Earth Day is not just a once-a-year reminder to think about how we can help protect our planet and conserve our natural resources, it can be a starting point for a more sustainable style of living.
Making lifestyle changes can be difficult and seem daunting, especially in a society that focuses so much on consumption. What we are trying to do in our daily living is to make changes one at a time - some small, some larger. Then it's not so daunting, and it helped us see the difference we can make, and encourage us to make more eco-conscious changes in the future.
I got many of the ideas from a very nice website and email newsletter called IdealBite. I encourage everyone to sign up for their daily tip. Some are easy and cheap to implement, and many will save you money as well as help the Earth, and some are downright wacky.
Here are some of the changes we've made over the years. I know many of you are doing some of the same things, as well as some that we're still trying to get to.
- We've switched most of our light bulbs to CFLs. CFLs use a fraction of the electricity of incandescent bulbs. They do contain mercury, but they last much longer than incandescent bulbs and can be recycled when they burn out. I plan to switch to LED lights as they become more affordable and available for household lighting. LEDs use even less electricity and contain no mercury.
- Starla has switched from regular deodorants to the Thai Deodorant Stone. It costs about $8 at Whole Foods Market, it's all natural with no chemicals, and it lasts for years. This saves money compared to buying regular deodorants, reduces the amount of plastic waste in packaging, and I can testify to the fact that it works just as well. Plus, it because it contains no artificial chemicals, it does not leave white chalky stains on clothes.
- We now eat less meat, because it takes a lot more energy to raise animals for meat, especially for beef cattle, than it takes to raise crops. Farming grains and vegetables can feed a lot more people than if they were used to feed cattle that is then used for beef. We're not vegetarians, and we don't plan to become vegans, but eating less meat and eating more fresh vegetables and whole grains is not only a good choice for reducing the amount of crops used to raise beef cattle, but also good for our health.
- We keep containers in our car to take in with us to restaurants when we eat out. I have to admit that I love seeing the looks on the faces of other diners and servers when we pull out our own containers at the end of the meal. Instead of getting styrofoam or plastic to-go boxes, we use our own reusable contains for leftovers. Not only does this reduce the use of non-biodegradable containers, but this also has several other advantages. First, we don't have to worry about leftovers leaking into the car because our containers have sealable lids. Second, because the leftovers are in closed containers, we no longer get the whiff of the food when we get into the car later (not that the smell is unpleasant). Third, we don't need to transfer leftovers into reusable containers later at home -- they can go straight into the fridge and be taken out later for reheating or the lunchbag.
- For lunch, I take real silverware and a cloth napkin to work for lunch. This helps to reduce the use of disposable non-biodegradable plastic utencils as well as paper napkins. Plus, when I'm eating my lunch at work, it has the feel of a meal at home when I pull out my cloth napkin and silverware. Along the same lines, we've switched to using cloth napkins at home as well.
- Some of you know that I love coffee. I used to get coffee at work either from a vending machine or the little convenience store inside our building. Now I bring my own coffee to work. We get fair-trade organic coffee that's freshly ground, and I use a french press coffee maker. This means less waste in disposable paper/plastic coffee cups and gourmet coffee for me.
- Starting last year, we joined a CSA program. No, it's not that CSA, but Community Supported Agriculture. This means we bought some of our produce from local farms, most of whom grow organic fruits and vegetables. Of course, local growers won't have the same variety as offered by supermarkets that get their produce from all over the world, but it does mean that we're getting really fresh stuff that was picked the day before or even the same day. What we're not getting are the pesticides, fuel, and other chemicals that are used in the growing and transporting of these produce from far off places. Like cutting back on meat, we're not completely going local, because we do love the variety of foods that come from all over the world, but getting more local produce helps a little bit, and we're support local family farms.
- We're trying to use vinegar for cleaning in place of chemical cleaners. I find that it works great in the kitchen to clean and disinfect. Plus, because it's just a mixture of 1 part 4% white distilled vinegar and 1 part water, I don't have to worry about spraying poisonous chemicals around the kitchen. And to give it a lemon scent, I put a little bit of lemon juice in the mixture. I also want to try other scents in the future, maybe vanilla. I found that it doesn't work quite as well cleaning up in the bathroom, though.
- We've reduced our use of the clothes dryer. We have an EnergyStar qualified washer which spins clothes faster than typical washers to get the clothes mostly dry. Then, for most clothes, we just hang them up on clothes racks. In the winter months, this also helps to humidify our upstairs rooms. Over the summer, we'll be trying to hang our laundry outside in the backyard. I've got to keep a close eye on the weather forecast and watch out for rain when we do that.
- A few months ago, I've started carpooling to work with a coworker who lives in my neighborhood. We carpool twice a week. This saves a little bit of gas as well as wear-and-tear on our cars. This arrangement also allows flexibility if we need to run errands on other days before or after work.
- Earlier in the winter, I installed an electronic programmable thermostat in our house and set the daily temporature settings to match our schedules. I wasn't sure if this would save us anything given our variable schedule and the fact that previously we had set the old thermostat to a relatively low temperature for the winter. However, after getting the next gas bill, I was amazed at the difference. The new thermostat paid for itself within the first month of use.
Still, there are many more things we can do to change how we live to be better stewards of God's beautiful creation. Here are some of the changes we plan to make in the future:
- We have bought a couple of rain barrels to collect rain water to water our yard and garden. In fact, I picked them up on Earth Day and will be installing them this week. A local company makes them out of used plastic barrels. You can either have him install it for you or in my case, I'll be doing the installation. He mentioned that he'll be trying out solar electric pumps in the near future, so I may get that later as well. You can also get rain barrels from other places. For example, in Cleveland, rain barrels are also available from the Shaker Lakes Nature Center and the Cleveland Botanical Garden.
- We will be trying to grow some vegetables in our back yard this year. We've grown tomatoes and a Chinese winter squash in the past. This year, we'll be trying to grow those again, as well as some other types of squashes, beans, and several varieties of herbs. Note that I said we'll be trying to grow -- this is my first real attempt at this, so it may be a failure. I'll give updates as they grow, or not.
- We will try to start composting this year. As mentioned before, we eat less meat and a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits. And because we try to minimize the use of disposable items and reuse or recycle everything our city's recycling program allows, much of our trash is vegetable matter. Combine that with our attempt to grow vegetables leads naturally (pun intended) to composting. This will greatly reduce what we put out in the trash. I don't think we'll be able to completely eliminate our trash output, but the less the better. I've never done composting before, but I've found a lot of good advice on home gardening from Mother Earth News. It has step-by-step instructions on how to do it, including videos.
- We're in need of new windows. Our house's original windows are rather leaky in the winter and summer, thus wasting our energy trying to heat and cool it each year. Hopefully we'll be able to afford to replace at least some of the windows with new energy saving ones this year.
Updated: April 24th at 9:30 a.m. with addition details and links.