5 Small Steps to a Better Planet

Happy Earth Day!

Forty-six years ago we began celebrating Earth Day on April 22 as a way to bring attention to environmental reform. Today, Earth Day is a global holiday observed by more than a billion people worldwide. It’s one of my favorite days of the year – kind of a Thanksgiving for Mother Earth.

Earth Day is a chance to appreciate all that comprises our great planet, from the vast oceans to tiny backyard gardens and all places in between. It’s a time to reflect on all the many ways (hopefully) that we’ve been good stewards of the environment over the past 364 days. It’s also an opportunity to learn new (and sometimes more creative) ways to reduce, reuse, recycle, and repurpose throughout the coming year.

I’m proud to say that we have been working toward many greener goals these past few months. We found a place to take our recycling, started composting again, planted 5 new trees and a garden, and cut back on our energy consumption (with respect to heat/air in our apartment). But I’m always asking myself, is that enough? Is it even a good start?

The answer is a resounding yes! No matter how small they may seem, all of our efforts together have collective impact. I can’t save the world by myself but you, me, and the rest of people around us working together, just might.

Here are some easy ways to do that:

Stop delivery on your junk mail.

junkmailThe average adult gets 16 pieces of junk mail each week (or about 41 pounds per year), 44% of which goes to the landfill unopened. It takes 100 million trees and 28 billion gallons of water per year to make all that junk. And if that’s not staggering enough, it takes each of us more than an hour per week to open the 56% that we do! I don’t know about you but I’m all for reclaiming that hour for myself and saving our natural resources for better uses. There are several ways to stop junk mail. The FTC allows you to opt out of pre-screened credit card and insurance offers. DMAChoice.org gives you options to stop many different types of direct mail solicitation. And of course, you can contact the business directly to remove you from their list.

Lighten the load in your car.

Of this, we are most guilty. We have everything from necessary items (like Kleenex and our reusable grocery bags) to crazy things like an extra jack in the back of our Xterra. All the added weight decreases fuel efficiency and increases wear on the tires. Both in turn increase usage (and dependence) on petroleum (a non-renewable resource). If we can’t be petroleum-free (and we can’t as a planet), then at least we can take steps to conserve the resources we do have.

Clean your plate.

Nearly 1/3 of all food in America is wasted. That wasted food ends up in a landfill somewhere rotting and creating methane gas. Methane gas has 25 times the global warming potential of carbon gases. A good bit of the food in these landfills was still fit for consumption when it was discarded. Some came from farms and grocers but a great amount came from our own pantries and plates. If you do nothing else on this list this year, I encourage you to at least be more aware of your own food buying habits. Purchase only what you need or will eat. Don’t go overboard at restaurants. And do as your mom always said – clean your plate!

Charge less (or solar charge!)

Everyone has a cell phone, an iPad, a Kindle, or some other gadget with a charger and we all know by now that we need to unplug that charger when it’s not in use (lest we create “energy vampires”). But how often do we think about simply charging less? I know I don’t. I charge my phone nightly regardless of whether it needs it or not. Bad me! Plugging it in only when it needs it saves energy (so does using it less, by the way). Another option is a solar charger. We picked one up last year on Amazon for $10 and it’s been great, especially for hiking and traveling.

Learn something new – online.

ChangeThoughtsCertainly not the first thought that comes to mind when you think of going green, but online learning has two Earth-friendly advantages. First there’s the obvious fact that learning from home eliminates the petroleum-wasting commute, saves energy that would be used to heat or cool a classroom, and helps conserve paper (no textbooks). But learning does more than that. It opens the mind, and an open mind is the only kind that will ever effect real change in our world. Learning is also contagious. The more you learn, the more you want to share with others and the more we all learn as a result. There are a wealth of free  or low-cost online classes available these days. Coursera and edX are among my favorites.

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