Ideas for a Healthier Environment
Below are a few simple ways to reduce your impact on the environment and create a healthier world for you and your children to live in.
We are a consumer-driven society. Products abound. The problem is that when we are done consuming the products, we throw them away and they end up in landfill. On average, each of us creates 4.5 pounds of trash every day. This equates to 90,000 pounds of trash for each of us over the course of our lives. Read my blog Plastic At Home, Really? for more details on how to reduce your consumption and resulting waste. Here are a few general ideas.
- Use cloth napkins instead of paper. If you can't make the change to cloth, try to get a few uses out of your paper napkins.
- Invest in a reusable water bottle instead of buying plastic bottles in bulk.
- Be creative with gift wrap. Try using newspapers, old calendars, or reusable scarves to wrap presents and forgo the ribbon.
- Print on both sides of the paper at home, school, and work.
- Refill your ink cartridges rather than buying new ones.
- Bring your own bags when you shop for clothes, groceries, pet food, and office supplies. Leave the reusable bags in the trunk of your car so you don't forget.
- Go to your public library for free books, CDs, and DVDs.
Does the item you are throwing away have life left? Can you give the item to someone who can use it? Perhaps you've heard the saying, "One person's trash is another person's treasure". There are many people who might be able to reuse the item. Think before you toss. Can any of the following use the item?
- Neighbors (Garage Sale)
Another option is to try Freecycle. They have over 7 million members around the world. Freecycle is a grassroots, nonprofit organization that connects people to give and get stuff for free in an effort to keep reusable items out of landfills. Membership is free. I have given many items away on Freecycle, and I have also gotten a few things as well. When I was looking for some People magazines for a trip to Hawaii and some word magnets for a homemade gift I was making for my dad, I posted my request on Freecycle and got what I wanted—for free! How often does that happen? Check it out!
We all recycle, right? Wrong. In 2008, the amount of paper recovered for recycling averaged 340 pounds for every person in the U.S. If everyone in America separated the paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum products from the trash and instead put them in the recycle bin, the waste in landfills would be reduced by 75%! Take the time to read the literature provided by your trash provider. Find out what products are allowed in the recycle bin and make a conscious effort to recycle when you can. Read my blog Broom No, Foil Yes for more information on what items are recyclable. Here are a few general ideas for recycling.
- Are you on the go? Take your magazines and bottles home to recycle rather than throwing them out where there is no recycle bin.
- Put a recycle bin in your office and kitchen. It is a lot easier to recycle if you have a separate receptacle in the rooms where you sort mail, pay bills, and use the printer. It is easier to periodically take these cans to the recycle bin rather than having to do it letter by letter.
- Find out what items can be recycled. The one that seems to cause the most confusion is plastic bags. They can be recycled, just not in your home recycle bin. I take mine to Safeway or Whole Foods. A recent law requires grocery stores and drug stores that are at least 10,000 square feet to provide plastic bag recycling, so find out the places near you that recycles these bags. Be sure to take your dry cleaning plastic to be recycled as well.
Cleaning green applies to your house and clothes (and body—see Go Natural for more information on green beauty products). Many conventional cleaning products leave indoor air pollution because of the petrochemical VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and synthetic fragrances. These toxins build up in your home each time you use these products. As they evaporate, they can make their way into your body and be dangerous to your health. The neurotoxins, carcinogens, and hormone disruptors in these products can cause dizziness, watery eyes, skin rashes, and respiratory problems. Try to avoid products that have fragrances, chlorine bleach, and ammonia. For some ideas on cleaning green, check out my blog Got Vinegar?
It is also important to find a dry cleaner that is green. Traditional dry cleaning uses perchloroethylene (better known as perc) which is bad for the health of the environment and you. Fortunately, environmentally friendly dry-cleaning stores have become more widely available. And, while you are at it, be sure to bring the hangers back to the cleaners to be reused rather than putting them in the trash. If you want to be even more environmentally friendly, tell them not to use plastic bags for your clothing, or at the very least, be sure to recycle the plastic. In my area, Whole Foods and Safeway have plastic bag recycle bins in front of their stores.
Properly Dispose of Toxic Waste
What do you do with old batteries, paint, prescription medications, and cell phones? These items should not be thrown in the trash! Batteries, for example, have mercury, lead, and other toxic chemicals. If these get incinerated with the trash, toxic pollution gets into our air. Throwing medications in the trash find their way into our soil and flushing them down the toilet can bring them into our water supply. Eighty percent of the streams and nearly 25% of groundwater in the U.S. have been found to be contaminated with a variety of medications. Recycling these products does take a little extra work, but not much.
