This is a site all about relationships, and one of the most important relationships any of us has is with our planet. And, y’all, it’s a pretty dysfunctional relationship at this point. We are abusing it, arguably beyond repair. But if we act quickly and smartly, we can at least slow down the effects of our abuse and mis-use. In honor of Earth Day today, and inspired by friend Jeramy Zimmerman who started sharing planet-saving tips on Facebook this month, here are 22 easy things — Easy! — you can do to help save our Earth. On their own, they may not seem like a lot, but if each of you committed to doing even a few of them, let alone all of them, we could have a big impact.
(These first five are borrowed, with permission, from my friend Jeramy’s Facebook page):
1. Stop wasting food.
30-40% of usable food in the US goes to waste. Buy what you’ll cook. Cook as much as you’ll eat. Not going to get to it in time? Freeze it! Those were Jeramy’s tips, and I’ll add this: shop more frequently (we hit the grocery store almost every day to buy what we’ll need to cook dinner); when you have a spare 10 minutes, chop your veggies and store them in a container in the fridge so you’ll be more apt to throw them in a recipe when you’re cooking and use them up before they go bad; make some rice or pasta or couscous or whatever grain/carb you favor 2-3 times a week to have on hand for a quick stir-fry when you need to use up veggies or meat; don’t buy more fresh fruit than you and your family can eat in the next three days.
2. Put down the Charmin.
Have you been to other developed nations? Have you used their toilet paper? Have you noticed that whole productive countries are able to wipe their butts on something less soft than a down comforter? People act like our only choices are triple-ply luxury or sand paper. It ain’t true. Pick up a roll of Seventh Generation – it works just fine. You don’t need to use more of it. It doesn’t put chemicals and bleach close to some of your most vital organs. If you’ve got a horrible cold and your nose is all cracked and painful, by all means buy a box of Puffs with Aloe. Aside from that, use more responsible paper products. (Note: I have made the switch to Seventh Generation and it’s fine. It gets the job done and I can feel good about keeping my carbon footprint a little smaller).
3. Step away from the bag.
Plastic bags are one of our most ubiquitous, unnecessary evils. For a week, vow not to take one. Carry your own bag to the supermarket. Stuff a reusable bag (or even an old plastic bag) into your bag in case you stop for something on the way home. If you have a car, keep reusable grocery bags there. Just picking up one thing? Skip the bag all together. [And if, like me, you still use grocery plastic bags some of the time just to have a bag for cat litter, consider making the switch to these compostable pet waste bags — Wendy]
4. Drop the bottle.
What’s that in your hand? Bottled water? Don’t you know that bottles are for wine? How many bottles of water did you consume this week? None? Good job. Some? Cut it out. Get yourself a plastic or metal bottle. Refill it (for free) at any drinking fountain or in your own kitchen. We live in a country with very clean water. Afraid that people will think you’re poor if you aren’t carrying fancy water? Get a gold-plated, jewel encrusted water bottle of your own.
5. Hold the phone.
Our electronics contain an alarming amount of harmful stuff. Most harmful, of course, to those who make the products and those who live near where they’re dumped. And you want a new iPhone. I know, so do I. But hold on to the one you’ve got for just a few more months. Resist that urge to constantly upgrade. When you do get a new one, take the time to sell your old one. Donate the money to an organization focused on cleaning up toxic messes.
[Thank you, Jeramy, for the first five tips. These next 17 are my own.]
6. Swap paper napkins for cloth napkins.
They’re so much cuter than paper napkins anyway!.
7. Use reusable sandwich bags and lunch bags or sandwich tupperware.
I’m committing to this change since we are guilty of using disposable baggies for our sandwiches. I’m going with the sandwich-size tupperware, but I’ve heard the reusable bags are OK, too, if that’s your preference.
8. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth.
9. Participate in clothing swaps.
This is a great motivation to go through your closets and drawers, gather up the stuff you no longer wear, get a group of friends together, and get rid of the stuff you don’t want while maybe getting a few new-to-you pieces to wear and enjoy.
10. Go vegetarian once a week.
Not only are the health benefits numerous, but going meatless even one day a week saves tons of earth’s resources and energy. “The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. And, on average, about 40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of feed lot beef in the U.S. Compare this to the 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy needed to produce one calorie of plant-based protein. Moderating meat consumption is a great way to cut fossil fuel demand.” [via]
11. Cancel your newspaper delivery and read the same news online.
12. Cancel and opt out of junk mail (including phone books you don’t need or want).
13. Take shorter showers and cut back on baths.
Swap at least one of your regular baths with a short shower. When you do take a bath, don’t fill the water up to your shoulders.
14. Carpool, walk, bike, take public transportation.
I live in a city where I can easily get around without a car, but when I lived in a different city where public transportation was much less reliable (sorry, Chicago, but it’s true), I carpooled a lot. It was a great way to save on gas money AND get to know my neighbors/classmates/co-workers a little better. And when it was nice out, I biked everywhere and was in great shape, which was a win-win-win (good for my wallet, waistline, and the planet).
16. Buy (or rent!) gently-used items.
Not everything you own or use needs to be brand-spanking new. Check eBay, Craigslist, Etsy, Rent the Runway, FreeCycle.org, or your neighborhood listservs or FaceBook pages for items that you need that other people want to get rid of or loan for a low (or, often, no) cost. This practice is especially beneficial for items that you won’t use for very long — like baby products and clothes that your kid will outgrow in a few months (or weeks!).
17. Pass along your gently-used items to people who can use them.
Done with your crap? Pass it along. Surely, there are other people who can use what you no longer want. Maybe you can even make a few bucks to go buy more crap (or donate to good causes!).
17. Buy Local.
Whenever possible, buy from local farmers (CSA!) or farmers’ markets, supporting your local economy and reducing the amount of greenhouse gas created when products are flown or trucked in.
18. Tell your dry cleaners to hold the plastic (and return their hangers to them).
You know how dry cleaners like to wrap every item in tons of plastic? It’s unnecessary. Ask yours not to do this. Bring a bag to carry you freshly-laundered items home.
19. Bring your own coffee mug to the coffee shop (or, better yet, just make your own at home).
Use a spoon to stir — not one of the wood stirrers — and skip that cup-cover thingy that’s supposed to keep you from burning your hand on the cup.
20. Save the bows from gifts you receive and re-use them when it’s your turn to wrap a gift.
21. Change your light bulbs.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) last 10 times longer than a standard bulb and use at least two-thirds less energy.
22. Recycle glass, plastic, and paper!
I mean, duh.
Bonus: Compost your food waste! This is next on my list. Here in NYC, we have compost drop-off sites at our city farmers’ markets, which makes it pretty easy to compost most food waste. I don’t know why I’ve been dragging my heels on this, but I’m going to start composting my family’s food scraps, keeping them out of landfills and helping to improve the quality of soil in our community.