Guys, I’m going to be honest. I’ve lied to you. It’s not really the little things. Being eco-friendly and protecting planet Earth is a huge endeavor. It takes tremendous time and effort from environmental scientists and educators to policy makers and policy enforcers. It takes audits from companies, state and federal governments with mountains of meticulous record keeping, as well as the constant watchful eye of the public. Rest assured, even though it takes more than just the little things, what you do matters.
Rest assured, even though it takes more than just the little things, what you do matters.
Especially when you hear about things like the literal island of plastic floating in the Pacific, tackling pollution and saving planet earth can seem like far too big an endeavor for you to help. But rest assured, even though it takes more than just the little things, what you do matters. For Earth Day to help you in your goal to save the planet, we’ve rolled up a few easy things you can do at home to protect the environment. Not only is it eco-friendly, it’s economically friendly too.
Leave Every Place Better than You Found it
When I was a kid, our family activity of choice -cough, cough my Dad’s choice- was hiking. When we would go camping and exploring National Parks, I’d often see him stop to pick up bottles or food wrappers other people had left behind. A young 8 year old sensitive of chores and responsibility, I asked, “Why would you pick that up? You didn’t put it there. It’s not your fault.” To which he would reply, “It’s not my fault, but how hard is it to make it better?” How hard is it to pick up the bottle or cigarette butt on the side of the road, even if you didn’t put it there? It takes nearly no effort, and voila! You’ve made a more beautiful world for everyone to live in.
I’ve been recycling since before it was popular. Back before Captain Planet came out and back before you had convenient, curbside pickup service, each week my family gathered its recyclables and headed down to toss them by hand. Because it helps! If you’re fortunate enough to have curbside service, buy yourself a big ol’ Rubbermaid to keep in the house, then empty it in the big container outside whenever you need to keep from walking back and forth all the time. For things like cardboard, aluminum and plastic, recycling is a great way to reuse material. Don’t have curbside pickup? Call your officials to get it!
When I lived in Germany, I found that if I didn’t carry my own reusable bag, I’d get charged 10-25 cents for every bag I used at the grocery store. Not a hefty fee, but enough to make me stop and think about my bag behavior (yes, that’s a bad pun). For a whopping $5, I purchased a few reusable bags at World Market and estimate I have saved thousands of plastic bags since then. Keep one in your car so you’re always ready when you remember you need to pick up last minute items.
Use Cloth Napkins and Dish Rags
I want to believe I will be the committed hippie mom who uses cloth diapers, but my parents were pretty hardcore eco-friendly and after 2 babies, even they gave up. It’s far easier to incorporate cloth napkins and dish rags into your daily routine than dirty diapers. Rather than continually plow through paper towels, you can save by purchasing and reusing real cloth items. If an 8 count back of Bounty Paper Towels is $20 and I paid $30 for my set of napkins 5 years ago, how much have I saved in per year? A gosh darn lot. Not to mention you can buy pretty and fun patterns to brighten your day.
Refuse the Straw (And Other Plastic Dishware)
I’ve mentioned the plastic island already, but guys, it’s bad. Because chemists are really good at their jobs, plastic is nearly indestructible and astonishingly overused. Every piece of plastic you throw away will last for thousands of years not only taking up landfill space, but filling the stomachs of fish and whales who encounter it in our oceans. Combat this by keeping your own reusable straws and cutlery handy and demanding companies develop biodegradable versions. If even Coke is pushing plant bottles, you know the tide is turning. You can purchase metal straws for permanent use to keep in your purse, or purchase cardboard ones for parties. Bring your own mug with you to coffee shops to save them using one. Fun fact, Starbucks will give you a discount for getting a refill that’s about half the price of a normal cup of coffee. Once again, saving the planet saves you money.
Have a Compost and Rain Barrel
If you’re not an avid gardener or don’t have the space, this may not be for you. But if do, it’s the best! Did you know consumers waste up to 40% of the food they buy? The easy answer is “Buy only the food you need,” but additionally that takes up a lot of trash space when you could be getting some great dirt instead. A rain barrel** and compost container run about $100 a piece, and if you have any sort of outdoor space, I highly recommend both. Though you need to know the basics of a good compost, (ie. Please don’t throw meat or meat carcasses away lest you want the raccoons to attack), it’s pretty simple to start. Then you’ll have water and dirt for decades! (I mean literal decades, I inherited my parents’ tubs which are both approaching their 20 year anniversaries). Once again, keep a small compost container in your house to empty into your big outdoor box, and you won’t need to waste $10 on Home Depot garden soil every other weekend. If you don’t have the outdoor space or need for dirt, a few companies are starting to offer pickup services in cities. With your trash, they have an opportunity to grow revenue with good dirt.
**(My boyfriend tells me that in some states it’s illegal to own a rain barrel because you’re taking away from the water supply. Obviously don’t own a rain barrel if it’s illegal)
There are many things you can do to help, and these are just a few. Again, while the little things may not seem to make a difference, imagine if everyone did pick up their trash and reduced their usage of materials. Highways free of trash, no more millions of plastic bottles or bags flooding the ocean, and more cash in your pocket for having done it. Now that’s the world I want!