Earth Day is just around the corner, and its namesake's wellbeing is under threat now more than ever, owing to recent reversals of governmental policies that were crucial to curtailing climate change. Following a big step back, it feels particularly imperative this month to take two (or a few) steps forward in the direction of environmental health and sustainability.
We've all been told countless times to shut off the faucet when we brush our teeth, to flip the light switch when we leave the room and to recycle our aluminum cans, and for the most part, we've put these basic rules of green living into practice. But some sustainable habits seem harder to, well, sustain, for all sorts of reasons — mostly because their alternatives feel easier, more familiar and socially acceptable, or because it can be overwhelming to accept responsibility for our individual effects on our shared soil and atmosphere.
For example, how many of us rip through packages of plastic wrap without considering where all that waste will wind up once it's discarded or race through rolls of paper towels without thinking about the trees it took to make each sheet? How do we always find ourselves at the grocery store without the reusable shopping bags we always swear we mean to bring? How much CO2 are we truly contributing to global warming with every ten-minute drive or burger we imbibe?
These uncomfortable questions are the ones we have to ask if we want to make progress, remembering that change always necessitates some growing pains but provides fruitful rewards — in this case, a deeper sense of integrity and a commitment to bettering this planet we inhabit, for ourselves and for future generations. As with all lifestyle alterations, the key is to break things down into small and accessible swaps, and the more effortless they are to implement and remember, the better.
Below, we've compiled four fresh ways to go a little more green, each with minimal cost and effort. Try just one at a time, or go for all at once for a full overhaul. Either way, you can consider the next sunshiny day a small "thanks" from Mother Nature.
1. Make use of gray water.
A bucket placed in the shower can collect excess soapy water to be used for other cleaning purposes – mopping the floor in the bathroom or kitchen, washing the car or scrubbing the mud off your sneakers. Alternatively, you can let the bucket fill up while the water heats, before you step in and start sudsing up, so you get pure water for your potted plants or garden. Either way, you'll be conserving the perfectly fine H2O that typically goes straight down the drain.
Plastic tableware like straws, cups and cutlery get used just once, for mere minutes, before they're dumped in the garbage and ultimately land in landfill piles. In the U.S., we're talking something like 7 million tons of utensils and containers tossed every year – and since they degrade so slowly, they can stick around for thousands of years. Many of these plastic items make their way into bodies of water, where they choke aquatic animals that confuse them with food – not a pretty picture.
A simple solution: wrap a fork, knife and spoon in a cloth napkin, and throw the small bundle into your purse or the glove compartment of your car. Even better, keep the silverware contained in a thermos so you have a handy alternative to a disposable paper coffee cup, too. You can simply skip the plastic straw you're typically offered with your cold brew, or you can purchase a reusable, stainless steel straw online if you prefer an eco-friendly way to slurp.
3. Eat more local produce.
Livestock is responsible more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined. Cows and sheep alone create 37% of the methane effusion that's attributed to human activity, and that methane is 23 times more powerful as a cause of global warming than CO2. Meat production also requires massive amounts of water compared to crop farming – it takes an estimated 2,400 gallons of water to make one mere pound of meat (compared to 25 gallons of water for one pound of wheat). And these are just a few of the ways that eating animal products takes a toll on the environment.
But switching to fruits and vegetables isn't a complete solution, since transporting produce across the continent demands loads of fuel – read: more greenhouse gas emissions. The ultimate earth-friendly diet consists of plant-based feasts from local produce. But for most of us, that probably feels unrealistic as an all-day, every-day approach. Implement a small change instead: commit to a trip to your nearest farmer's market at least once or twice a month (marked on your calendar, so you can't miss it), and stock up on seasonal veggies while you're there. Then, commit to cooking them up in as many plant-based meals as you can manage, whether that comes out to just "one part plant" a day, a week or a month. (Because every pound of food really does count.)
4. Before you recycle, reuse.
That emptied peanut butter jar can become a container for ground coffee, whole nuts or other pantry items, or it can even be used to store q-tips and cotton balls in the bathroom. The plastic bag inside a finished cereal box can be used in place of a ziplock with the help of a clip or two, and the cereal box itself can be cut up to make dividers and organizers for your desk and kitchen drawers. Old clothes can be ripped into rags to replace paper towels. Aluminum cans can be transformed to small succulent planters for the windowsill or put to work as holders for pencils and pens, paper clips and other miscellaneous items. If you're DIY savvy, you'll find far more inventive ideas smattered across Pinterest, but these are just a handful that even the least crafty of us can manage.
The recycling bin beats the trash can, but the recycling industry is still far from perfect, and the best solution to limit waste is repurposing within your own home. This doesn't mean you have to hoard every last material that enters your doors, but it does mean you can take an extra moment to consider an alternative use before you dispose of things.
p.s. Have you tried these all-natural herbal remedies to beat seasonal allergies?