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Those of you who know me in real life know that I’m a big fan of the Earth and all the ways we can take care of her, so Earth Day is kind of a big deal to me. In honor of this often overlooked holiday, today I’m going to share 10 easy ways to practice sustainability in our every day lives. After all, shouldn’t every day be Earth Day?
Plant a Garden
One of the best things you can do for yourself and for the planet is to plant a garden. Not only does this reduce your dependence on grocery stores and supply chains and cut down on gas used running errands, but gardens can provide endless benefits for native wildlife. Flowering plants—including fruits and vegetables—provide essential food for native pollinators, and plants of all kinds help sequester carbon from the atmosphere and build up organic matter in the soil. Gardening is good for us humans, too—improving our mental health, weight management, quality of life, and sense of community.
Turn Off the Lights
You know when you were a kid and your mom was always yelling at you to turn off the lights when you left a room? Turns out, Mom was actually onto something. Not only is it better for your electric bill, but it also helps reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. In 2017, 63% of the electricity generated in the US came from coal, natural gas, petroleum, and other gasses. Only 17% came from renewable resources.
Turning off your lights is especially important if you’re still using up the last of your incandescent bulbs. These bulbs are highly inefficient, with only 10% of their energy use going toward emitting light. The rest of it is given off as heat. You’re going to thank me for this tip come July, when your air conditioning unit is already going to be working overtime. You’re welcome.
However, there is a caveat to this tip if you’ve upgraded to CFL bulbs. These bulbs are more efficient, but depending on the manufacturer, they can actually use more energy to get started. The general rule of thumb is if you’re going to be coming back to the room within 15 minutes, it’s okay to leave your CFL light on. Otherwise, you should turn it off.
Take Shorter Showers
You know when you were a kid, and your sister was always banging on the bathroom door and telling you to hurry up? Turns out, sister was actually onto something. The average American uses 25,300 gallons of water annually, which calculates out to almost 70 gallons per day. With global temperatures rising and many areas of the world experiencing severe drought conditions, every bit of water saved will go a long way. According to Boston University, if you shorten your shower by just 2 minutes, you can reduce your water usage by 10 gallons.
Reducing your water usage also reduces the amount of energy needed to heat your water, and installing an efficient showerhead will also help save water without sacrificing water pressure.
Another sustainable shower trick is to pick up a shower squeegee. I learned this trick from my Mom, who has kept one of these in the tub for most of my life. After you shower, just give your walls a quick scrape. This helps prevent the buildup of soap scum and residue, which has two great benefits: (1) you’ll use fewer harsh chemicals to keep your house clean, and (2) your tub will stay fresh longer, giving you more time to do things like turn off all the lights your kids have left on.
Use Fewer Single Use Products
If you were to walk through your house and count the number single use products, I’m willing to bet that number would add up quickly. Paper towels, sandwich bags, plastic wrap, cleaning wipes, cotton balls, Q-tips, disposable cutlery, straws, water bottles—most of these products and many others are used a single time before they end up in a landfill. But here’s a fun fact for you: all of them can be reused or have reusable counterparts available.
Take your plastic sandwich bags, for example. If you were to start using reusable containers for your lunch, you’d keep 540 plastic baggies out of the trash—or worse, the ocean—each year. Tupperware containers or waxed canvas bags are a great way to pack your lunch, and they can be easily cleaned and used again. I love using my Stasher bags, which are dishwasher safe for easy cleanup—and dishwashers use less water than hand washing, so win-win! Even Ziplock bags can be washed and reused several times before they lose their usefulness. And just by using a reusable water bottle, you’ll help reduce the 5-13 million tonnes of plastic that end up in the ocean each year.
There are also plenty of options for making your own reusable products. I love using my reusable beeswax food covers, and I’ve recently purchase supplies to start making my own. Tired of spending a bajillion dollars on feminine hygeine products that just end up in a landfill? People far cleverer than me have designed patterns for making reusable pads. And while I honestly don’t wear makeup most days, when I do, I use small squares of soft cotton or fleece to clean my face. After removing my makeup, I toss them in a mesh delicates bag and wash them with my clothes once the bag gets full.
