Putting Our Earth First

Grrrrrr… The other day I watched some guy across the street toss an old (but totally usable) computer chair into the dumpster. He then proceeded to toss a humongous bird-cage and a stack of milk crates into the dumpster as well. While I did maddeningly flick him off through the window, I didn’t confront him about what he was doing with his unwanted “junk”. I am disappointed in myself for not doing anything except observe his stupidity. It blows my mind that people haven’t discovered recycling of items other than glass, paper, plastic and aluminum (although I am sure this neighbor of mine puts everything in the dumpster despite the presence of the huge recycling containers he had easy access to).

Sigh… And you know what else? There is a Goodwill up the street and another place not far away that takes furniture and other items for recycling or reselling. This guy was simply lazy and stupid. It became apparent a few days later that he was moving and probably wanted an easy way to get rid of stuff he no longer needed. It’s frustrating to witness people tossing stuff willy-nilly into the garbage especially because it doesn’t have to be that way. Take a peek at this website for informative, fun animations about stuff and consumerism and how it affects the world around us.

Most of us know that April 22 is Earth Day. Lowering our personal impact on the Earth is not only beneficial, but essential. Here is my top ten list of suggestions for getting started (or expanding what you already do). If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear about them! This is a lengthy post, so feel free skim it if you want. There is a lot of information that might be helpful, but my intent is not to overwhelm with words. I provided lots of links for you too.

1. Adopt a plant-based diet and go vegan! This one is obvious for a lot of my readers, but just in case there are some stragglers it is worth mentioning. Going vegan isn’t just good for the animals and your health, it’s incredibly kind to the environment too.

2. Stop using paper napkins, tissues, and paper towels. Tim and I have lived without all three of these items for several years and don’t miss them one single bit. Use cloth napkins, hankies, and absorbent kitchen towels instead.  And while we are on the subject of paper products, please try to buy 100% recycled, unbleached toilet paper. Why do we need toilet paper to be bleached? I mean honestly!! My butt could care less.

3. Recycle! This is probably the most obvious tip in the world, right? But, my story above proves that may not be the case for some folks. Recycling is easy!!! And while it is true that recycling stuff uses energy, at least items are getting a second (third, fourth, fifth, etc.) life instead of using brand new resources to create brand new stuff.

Vegetarian Times recently printed an article about recycling and provided plenty of resources for readers. Check out the April 2010 (if you don’t subscribe and don’t want to purchase the magazine, try your local library!) issue for links to places where you can recycle eyeglasses, ink cartridges, sneakers, books, bicycles, coats, cell phones and more.

I have made a happy habit out of taking my co-workers’ paper from the office recycling bin if one side is unused. I cut it into squares to use as scrap paper and I also use it to print out recipes I find on blogs!!

Buy used stuff whenever you can. My camera and most of its lenses are used. Some of my clothes are used. Mixing bowls, cookie scoops, dishes, furniture, music, etc. are easy to find used. It’s actually kind of fun to shop at thrift stores! You can also check out the freecycle website for giving and getting stuff for free, locally in your community.

4. Conserve water. Did you know that many people around the world don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water? Tim and I recently watched the film Flow and learned about the distribution of water on our planet. The film is a documentary about “the growing privatization of the world’s dwindling fresh water supply with an unflinching focus on politics, pollution, human rights, and the emergence of a domineering world water cartel”. It saddens me that people are bathing in dirty water, and drinking that same water too, even when they know they risk getting very ill (what choice do they have if that is their only water source?).

Conversing water can be as simple as waiting to do your laundry until you have a full load, taking shorter showers, and turning the water off when you brush your teeth or wash the dishes. While you are at it, try washing your laundry with cold water instead of hot. You will save more energy and your clothes will be just as clean – I promise!!

