Striving to live more environmentally friendly is something I've been doing pretty much my whole life. Even before the "green" movement officially took off and become more widespread. In fact, about 18 years ago, my husband and I had started an online business selling environmentally friendly products (e.g., clothing, purses, reusable grocery bags, etc.). It was before the green movement and so people didn't grasp the idea. It was at a time when I would take my own reusable grocery bags to the store and the cashiers would always look them over for price tags, thinking I was purchasing them. They didn't get that I was bringing my own to reuse to avoid using paper or plastic ones from the store. Fast forward to today and society has come a long way.
Today, many people are more willing to listen to the information about being more environmentally friendly, and some will take it to heart and implement those ideas. I'm often told that I get into people's heads and at least make them more aware of their choices and how they may have an impact on the environment. I like that! I believe there is a lot more that people can do to be more environmentally friendly. And I get it, not everyone will make all of these choices, but making some of them will go a long way toward positive change.
Here are 10 ways to become more environmentally friendly:
- Ditch the plastic straws. This goes for restaurants serving them up and people using them. At home, opt for purchasing a set of reusable stainless steel straws. When dining out, either skip the plastics straws all together, or follow a new system for carrying your own paper straws, as I do. Learn more here about the problem with plastic straws. If you work in or own a restaurant, consider making the switch to paper straws.
- Skip the plastics bags. In fact, skip the paper ones, too. Invest in a set of durable reusable grocery bags that you can use over and over at the store. My hemp grocery bags are something we have had since having that store 18 years ago and we still use them. They are super durable and we can throw them in the wash machine. I know some people say they take the plastic bags from the store because they reuse them in bathroom trash cans and to pick up dog poop. Well, you don't actually need a bag in your little trash can in the bathroom (when it's full go dump it in your kitchen trash can), and that's a very small amount of poop for so much plastic. A better option is to purchase biodegradable pet waste bags. Learn about some of the environmental problems regarding plastic bags here. They have already been banned in some countries and cities because they are so damaging to the environment.
- Watch the parties. Having birthday parties or other types of parties are great, but they can create a lot of waste. When I have parties I always try to keep them as environmentally friendly as possible. It's best to use reusable dishes and party wear, but if you really want disposable, then opt for biodegradable party supplies. Check out this article on having a more environmentally friendly birthday party.
- Reduce the meat. While most people may never go vegetarian or vegan, they can still do a lot of good for the environment by reducing their meat consumption. The meat industry is one of the top polluters in the world, from the crops that are used to grow food to feed to the livestock to the daily waste of billions of animals that go on to pollute water ways, and more. Adopt a Meatless Monday routine, or an Eat Vegan Before 6:00 lifestyle to have a more environmentally friendly diet. Learn more about the meat industry's contribution to environmental pollution here. Cutting back on the meat is a great first step. After all, the average American eats around 167 pounds of meat per year, which is about three times what the rest of the world eats. The meat industry is a big factor in global warming, water usage, water pollution issues, deforestation, and more. What you eat makes a big difference for the planet, the animals, and for you. Aim to become more a mindful eater.
- Recycle more. Take a look at your recycling efforts to see if you can give them a boost. Recycle as much as you can at home, but also if there is more that can be done at work. And how about when eating out? When I dine out I usually bring home what I can recycle, such as the tin foil, little plastic cups that things like salsa was in, etc. I gather those items up, bring them home to rinse them out, and then put them into the recycle bin. I've been to plenty of restaurants where I see people tossing soda cans and bottles right into the trash can, when these things can easily be taken home to be recycled (it would be lovely if the restaurant would also provide a recycling bin). Yes, it may take a few seconds of time to do the work to bring it home, but it's better for the planet and it's just being more responsible for the waste that we create. When the kids bring papers home from school be sure to recycle the ones you don't want to save. If only one side was used, use that side first for scrap paper, before putting in the recycle bin. Be sure to also pick up all those weekly newspapers that land in your driveway and put them into the recycle bin. I know most people I talk to don't read them, but it only takes a second to make sure it goes to recycling. You can also recycle old markers and propane tanks. Check out this post I did before on comparing our families' garbage to a family in our community that does not recycle.
