Earth Day is coming up this Saturday! Founded in 1970, Earth Day is a time for us to reflect on our environmental impact as a species and to consider the benefits of adopting more sustainable practices. The food we eat, the things we buy, the ways we move through the world and shape the environment around us: it all matters, it all adds up. Each of us can play a role in making this a greener, healthier planet.
For this year’s Earth Day celebration, we want to shine a spotlight on sustainability. What can we do as individuals to live more efficiently and eco-consciously?
Make Your Home More Energy Efficient
We often talk about being more eco-conscious in the language of “sacrifice.” We have to “make cuts,” we have to “scale back.” The truth is, though, that a more ecological way of life can enhance your life and make it better in tangible ways—especially when it comes to your pocketbook. Making your home more energy efficient can save you money while also helping to lower pollutant levels and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
There are a few things you can do around the house that will “green” it while also lowering your utility bills:
- Swap out your incandescent light bulbs for LED bulbs (which can last for 15-20 years!).
- Use more washable rags to cut down on your paper towel consumption.
- Bare windows can heat up your home and make your A/C work overtime. Cool it down with window treatments like curtains, shades, and blinds.
- House plants can add a splash of lush greenery to your surroundings while also converting CO2 into oxygen and improving the overall air quality.
- Wash your clothes and dishes at night. Your big appliances use up less energy when they run on the electric company's "off-peak hours." Check with your provider to find out what their off-peak times are.
- Speaking of appliances: go for big loads of laundry and dishes over small ones. Doing one or two big loads a week is going to consume less energy than if you do a bunch of small ones throughout the week.
- Plugged-in appliances that aren't being used can still run up your electric bill over time. One easy way to combat these "vampire appliances" is to use power strips to make it easier to switch them on and off.
You may have noticed that we didn’t mention the biggest change you can make to your home: going solar. While converting to solar energy can be one of the most effective things you can do to green your home and can save you a lot of money in the long run, the initial costs for installing solar panels can be expensive. It’s a worthwhile investment if you can afford it (especially if you live in a desert state with ample exposure to bright sunlight), but it’s definitely not something to be undertaken lightly.
Get Wise With Your Water
Aside from energy consumption, one of our biggest individual footprints on the environment is our water usage. It’s important to not waste this precious resource: droughts, water scarcity, and tapped-out lakes and aquifers are a real problem. We all have to do our part to use water wisely so that neighbors and the flora and fauna around us get their fair share, too.
A few ways to get water-wise include:
- Don’t let your faucets drip! This wastes more water than you think.
- Get a water purifier/filter. Not only will you save money - no more bottled water to buy - you also won’t waste all that plastic.
- If you live in an area with lots of rainfall, collect rainwater. If you have a garden or landscaping, a few buckets of rain water can go a long way toward keeping your plants hydrated and happy. Just make sure the water is clean and purified if you’re going to use it for bathing, cleaning, or cooking.
- Opt for a wild lawn. Fine cut grass may look nice but it consumes an immense amount of water and takes a lot of work to maintain. Take out the grass and let the local plant life "reclaim" the soil. With a little maintenance it can look just as good and you won't have to feed it nearly as much water since the plants have evolved over generations to get what they need from this local environment.
- Check for leaks in your toilets. An easy way to do this is to put a few drops of food coloring into the tank of your toilet. Check the tank a half hour later: if that color is in the bowl, you have a leak.
- Don't let the water run when you brush your teeth and take shorter showers.
- It may seem counterintuitive but a dishwasher- on average- uses less water than hand washing dishes.
- Do you need to dump ice building up in your freezer? Throw those cubes on your plants!
- Pre-treat the stains on very dirty clothes so you don’t have to wash them in a second consecutive load of laundry (a bit of white vinegar and club soda can work wonders!).
Eat Less Meat
If you’re a dedicated carnivore, this one can be tricky. The science, however, is undeniable: eating less red meat and other factory livestock can reduce greenhouse emissions and have a major positive impact on the environment. While the ethical ramifications of eating meat is certainly worth pondering, the environmental impact of the meat industry is less ambiguous: the amount of water and deforestation that’s needed to sustain livestock herds is tremendous.
It doesn’t mean that you have to become a vegetarian or a vegan tomorrow. It is worth examining how much meat you can consume and finding ways to make it an occasional treat as opposed to a daily staple in your diet. And before you say “where will I get my proteins,” don’t forget that there are non-meat food items that can give you a more-than-adequate amount of protein. These include:
- Lentils Beans (kidney, black, pinto, and chickpeas)
- Green peas
- Soy milk
- Wild rice
- Sweet Potatoes
Reuse & Recycle
Go to any junkyard or landfill and you will see how much waste we go through as a species. So much of it is packaging, broken electronics, old clothes, and other cast-off items. One of the most effective ways you can go “green” is to be smarter about what you buy and hold onto. Don’t discard your phone or laptop to chase the latest piece of technology if they’re still good to go. You’re often better off repairing and extending the life of your appliances than replacing them as soon as they show signs of age (especially if the repairs cost less than 50% of its original value). Need to update your wardrobe? Check secondhand and vintage stores to see if you can find something that suits your style.
As to the question of whether or not to recycle: it does make an impact, but you have to be diligent about it. Make sure you clean your recyclables before tossing them in the proper bin, and keep non-recyclables out of them. If you have room in your home for a compost bin, consider making that a part of your recycling routine. Composting your food waste helps nourish and replenish soil; it’s a great way to fertilize the land and give back to nature while also getting rid of unwanted foodstuff and leftovers.
Change Your Commute
It’s hard to live car-free in America unless you live in a major city with around-the-clock, easy to access public transportation. There are still ways you can travel that can help reduce the serious environmental impact our car culture has on the earth’s atmosphere.
- Foot or pedal power. If you can walk within a reasonable time frame to your destination, consider using this opportunity to get closer to hitting that 10,000 steps a day count. A bike can be an affordable alternative to a car, especially if you live close enough to your job and/or other community centers.
- Carpool. Finding co-workers or friends to share rides with is a great way to put less vehicles on the road and also lets you get quality facetime with the people in your life while you commute.
- Public transportation. Buses, trains, shuttles, and light rail can be viable options if their schedules and routes align with your needs.
- Group your errands. Havea bunch of stuff to do in a day? Knock them out in one drive rather than making multiple fuel-burning expeditions across town.
- Get an eco-friendly car. If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, consider buying one with better gas mileage, going electric, or getting a hybrid car.
- You could also help ameliorate your environmental footprint by purchasing carbon offset credits.
Grow Your Own Food
Growing your own food means less trips to the grocery store, less commuting, and also enriching your local environment. This option may seem out of reach if you live in an apartment, but you don’t need a backyard to garden. Find a community garden near you; you might even be able to find a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm near you that’ll let you grow and work with them. Growing your own veggies and fruits takes time but the long-term environmental, personal health, and financial benefits are worth it. You can even grow mints and other herbs indoors and on balconies with the right preparation.