5. Reduce the amount of mail you receive. If you are comfortable paying your bills online, this is a great way to lessen the clutter in your mailbox. Usually if you commit to paying online, the paper statements you receive in the mail will stop. If you find yourself getting lots of junk catalogs, check out this free online service. You create an account and search through alphabetical lists of all the companies that send out catalogs to potential consumers and select the ones you no longer wish to receive. The online service contacts the companies for you and you are removed from those mailing lists. ***EDIT: I read about the above website in Vegetarian Times and it appears to be a credible source. Please read the comment from one of the folks who helps run the website.*** You could also try contacting companies directly yourself and asking to be removed from their mailing lists. I have had success with this approach in the past.

6. Shop with cloth/canvas bags. There is simply NO excuse for using plastic bags. Canvas bags are way more comfortable to carry, hold more, last longer, can be tossed in the wash, and are inexpensive. If you sew, make your own!! San Francisco has a plastic bag ban, and Washington DC started a 5-cent per bag tax in January of this year and the number of plastic bags used dropped from 22 million to 3 million in a month!!! Amazing. Every city in the world should adopt a similar strategy. Stop using plastic bags already!!!

While we are on the subject of plastic bags, try reusable produce and bulk food bags too. Filling a shopping cart or basket with gorgeous produce and grains is great, but when they are stashed in icky plastic bags, it’s a pretty miserable sight. Plus, it’s wasteful. Check out these two sites if you want to switch to reusable bags:

QwertyO – I love these bags!!! I use them all the time and I don’t know what I would do without them. People ask me about them at the grocery store all the time. It’s proof that the interest in moving away from plastic bags does in fact exist.

Kootsac – You won’t be disappointed with these gorgeous reusable produce bags. In fact, these bags inspired me to sew my own reusable bags. But, if you aren’t handy with a sewing machine, I recommend Kootsac!

Want to make your own? Check out this site for step-by-step instructions.

7. Use earth-friendly cleaning and personal care products. I stopped buying products with ingredients on the label that I didn’t recognize or couldn’t decipher. I also never buy products from companies that test on animals – ever. NO EXCEPTIONS. I try to purchase products in bulk, make my own, or buy from vegans who sell their wares on Etsy. In past posts I have suggested a great little book called Make Your Place by Raleigh Briggs. It is full of recipes for homemade health, beauty, and household products. Want to make your own laundry soap? You should! Want a super awesome vegan lip balm? You should go here (try her handmade soaps and face scrubs too!!!) – this is hands down my most favorite lip balm in the world and a percentage of the proceeds will go to The Animal Place in California. And, if you want to try shampoo bars, go here because I just started using them and my hair is so soft and lovely!!!

8. Drive less. I know for folks who don’t live in the city this may be more difficult. But, riding a bike is a great way to get exercise and lower your impact on the environment. If the area you live in is walker-friendly, why not walk more often when you run errands? Take public transportation. There is a woman who lives in the apartment building next to mine (the same building that housed the dude in the story at the start of my post) and she drives a huge SUV every single day. She makes lots of trips too. The sad part? It’s just her. I’m not a creepy spy or anything, but when I am at my kitchen table, I can see the parking area where her SUV sits. I think she associates a big vehicle with safety.

A great way to drive less is to combine your errands into one trip. Plan ahead whenever possible.

One way Tim and I have managed to drive less is through meal-planning. We sit down and choose a week’s worth of meals. We create a grocery list using only the ingredients required for those meals plus any other necessities or food staples we may need. That way we only have to go to the store once a week. If we have a craving or forgot an item, we ride or walk. This saves on driving, but also food expenses.

9. Shop locally. The best way to do this is by shopping at your farmers’ market, if your community has one (or more). Local produce and food doesn’t have to travel far, and if you buy organic, you are doing an even greater deed for the planet. Your money stays in your local economy and you are supporting folks who work hard to bring you healthy, high-quality food.

You can shop locally for non-food items too. I avoid Wal-Mart, Target, and other big corporation stores because they suck. Sure you pay less at those places, but the quality isn’t always as good and you might be supporting overseas labor.