- Be landfill aware. When I moved to Volusia County I was honestly blown away by the amount of perfectly good items that people would put out for the trash. Furniture, bikes, toys, all kinds of stuff. I used to pick it up and give it away or drop it off at a local thrift store. But there was too much for me to keep doing that! So I started Volusia County Curb Alert, which is a group where if you see something good out to the curb (or you are putting something good out to the curb) you can take a picture of it and post it so that maybe it can be saved from going to the landfill. If you have items you don't want and they still have life left in them, don't send them to be buried into the ground. Give them away, donate them to a thrift store, sell them online, post it on the curb alert site, etc. Old electronics, such as televisions and computer devices, should never go to the curb. They contain harmful chemicals, so they should be recycled. Locally, you can always drop them off at the Tomoka Landfill (1990 Tomoka Farms Road in Port Orange) or the transfer station (3151 E New York Ave in DeLand) and they will be recycled. You can also drop off your old paint and chemicals there so they are disposed of properly. I've taken my kids on a tour of the local landfill a couple of times, because I want them to understand that out of the house and at the curb doesn't mean it's gone. It just means that it's out of your sight.
- Get involved. There are beach cleanups, river cleanups, and trash laying around on your own street that all needs to be cleaned up. A plastic bottle or a can that is on the street in your community will eventually, through the drain systems, make its way out to the ocean. Everything is connected. You may not be the one who dropped it there, but we can all make a difference when we take a moment to pick it up and dispose of it properly (including putting it in a recycling bin if it's something that can be recycled).
- Reduce plastics usage. Plastics have infiltrated our lives in a way that few things have. They are literally everywhere! Plastic is in our food containers, clothing, beauty products, and so on. The problem is that plastics take a lot of resources to make, and a small percentage actually gets recycled. Plastics wreak havoc on the environment, and they never go away. Virtually all of the plastic that has ever been created is still with us in some form on this planet. They break down into smaller and smaller particles, which work their way into our oceans, foods, bodies, etc. Learn more about plastics and how they may also be harming your families' health by reading "Plastic Purge: How to Use Less Plastic, Eat Better, Keep Toxins Out of Your Body, and Help Save the Sea Turtles!" and by watching the documentary "A Plastic Ocean," on Netflix. It's simple to swap out things like food storage and lunch baggies with reusable items, thus saving a lot of plastic. Look around your kitchen and give some thought to ways you can break away from using so much plastic, especially the disposable variety.
- Conserve water. Having constant access to clean water is something we take for granted in this country. Yet it's estimated that there are 844 million people in the world who do not have access to safe water. It's important to not waste this precious resources and yet we do it almost daily without giving it a second thought. Aim to become more aware of your water usage and try to make cuts where it is being wasted, such as letting it run when brushing your teeth, washing loads of dishes that are not full loads, letting broken sprinklers water the street, taking too long of showers, and so on. You can also save a lot of water by eating less meat, because the meat industry uses a lot of water. For example, it's estimated that it takes 674 gallons of water to produce 6 ounces of steak, yet it only takes a tenth of the water to produce kidney beans.
- Ditch plastic water bottles. If you had told me a 10-15 years ago that people would be buying up lots of bottled water I would have never believed it! It's incredible to think that people are paying for something they can get at a fraction of the cost right out of their tap. But they do, to the tune of about 50 billion plastic water bottles per year. And only around 23 billion of those get recycled. It takes around 17 million barrels of oil each year to make all these water bottles, too. They are an environmental nightmare. Plus, your local water supply is held to a higher standard, and water in plastic bottles will have harmful chemicals leaching into the water. Ditch using plastic water bottles whenever it is possible (which is quite often), and opt for having a reusable water container that you use. Fill it up from home, the office, or anywhere that has a water fountain, and carry that with you. You will be doing a lot to help the planet, save money, and you will be getting better quality water while you are at it.
- Bonus option. Buy more recycled products. There will only be a demand for recycling items if people also purchase items that have been made with recycled goods. You can help strengthen the cycle when you purchase products made from recycled materials.
There are many other ways to be more environmentally friendly, but these are some important areas that you will give you something to think about. It's not about perfection, because none of us are perfect and we'd drive ourselves crazy trying to be so. But by becoming more environmentally aware you can begin to make small changes here and there and they will add up to do good things. Get started by picking a couple of these (or at least one) to start working toward and implementing into your lifestyle. Before you know it, you will do it without a second thought, and you will be ready to take on another one. We only have one planet and we are all responsible for caring for it. Living mindfully we can do a better job at that. Each day is a new chance to make choices that will either harm or heal the planet. Strive to become mindful with your choices.
- Jacqueline Bodnar