This year’s Earth Day seems even more significant, given the current political climate. Whatever your politics, it is undeniable that protecting the environment and promoting sustainability are not top priority for this administration. It is hard not to feel helpless as an individual – like your own seemingly insignificant actions are barely making a dent in the global tragedy of the commons that is climate change. Bleak, I know.
But I think there is still hope! I have to believe that the collective actions of individuals can make a huge difference, no matter the policies of the country in which you reside. Becoming a mother has further reinforced this belief. We owe it to our children – the same children who will become future leaders – to instill in them the importance of protecting our environment. To do my small part, I am focusing on four small, simple ways to live a more sustainable existence this Earth Day.
- Nixing the paper towels
I am embarrassed to admit that my paper towel usage has really creeped up since Rose was born. The perceived combination of convenience and less laundry were all-too alluring. I made myself feel more virtuous by buying recycled paper towels, but it still felt so wasteful. A couple weeks ago, I decided to quit paper towels cold-turkey in anticipation of Earth Day. I expected a painful withdrawal, but it has been totally easy – better than before, in fact. I ditched the rolls in favor of a neat stack of cloth diapers next to the sink. I keep under the sink a small linen laundry bag into which I toss dirty cloths. When I am running low, I simply throw the whole bag into the laundry. We are always doing laundry, anyway, so it really does not take much effort. How is this different from using dish towels, you might ask? Having a fairly large quantity stacked next to the sink mimics the convenience of paper towels – easily grabbable, not too big, multiple on hand, and inexpensive, so I don’t care if they get stained. I bought these cloth diapers, which are one thickness throughout. They tackle any mess with ease, and are even more effective than weak paper towels, not to mention more cost-effective.
- Reducing plastic packaging
- Seeking out more sustainable packaging: I am trying to factor packaging more into my purchasing decisions. For example, if I am buying coconut oil (THIS is my fave), I opt for a glass jar that I can repurpose for storing salad dressings or serving smoothies. When buying yogurt, I opt for the larger size, rather than multiple individual sizes, which means less packaging overall. Where possible, I try to buy in bulk to avoid packaging all-together.
- Refusing plastic bags, plastic cups and straws: I try to be good about bringing my own bags to the grocery store, but I am going further by avoiding plastic produce bags, always having a reusable cup on hand to avoid plastic cups, and remembering to say “no straw, please” when eating out. I have a bunch of these Baggu bags, which I love because they fold up very small when not in use and are easily washable. I also use these silicone bags to try to reduce my reliance on plastic storage bags.
- Making my own cleaning products: With a baby in the house, we go through a lot of cleaning products. They are all eco-friendly cleaning products, but I still felt bad buying yet another plastic spray bottle every time I ran out. Now, I have three of these glass spray bottles – one for glass, one for marble counters, and another all-purpose cleaner – that I will refill as needed. It will be a lot cheaper in the long run, too.
- Installing an under-sink water filter
We recently installed this under-sink water filter, which filters out impurities and toxic substances and adds beneficial minerals back in for taste and electrolytes. We are fortunate to live in an area where tap water is safe, but with recent tragic cases of lead contamination in Flint, Michigan and other areas, I feel better giving filtered water to Rose. I also find electrolyte water helps me stay more hydrated, particularly while breastfeeding. This water tastes so pure – like the kind of pure proclaimed in that ridiculous Fiji water commercial. After installation, I did a blind tasting of tap and filtered for my husband, and it was very obvious which was filtered. I fill this water bottle throughout the day, and keep it with me whenever we are out-and-about. I drink more water and rarely buy plastic water bottles anymore.
- Cutting our carbon footprint
We live in a global age where virtually anything we need is a simple click away, and food and consumer products are shipped around the globe. Great for convenience, but not so great for the environment. Amazon has made my life a lot easier – like a lot of new parents, I lean on Amazon heavily. But my habit had gotten a bit out of control. With a Prime membership, I had taken to ordering single items willy-nilly. If we ran out of toothpaste, a new tube would be delivered the next day, arriving via truck in its own box with plastic padding. This is painfully wasteful, so I am trying to be more mindful by consolidating my orders, choosing to minimize shipments, and choosing items with Free One Day, which in my mind means they have less distance to travel. Where possible, I am also trying to support more local businesses, rather than ordering the items online in the first place, thereby avoiding carbon emissions from shipping long distances. As an avid online shopper living in an urban setting, this is very hard for me, so I am taking baby steps.
Similarly, I am trying to focus even more on buying local food. Our local farmer’s market does not open until early May, but in the meantime our grocery store has a great selection of local goods. We only eat meat about once a week, and already only organic, but I am trying to seek out organic and local meat. It is undeniably more expensive, but eating meat as little as we do makes it affordable.
These are four fairly simple ways I am trying to live more sustainably. What do you think? What are you doing to try to be more sustainable?