It is worth taking the time to find local organizations or companies that will dispose of these toxic products properly. It is essential not only for the health of the environment, but also for wildlife, our pets, and ourselves. Check out Earth 911. They make it extremely easy to properly dispose of items. You just type in the item you want to get rid of along with your zip code and the site gives you a list of local places that will take your unwanted item. A few other ideas are listed below.
- Contact your local hazardous waste facility. They take most everything.
- Walgreens in my area will take old batteries. Call and see if yours does too. And, when it's time to buy new batteries, try buying rechargeable ones instead. In the U.S., we throw out almost 180,000 tons of batteries each year.
- Find a take-back program for your prescription medications by going to Dispose My Meds. You can type in your zip code and the site will provide you with local companies that will properly dispose of your medications.
- Be sure to dispose of your electronic waste properly. This includes cell phones, computers, fax machines, printers, and televisions. Electronic waste is the fastest-growing segment of municipal landfills around the world. Computer monitors contain lead. Batteries have lithium. There is zinc, mercury, and copper in computers. When these elements are burned, the air we breathe becomes toxic. When these elements are left in landfills, the toxins go into the ground and contaminate the soil and groundwater. So, what can you do with your e-waste? There are local e-waste recycle days in my area, perhaps there are in your area as well. There is also a local computer repair service and several charities that recycle old electronics. You can go on the internet to your favorite search engine and type in "electronic waste recycling" or "e-waste recycling" and then your city or zip code to find places that can help you properly dispose of these items. It's worth the time to do it.
Use Less Energy and Water
Americans use at least twice as much water and energy per person as anywhere else in the world. Using less water and energy is not only good for the environment, but for your wallet as well.
Below are some ideas for reducing energy use.
- Set your thermostat a degree higher in the summer and a degree lower in the winter. Just this small change can save you $100 a year.
- Keep your refrigerator door closed. Opening the door can cost an average family an additional $30-$60 a year.
- Keep your fireplace damper closed when not in use.
- Wash your clothes in cold or warm water. You can save 90% of the energy from washing in hot. If all of us in the U.S. switched from hot-hot to warm-cold cycles, we could save the energy equivalent of 100,000 barrels of oil a day.
Below are some ideas for using less water.
- Take shorter showers. For every two minutes you reduce for shower time, you conserve more than ten gallons of water.
- Run full loads when you use your dishwasher and washing machine.
- Do not scrub your dishes clean before putting them in the dishwasher. Years ago my sister-in-law told me that dishes actually got cleaner the dirtier you put them into the dishwasher. I'm not sure if this is true or not, but I don't rinse my dishes before I put them into the dishwasher, and they clean just fine.
- Turn off the water while brushing your teeth. This can save up to 5 gallons of water each day.
My friend, Tiffany, inspires me because she bikes and runs to do her errands. This is a little more challenging because we live in the suburbs which means places are a little more spread out. If you live in a metropolitan area, it is even easier to opt for your legs instead of the car. Think about the places that you go in a day and see if there are any that you can reach without the car? Can you walk to work, the bank, the deli? Are your kids close enough to school to walk or bike? Only one-third of children who live less than one mile from school walk to get there. If just 6% of those students walked instead, it would save 60,000 gallons of gasoline a day. How about walking your children to and from school? Not only will you be saving on gas and reducing air pollution (environment), you will have quality time with your children (relationships), you will get exercise (body) and you will reduce your stress (mind). It can be a four quadrant activity!
Say No to Plastic
I am saddened and frustrated by the indiscriminate use of plastic bottles for drinking. People buy them by the case at warehouse and grocery stores. One and a half million tons of plastic are used in the bottling of 89 billion liters of drinking water each year. Sixty million water bottles are thrown away EVERY DAY in the United States. And, 1.5 million barrels of oil are used annually to meet the demands in the U.S. for bottled water. Bottled water has not been shown to be any safer than most tap water (and in many reports fares even worse). Instead, buy a filter for your house or place of business to put on the faucet. These filters can cost as little as $29. When you are at home, fill up a glass instead of reaching for a plastic bottle. This way, you won't be drinking any contaminants from the plastic that can leach into the water. For on-the-go, buy an aluminum bottle and fill it up. I used to buy plastic bottles for when I was running errands but once you get in the habit of refilling your aluminum bottle, you won't miss the plastic. The first step is to just be mindful of your plastic water bottle use. Just say no—you will save money, your health, and the earth. For more information, read my blog Plastic at Home, Really?
