This Saturday is Earth Day. A day where people learn about what we can do to help reduce waste and protect the planet. There are recycling events, tree planting ceremonies, and outdoor gatherings that help us celebrate our great planet. As an environmentalist, this “holiday” is one of my favorites. It’s a day where I see people making an extra effort to toss a can in the recycling bin instead of the trash, and make a personal vow to “do a better job” at being a conscious consumer.
But after the day is over, how many will revert back to their old ways, grabbing a to-go coffee in a disposable cup on the way to work, then grabbing a bottled water from the fridge before using a disposable plastic fork to eat their lunch from a Styrofoam container.
I’m not here to judge people who do these things, because I used to do them too. And even now I will occasionally hit up Starbucks for a latte, feeling guilty because even though the lid and cardboard wrap around the cup can be recycled, the cup itself will end up in the trash. Same with the container that holds those oh-so-delicious fries from Smashburger (I’m addicted to their fries and black bean burger). It might not seem like a big deal, but all of that trash adds up. We don’t always realize the impact of our actions because we often don’t see the direct effects, but it’s important to understand that the damage we’re causing is irreversible.
The T-shirt Says it All
Image source: Facebook
“There is no planet B.” Seriously, people. Living on Mars or some other planet is a great sci-fi inspired dream, but it isn’t a realistic alternative. This simple phrase on a t-shirt sum up an important message that we need to pay attention to—especially since we have an Administration that has publicly denied climate change and appears to be against regulation aimed at protecting animals and the environment.
It’s frustrating, but perhaps what’s more bothersome is the number of people in this country who place convenience over protecting our planet. According to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. produced 258 million tons of trash in 2014; only about 34.6 percent of that amount was recycled or composted. And on top of that, rainforests are being leveled at an alarming rate as a result of urbanization and agricultural practices (look up palm oil, it’s in everything). Climate change is another issue; according to a release by NASA, 2016 was the warmest year on record around the world. Sure, warm weather is nice, but it has a major impact on the planet’s ecosystems—and not in a good way.
So what do we do? The problem seems overwhelming and you might think that one person can’t make a difference, but that belief couldn’t be any further from the truth.
We’re All Guilty, and Nobody’s Perfect
A few years ago, I had a home filled with unnecessary items and would toss stuff into the trash without giving it a second thought. I was a fan of convenient, single-use items like Keurig K-cups and those little plastic floss/toothpick combos. I mean, I’m a busy person and being able to make a cup of coffee in 30 seconds was a draw. That, and those flavor options were hard to resist. But then something changed.
I started to be more aware of how much I was buying and throwing away. I’ve been a die-hard recycler for several years—I used to give to coworkers a gentle reminder if they tossed something into the trash instead of the recycling— but a little over a year ago I added composting to my routine. I eat a lot of fruits and veggies, so between recycling and composting I’m producing less than half the trash I used to.
I’m also more conscious about how much electricity I use, I try to drive less, and I buy organic produce whenever possible. And you’ll usually see me toting around my reusable coffee mug and water bottle. But again, I’m not perfect.
I drive an SUV because, well, it’s paid off and a new car isn’t in the cards right now (plus I like driving a Jeep). And sometimes I buy unnecessary items or go for the pre-packaged meal because I don’t feel like cooking. Or maybe I take a shower that’s longer than necessary because it’s -30 outside and the hot water feels good. But I do what I can, making an effort to do a little more each day to be a better friend to our lovely planet Earth.
We Can Do Better for Our Planet
You don’t have to go full force minimalist or only eat items grown in your organic, backyard garden to make a difference. There are plenty of things we can do every day to eliminate waste and reduce our carbon footprint.
First and foremost, we need to reduce the amount of stuff going into landfills. You can learn everything you ever wanted to know about recycling and composting in your community by visiting your county’s website. Here are handy links for Hennepin County and Ramsey County. Also check out this article and video from USA Today about what not to do when you recycle.
- Buy organic whenever possible. Pesticides contaminate our soil and water, and they’re killing bees, which are vital pollinators.
- Make coffee in a French press, eliminating the use of K-cups. It only takes about 5 minutes to brew a flavorful cup of coffee, and you won’t be producing unnecessary waste, especially if you compost the coffee grounds.
- Buy items in bulk, especially beans and grains. You’ll save money and eliminate unnecessary plastic packaging. Stores like Whole Foods have paper bags to use at the bins, or you can check out these reusable mesh bags on Amazon, which also double as produce bags.
- Like to stay hydrated? Carry a reusable water bottle with you instead of buying bottled water.
- Ditch the chemicals by making your own cleaning products. I promise, it’s not that difficult. A mixture of water, white vinegar and essential oils can be used to clean your entire home. And swap out paper towels for washable, reusable cloths.
- Laundry soap might smell great, but it’s also full of chemicals. Check out eco-friendly, cruelty-free options like Seventh Generation, Biokleen or Eco Nuts soap nuts. You can add a few drops of essential oil to the water for a gentle (and natural) scent boost. Here’s my laundry arsenal (with a photo bomb from my two dogs).
See, it’s really not that complicated. With a bit of extra effort, we can make our world a cleaner, safer place for everyone.