Happy Earth Day! For this Earth Day I wanted to share 10 easy ways I've gone 'green' and you can too. To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of the label that is 'green'. Because it sounds like a trend, like it's optional. It's not. We all have an environmental responsibility to maintain the planet and reduce our footprint as much as possible. And now I just threw a ton of guilt-weight on you. You're welcome (kidding). Fact is, no matter where we need to get, we have to start with small steps that will build momentum. Because these are habits & lifestyle and those things take time to change. By doing small things, we can inspire ourselves and others to be more conscious about our impact.
'For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction' is not just applied to physics. It's applied to nature, the earth, and the universe. So let's be kind to this earth that provides us with so much good. So before I get all hippie-mother-earth on you, let's get to it!
1 Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Did you know that those words are ordered in level of importance? We're always told to recycle, which of course is awesome, but more important is to REDUCE and REUSE. Stop buying things you don't need, and when you do purchase things, make sure they're quality goods that will last a long time. Reducing your footprint is the best thing you can do for the earth. Reduce the material goods & your energy intake. Reuse means to reuse things you already have into a new purpose, purchase second-hand, or sell/donate the item for second-hand use. Reuse glass jars for storage, an old dresser into a bar, an old t-shirt into a bag and a partner-less sock into a cleaning rag. I always donate goods I have no use for. You can find local thrift stores & charities to donate your goods to, along with nation-wide Goodwill & Salvation Army. Shop your local thrift to get great deals & support a good cause. And if you're doing any remodeling, take things apart carefully to maximize the amount of reusable materials (Habitat Restore will pick up or receive home goods/building materials/appliances and resell them to raise money for Habitat for Humanity - or you can put them up on Craigslist because that still counts as Reusing). Recycling, while great, requires lots of energy and sometimes pretty gross chemicals to get things back to 'raw material' state. You may actually be recycling things that can't be recycled, and not recycling some things you should be! Get to know your municipalities recycling rules by googling it. You might be surprised.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle also applies to food too - Reduce the amount of food you buy by meal planning. Reuse food by turning leftovers into another meal or freezing ingredients for later, and recycle by composting. Food waste is the #1 thing in our landfills (America throws away about 40% of its food, from producers to consumers - that all ends up in the landfill). Food that decomposes in a landfill - wrapped in plastic, in plastic bags, without oxygen - creates the green house gas methane, 20% more harmful to the ozone than CO2. Even if you live in an apartment, you can compost. And I don't think I even have to mention DON'T BUY BOTTLED WATER IT'S STUPID. I reuse glass bottles from tea & kombucha. It's great. And I use a Brita.
Craigslist, Thrift Stores, Goodwill, Salvation Army, & Habitat Restore
2 Use plant-based cleaners or make your own
Method, Seventh Generation, Honest Company, Mrs. Meyers, Better Life, the list goes on & on. These cleansers are much nicer to the planet and your body, working just as well (or better) than 'traditional' cleaners. Plus they usually have much nicer packaging, which I appreciate. You can also make your own cleaners. I use baking soda & vinegar to clear my drains & diluted vinegar for my all purpose cleaner (not recommended for stone counters, though). You can also use microfiber cloths to help clean without cleaners - one made for glass will give you a clean, streak-free mirror without ammonia wafting through your home.
3 Reduce Driving
Combine errands, walk where you can, & carpool. This one is... less easy than others. But totally worth it. If you have a car, use it the least amount possible. This extends the life of your tires, your car, and your wallet. I've found that while combining errands may be a time-suck for that day, it's so much more efficient in the long run. And try to avoid doing errands at peak times, because that just means traffic. If you live in a city (or small town) consider getting a bike for small errands. And please, if you're a parent, let your kid take the bus. This is said by a person who lost count the number of times there was a car double parked next to the school blocking traffic because they refused to get out of the car or have their kid walk 1 block to the car. I'm not annoyed at all.... moving on...
4 Eat More Plant-centric
Growing up in the Midwest, all meals were centered around meat. Veggies were just an afterthought. And that's really a shame. Because we buy frozen produce and produce that's been picked weeks ago, it never seems like it could be anything more than the necessary side we begrudgingly eat. But when you buy good produce, it's totally awesome. And mouth-watering. And CHEAPER. I'm not saying you have to go vegan or anything (that's a very long process that involves self-reflection and the realities of your current living situation), but start planning meals thinking of produce first and fill in around that. Because meat (especially factory farm meat), costs the planet a lot more than the sticker price you see on the plastic wrapper. A great way to start learning about produce is at the farmer's market (most farmers love talking about the produce they bring). I also love 'The French Market Cookbook' by Clotilde Dusoulier - It really got me started on my produce-centric cooking. PS the other day I made a whole wheat pita 'pizza' with garlic creamed feta, mint, radishes, green onions, kalamata olives & a poached egg and I couldn't stop eating it. SO GOOD!.
