Earth Day is Sunday, April 22 and this year’s theme is ending plastic pollution. If you’ve ever lived near a waterway or even just watched the documentary film: A Plastic Ocean, then you know the disastrous effect that plastic can have on our environment. When Angie and I volunteered for sea turtle patrol in Venice, FL in 2014, we quickly saw how littered a beach can become in just one day’s time. Plastic bottles and straws were the most often discarded items on our one-mile stretch of beach and it didn’t take long before the bag we carried was filled with these things (as well as plastic beach toys and flip-flops).
Over the past few years, we’ve made a real effort to downsize the amount of plastic we use. We stopped buying bottled water altogether about 5 years ago and bought a water-filtration pitcher instead. We always carry a stainless-steel water bottle everywhere we go and a we keep a couple of reusable straws and bamboo sporks in our glove box for dining out.
In 2016, we did a partial plastic purge and upgraded many of our food storage containers to glass. Last year (much to our dismay), a friend of my mom’s gave us nearly 50 plastic containers (the kind that lunch meat comes in). Our first reaction was to recycle them but instead of doing so right away, we put them in the cabinet. Big mistake! Within a short period of time, we found ourselves using them for leftovers. A few weeks ago, we combed through the cabinet again and removed all of these containers, along with every plastic sandwich bag, storage bag, and roll of plastic wrap we could find. Our kitchen drawer looks like this now:
If you’re wondering what we did with the discarded plastics, we recycled what we could and gave the bags and wrap away. Day cares, kindergarten classrooms, and food pantries will almost always take your unwanted (unused) sandwich bags. Though it’s not the most ideal solution, it is still better than just chucking them in the trash.
Next up, we tackled the pantry. We have been saving food jars (mostly salsa jars from the Farmer’s Market) for a while now and finally sat down to clean the labels off of them this week. Since we found a bulk store within a relatively short drive of us, we’ve decided to buy what we can there. Not only will the jars reduce our use of plastic bags, but they look really neat too.
EarthDay.org has a great Plastic Pollution Calculator on their website that can help you track your plastic footprint. One of the interesting things on their list that caught my attention was the bathroom. Items like cotton swabs and toothpaste containers were not something that I’d previously given much thought to. In fact, with a little effort, you can actually recycle toothpaste tubes and cotton swabs can be purchased on bamboo sticks. (There’s even a stainless-steel ear cleaner for the very brave among us. Personally, I would stab my eardrum out!)
In addition to our Earth Day plastic-reduction efforts, we wanted to step up our water and electricity conservation game too.
Angie replaced all of the light bulbs in our apartment with 60W-equivalent CFLs. LED bulbs are a good option too – both offer significant savings over the incandescent bulbs that were already installed in our apartment – but we went with what was on sale.
We replaced our standard shower head with a low-flow handheld shower with a “pause” button. The new shower head has a flow rate of 1.6 GPM (gallons per minute). A standard shower head ranges from 2.0 – 2.5 GPM. The pause button on the new shower head slows the flow to a trickle so that we can save even more water (think modified version of a Navy shower).
The last thing that we did toward water conservation was to put a quart jar full of water in the back of our toilet. The jar takes up space in the toilet tank that would otherwise be refilled with water after every flush. For every 4 flushes, we save 1 gallon of water. This may not work with low-flow toilets but we happen to have an older toilet in our apartment.
Tonight, we’re doing our own version of an energy audit. We’re going to unplug everything that is currently plugged in (except the fridge and freezer) and only plug them back in when we need them. I’m hoping this will allow us to identify and eliminate most of our energy vampires.
Do you have any green home improvement plans for Earth Day this year?