Try One or Try Them All—Whatever You Do WILL Make a Difference!
1. Grow Your Own Food
The best way to ensure that the food you eat is grown organically is to grow your own. It’s healthier for you and your family, as well as the birds, insects and native plants in your area. Put in a “Victory” garden as a way to keep our planet from being saturated in chemicals. No yard? Start tomatoes and herbs in containers on your deck or patio. No accessible outdoor space? Look into community gardens like Seattle’s P-Patch Program.
2. Incorporate Native Plants in Your Garden
The Earth spent billions of years developing the ecosystems that contribute to a healthy planet. Native species of flora and fauna have a symbiotic relationship and need one another to thrive. As the human population continues to grow, we are at risk of losing so much of our natural world. Bringing native plants into our home environments can help stop the march to extinction. The organization Plant Native can help you find resources in your area.
3. Put Up a Clothesline
Home clothes dryers use 4% of residential energy on an annual basis. By hanging our clothes outside whenever the weather allows, we can reduce the world’s dependence on energy. Nothing beats the smell of sun/air-dried laundry—especially sheets. Become aware of neighborhoods that ban the practice, and work to help them see the folly of their ways. I’d rather see my neighbor’s skivvies flapping in the breeze than another mountaintop blown for coal mining.
4. Recycle Everything You Can
We are running out of physical space for the amount of trash we create. Most municipalities have some form of recycling as part of their waste-disposal services. Take advantage of every aspect and fill in the gaps when you can with commercial options—especially for those items that are most harmful to the environment when dumped in a landfill: computer and TV monitors, household chemicals, unused prescription drugs, etc. Encourage your community to make more services available by lobbying your representatives at every level.
5. Compost Kitchen Scraps with a Worm Bin
Hooray for cities like Seattle that offer composting as one of their waste disposal options! If yours does, be sure to take advantage of it. If it doesn’t or if you want to make rich, organic compost for use in your own garden, consider setting up a worm bin. There are a number of options, but we prefer the submerged garbage can method. No space? Check your area for firms that will take your scraps in return for finished compost.
6. Shop at Thrift Stores
Who needs more cheaply made stuff from overseas? Check your local thrift stores for the product you need, before heading to a big, chain store. You will be amazed by the quality and variety of items available—kitchen utensils and appliances, furniture, toys, books, sporting goods, pet supplies, small electronics, and, of course, clothing and accessories. For even bigger bargains, see if there’s a Goodwill Outlet store in four area. Most thrift stores benefit non-profit organizations.
7. Feed the Birds
Even yards with native plants can’t always produce food for our feathered friends year-round. Bird feeders and birdbaths will provide them with sustenance to make it through those times when natural seeds and water are not in abundance. Backyard birds bring joy and song to your garden while they pollinate your fruits and veggies, and keep the harmful insects down.
8. Practice Organic Gardening
The use of agricultural chemicals is still wrecking havoc on the environment, despite the public’s awareness of its dangers since the 1960s. By eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in your own yard, you help protect native species as well as neighborhood pets and your own family. Organic gardening is big business these days, so there is tons of information available.
9. Walk, Bike or Take Public Transit
Every time you opt to leave your gas-powered car at home, you are reducing our use of fossil fuels. Start with simple walking trips to the mailbox on the next block, or the neighborhood convenience store. Take the bus or light rail to your job if you can; many employers offer incentives to those who do. If your fit and able, commute by bike whenever practical—but be sure to always wear a helmet.
10. Shop at Farmers’ Markets
When you can, practice the philosophy of the Slow Food movement. By shopping at local Farmers’ Markets, you get fresh high-quality food and support family-owned farms (thus protecting America’s farmland from corporate takeover by big agribusiness). Local farms are far more likely to use earth-friendly practices and help create a sense of community in your area.
11. Repurpose Items Rather than Toss
There are so many ways to repurpose things. I like to make nightgowns from old top sheets. Creative and frugal ideas are all over the Internet, with a number of online communities devoted to the concept. Search Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter for these keywords: repurpose, upcycle, reuse, and recycle. You’ll be amazed at what you will find!