Related to this - buy organic when you can, buy local when you can. Both are very important to the overhaul of the industrialized food system we have. This would take a whole book, let alone it's own blog post, to really dive into. Check out the articles below as well as the book 'Omnivore's Dilemma'.
5 Buy Second Hand
I find this difficult for clothing because of my style, but I love doing it for furniture & books. I even bought my DSLR refurbished. If you're thinking of buying something, look into buying it second hand first. You'll save money, and the planetary cost of using resources & shipping across seas. Plus you'll probably save things from the landfill. Win-Win-Win.
6 Use Your Local Library
I love my local library. I go there about twice a month. Libraries have books, magazines, movies, CDs, CD audiobooks, e-books, audiobooks online, video games, documentaries, newspapers, and probably more. I'm constantly renting books to read and audiobook CDs for the car. So why is using your library green? Because sometimes you don't need to keep a book. Sometimes you just want to read (or listen) and you're done. And what if you buy a book and don't like it? I rent books and if I find I want to keep it around for reference, I put it on a list to buy second-hand. It helps keep my book hoarding at bay and ensures I only have books I use.
7 Buy in Bulk
No, I don't mean only shop at Costco. I mean shop the bulk bins at the grocery store. These bins have shelf-stable foods that don't have packaging. You fill a bag with however much you want and you pay. Some stores even let you bring your own containers, they'll weigh them ahead of time and subtract that weight when you check out. You'll find shopping from bulk bins is often cheaper than buying prepackaged items because you aren't paying for the package (or the brand). If you must buy items in packaging, look for items that you can reuse, mainly glass jars or resealable thick plastic bags. Half my pantry items are in reused glass jars. For the rest of your items, look for recyclable or compostable packaging. (Now we just have to get Trader Joe's on the bulk bin bandwagon and life will be wonderful)
8 Use Reusable Bags
Here in Chicago they banned single use bags in September 2014. I don't miss them. Most stores now offer thicker, multiple use plastic bags, but I don't want them. I'll still have more bags that I don't know what to do with. I use reusable bags. I have woven polypropylene bags that I got for free (thanks, auto show) and canvas bags that I purchased. If you buy any produce, you'll definitely want canvas bags. Reusable bags hold all the bacteria, dirt & grime (and E.Coli) from your purchases and you'll need to wash the bags - canvas holds up the best, and it does well in hot water if you feel the need. There are also reusable bags for produce/bulk bins! This also helps reduce the 'bag of bags' conundrum. You can also use a basket if you're feeling fancy. Or make your own bags from old T-Shirts (reusing for the win).
And don't forget to store your food in reusable containers too. I use glass jars & pyrex mainly. You can also use beeswax wraps for things like sandwiches (in place of plastic wrap) & bento boxes for lunch.
9 Wash in Cold Water Only
Washing your clothes in cold water reduces energy usage, energy costs, prevents shrinking & extends the life of your clothes & their colors. New detergents don't need hot water to work their cleaning magic (see #2). If you'd like to go a step further, line dry your clothes as well. It saves even more money and energy (and keeps those jeans from getting so tight you can't get into them anymore).
10 Go Paperless
Yea, we always hear this. Even from our utility companies and banks. But you know it's important. One of the most important things you should do is stop the junk mail. You can contact the company directly or go through an organization like Catalog Choice. For things like bill paying and banking do your research and make sure the digital alternatives are safe & secure. For home papers, if you print anything be sure to use recycled paper. And digitize what you can (for what does come in paper - this is more for organization but it's still nice).
Switch to all-natural body & makeup products - This one can be tough for makeup, and it's a switch I'm still trying to make. But things we put on our body are just as important as things we put it in (there's a joke there, somewhere).
FURTHER READING & VIEWING (get it from the library):
Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan | Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson | The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo | The Waste Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders | Easy Green Living by Renee Loux | Organic Body Care Recipes by Stephanie Tourles | The French Market Cookbook by Clotilde Dusoulier | Silent Spring by Rachel Carson | Moral Ground by Kathleen Dean Moore | Farm City by Novella Carpenter
What do you do for your environmental responsibility? Anything you found easy to switch over to 'green'? Share it below!