Happy (belated) Earth Day! Earth Day was on Sunday, and I know it’s not a big deal for most people, but I can never forget the holiday because it’s also my husband Steven’s birthday. To celebrate, I made him his favorite cake, carrot cake, and we had a picnic in a nearby park. While we were walking home, I started thinking about Earth Day, and how we can all make small changes to live more sustainable lives year-round. Over the years I’ve incorporated several sustainable habits into my life, and some of them are totally second-nature by now, but I’m always on the lookout for new ones. So I thought I’d share my tips, and I’d love to hear yours!
1. Reusable bags – If I’m going to a store of any type, I try to always remember to bring my own bags. From Target to Ulta, I’m the girl who whips out her own bags for most purchases, or I just decline a bag and put small things in my purse. I even keep a small expandable shopping bag in my purse (like these cute fruit ones, except mine is a little cat head), for unexpected shopping trips. I live in a pretty eco-conscious part of the world, where plastic grocery bags are banned, so no one has ever batted an eye, but it did used to be less common to bring your own bags. Regardless of whether it’s popular in your area, it’s definitely an easy way to reduce the waste you produce on a regular basis.
2. Re-use instead of trashing – The first two of the three ‘Rs’ are ‘reduce,” and “reuse,” and if I can reduce consumption by re-using something instead of throwing it away, I am totally on board. Which means that I sometimes have trouble tossing out potentially useful items that some people might consider trash. My canvas laundry bag is made from excess fabric of curtains I shortened, I save the dregs of scented candles to melt down and re-pour, old t-shirts get used for applying wood stain, and I have used plastic containers from my recycling bin for everything from pouring concrete plant pots to mixing paint. Once you get into a “waste-not, want-not” mindset, it gets easier to see creative ways to re-use a lot of stuff you might otherwise throw away.
3. Shop secondhand – Buying secondhand saves money, and diverts valuable resources from landfills. I shop secondhand for most things whenever possible. Luckily I have local sources even for secondhand building materials and craft supplies, but if your resources are more limited, it’s still relatively easy to buy clothing, furniture, and housewares at vintage and thrift shop. It never stops surprising me what cool stuff you can find if you’re a dedicated thrifter (or willing to pay those who are). Shopping secondhand ensures that you and/or your home will never look like a cookie-cutter, mass-produced catalog, which is 100% a good thing as far as I’m concerned.
4. Buy local produce – The farther your food travels to get to you, the more resources are consumed in the process. If you don’t have the patience to examine every produce sticker at the grocery store, shopping at farmers’ markets guarantees you’re getting local produce. It’s also a really good way to ensure you’re eating seasonally. Another option is community supported agriculture (CSA), or farmshares. The way these work vary widely, but the one I use, Hood River Organic, is super flexible (if you’re local and want to give it a try, I think they’ll give us a both a referral discount if you tell them you were referred by DIY in PDX). My favorite thing about a CSA box is that it has pushed me to try produce that I might not have otherwise taken the trouble to figure out what to do with. I never would have gone out and bought a pile of leeks, but I ended up making them into an amazing casserole.
5. Reusable water bottles – It boggles my mind that people routinely drink bottled water in places with safe water supplies. Aside from the obvious exception of Flint, Michigan, most of the time bottled water is just a huge waste of fossil fuels, and a big contributor to the plastic waste littering this planet. If you need to bring water with you while travelling, this stainless-steel water bottle has really served me well over the years.
6. No animal products – A big reason I was vegetarian for years/vegan now is environmentalism. Excuse me if this is already obvious to you, but many people don’t realize that eating plants is MUCH MORE sustainable than feeding those plants to animals, and then eating the animals. Even eating dairy contributes to a huge amount of emissions and waste. I know, cheese is good, but there are some really delicious plant-based cheeses out there, and they’re cruelty-free! Don’t think you’re off the hook with seafood, either. The impacts of wild-caught seafood on our oceans are really problematic for the ecosystem. Even if you’re not ready to totally overhaul your diet and cut out animal products completely, you can at least cut back. Start with eating plant-based meals a couple of days a week to get the hang of it, and if you do still eat seafood, at least use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app to help you make more sustainable choices.
7. Energy-efficient bulbs – I think most of my light bulbs are LEDs now, and I love them. Rechargeable LED light strips are also a godsend for unlit closets without electrical outlets. The light is great, they’re super energy-efficient, and they last forever even compared to CFLs. It’s funny to think that if you had a kid right now and raised them in a house with LED bulbs, they’d grow up almost never having to change light bulbs. Somebody will definitely write a good “How many Gen __ does it take to change a light bulb?” joke about this someday.
8. Ditch the lawn – Sorry if you like lawns, but grass takes a lot of water to keep green during the summer, plus it uses fossil fuels for mowing. A lot of chemical and pesticides often go into lawn upkeep, too. I’m really not a fan, so we’ve been slowly replacing our grass with other plants in our yard. If you can replace your grass with an edible garden, you’re doing double-duty and eating local, too.
9. Go small – It makes sense when you think about it, but using a toaster oven, instead of a conventional oven, uses less energy. Same goes for using a toaster instead of a toaster oven, or an electric kettle to heat water instead of a stovetop. When we got a new cooking range, we got one with two smaller ovens, instead of one big one, which means you can bake at two different temperatures, or only heat up one smaller oven for something that only takes one shelf. It cuts down on pre-heating times, and I love it. It may not seem like a big difference, but every little bit adds up.
10. Reusable paper products – I recently bought a pack of these reusable bamboo wipes to use in place of paper towels. So far I really like them, although I still use paper towels for cleaning up anything that comes out of a cat. I could probably dedicate a set to hairball clean-up, but so far the ick factor is holding me back from even going that far. I also want to replace our paper napkins with simple reusable cloth napkins, but I’m still working on that.
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