10. Get outside more. Go hiking, bike-riding, or swimming in a lake. Appreciate the natural world around you. Observe the wildlife. Breathe the fresh air. The more time you spend immersed in nature, the more you will realize why we must protect the Earth. It’s common sense. Just remember to tread lightly – don’t litter, stick to developed trails in delicate areas, don’t make a lot of noise and scare the animals – leave no trace essentially.

11. A bonus tip: STOP SMOKING (if you are a smoker). You are polluting the air for humans and animals. I literally cover my face and cross the street if a smoker is walking in front of me, or near me. Having never smoked myself, this is easier said than done for people who are smokers. But, change isn’t always easy. Do it for your health. Plus, you are supporting evil corporations. And, animals suffer. Testing the affects of cigarettes on hopeless animals is insanely cruel. Don’t be a part of that nastiness.

If you have tips for lowering your impact on the Earth, please let me know!!! I’m always learning and trying to improve. One thing to remember: It isn’t only about you, it’s about making sure the Earth is around for people and animals to enjoy far into the future.

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20 thoughts on “Putting Our Earth First

  1. These are all great tips! My main hang-ups are paper towels and kleenex and plastic bags. I use cloth rags to dust but since I have 6 cats, there’s pet hair everywhere, everyday. For initial pet-hair wiping, I’ve found using cloth simply moves it around. With paper towels, I can wipe up, throw away, and wipe up with a fresh towel. I know that’s awful, but I don’t know a way around it. Ideas?

    As for plastic bags, I usually carry my own reusable bags for big shopping trips, but when I forget (which is usually when I’m running into the store for a something quick), I save the bags for doggie poo pick-up. Is there an eco-friendly alternative for poo pickup?

    • Thanks Bianca! Kris left some super suggestions for you regarding pet hair clean-up and doggy poo pick-up!!!
      And trust me, hankies instead of Kleenex is much gentler on your nose. I carry mine with me everywhere now! There are some pretty ones, so don’t feel like you haev to commit to the standard paisley hanky!

  2. Bianca-

    I have 4 cats, so I feel your pain. I use one of those red velvety gloves to get the main layer of cat hair up. It does a great job and I usually just leave it at that unless we have people coming over and then I bust out the lint roller. The velvet thing is so good, though, I don’t have to use many sheets.

    For dog poo, there are biodegratable bags that Food Fight and many natural food stores sell.

    http://store.foodfightgrocery.com/ooipobipooba.html

  3. I will be curious to hear if catalogchoice.org works for you. I signed up over a year ago and soon started getting MORE junk mail and catalogs than before. I think they actually sell our names and addresses to marketers. I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but I personally think they’re a scam and I have been sorely disappointed that my junk mail has only increased.

    • Shoot… That’s a real disappointment. I read about catalogchoice.org in Vegetarian Times and just made the assumption that it was a credible site. I’m sorry that your junk mail increased. Thanks so much for letting me know what happened. I am going to adjust my post now.

    • Sarah-
      We NEVER rent or sell your name. We work to stop the flow of unwanted mail. I am sorry that you got more mail after starting to use our service. There are many reasons your volume of mail can increase. But I can assure you that it is not because we rented or sold your name. This is the practice that we are working to control. Please contact us at team@catalogchoice.org so that we can help figure out if there is an issue with the companies that you opted-out of.

      Chuck

  4. What a great post! Thanks for taking the time to set all that up for people. I know my biggest bad is paper towels. Using them much less now that Guppy is bigger (yes, you’re right- she’ll be 5 next month!) but when she was little there were more spills. I know, bad excuse.
    We did use cloth diapers!
    I think of you every time I use my bulk bags, too! :)

  5. Great info! Environmentalism aside, being wasteful is just dumb in general.

    I try to minimize my driving but southern California is so sprawled……driving 20 minutes to the grocery store is viewed as something nearby around here :(

