Thursday, April 22 is Earth Day, an internationally recognized day bringing awareness to the importance of taking action to protect our planet.
As far as I’m concerned, every day is Earth Day. We can all do our part in reducing our environmental footprint, in many simple yet effective ways. Your footprint is the effect you have on the environment. In other words, the amount of resources you use and the harmful gases you produce.
For most of us, doing our part just means discarding old habits that are doing harm and creating new habits that lessen the resources we use. Change begins to happen when we all do our part.
It all begins with an awareness (or a mindfulness) of our habits. Begin to build that by noticing, on your next shopping trip for example, how much of what you buy ends up in the trash. Here are my suggestions for simple changes that don’t necessarily take time, money or effort, just awareness.
Clothing (and other textiles)
- Buy quality, classic clothing of natural fibers that will last you for years. Don’t give in to fast fashion that go out of style quickly and are not quality made. They’re usually made from synthetic fibers, which release micro plastics when washed. They end up in the landfill quickly where they take forever to decompose and produce methane in the process. Quality may cost more up front, but lasts far longer than fast fashion, so you reap saving over the longhaul.
- Buy American made so there is less shipping and less use of fossil fuels.
- Consider buying clothing at a high end consignment shop.
- Use cold water when you wash your clothes
- Consider taking the train instead of flying. Air travel is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Choosing the train cuts emissions per passenger by up to 90%!
- If you must travel by air, go for the flight with as few stops as possible. Landings and take offs use more resources.
- Fly economy class. More people packed in = less resources
- Take public transportation whenever possible. When you’re at your destination, look into taking local transit to get around – bus, train, subway, etc. It’s cheaper than renting a car and you get a full cultural experience.
- If you’re in the market for a new car, consider an electric vehicle. But if your current car is in good condition, keep it instead.
- Reduce the amount of driving. Combine errands with other appointments, consider ride sharing if possible, buy local, etc.
- Keep your car in good working condition, including the tires.
- Don’t be an aggressive driver – avoid sudden braking and acceleration.
- Use driving apps to look for shorter routes and for routes around road construction or other traffic jams.
- Drastically reduce your consumption of animal products, which are responsible for 14% of manmade greenhouse gasses globally. Consider going vegan one or two days a week (or full time). I can give you lots of pointers.
- Before you jump on the almonds are bad bandwagon, No, almonds do not take 1.1 gallons of water per almond to produce. That number does not take into account all the uses of products from the almond tree, from biomass fuel to animal bedding, to dairy cattle feed. And farmers are getting more efficient everyday, mostly by using drip irrigation. It is somewhat higher than other crops, however it’s much lower than animal protein. A 6 ounce steak for instance usual 674 gallons of water. The thirstiest food products grown in CA are those that are derived from land animals.
- The crop that consumes the most water in California is alfalfa, which is largely grown as feed for cattle and dairy cows.
- Choose organic and local when available. This cuts down on emissions due to transportation as well as chemical pesticides and herbicides being released into the air.
- Plan your meals wisely and shop smart. Only buy food you know you’ll eat. Cut down on food waste, which can end up in landfills and contribute to greenhouse gases.
- Keep a compost bin. You can keep a container in your kitchen and empty it into the compost bin when full.
- Grow your own fruits and veggies.
- Eat foods that are in season where you live.
- Don’t buy single serve anything. If you want single serve, buy the larger size and divide it up into reusable containers yourself.
- When you eat out, bring your own containers to take home leftovers.
- Bring your own coffee mug and cutlery when going out.
- Encourage your restaurants to reduce their use of plastic and find environmentally healthy alternatives.
- Use reusable water bottles made of glass or stainless steel. An empty jar works great at home, insulated stainless steel for travel.
- Buy beverages in cardboard cartons or glass bottles, instead of plastic jugs. The cardboard cartons are coated with plastic, however it’s a lot less than all plastic jugs.
Around the Home
- If you have a small appliance that will take the place of turning on the stove, (an InstaPot or Air Fryer for example), use that instead.
- Use jars left over from grocery purchases as storage containers.
- Buy reusable, non-plastic storage containers. There are options made of silicon, glass, even bees wax. Same with container covers.
- Consider other alternatives to plastic. Ditch the plastic straws and use stainless steel.
- Use diluted vinegar in a spray bottle to clean, deodorize and disinfect surfaces (disclaimer: there’s no evidence it kills COVID). There is tons of information on the internet on how to make simple, homemade house cleaners with regular ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda.
- Keep a recycle bin in your kitchen. Educate yourself on what’s recyclable and what’s not for your area.
- Buy large bottles of dish soap and refill your smaller container.
- Buy bar soap, lotion and shampoo/conditioner.
- Get reusable, washable cotton pads for facial care.
- Look for cosmetics and other sundry items (like lip balm) in metal or other plastic free containers.
- Look into refillable sundry and cosmetic items. For instance, there are many refillable deodorants out now, including Dove.
- Air dry your clothes on an old-fashioned clothes line.
- If you do use your dryer, use reusable dryer balls made of wool instead of dryer sheets
- Buy powdered laundry detergent in cardboard boxes, and use only as much as you need to be effective
- Wash your clothes less often.
- Dial down your hot water heater to 120 degrees.
- Use heating and cooling only when necessary.
- Turn off the TV when you’re not watching it. Better yet, do without!
- Unplug small appliances when not in use.
- Make sure you’re using energy efficient LED light bulbs
- When buying new appliances, make sure they have an Energy Star seal.
- Opt for renewable energy if possible.
- Go paperless as much as possible. You don’t need to print out most documents, just implement a really comprehensive file system on your computer.
- When you do print, make sure you print on front and back.
- Buy products that are made from recycled products.
- Be careful when purchasing toner. An off-brand can be wasteful when it doesn’t work right.
- Use your electronic devices as long as possible. It’s not necessary to replace your phone or computer every year.
- Buy less stuff! Do you really need a new car every 3 years or a new phone every year.
- When grocery shopping or any kind of shopping really, bring your own bags.
- Consider if you even need a bag for the produce you’re getting. Do you really need to put a bunch of bananas, or an onion in a plastic bag? If you must use a bag, bring your own reusable. Look for all cotton reusable bags.
- Avoid items with excess packaging.
- Try to stay away from plastic packaging. Buy sauces condiments and dressings in glass bottles or jars. Sure, plastic uses less resources to manufacture and ship, but glass is endlessly reusable as a sturdy storage container and is easily recyclable.
- Make from scratch some of those things you would normally buy – spaghetti sauce or bread for example.
- Buy in as large a quantity of packaged food that you will use without the food spoiling.
- If you must buy something in a plastic container, be sure to reuse the plastic as many times as possible. Even plastic bags can be washed between use.
In a future article, I’ll specifically address the over use of plastics, but for now this is a good starting point. As you begin to reduce your footprint, you’ll find new ways to contribute to protecting our planet. Take the challenge, make it a game, and share your other ideas.