Greening Up for Earth Day

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:

We received 2 Vejibags for free at VegFest. They are made of organic cotton and keep veggies fresh for up to 2 weeks. A great choice for eliminating both plastic and food waste!

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?

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.