12. Clean Your House with Natural Products
A few simple products like vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice can replace nearly all of the man-made chemical-based cleaners you use around the home. If you’re not interested in playing chemist, you can purchase products made from natural ingredients almost anywhere these days. As with processed food, if you can’t pronounce many of the words on the label, leave it on the shelf.
13. Eliminate Your Lawn
The typical American lawn requires a ton of water to maintain. Add in the chemical herbicides and fertilizers used to keep it weed-free and green, and you have a major player in the destruction of the environment. Replace your lawn with flowers and shrubs, or low-maintenance, water-saving xeriscaping. If you want to reserve an area in your back yard for children/pets to play, go ahead. Just don’t worry about keeping it picture-perfect.
14. Bring Your Own Shopping Bags
Single-use, plastic grocery bags are notorious for their affect on the environment—especially when coupled with careless littering. They get swallowed by turtles and other animals, and take forever to break down in landfills. Reusable bags are easier to carry and hold more/heavier items without breaking. Since many areas are instituting bans on plastic bags, it make sense to bring your own.
15. Save Energy
From simple steps like turning off lights and other electronics when not in use to purchasing big-ticket energy efficient products, there are so many things you can do to lower carbon emissions and decrease the need for energy production. Your local utility may even have programs to help you reduce your energy consumption such as rebates or low-cost compact fluorescent bulbs.
16. Free-cycle Things You No Longer Need
Most people agree they have too much stuff and want to make life simpler. Give gently used items to friends who can use them. Donate to local thrift stores and take the tax advantage. Or participate in a neighborhood free-cycle program. Communities that offer ways to connect people are springing up all over social media. As always, be smart in how you interact with strangers.
17. Use Natural Bath and Beauty Products
Most commercial products contain a myriad of chemicals and petroleum products—many to be shown harmful or toxic with long-term use. Residuals from these products end up in our water systems and can potentially harm all living things. Eco-friendly versions are readily available in most stores but labels can be deceiving. If you really want to be safe, consider making some of your own.
18. Create Gifts Rather than Buy
Handmade gifts show that real care and thought went into the giving. Knit a baby hat. Sew an apron. Quilt a table runner. Preserve fresh fruit as jams and jellies. The craft-challenged can create a photo book, frame a special announcement, or gather a bouquet from the garden. The possibilities are endless. Ideas and instructions for every skill level can be found online. Check Pinterest or search: handmade gifts and DIY.
19. Cut Down on Plastic Purchases
Whenever practical, choose products made from glass, ceramic, wood or metal over plastic. Go for quality over quantity. With care, such products will outlast their plastic counterparts by decades and don’t stain or hold odors. When plastic is unavoidable, find a new use for it after it has served its original purpose. I easily turned a container for nuts into a yarn caddy.
20. Repair/Restore Your Stuff
With a few basic items like glue, needle and thread, and tools (hammer & nails, screwdrivers, etc.) you can increase the life of many of the things you own by making simple repairs yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I have found a terrific piece of clothing in a thrift store that was perfect save for a missing button or ripped seam. Simple maintenance, like polishing shoes, can save you money and keep you looking your best.
21. Conserve Water Use in the Home
If you grew up on Sesame Street you know not to be a “wasteroo” by letting the water run while you brush your teeth. That philosophy can be extended to most of your daily water-using tasks. Don’t let the water run needlessly while washing dishes, grooming, and cooking. Look for water-saving appliances when buying new. Make use of drip irrigation and/or a rain barrel in your garden. The ways are endless.
22. Donate to and/or Volunteer for an Earth-Friendly Cause
Support organizations that promote green practices in every aspect of our life with your time/money. Groups all over the country will have special Earth Day activities happening all week. Many have ongoing events like beach clean-ups, trail maintenance and restoration, and ivy-out work parties. If you can’t volunteer, consider donating to the group that best serves your interests.
- Words by Andrea Leigh Ptak
- April 17, 2014
- 1 Comment