Hang Your Laundry to Dry
If you have the space, consider using a clothesline to dry your laundry in the warmer months. This can drastically cut down on energy consumption by reducing the time both your dryer and AC have to run. It also helps your clothes last longer, and skipping the dryer sheets will keep your clothes breathable and your towels absorbant. (In colder months, dryer balls are a great alternative to dryer sheets.) If you live in an apartment—or even if you’re just not keen on hanging your undies out for your neighbors to gawk at—you can even install a retractable clothesline to hang your laundry inside.
Open the Windows
As the weather warms up this year, it will be tempting to turn up your AC. But before you do that, try changing into cooler clothing and opening your windows to let in the breeze. Leaving that AC off for as long as you can stand it saves both energy and money, and as one who lived in a tent in New Mexico for five summers, I promise it ain’t that bad to go without AC. You actually kind of get used to it.
And when summer turns to winter again, as it inevitably does (uuuuuugh), remember to bundle up in sweaters and jackets before you turn up the heat.
Fix It Yourself, Felix
In the words of everyone’s favorite Disney movie handyman, “I can fix that.” Next time something breaks or wears out, instead of throwing it away and buying a new one, see if you can fix it. The internet is full of tutorials on how to fix just about anything, from clothes to computers to appliances to cars. Clothes are especially easy to mend. Got a tear? All you need is a needle and some thread and voila! Good as new. And remember, the handier you are, the more likely you’ll be to chosen to colonize a new planet when this one becomes inhabitable. Learn how to fix stuff. Your life depends on it.
Human Powered Transportation
Fun fact: I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 22 years old. Before that, we lived in a town where everything was easily accessible by foot or bicycle, and I just didn’t see the point in paying for insurance on a vehicle I’d rarely drive. And this was in Michigan, mind you, so I spent winters wading through snowdrifts as high as my hips. (I’m 100% going to be the parent who tells my kid I walked to school, uphill both ways, carrying my sister on my back…)
I known not everyone lives in a place where walking or riding a bike are safe or feasible, but if you do, consider ditching the gas guzzler. And if you can’t, look at sharing a carpool with classmates or coworkers to reduce the number of vehicles on the road.
You know that really annoying song about some guy who has twenty bucks and likes popping tags? Turns out, Macklemore was onto something. With more than 15 million tons of used textile waste generated each year in the US alone, buying clothing second hand from thrift stores and consignment shops can make a huge difference. Not only that, but your wallet will thank you for spending less than you would at a department store, and since many thrift stores support charities, your purchase might also be helping at-risk and underserved communities. That’s like the trifecta of sustainability, right there.
You can get more than just clothing at thrift stores, too. Here are a few things I’ve rescued from thrift stores:
And remember, this tip goes both ways. When you no longer need something, don’t just throw it away. If it’s still usable, donate it to your favorite charity shop. You may even be able to get a tax break for it.
Vote with Your Wallet
Believe it or not, consumers actually have a certain amount of power to drive the market. Whether you’re shopping for food, clothing, household goods, electronics, cars, a house, whatever, choosing options that are more environmentally friendly sends the message to producers that that’s what people will buy. Taking a little time to learn about industry standards and choosing to support companies that utilize green practices can be monumental in our fight to save the planet.
But let’s get real here for a second. I know all too well that sometimes, the more sustainable option is also more expensive. And for those of us who live on a tight budget, it just might not be possible. So what can you do? Just do the best you can. Every little bit helps. Every daily effort to practice more sustainability in your own life will make a difference. The most important thing is to be aware of the issues and to do what you can, right here, and right now—no matter where you are in life—to be a little bit kinder to the earth.
What are your favorite ways to practice everyday sustainability? Share your ideas in the comments below!
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