  6. these are all such awesome tips, Amy! it drives me nuts when people don’t think to reuse, reduce, and recycle. argh! so much irritates me – especially when i see people tossing their plastic water bottles in the trash – i get doubleangryfaced!!! dan and i use recycled toilet paper and we order it in bulk so it comes in this gigantical box without plastic packaging. we do use recycled tissues, but i love your idea to use hankies. once we’re out of tissues i’m making the switch. yay! i think my dad still carries one with him – gotta love that! i use the recycled nylon produce bags you made me everytime i shop for my bulk items (and i always receive a “these are really cool!” from all the clerks and some customers, too), and i never put produce in those evil plastic bags – i just toss the produce into the cart as is and run it down the checkout belt like any other item. thanks again for all the fantastical tips!!!!

  7. Thumbs up on the timely post. If your neighbor were my neighbor, I would’ve gone right out and fished that stuff out of the trash. This is, I suppose, why I have an attic full of stuff that won’t fit in my apartment….

  8. Fantastic post. I practice many of the tips you list but it is always helpful to be reminded about how important the little things are. Being intentional about our efforts can make all the difference.

    Thank you.

  9. Nice list! Totally agree, already doing most of these. Just need to reduce the paper towel consumption. Not sure how to deal with deep fried stuffs that you need to absorb the oil from. I don’t do deep fried often, but do you use cloth towels for this? I would like to substitute the paper ones but haven’t found any alternatives yet…
    It’s nice to be reminded of these things! Thanks!

    • I don’t fry stuff very often, but I think an absorbent cloth towel (or two) would work. Maybe you could set aside a few towels to use for just that purpose? Whenever I get packages in the mail that use paper as padding, I save the paper for later. I bet that would work too!!

  10. Sarah and Tahinitoo-

    This is Chuck from Catalog Choice. We are a 501c3 non-profit working extremely hard to stop the flow of unwanted mail throughout the United States. We do this without the assistance of any federal, state or local laws. Thousands of people use our service everyday to submit opt-out requests. We go to the extra effort to deliver requests without releasing your email address, similar to how Craig’s List protects the email of sellers on its service.

    You can read hundreds of testimonials about our service on our Facebook Fan Page – http://www.facebook.com/catalogchoice.

    We only release your name to the company you are attempting to opt-out from. We never rent or sell our list. There are endless ways one’s name gets on marketing mailing lists. There are also some companies that will continue to send you mail after you have opted-out to see if they can get you to change your mind.

    But in the end, if we are persistent, which we are, we can stop the flow of unwanted mail. Suggesting that consumers contact companies individually instead of using a purpose built portal will result in many fewer people completing the arduous task of opting out. Our research indicates that you receive 900 pieces of advertising mail per year from over 100 companies. It takes one approximately 10 minutes to complete an opt-out request by contacting a company directly. That is 16 hours a year you would have to spend opting-out. With our service, you can complete a request in 15 seconds. That means we help people get the job done in 25 minutes. Like the person you observed throwing perfectly usable products in the dumpster – people will only invest a certain amount of time to do the right thing.

    If anyone has any questions about the integrity of our service, contact us directly at team@catalogchoice.org.

    • Thank you, Chuck, for taking the time to inform myself and my readers about Catalog Choice. I appreciate your feedback very much! Unwanted mail is incredibly frustrating and it is nice to have a service such as Catalog Choice helping folks reduce the amount of junk mail they receive. When my readers comment about experiences they have, I do listen. And since Sarah had an unfortunate experience after signing up with CC, I figured it was fair to let my other readers know.

  11. Hi Tahinitoo. What a great moniker, I love Hummus!

    Mike Hipp here from Soy Candles by Phebes.

    I’ve been reading your blog since I found you on The Urban Housewife. What a great site, love the ecological bend. Soy Candles by Phebes is also ecologically friendly…. no chemicals at all in our candles and we use unbleached kraft board packaging.

    Hey, I’d love to work with you for a giveaway contest as I did with TUH. Give me a yell over at mike.hipp@gmail.com if you’re interested! Your readers will be!

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