Happy Earth Day, everyone! Today is a day when I pause to reflect on how beautiful this planet is and how lucky we are to have another day to live on it. When you think about it, you realize how amazing it is that this rock in space can support all of our lives. And the earth does it with such noble silence and forgiveness for our human silliness. Aren’t we lucky?
In my own life, I try to do what I can to help the planet sustain itself. I’m not perfect, I still drive a combustible engine car and heat my home with gas. But until those new electric vehicles hit the market and solar panels come down in price, I do a few tiny things to emit less CO2 and curb my pollution and waste. Here’s what I do:
Recycle Everything I Possibly Can
Sometimes my husband thinks I’m a weirdo because I’ve trained my family to recycle almost everything. For instance, I discovered our local transfer station (read: dump) accepts styrofoam blocks, bubble wrap, and almost all plastic bags (including bread and veggie bags) for recycling. So every plastic bag that comes into our house goes into a bin in the pantry closet. After a month or two, I put all of those bags in one larger white trash bag and take it to the recycling bin at the transfer station. Easy.
I also recycle every can, bottle, and container. Unfortunately, we’ve learned that our recycling is only going into giant piles in the country and not shipped over seas where it’s properly recycled. But our waste service still wants us to separate and recycle anyway until they find a new solution. So I do because there’s no sense in all of those granola bar boxes going into a landfill. I mean after all, a tree helped us make that box.
With this approach, our family of five produces very little garbage. The only thing in the garbage now is styrofoam food containers and plastic that’s been soiled by food, and various bathroom items. Most everything else is recycled. And that small amount of garbage keeps our service bill down since we use a smaller can.
I Walk or Take Public Transportation Instead of Drive
On days when I don’t have a lot to haul, I’ll walk to the library or grocery store or for coffee. Because I still drive a combustible engine car, I take five seconds and consider whether my trip is worth the emissions. Sometimes it is, like when I take my daughter to her teen group meeting, or I have to bring home a load of groceries, but if it’s just to get a cup of coffee or buy a gift at the bookstore, I usually walk. This, in addition, to reducing emissions, gives me steps and extra exercise, which brightens my mood and improves my focus.
Similarly, Seattle now has a train that goes to the airport. One of my favorite little rituals is to ride the train to and from the airport instead of driving. Driving often means struggling through clogged traffic for almost an hour. So taking the train means I arrive wherever I’m going with less stress. Plus, I can relax and read a book!
I Keep the Temperature Lower
I’m not going to lie, I need to heat my house comfortably. If you live in the north, you usually do. But instead of cranking the thermostat to 72 like I really want to, I usually keep it at 68. What do I do to make up the difference? Well, one word: wool. A yummy wool sweater and a wool blanket. The beauty of wool over polyester (also a plastic) is that wool breathes well. It keeps you warm and cozy and dry. A polyester throw keeps you warm and then too warm and your body gets clammy. So I keep the thermostat a little lower and wear a wool shirt, socks, and sweater. I also use a beautifully knitted wool throw I bought from an Irish maker. Check it out here.
Along these lines, I lower the temperature on the water when I do laundry. Doing a load of clothes in cool water saves gas and emissions. Also, keeping your hot water tank at a higher temperature actually saves gas. I learned this from our hot water repairman. Because the temperature is higher, you use less hot water when doing dishes or showering. You just have to be careful to adjust the faucet so you don’t get scorched.
I Practice Organic and Sustainable Gardening
Of course, I could write a whole post on this. But overall, I plant plants that like the conditions of their location. For sunny areas, I plant sun-loving, low-water plants. For shady spots, I grow plants that like the shade and Seattle rain. I don’t grow a lot of plants that need extra care or fertilizer. When I do fertilize, I fertilize with an organic fish fertilizer rather than a chemical mix. This prevents chemicals from leaching down through the soil and into our water table below. And plants actually grow more robustly for a longer time with natural fertilizer anyway. If you want to learn more about good garden plants and their conditions, check out these articles.
I know a sprinkler system sounds fancy, but it’s actually a great investment, particularly the kind with emitters on shorter stakes. Or even just drip hoses. Instead of watering with an oscillating lawn sprinkler, which often waters a sidewalk or misses certain areas of the garden, I have a sprinkler system that sends water straight to the plants. This allows me to water for a shorter duration.
I Re-Use Bottles and Bags
Single-use plastic bottles and bags require energy and labor to make. And yet we use these things for maybe a few hours at most. Not to sound preachy, but we have a huge chunk of plastic hanging out in our oceans right now. This pollutes the water and affects sea life, sometimes even killing it. We don’t really need to add to that, right? So if you want to help our waterways, buy a metal water bottle and re-use it. Take paper bags back to your grocery store. The trees and fish will thank you.
Overall, if we just take a minute to think about our actions, we can make small easy adjustments to help the planet. For instance, if you wash your car at home, do it with eco-friendly soap so the runoff doesn’t go into the sewer and your nearest river, lake, or ocean. Because that’s where it often goes. If you have paint to dispose off, dry it out before putting in the garbage. If you have the financial resources, switch your kitchen stove from gas to electric. With a little extra effort, we can all do a tiny bit to help this big beautiful pearl we call home.