"Miss Elisa, don't forget the earth!" Wise advice from an elementary school student and something everyone should take to heart, even on Valentine's Day!

This wisdom came to me when I forgot to pack a beach ball globe upon leaving a Citizen Science environmental education program. When I packed up the Butterflymobile, the colorful vehicle that I drive to programs, a student came running out to hand the earth to me along with his wise advice.

There are many ways to give a valentine to the earth, and it all starts with remembering the life support system the earth provides us. It also starts with everyday actions that you do yourself and that you teach others. One action is to reuse items as much as possible, which is the second R in the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle slogan.

"What is the price of clean air, clean water?"

The creation of a gift from what you have (while thoughtfully re-gifting) is an excellent way to honor a person and honor the earth. It can also be the perfect valentine!

***

The Monroe County Solid Waste Management District (District) has many programs that protect and preserve the diversity and abundance of life on earth, with emphases on habitat, conservation and pollution prevention.

Many programs can be valentines to the earth: the general recycling programs and reuse program offered at the District's five sites; the Adopt-A-Road program where volunteers clean litter off roads; and the Green Business program, which gets businesses to inventory their waste and go green.

Other programs include the Orange Bag Trash program, which allows people to save funds on trash by disposing it themselves; the Hazardous Materials Reuse program at Central Recycling & Reuse; the Materials for the Arts, which provides not-for-profits with items for education purposes; and, of course, our Education program for the public.

The District's Recycling program conserves natural resources by reusing manufacturing materials, limiting habitat destruction and reducing pollution. The Reuse program keeps items in circulation rather than in the landfill.

"There are many ways to give a valentine to the earth, and it all starts with remembering the life support system the earth provides us. "

One study estimates that the loss from holiday season due to expenditures on gifts that are not what people really want is between $6 billion and $18 billion each year. That doesn't even consider the loss of natural resources in the manufacturing and distribution process.

So, if you don't need the item, and it is in good working order, the item can be taken to either our Central Recycling & Reuse facility on 3400 S. Walnut St., or one of our four rural sites.

Reuse outlets also welcome a variety of reusable items. However, at the District sites, only small items are generally accepted. For items that may be useful for classrooms or not-for-profits, the public may contact Recycling/Reuse Supervisor Mary Baker of the Materials for the Arts programs. A variety of items from books, toys, costumes to craft materials are accepted. The Materials for the Arts is located at Central Recycling & Reuse on Walnut.

***

The life-support system that the earth provides us is referred to as "eco-services," which are difficult to put a price on but some people have tried. Think about it.

What is the price of clean air, clean water? What is the price of bees in pollination? What is the price of you purchasing "disposables," items meant for a one-time use, throwing away items that don't belong in the trash can, not reusing or recycling?

What is the price of using lawn chemicals that affect water, soil and air quality for other living creatures, destroying wildlife habitat in your yard and by your business, or buying that gadget you don't need?

Without the ecosystem, there would be no labor force, no consumers, no economy. The natural resources used in production by businesses stem from the environment, and the economy's workers and consumers rely on moderate temperatures and the sustained availability of clean air, water and food. There would be no economy without a viable environment.

"When you reuse, you can still identify what the object is."

So this Valentine's Day, start reusing and recycling, if you haven't already, or step up your efforts and thoughtfully re-gift. Give a valentine to the earth by reusing everyday items to make a Valentine's Day craft. Reusing every day items to create gifts can be the best gift of all.

Reusing does not change the form of the object, as in recycling when items are melted down, shredded, etc. and manufactured into something new. When you reuse, you can still identify what the object is. Reuse is not a new concept to society, but even though it comes before recycling in importance as in the slogan 'reduce, reuse, recycle,' it is often forgotten.

Be resourceful. Next time you throw something out, ask yourself should you have purchased it? Does it really go away? Can you reuse it for something? Can you give it to someone else to use or, can you make a gift out of it?

For information on recycling and reuse programs at the District, call 349-2020 or visit our Web site at .... Include the environment in your everyday actions to ensure the diversity and abundance of life on earth for all species and don't forget the earth!

***

Happy Valentine's Day to you, and Happy Valentine's Day to the earth and those of you who have followed my "Green Query." I am still looking for my "Green Man!"

Thank you though to Miss Powers' second grade class at Childs Elementary for the handsome green construction cutout of a green man. I know my real green man is out there somewhere and is probably giving a valentine to the earth right this moment.

Elisa Pokral is the media and education director at the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District. She can be reached at epokral@mcswmd.org.