Sustainability and You
We live in a world that has many modern, technological advances, and with that comes a responsibility to care for our planet. It is more important than ever to think about how each of our choices affect the earth’s well being. If we don’t care for our environment, it will become unbalanced and not sustainable. We are all citizens of the world, so let’s all do our part and ‘go green!’ Below we’ve provided a few ideas on how you can make small changes in your daily life to minimize your impact on the environment.
One of the easiest things you can do to help create a sustainable lifestyle is compost right in your backyard. Organic waste is organic material, like yard and food waste, that is thrown away. Organic waste makes up anywhere from 25% to 50% of what we throw out each year. During decomposition in a landfill, organic waste releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas. However, using a compost bin or pile can eliminate methane gas right at the source. Not to mention, compost is great for your flowerbeds and gardens! If you don’t know where to start in making your own compost pile, check out this super informative video:
Drive Less, carpool or take public transit
Did you know that Americans drive an average of more than 7 billion miles a day? That’s nearly 15,000 roundtrips to the moon every single day! In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that more than half of air pollution was caused by transportation. If it’s possible, try biking or walking to work a few days a week. If you live too far to walk or bike, try car pooling or taking public transportation.
Say no to plastic
It takes plastic 500-1000 years to break down, and when it finally does break down, it doesn’t actually go away. It turns into “plastic dust” and releases harmful toxins. In short, plastic is bad news, and the less we can use it, the better. Here are some easy ways to cut down on your plastic waste:
- Bring your own shopping bag(s) or box to carry your groceries
- Buy products with little packaging
- Invest in your own water bottle. (Outward Bound has some great ones!)
Perhaps the way we most frequently choose what kind of world we want is in the way we choose to spend our money. When you purchase sustainable products, you’re supporting green, responsible businesses. The EPA has compiled a list of labels to look for when buying products. You can check it out here.
We often don’t think of the thousands of miles a product might have to travel when it’s purchased online, let alone the fossil fuels used in that process. Local businesses often create their own products or source them from nearby places, reducing transportation and energy use. When you buy local, you’re also supporting your economy and therefore, yourself.
We all love our cheeseburgers, so this next one might be hard to hear. The biggest contributor to global greenhouse gases is the animal agricultural industry. It takes nearly 2,000 gallons of water to make one pound of ground beef, and 70% of the Amazon Rainforest has been cut down for livestock. While you don’t have to make a radical diet change, you might consider eating meat-free one or two days a week, like Meatless Mondays. Even a small change can have a big impact! Check out this list of simple, quick meat-free dinners to help get you started.
It might be hard for those of us with ample water access to believe, but many parts of the world are suffering from drought and lack of clean water. In fact, the United Nations states that 85% of people live in the driest half of the planet and nearly 800 million people do not have access to clean water. Lack of access to clean water is the biggest cause of poverty in most regions of the world where this is an issue. Water on earth is a finite supply, and if we do not adjust our use of resources accordingly, we will not have a sufficient supply of water in the future. In many nations where we face the issue of over consumption of water, there are lots of things we can do to cut down on water usage. Here are a few examples:
- Take shorter showers
- Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth
- Fully load your dishwasher and washing machine
- Line dry your laundry
Start a Garden
This is a win-win for everyone. Gardening produces delicious food, beautiful plants, it’s good for the environment and it’s sustainable. Planting your own food keeps harmful pesticides out of the air and out of your body. Plus, once you have your compost pile, you’ll have the perfect fertilizer!
Check out this five minute video for a few tips on how to start your garden:
Do you live in an apartment in the middle of a bustling city? You can still set up a small container garden! Check out this article for different ideas on how to set yours up.
Use renewable energy
Fossil fuels, like oil and coal, have a harsh impact on the environment and will one day run out, i.e. not sustainable. Green energy, or renewable energy will never run out. Solar, wind and water energy are all green energies. Check to see if your energy provider offers a green plan, or consider installing solar panels or wind turbines.
Keep your home in shape
If you can’t use renewable energy to power your home, you can still do a few things to reduce your energy usage. Install a programmable thermostat to control heating and cooling while you’re away and use energy-saving lightbulbs. You can also take a look at this checklist to make sure you’re doing everything you can to green your home.
Make your own personal care products
They might feel good, but those tiny beads in your face wash are actually a nightmare for the environment. They’re called microbeads and they’re made of plastic, and we all know, there’s no good way to get rid of plastic. After washing them down the drain, the microbeads eventually make their way into our water systems and oceans. A recent study found that 25% of fish at a California fish market had ingested plastic. Consider ditching the microbeads and making your own personal care products. Here is a list of nine homemade face wash recipes to get you started.
Stop junk mail
The EPA estimates that 50% of junk mail is not recycled and ends up in landfills. We all hate junk mail, so why not get rid of it altogether? It’s actually easier than you think. Check out this four-step process to put an end to junk mail.
This is a no-brainer. What we can’t reuse, we should recycle. Although an estimated 75% of our waste is recyclable, we are only recycling about 30% of it. As an added bonus, it’s actually cheaper for communities to recycle than it is to send waste to landfills. Check with your city to see if it offers a recycling program.
Uplug: It’s good for your appliances, too!
Did you know that even if an appliance isn’t on, it still uses energy if it’s plugged into the wall? This might be the easiest fix on this list. When you’re finished using something, unplug it. Consider using a power outlet for appliances you use often so you only have one thing to unplug.
Perhaps the biggest impact we can have is with our vote and voice. Vote for candidates with strong and serious environmental platforms. Contact your government officials to see what they’re doing to go green. Urge them to push for strong environmental policies, fight climate change and protect our wild lands. If you’re not sure how to contact your elected official, or who your elected officials even are, check out this site.
We all love the earth, so do your part and help us keep our environment sustainable. There are more ideas on how to make an impact than what’s listed above, and we’d love to hear yours.
About the Author
Shelby Jumper is the Web Content Administrator for Outward Bound. Her hunger for adventure has taken her all over the world – from hiking in the Swiss Alps to exploring the South African Wild Coast to swimming with wild whale sharks in the Philippines. She’s passionate about getting people outside, the medicinal value of laughter and her dog, Scout. She writes from Golden, Colorado.