In addition to limiting plastic bottle usage, it is good to reduce your plastic tupperware use. You have probably heard about the chemicals in the plastic leaching from food containers into your food. Try using glass instead. I have recently swapped out all of my plastic tupperware for glass. I can safely use it in the microwave and freezer. Glass containers now come in all shapes and sizes for safe food storage.
Also, avoid products that contain PVC (polyvinyl chloride). PVC may contain toxins that can be harmful to your immune system and is difficult to recycle.
Save Lives (Adopt & Spay)
Do you have room in your house for one more? If so, head to your local shelter and save a life! There are an estimated 8 to 12 million animals who are brought into animal shelters every year. A small percentage are lost pets who are reunited with their owners. About 30% find new homes which means at least half of these millions of animals are euthanized every year. If you are ready to adopt an animal, go to your local shelter rather than getting your companion animal from a pet store, a classified ad, or through a breeder. When we get our pets from these other places, we are creating consumer demand for more animals when millions of adoptable pets are dying every year.
There are numerous puppy mills that mass-produce puppies and then sell them to animal dealers and pet shops. They also sell directly to the public through the internet or newspaper ads. The puppies born in these mills often suffer medical problems later in their lives from overbreeding or inbreeding. The animals who are used to breed and live at the mill are forced to live in inhumane conditions with minimal veterinary care, inadequate food and shelter, overcrowded cages, little interaction with humans, and death when they can no longer breed. Still, one-third of all pet stores sells puppies, with consumers buying 400,000 puppies from stores every year. So, when you are ready to adopt a pet, go to an animal shelter. They have kittens and puppies as well as older animals. They also have small animals like rabbits and hamsters. If you have your heart set on a purebred animal and cannot find the breed you want at the shelter, find a purebred rescue organization.
When you adopt, recognize that you are making a lifelong commitment. Do research before you adopt on what it means to be a cat or dog owner. It takes time to train, exercise, and care for pets. It can be a 12 year commitment with dogs and a 20 year commitment with cats. Be sure you are in it for the long haul before you take that adorable pet home. Treat them like they are a part of the family. Realize that they are completely dependent on you for their life. It is a huge responsibility that should be taken very seriously. You are their advocate for a healthy life.
After you adopt your pet, be sure to spay or neuter them if they are not already. This helps to curb the overpopulation of unwanted animals. And try to feed them good quality foods, ones with no by-products. If the food says "meat or poultry by-products", it means that the food contains meat processing waste which includes "4-D" animals. These are animals that are dead, disease, dying, or disabled. This meat often contains tumors and drugs used to try to treat the animals before they died. I won't go into more detail here, but suffice it to say, I highly recommend you buy food for your precious pet that does not contain by-products. For more information on responsible pet ownership, see my blog Pet Peeves.
- Do you wash your towels or change your sheets daily when you are at home? Most of us don't, so try not to request it while you are traveling and staying in hotels. Use the same linens and towels throughout your stay. The average hotel room consumes more than 200 gallons of water per day.
- Turn off lights and air-conditioning when you leave your hotel room.
- Pack lightly. Every additional 10 pounds per traveler requires an additional 350 million gallons of jet fuel per year.
- Support eco-tourism. There are hotels, travel companies, and cruise lines that promote eco-friendly travel.
- When you travel to nature spots, leave only your footprints—not your litter. Also, take only photographs—not "souvenirs" from the wild. And be respectful of wildlife. You are walking through their home.
Simply Be (in Nature)
The environment can be a great source of health through the solace and inspiration it provides us. There are no numbers or statistics to provide here, but think about the times in your life where you were in nature and you felt a peace and calm wash over you. Spending time in nature helps ground you and put your everyday stresses and problems into perspective. Some of my favorite moments of being in nature include taking a hike, walking in the sand, staring at the ocean, riding my bike around the local park, and having a picnic on a mountaintop. Even just thinking of these times in my life lowers my blood pressure and quiets my mind.
While you are in nature, notice the sights and sounds around you. Do you hear the birds chirping and the wind blowing through the trees? How does the earth feel beneath your feet? You don't have to visit a National Park to get out in nature. You can take a walk around your neighborhood, eat lunch outside where there is greenery, or go to your local park. There is beauty in the simplicity of nature as a source of health. When we are in nature, we can simply be. What are your favorite moments in nature and how can you make more time for them?