggestion: Make it fun.
“Focus on what you’re doing rather than what you’re letting go of,” Lawse said.
The Omaha metro area offers numerous options for a greener life, Preister, Lawse and others say. Here are some of them.
Hop on a city bus
Free Wi-Fi has been added to all Metro Omaha buses and GPS tracking is coming so you’ll no longer have to guess when the next bus arrives. All buses are equipped with exterior bicycle racks. Next year, a state-of-the-art bus line is expected to debut between downtown and Westroads. Omaha Rapid Bus Transit, ORBT, will receive preferential treatment from stoplights along Dodge Street. Buses will arrive every 10 minutes during rush hour. They’ll provide level boarding (no stairs), indoor bicycle racks and three entrances/ exits. New, more comfortable Wi-Fi-enabled bus stops will be built along the ORBT route, and it will include kiosks where you can pre-purchase tickets.
Share a ride
Visit metrorideshare.org to connect with other people who want to car pool. You’ll be matched based on your starting point, destination and travel time. You also can visit the website to plot your travel on city buses. Metro Rideshare is a free program offered by MAPA. Also, Omaha’s bus system is integrated into most smartphone mapping apps. So you can use Google Maps, for example, to plan your bus trip.
Rent a bike
With an expanding bicycle route system, low-cost rental bicycles and free bike repair stations scattered across the city, the Omaha metro is becoming bicycle-friendly. Heartland B-cycle has nearly 200 bicycles available for rent at its 70 check-out stations/kiosks in Omaha and Council Bluffs. Rental is $6 for a 24-hour period as long as you check in the bike each hour. Annual passes are $80, with the first hour free during each use. Through Feb. 8, annual passes are half-price. Later this year, B-cycle will add electric pedal-assist bikes to help people negotiate Omaha’s tough hills. The nonprofit Community Bike Project, near 33rd and California Streets, and Bike Union, 1818 Dodge St., help at-risk youth and provide the public with bicycle repairs and refurbished bikes. Additionally, there are 16 free-standing, outdoor bike repair stations around town, each equipped with a pump and tools. More will be installed in the near future. For a map of the metro area’s bicycle trails, repair stations and Heartland B-cycle kiosks, see bikemap.mapacog.org. Trail maps are available at local bicycle shops.
Grow your own
A thriving gardening community has developed in Omaha, offering friendship, shared meals, classes, free to low-cost materials and in some cases, plots for gardening. A special focus is helping kids. Learn more at the Omaha Public Library gardening page, Douglas County Health Department gardening clearinghouse, the Cooper Farm Urban Agriculture Center, The Big Garden and City Sprouts. Take your gardening a step further and apply for a residency in truck-gardening at the Big Muddy Urban Farm initiative. Benson Plant Rescue is a novel initiative to salvage and sell at a discounted price plants destined for the discard pile. Many come from area nurseries.
Shop locally grown
From quaint neighborhood markets to sprawling, well-established farmers markets, there are options for locally sourced foods. The Douglas County Health Department publishes a list and map of markets. Additionally, farmers and livestock growers are banding together to provide direct-to-consumer produce and meats. Lone Tree Foods and Nebraska Food Cooperative can connect you to locally sourced foods.
No need to overthink this. Simply set aside a corner of your yard for a pile of yard waste, mulched leaves, vegetable and fruit scraps. For low-cost compost, check out the City of Omaha’s popular OmaGro.com program.
Curbside pickup is available for most items except glass. For a list of drop-off sites for glass, visit the City of Omaha’s waste and recycling site, Wasteline.org. Area governments also host spring neighborhood cleanups for free disposal of large loads and bulky items normally taken to the landfill. Plastics that can’t be recycled can be collected in a special, orange Hefty EnergyBag that can be purchased online or at some Hy-Vee, Baker’s, Family Fare Supermarkets and Menards. The bag is set out with your recycling. Depending on market conditions, the bagged plastic mostly is burned as fuel at a cement kiln, but it also is converted to diesel fuel and sometimes is recycled into products like railroad ties.
Manage hazardous waste and chemicals
Under the Sink at 4001 S. 120th St. collects, for free, household paints, chemicals and hazardous wastes. It’s also a redistribution site, so you can pick up free household cleaners, garden products, automotive products, paints, stains, varnishes and hobby items that other residents have dropped off.
Nebraskans for Solar can connect you with contractors and help with education. Excess solar energy can be sold to your local electric utility; the average installation’s payback period is about 10 to 12 years.
From church basements to brightly lit, commercial thrift stores, buying second-hand is “a thing” in the metro. Larger chains include Thrift America, Thrift World, Goodwill, Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul. Also twice a year ReRuns hosts a massive garage sale for children’s goods.
If your focus is climate change, the most important things you can do are to reduce energy use in your home, business and transportation. Wash your clothes in cold water and line dry them. Turn down the thermostat in the winter (make it fun, Lawse says, by bundling up in stylish sweaters and scarves) and turn it up in the summer. Weatherize your home to plug leaks. Make your next vehicle an electric or hybrid, and try for alternate transportation at least one trip a week. Reduce your consumption of red meat, perhaps by eating one meatless meal a week.
And build community, Preister and Lawse said.
“You increase your ability to have an impact,” said Preister, the longtime lawmaker. “You get more ideas and you get more support.”
Here are some local, environmentally focused groups that build that sense of community.
A closer look at our Transformers
Hasbro's Transformers toyline and spinoff comics and cartoons provide the inspiration for Matt Haney's illustrations for Outlook 2019. Haney, a World-Herald graphic artist since 2006, admits to being "semi-obsessed" with everything Transformers since receiving his first action figure as a Christmas gift in 1984. He was 8 years old. "They were so popular that mothers were fighting for them on the shelves at Target," Haney says. He started mowing lawns for money to buy the latest figures and comic books. "Not much has changed," he quips about his ever-growing collection. In Matt's renderings, as in the series, the Autobots are the heroes, and the quotes are famous lines from Optimus Prime, their main leader. Together, they tell the story of "Omaha: Transformed."