It is that time of year when, after months of cold, wintery doldrums, we excitedly look toward spring. With spring comes more sunshine and warmer temperatures, but there is another aspect of the season that is attractive. Spring is a time of renewal, birth and new possibilities. It is a time when we can look around us and take in the wonders of the natural cycles of Mother Earth. It only makes sense that springtime is when we celebrate Earth Day, a day to show our gratitude and appreciation for the beauty and bounty of this planet that we live on. A great way to celebrate Earth Day is by making a commitment to adopt habits that will lessen your overall ecological footprint.
The truth is that we all can be doing a little more to reduce our ecological footprint, and even the smallest changes can have an important effect. Your ecological footprint refers to the amount of space on this planet that is required to sustain yourself at your current standard of living. At our current rate, we are using more resources annually than the Earth can support in the same amount of time. It takes about eighteen months for the planet to produce, and recover from producing, the resources that we use in only twelve months. This means that at this point, we really need one and a half Earths, and estimates are that as we make our way through the next decade, that we are racing towards requiring two Earths to support our ecological footprints. Since going out and getting another planet isn’t an option, we each have an obligation to act as ecologically responsible as possible.
The good news is that it really doesn’t take that much effort to make simple adjustments that lessen your impact now and into the future. So, in honor of spring and Earth Day, I would like to present you with some ideas to help you reduce your footprint on the planet.
- Pass up the bottled water. A bottle of water only contains about a fourth of the water required to produce and package it. Not to mention that even though you might have intentions of recycling, countless empty water bottles end up in landfills each year. Instead, invest in a reusable bottle and a home filtration system to keep you hydrated with fresh, clean water.
- I mentioned purchasing a reusable bottle for water, however you should also purchase reusable cups for all of your on-the-go beverages. Just think about how many soda and coffee cups make it into the trash. Many establishments, from convenience stores to coffee houses, offer an option of a refillable cup, often at a discount. Save yourself some many, and save the planet unnecessary waste.
- Buy reusable grocery bags and keep them in your car or next to your door so that they are easy to grab when you make a quick trip to the store. Rumor has it that those convenient plastic bags at every checkout station can take up to one thousand years to completely decompose. If you can, support retail establishments that have made a commitment to only using recycled bags, or better yet, encourage you to bring your own by giving you a discount, reducing their overall prices or charging you a small fee for each bag of theirs that you use.
- Go paperless. Paperless receipts and online billing are safe, easy ways to reduce the amount of paper waste that you contribute to on a regular basis.
- Wash your clothes in cold water. Approximately 90% of the energy that is used in a typical laundry cycle goes towards heating the water. Make laundry day even more earth friendly and choose detergents are free of sulphates, dyes and other harsh chemicals, or even try making your own.
- Use your car less. Carpool when possible and walk, bike or choose public transportation occasionally if it is an option in your area. Also, before you head out, have a plan of where you are going and figure out the shortest route that will allow you to accomplish all of your errands.
- Choose energy efficient light bulbs and appliances for your home. You might think that these are a little more costly; however the initial upfront costs are quickly made up for by reduced utility bills and less stress on the planet.
- Unplug your electronic devices when not in use. Even when turned off, anything that is plugged in still uses a certain amount of electrical currents referred to as “vampire power”. This type of energy usage can account for nearly 10% of your electric bill.
- Ditch the chemical cleaning supplies and invest in three things; vinegar, baking soda and lemons. These three ingredients can clean practically anything, from your hair to your oven.
- Take shorter showers. I love a nice, long hot shower but my skin doesn’t, plus it is simply wasteful. Ten minutes under the water is all you need to get clean and feel refreshed.
- Instead of throwing away old towels, wash cloths or t shirts, cut them up and use them as reusable cloths for cleaning. There is no need to spend money on paper towels that you mindlessly tear from the roll, quickly wipe the counter and then toss into the trash.
- Get a library card. True, you can get just about any book in eBook form, which eliminates a lot of paper and waste. However, if you are like me, the feel and even the smell of a book is irresistible. Chances are I will never be able to completely pull myself away from the old fashioned type of book that you hold in your hands. Rather than blow your paycheck at the bookstore, make a trip to your library and reacquaint yourself with the beauty of a borrowed book.
- Go vintage or retro. The next time the shopping bug strikes, take a trip to your local thrift or resale shop. You can find clothing, furnishings or the inspiration for your next creative project.
- When you do decide to skip the thrift store and spend money on something new, treat yourself with something high quality. Spending a little extra now will allow you get more use out of it in the end. Go in with the mindset that you only want to buy something once. So, choose the cookware that you can pass on to your grandchildren and buy that classic sweater from a brand known for longevity. A lot of “fast fashion” is little more than “trash fashion” as it is quickly discarded and makes its way into our landfills.
- Have a swap party. Choose a theme and invite your friends and encourage them to bring things to swap. Everyone comes with something they no longer use and everyone leaves with something they want. Possible themes include, dressy clothing, children’s clothing, jewelry, books, home accessories, hobby supplies, etc.
- Ditch the plastic wrap and disposable storage containers in favor of sturdy, reusable glass ones that can withstand temperatures from the freezer to the microwave.
- Before you ditch it, see if you can fix it. Sometimes it really isn’t worth it to have something fixed, but often times the problem can be much smaller than you think and the repair quite simple. Before you throw it away be realistic about if can actually be fixed. Even if you are looking for a reason to buy a new one, you can still have the old one fixed and then donate or sell it.
- Borrow before you buy. How many things do you have in your home that you bought because you needed or wanted them, but really only used them once or twice? Before you make your next unnecessary purchase, hit up social media and see if a friend has one that you can borrow instead.
- Learn to reuse everyday objects. Used dryer sheets can be placed in drawers to keep laundry smelling fresh or used to lightly rub over your clothing to reduce static. Old newspapers can be used as wrapping paper, or placed under your tires if you are stuck in the snow and holiday or birthday cards can be repurposed into hanging art work or used as postcards. Take a look at the things that you mindless toss everyday and see if you can find a way to get a little more use out of them.
- Make a point of cleaning out your closets once a season to clear out clothing and objects that you just don’t use or want anymore. Donate or give away anything that still has some life left in it so that someone else has the chance to use and cherish it.
- Make a commitment to buy products that are packaged with recycled materials.
- Support companies that support renewable energy and sustainable raw material practices.
- Choose products that recycle from the Earth by using natural, gentle ingredients.
- Visit your local recycling center and get updates on special recycling days when they accept hazardous chemicals, medications or electronics. These items can have a very negative environmental impact if not disposed of correctly.
- If your community has a curb side recycling program, make sure you understand what they do and do not accept, and keep recyclables separated if necessary.
- Try composting. You can buy composting bins and kits in a range of sizes, some small enough to be acceptable on small apartment balconies. Use your compost to feed your houseplants, your garden or donate it to a local garden project.
- Get involved in community recycling events.
- Volunteer to clean up trash and debris from a local park, garden or roadway.
- Don’t throw away your grass clippings. In fact, in some cases it is best to not even gather the grass clippings from your lawn. Leaving them there will actually redistribute the nutrients back into the soil and make for an even greener landscape.
- Buy products in packaging that you know can easily be recycled.
One more way that you can celebrate Earth Day this year is by getting outside and enjoying nature. Visit a local nature center, go for a hike or sign up for a community garden project. By making just a few of the changes listed above, the world will be a more beautiful, healthier place for you to go out and enjoy for generations to come. Just remember to apply your eco-friendly packaged sunscreen before you head out the door!