By Alison Brown
In honor of Earth Day on April 22nd, I wanted to share an article I wrote about living a more sustainable lifestyle. Despite news that the US Environmental Protection Agency is dismantling energy efficiency programs and rolling back drilling regulations, we as citizens are now more educated and empowered than ever to make personal decisions that don’t adversely affect the environment. Hopefully what I’ve shared offers some new ways to contribute, or provides you with tips to share with your network.
1. Say no to single-use plastic bags
This is one of the easiest things you can do to help the planet. Experts estimate that single-use plastic bags (like you get at Walgreens or Safeway) can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. That’s a lot of years taking up space in a landfill! You can easily get reusable bags created from sustainable materials such as bamboo, canvas or things like recycled plastic. If those are a pain to carry around, just grab a compact one on Amazon or next time you see them at the check out stand. They can fit in your purse or backpack when you’re on the go. Not only are these more durable than single-use bags, but you’ll be helping the environment a TON. This goes for anything plastic as well, including ziplock bags, garbage bags, tupperware, or those bags you throw veggies in at the supermarket. Unless your bags say “compostable” – just don’t use them. Bring your own, or shop at places that keep this in mind. If you’re looking for compostable garbage bags, Seventh Generation has a great line of eco-friendly products – they’re available at Target.
2. Be a conscious consumer
As I mentioned before, plastic anything is terrible for the environment and most of it winds up in our oceans. Scientists estimate that over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently inhabit our oceans, which accumulate into garbage patches twice the size of Texas, or wind up being consumed by wildlife. So if you see a product that uses a lot of plastic wrapping, try to buy another brand that doesn’t. One other way I like to be a conscious consumer is by purchasing household appliances or other gadgets that have multiple uses. This strategy has been a good way to simplify my life, and also ensure clutter is kept to a minimum. One of my favorite gadgets is my beloved Blendtec blender. Not only can it make delicious smoothies, but it can blend soup, grind coffee beans, puree vegetables, juice fruits, AND it’s self-cleaning. When you’re finished, you just add one cup of water with a bit of soap and run the cleaning cycle – so awesome! This is only one personal example, but I challenge you to use this mindset when you’re making your next purchase. Is it something you really need, and can this item be used for several different purposes? If the answer is no, I ask you to re-think its necessity.
3. Stop using paper towels
Many of us already know this, but ending the use of paper towels is another great way to help the environment. Surprisingly, this is one I have trouble with. If I make a sticky mess, cloth towels only absorb so much and they become sticky themselves. The push for sustainable business practices and advancements in technology mean that more sustainable paper towels are on the market, but they aren’t really a necessity – they’re just convenient. Bounty paper towels, for example, are now 100% made from responsibly managed forests. While that’s great news, trees are also absorb carbon dioxide, one of the main contributors to climate change. Imagine if we cut down no trees at all? We’d have that many more available to absorb carbon and keep our air clean.
4. Stop drying your clothes in the dryer
This one is tough for Americans. If you grew up in the US, you’re probably accustomed to drying your clothes in the dryer. But in most countries around the world, dryers are viewed as wasteful and a lot of people don’t own them. When I was living in Australia, all of my laundry was done by hanging it to dry the natural way. Because I lived in Melbourne with some painfully long winters, I had to get pretty strategic with my laundry because sometimes clothing would take up to a week or more to dry. So if you are one of the lucky ones who live in a warm region such as Southern California (or the East Bay!), you have plenty of opportunities to dry your clothes in the sun. You can use a clothes horse, or even go the old fashioned way with a clothing line. Drying your clothes naturally also improves longevity and helps retain color.
5. Wash your dishes with one sink of water
As a native Californian, I’m surprised this hasn’t become a widely adopted practice. Many experts believe the next resource crisis will focus on clean water supplies. According to National Geographic, “while nearly 70 percent of the world is covered by water, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh. Even then, just 1 percent of our freshwater is easily accessible, with much of it trapped in glaciers and snowfields.” With access to very limited amounts of fresh water, it’s imperative we conserve this precious resource. When I was living in Australia, I noticed a lot of people washing dishes using just one sink of water. I grew up by endlessly running the tap while I washed dishes, clearly an inefficient and wasteful practice. Australia has a drought-prone environment (as does California) and during one of their most severe drought periods, the government implemented educational campaigns to help people learn basic water saving techniques. These included filling your sink with soapy water and washing/rinsing all dishes there, instead of running the tap. It also included keeping a bucket in the shower to catch runoff to use for watering plants. As an American, these techniques took some getting used to (especially having a bucket in the shower) but it really makes a lot of sense.
*Bonus: Get rid of your car*
I decided to get rid of my car not for environmental purposes, but because I was moving overseas. But not having a car has been a breath of fresh air. Not only have my stress levels decreased significantly, I’ve significantly decreased my carbon footprint. I’ve been fortunate enough to live in cities where I had access to great public transportation systems and sharing economy services such as Lyft and Uber have provided additional convenience. I also had Flexicar, Getaround and Zipcar memberships, meaning I could rent cars by the hour whenever I needed wheels. Everything added up has also been much cheaper than car ownership. While ditching your car isn’t feasible for everyone, I challenge you to think about using your car less frequently. Could you walk to the store instead of drive? Can you carpool to dinner? Do you really need to drive to get a coffee, or can you make one at home? It sounds so easy, but sometimes we just need a little reminder that all of our small actions can make a big difference in the end.
Want to do more?