Human activity has a huge impact on the earth and the effects of rising temperatures does not look good in terms of sustainability for this place we all call home. The news can be pretty daunting and many view the effects of humans on Earth as a global emergency. It’s anxiety-inducing to know that we need to alter our behavior, and quickly. So what can we do? Install solar panels on the house? Buy an electric car? Replace all our major appliances with more eco-friendly models? Big, expensive, personal steps like those can be unrealistic and make a person feel hopeless when it comes to doing their part. However, it’s been said that the best way to combat anxiety is with action. And while large scale change is necessary, there are things we can do ourselves on a smaller scale that have benefits as well. You don’t have to be perfect and tackle it all at once. Incremental changes and thoughtful choices and actions also impact the earth. Take a look at the small steps we’ve suggested below to create good habits that keep our planet in mind.
Out in the World
- Be a conscientious consumer - You know all those labels with the little print on a product? Read them! Educate yourself about what actually goes into a product and what certain certifications, endorsements, and labels mean. Look for and support brands that are transparent about ingredients and provide responsibly sourced and manufactured products. (Oh hello, ABBY&FINN!)
- Use those grocery totes for all your shopping - I mean, this is as basic as it gets. Paper or plastic? Neither - thank you very much! Even when you’re shopping in a place other than the grocery store! Carry your own bag to cut back on unnecessary packaging entering the environment. And make those bags cute while you’re at it - there’s no law that says you always have to use the free one from when you opened a checking account. (No offense, Bank Midwest.) And don’t forget to use small, washable mesh fabric bags designed for your produce instead of the thin plastic bags you find in the aisles.
- Shop for products that are committed to reducing their packaging or opt for glass and aluminum packaging when possible. Choose things like soap dispensers that you can refill instead of tossing a plastic one each time it runs out of soap.
- Combine your trips for gas efficiency - Take steps to consolidate your driving to cut back on car emissions.
- Carry your own reusable to-go containers - Am I the only weird lady who thinks when our restaurants finally open back up fully for dining that I’ll bring my own reusable to-go containers for leftovers? (And yes, I do still own skinny jeans and rock a side part so I probably have reached the age where ‘cool’ doesn’t apply, but isn’t eco-friendly always cool???) Ditch the wasteful to-go boxes and use your own reusable ones! Or bring your own coffee mug to your favorite coffee shop instead of using one of their throw-away cups.
Around the House
- Recycle - Well, duh. But this is not always as simple as we like to make it seem. Not all products that are labeled with those little recycling arrows can actually be tossed into your curbside bin and recycled. The best way to cut back on waste is to avoid it in the first place, but make sure that you educate yourself on recycling best practices.
- Run major appliances only when full and wash on the cold water setting - In middle school, I was definitely guilty of washing my gym uniform COMPLETELY BY ITSELF in our huge washing machine late Sunday night so that it would be ready for PE on Monday morning - such a waste of water and energy.
- Buy in bulk to reduce packaging - Large containers of food and household items cut back on packaging waste entering the environment.
- Change your regular light bulbs to LED bulbs - This helps cut down on electricity use. You can swap them all out at once, or replace them as they burn out.
- Ditch the paper plates and napkins - I’m a sucker for cute paper napkins (I mean, come on, rainbows with fluffy white clouds to wipe my mouth? Smiling sharks for kiddo lunches? Love it.) But cloth napkins can be just as cute and reusable. Same with plates - a fun, patterned reusable set can brighten the day’s meals and save on wasted products.
- Use dryer balls or hang clothes to dry - Wool dryer balls can reduce the amount of time and energy it takes to dry a load. Line drying when possible is even better.
- Use washable and reusable items for self care and personal hygiene - Washcloths instead of disposable scrubbers, bamboo face rounds instead of cotton pads, eyeglass lens spray and a cloth instead of individually packaged disposable wipes, earwax swabs (yes, this is a thing), and maybe even think about a reusable menstrual cup in lieu of disposable tampons and pads each month.
- Replace plastic wrap, foil, and parchment paper with reusable products - Beeswax wraps to keep food fresh, silicone food covers and bowl lids, silicone storage bags and baking sheet liners can all cut down on single-use food preserving products that eventually end up in a landfill.
- Reassess your coffee situation - Those little plastic pods for your morning fix? Yeah, not so great for the environment. Decide how you can brew a more environmentally friendly cup. We switched out our daily plastic pods to compostable paper filters to minimize our impact. For those wanting to reduce even more, there are stainless steel filter options.
- Opt for reusable cleaning cloths - I love paper towels for their convenience. (Like, love them so much.) But, they end up in the trash! Swap out paper towels for bamboo cleaning cloths around the kitchen and bathrooms and microfiber cloths for glass, mirrors, and dusting. Same goes for floor-cleaning systems - a stack of washable cloths under the kitchen sink saves on landfill space.
- Cook efficiently - Defrost items in the refrigerator, cook large batches at once that can be used throughout the week (think a pot of quinoa that can be the base of a main dish one night and added to salad the next without having to use the stove again), and cook things at the same time.
With the Kids
- Fill reusable food pouches for toddlers - My son could down four fruit packs before I knew to fill my own - so much waste in packaging! (And also, maybe he needed more lunch so he didn’t crush applesauce like it was going out of style right before his nap? But that’s another topic altogether…)
- Pack those school and daycare lunches and snacks in reusable containers - Moving away from single-use plastics like plastic baggies or disposable cutlery not only saves money, but also puts less garbage into the environment. Additionally, avoid purchasing those individual snack packets to begin with and buy bulk items.
- Compost - Disposable diapers are not the easiest thing to compost (in fact, unless you scrape out the waste, dismantle the diaper and send the components to industrial composting facilities, you can’t truly biodegrade a diaper). But there are definitely lots of things you can compost. Pull your kids in to either make your own compost bin or look into a program offered by your city. It may inspire your kiddos to take an interest in creating their own soil and being less wasteful on the front end.
- Collect rainwater for lawn irrigation - Have your kids help paint a rain barrel and attach it to your downspout to use for watering flowers and other plants around the yard.
- Talk with your kids - Small practices like turning off lights when leaving a room, being mindful of water usage, recycling, etc are all good conversations to have with your kiddos and help them understand early on that their actions - both large and small - matter.
So yes, it can feel overwhelming when I start to design my own Tesla online (cha-ching, cha-ching) and contemplate going off the grid (that’s not happening for me anytime soon.). But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost! A good starting point is to look around you and try to offset what you do and reduce your overall negative impact on the earth through small, tangible ways. Maybe that means replacing some disposable items with reusable ones, cutting back on overall stuff in the first place so that waste doesn’t get introduced, and researching and supporting those companies and products that are working to reduce their impact and honestly presenting their efforts. And just as with any new habit you work to adopt, it’ll take a little time to adjust - to remember to pull your grocery totes from the back of the car, to not feel a little odd carrying your own to-go containers into a restaurant, to composting your food waste - but you’ll get there! And the earth will be better for it.