Earth Day is one of those annual events that often goes unnoticed by many. Founded in 1970, Earth Day is now a global movement that focuses on raising public awareness about pollution and other issues that impact the health of our planet.
Try these earth-friendly ideas to help improve the health of the planet and yourself.
1. Reduce your reliance on plastic: Plastic is everywhere and difficult to avoid. Unfortunately, Americans dispose of nearly 15 million tons of plastic each year, and less than 20% of that gets recycled. Plastic is convenient, yet many of the chemicals used to make plastic leach into our bodies and into our earth. Chemicals from plastic pollute our oceans endangering the ecosystem and many of the chemicals used in plastic have appeared in our drinking water.
To do: a. Buy items in bulk and repackage them at home. Purchase a large container of laundry soap and then pour what you will use for the month into a glass jar. Not only will you be reducing the amount of plastic used, but also probably saving some money buying in bulk. b. Bring your own shopping bags to the grocery store. There are so many options available now that there is little reason to rely on those flimsy bags from the store. Many are washable and those that are not can easily be cleaned and sanitized at home with a good wipe down inside. c. Repurpose the plastic you already own. Some items, such as yogurt, are difficult to find in anything but plastic. Wash and reuse the container to store dry items, use it as a planter, or use food-safe containers to freeze soups, sauces, and stews for convenient meals in a hurry.
2. Give up single-use plastic water bottles and invest in a few glass or stainless steel water bottles instead. Nearly 2.5 million tons of plastic water bottles get discarded every year, and most of it ends up in landfills or litters our oceans, rivers, and lakes. A million plastic bottles are purchased around the world each minute and a system to reuse/recycle/repurpose those bottles has not kept up with the pace of consumption.
To do: Buy reusable glass and stainless steel water bottles. They are better for your health as they contain no harmful chemicals that can leach into the water and they can be washed and reused endlessly. I like to have 3 of them so I always have a clean one ready to grab (I tend to forget one in my car most days!). Personally, I have a hard time drinking water from the stainless steal bottles, but I keep one to use when I hit a coffee shop. Rather than using a disposable cup, I just have my stainless steal cup filled with my favorite roast.
3. Reduce paper waste. Endless junk mail, paper copies of everything, and magazines, catalogs and brochures turn into piles of paper waste in the homes of many. Consider getting your bills, catalogs, and magazines delivered electronically. For the paper you continue to collect, put it through a shredder and use it for other things. Shredded paper can be used on the bottom of plant containers to provide some filler and drainage, reducing the weight of the container (less soil needed). Shredded paper also can be used for packing material, to line gift baskets, or add it to our compost pile as a dry ingredient. Newspaper is a terrific ground cover and can be used to control weeds in your flower beds. Dampen the paper then lie it your flower beds and cover with mulch. This will help hold in moisture and prevent weeds.
I find most of my paper waste comes from the over-reliance on paper towels and paper napkins. I am slowly but surely reducing my use of these products by replacing them with cloth and just by increasing my awareness about how I use them. I wash my hands many, many times throughout the day and almost always grab a paper towel to dry them. At home, I am trying to use hand towels more often and have cut up many old t-shirts to use instead of paper towels to wipe up spills, etc.
To do: a. Increase your use of electronic documents to reduce the use of paper. b. Shred and reuse any paper you collect (or be sure to recycle it). c. Use old cloth to clean up spills
d. Use cloth hand towels and napkins
4. Reduce food waste. Americans throw away 30-40% of their food every year, amounting to about $1500.00 annually. Much of that comes from fruits and vegetables. Many purchase fruits and vegetables because they know they should eat more of them, but never take the time to prepare them. They sit in the produce drawer until they become unusable and end up in the garbage can.
Another big source of waste is restaurant meals. Oversized portions, cheap "value" meals, and a refusal to eat leftovers has made it easy for us to throw away food without a second thought.
Food waste impacts your budget but also has a significant impact on our environment. Food production requires a great deal of energy and resources. Food production requires a large amount of water, land, energy, and manpower. When 30-40% of our food is wasted, this also means a waste of all that goes into production. Food that ends up in landfills breaks down and releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.
Truly, a great deal of the food waste happens before it even hits our plate. But if we all make an effort to reduce waste we can help improve the health of our planet.
What you can do: a. Prep vegetables for the week and use them. Once washed and cut up, vegetables and fruits are easy to grab for snacks, toss into a salad, or cook as a side dish. b. Use most perishable fruits and vegetables first; eat strawberries early in the week and have some oranges or apples for later. c. Save bits and pieces; small portions of leftover vegetables can be used in omelettes, soups, or to bulk up a salad. Use fruit to flavor water, top your yogurt, or cook down to use as a sauce. A small handful of berries can be cooked down, cooled, and added to vinegar and olive oil to create a berry vinaigrette. Blueberry balsamic vinaigrette is one of my favorites.
If you are enjoying a restaurant dinner, only order what you will actually eat. Two appetizers might be enough and be a better alternative than a full over-sized meal. You could also order an appetizer and entrée and split with your partner. If you cannot avoid an over-sized meal, plan on taking home the leftovers and actually using them. You can use the left overs to create a sandwich for lunch the next day, use them as a filler for a quesadilla, or just heat them up for a second dinner.
5. Reduce your use of chemical cleaners. Ammonia, phosphorous, and other chemicals known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which contribute to indoor air pollution, smog, and chemical imbalances in our waterways. Some of the chemicals have obvious health effects such as difficulty breathing, headaches and skin rashes. Others have a cumulative health impact as they disrupt hormone regulation or contribute to the growth of cancer cells.
Over the years I have transitioned to relying primarily on vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and essential oils for most of my cleaning. Hydrogen peroxide is a natural, eco-friendly alternative to bleach and can be used to whiten and disinfect. Vinegar is the base of most of my cleaning solutions, including my dusting spray and glass cleaner. Baking soda is an effective scrubbing powder, and when made into a paste with water, is a great, chemical free oven cleaner. Yes, you will still need to use a little elbow grease, but you avoid all of those noxious fumes from spray on oven cleaner. Essential oils each have different properties that can enhance your cleaning solutions. Mostly, however, I use them to add natural fragrance to my solutions. I love using citrus oils, peppermint, or lavender to add a pleasant scent to my cleaning supplies.
To do: a. Learn how to use natural ingredients for cleaning b. use essential oil rather than chemically-created fragrance sprays and plug-ins c. If you must purchase cleaning supplies, choose those that are made without VOCs and are environmentally friendly.
Follow these simple tips to take care of your health and the health of our planet.
Better Health, Better Life, Better You and a Healthier Planet!
Do you have any of your own tips that are not only good for your health but for the health of our planet also? I would love to hear them.
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