I appreciate Earth Day. Sometimes we need a reminder to do the right thing, and taking care of mother earth ranks high on the list. We live in precarious times with increasing drought, plastic laden gyres the size of Texas in our oceans, an increasing body burden of chemicals in our body, and metabolic harm from eating food grown in contaminated air, water and soil. So what can you do today–and then continue to do it every day?
Here’s a list of recommendations that I have adopted over time:
- Buy organic when you can. Until conventional farmers adopt more earth friendly practices, organically grown produce is a good way to decrease the impact of pesticides and other poisons. Organic farming methods decrease the creation of dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and other waterways from NPK fertilizer runoff, and ultimately decreases the level of water toxicity.
- Compost or contribute to the county’s compost pile. I keep a metal pail on the kitchen counter top, donating all the produce waste to our green bin outside. My next step is to set up the compost pile, but I need to figure out a way to do that on a 30×90 foot lot without inviting more creatures into my home. Maybe when we re-landscape with native plants….
- Use less water. My car is dirtier and gets washed less often. I already take 2 minute showers, and I turn off the faucet to wash my hands and brush my teeth. I need to slow down in the kitchen and not throw out water that rinses the vegetables. I bet my outdoor plants would like the gently used water just fine. And if it ever rains again, I’d like to capture the run-off. Something else to talk about before we tackle the yard.
- Buy local. Less transport generally means less carbon imprint–and a boost to the local economy as well. While number crunching economists like to emphasize economies of scale, but there is value in creating and supporting community as well.
- Purchase food in less packaging. I buy most of my produce directly from the farmer, purchase items in bulk at the local coop, and bring my own bags. My one guilty indulgence is a favorite yogurt only available in single servings. Can I claim my husband’s efforts to makes his own yogurt using reusable containers? After all, I am the one who got him started….
- Minimize use of toxic chemicals in your home and garden. I buy cases of baking soda and gallons of white vinegar. Along with regular soap, these products take care of most of the cleaning that needs to be done. Miraculously windows never streak when I clean them with diluted vinegar and dry them with newspapers that can be recycled.
- Recycle the metal, the glass, the paper, and the plastic that is purchased. I am proud to say my blue bin is consistently full by trash day, and the black container never is. In addition, Noah opportunistically recycles plastic bottles and cans collected at parties and family gatherings. He’s happy to contribute to the environment, and even happier to collect a bit of pocket change.
- Transport items in reusable bags. The cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica makes it easy to do the right thing, as single use plastic bags are a thing of the past. I carry reusable bags in my car, on my bike and on a hook near the kitchen for easy access. The supply includes insulated bags for raw animal products, other bags for produce and a few for non-food items. In case I forget, I often travel with a back pack or my brief case, and have been known to stuff what I can into any available space. If I’m purchasing more than I can reasonably jam into a back pack, I put everything back into the shopping cart and transfer it when I get to my car.
- Use less plastic to store food and transport beverages. I dedicate a shelf in my pantry to store reusable cold and hot beverage containers. Most of my grains and baking ingredients are stored in glass jars. The storage containers in my refrigerator are glass with blue plastic lids, even if the practice increases my risk of being considered a bit too organized. Now I need to tackle the freezer. Awkward shapes of frozen chicken and cuts of meat along with limited space has kept me from stepping up. I’m open to any good ideas.
- Don’t litter—and pick up litter when you can. In the city of Los Angeles, storm drains lead directly to the ocean. Plastic bags, wrappers, cigarette butts, and straws are the most common flotsam I pick up when I walk on the beach— evidence that too many people use the gutter as their personal trash can.
- Use government resources to recycle or discard more toxic waste. Today’s LA Times features a full size ad encouraging residents to get rid of household hazardous and electronic waste by contacting the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County.
- Minimize your demand for energy. I gave up my office parking space two years ago when my husband figured out I was spending about $40 every time I parked. I love riding my bike to work–and during rush hour I pedal faster than I can drive. In addition to saving $200 a month, I enjoy a full 50+ minutes of activity and whiz past all the cars waiting at any one of 19 stop lights between home and office. And Frank is about to step up as well. As I type my husband is contemplating an all electric model, a far cry from his beloved gas guzzling 1967 Camaro convertible recently stolen from the parking lot at work. With today’s gas prices he is giddy at the thought of never purchasing gas for his car again while plugging into the household solar energy supply.
I know there is more to do. I wish I was building our home today so I could use more sustainable materials. I could grow my own food, but I kill everything I touch. Basically I console myself by growing a few herbs in my garden– and reminding myself that killing what you plant is not sustainable.
All of us grew up in more indulgent times, and change can be confronting. But we all of us face the consequences of short-sighted thinking. It is up to each of us to take care of our precious resources. Most importantly, do what you can. Decide what makes sense for you, and start there. Like most challenging endeavors, the process is the outcome.