On April 22nd, 1970, after witnessing the devastating effects of a massive oil spill in California, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson successfully inspired 20 million Americans to march and demonstrate until environmental protection became a part of their country’s political agenda. Since then, April 22nd has been celebrated as Earth Day every single year. Today, it is a global event aimed at educating people from all walks of life about how we can help create a healthy and sustainable environment. (First and foremost is to reduce, reuse, and recycle.)
Whether we know it or not, each of us has contributed in some way to climate change, air and ocean pollution, and environmental degradation. According to wired.com, “In 2014, plastic grocery bags were the seventh most common item collected during the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, behind smaller debris such as cigarette butts, plastic straws, and bottle caps.” Those are likely some of the items each of us throws away on a weekly basis, and that’s something we need to change. The following is a list of ways to reduce your environmental impact on our planet!
1. Use travel mugs and reusable water bottles instead of Styrofoam, plastic, and paper.
This is one of the simplest tips on this list to adhere to. You can find affordable travel mugs and BPA-free water bottles at Walmart, Costco, or your local grocery store. Globally, we create so much pointless plastic and paper waste that ends up decomposing in landfills and oceans. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away an estimated 25 billion Styrofoam cups per year (around 82 cups per person). That means there are literally millions of pounds of Styrofoam and plastic debris floating around in our oceans, which pose a very real risk to the health of marine life. Bonus: many coffee houses, such as Starbucks, will reward you with a $0.10 or $0.20 discount on drinks when you bring your own mug or tumbler. Starbucks even sells an environmentally-friendly, reusable cup for $2 that is an exact replica of the brand’s traditional paper ones.
2. Carpool, walk, bike, and use public transportation whenever possible.
This isn’t an option for everyone, but it’s worth making the effort if you do have access to a bike, shared car, and/or public transportation. You’ll cut down on the amount of pollution you produce and may even get to your destination more quickly. If Canadian and Americans (roughly 372 million of us) carpooled, biked, or took the bus every other day, we’d make a noticeable difference in the amount of emissions our countries would produce.
3. Switch your plastic grocery bags for reusable ones.
You can find these bags everywhere (try Walmart or your local grocery store). Whether they’re made of cotton, straw, or recycled materials, you’ll be reducing the number of plastic bags you throw away each year that end up negatively impacting marine life or taking decades to decompose in landfills.
4. Lower your water and energy usages.
You might be surprised at how much of a financial and environmental impact your household’s energy consumption and water usage have. These are a few ways to reduce your water and energy bills: only run the laundry and dishwasher at full capacity and during off-peak hours, don’t leave the water running while you brush your teeth, take faster showers, fix leaky faucets to save wasted water, turn off the lights when you leave a room, only turn on the heat and air conditioning when necessary, buy energy-efficient light bulbs, and unplug electronics from the wall when they’re not in use.
5. Pack waste-free meals, picnics, and snacks.
As noted in tip #1, it is incredibly important for each of us to reduce our amount of Styrofoam, plastic, and paper waste! Rather than packing breakfast or lunch for yourself or others using Cling Wrap/plastic wrap, paper napkins, and plastic utensils, use Tupperware, real cutlery from home, and basic cloth napkins that can be tossed in the laundry when they get dirty. Reusable food containers (such as Tupperware) can be used in any situation, from bringing home food after a family get-together to packing away leftovers at a restaurant to storing your entire take-out meal. (The last two sound a little extreme, but a quick Google search proved that they’re good ideas that help cut down on waste.)
6. Upgrade to energy-efficient home appliances.
Look for home appliances such as dishwashers, air humidifiers, and refrigerators that are emblazoned with the ENERGY STAR logo – this means they were built to reduce energy consumption and money spent on said energy. (Products become ENERGY STAR-certified when they reach high levels of energy efficiency.)
7. Eat local, or go vegetarian if you’re really committed.
The idea of eating locally is that food that is grown, produced, and manufactured locally (usually within 100 miles) doesn’t have to travel very far to end up on your plate, thus reducing the amount of emissions produced in preparing your meal. Restaurants have caught on to this trend and often have tasty “farm-to-table” or “sustainable” menu options. You can take further action by becoming a vegetarian, which is not a new lifestyle choice but has garnered tons of support in recent years as research shows that it results in fewer emissions produced per person. Find out more about eating locally here and more about becoming a vegetarian here.