Small Ways to Protect Our Planet

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”

(New England proverb originally used in 1930′s)

“Earth Day” will be celebrated on April 22, 2011. Originally organized in 1970 and now observed in 140 nations, “Earth Day” serves to educate the public about the various causes of air, water, and soil pollution and encourages respect for the environment and all life on earth. Although many schools and communities are planning special events for this occasion, all of us should practice planet-friendly activities everyday. The more we live in harmony with nature, recycle, and reuse items, and the less we waste the earth’s precious resources and pollute the air, water, and soil, the healthier the environment will be for all of us. Here are some ideas:

  • Try to get as many important chores and as much done during daylight hours as possible, so you can go to bed early and reduce your need for extra lighting during the evening.
  • Bring reusable shopping bags or a folding shopping cart with wheels to the market, in order to eliminate the need for paper and/or plastic bags. Many reusable cloth and plastic bags can be safely washed by hand with natural soap and hot water. After cleaning the bag, allow it to dry completely before storing it. This will prevent mold from forming inside the bag. (“Target” chain store corporation has announced that it will be giving away one million reusable bags on “Earth Day” [CNN News, 6:45 p.m., April, 16, 2011]).
  • When possible, buy food and household goods in bulk or family sizes, in order to save money and reduce trips to the store.
  • Plan your shopping trip ahead of time. Prepare a list of what you need to buy, as well as different errands (e.g., drycleaner, library, pharmacy, post-office, pet store, etc.) that can be accomplished easily during the same outing. By limiting trips to the grocery store to one or two times per week, you will save precious time, and reduce the risk of impulse shopping (e.g., buying something that is unnecessary just because it caught your attention at the store), gasoline usage, as well as wear-and-tear on your vehicle.
  • Choose U.S.D.A. organic foods as often as possible, especially fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, in order to reduce your intake of harmful pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and other chemicals. Organic farming methods avoid the use of such additives and consequently help to keep our air, soil, and waterways much healthier and less polluted than large-scale industrial farming operations.
  • Check your car’s tires to make sure they are properly inflated to get optimal gas mileage.
  • Walk, ride a bicycle, or use public transportation whenever possible, instead of using a car. Walking benefits your emotional and physical well-being, helps in weight reduction, and is a great stress reducer. Just make sure that you walk on a well-maintained path in a safe area, and not on the street with other vehicles.
  • If you need to attend a gym, try to choose one that is within walking distance of your home or work. The walk will benefit your workouts, reduce car emissions, potential parking fees and problems, and support the local economy. If the weather permits, avoid the gym and exercise outside. Walking outdoors is free and healthy for you and the environment. However, of all motorized fitness equipment, treadmills use up the most energy .
  • Consider driving a safe hybrid car for better mileage with less petroleum. For more information, refer to the April 2010 (and forthcoming 2011) auto issue of Consumer Reports magazine and www.hybridcars.com (3, 19).
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle as much as you can, especially paper, plastic, metal containers, and tin cans. Check with your local public works department to find out what is collected by the township, and what must be dropped off at the recycling center. Ask if your local grocery store, merchants, library, doctor’s office, hospital, place of worship, school, etc. are doing all they can to reduce, reuse, and recycle. If enough people demonstrate concern for the environment and for doing what is right, these establishments will become more concerned and do more as well.
  • Reuse bags until they are torn. Use old bags to pick up dog waste, unless you have a pooper-scooper for that purpose.
  • Never litter! Once on the ground, litter can be easily and quickly transported by wind, rain, and even melting snow, across large geographic areas, and end up polluting parks, open fields, lakes, rivers, streams, and ocean.
  • Donate unwanted household items to a charity or organization like “Goodwill Industries,” “Vietnam Veterans,” etc. Such organizations sort through and resell such items in thrift shops nationwide, as well as provide jobs and job training for thousands of people who may otherwise have difficulty finding work.
  • Recycle your old, unused eyeglasses by donating them to a location or organization which accept eyeglasses for reuse such as “The Lions Clubs” (which operate the largest program by collecting glasses from thousand of opticians); chain stores like “For-Eyes,” “LensCrafters,” “Perle;” and “New Eyes for the Needy” (which accepts scrap metal frames in any condition, unbroken plastic-framed glasses, non-prescription sunglasses, precious metal scrap like broken jewelry, and monetary donations) (5).
  • Contact your township or county office to learn the date(s) when hazardous waste will be collected and where. Often a secure drop-off site is designated for this purpose to which you can bring batteries, paints, chemicals, old or broken cellphones, computers, and other electronic components, electric bulbs containing mercury, outdated sterno heating fuel, etc.
  • Recycle batteries properly by depositing them in the designated container at a “Lowes Home Center,” or community recycling center. Avoid throwing batteries in the trash. Nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries contain toxins, as do most batteries.
  • Reduce the amount of junk mail you receive. Request that mail order companies remove your name and address from their mailing list or go to: www.directmail.com/junk-mail, click “National Do Not Mail List,” and complete the form (16).
  • Switch from incandescent light bulbs to energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs. These bulbs use less energy and last up to ten times longer than a normal bulb.
  • When purchasing or replacing an appliance, choose one with the “Energy Star” logo that meets your needs and is the most energy efficient. “Energy Star” ratings of energy use are provided for consumers by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy. For more information, go to: www.energystar.gov/ (12, 17).
  • Turn off lights and fans when leaving a room.
  • Run your washing machine and dishwasher only when full. Avoid using excess amounts of soap, as this can actually damage the appliance over time, and may make it necessary for you to rinse with additional water. Use cold water when you can.
  • Unplug small appliances like blenders, bread machines, home copying machines, electric can openers, hairdryers, toasters, toaster ovens, lamps, etc. when not in use. As long as appliances are plugged into an outlet, they continue to use energy.
  • Install a programmable thermostat.
  • Clean or replace furnace, air-conditioner, and heat-pump filters as needed. Carefully vacuum or clean dust from small appliance filters according to manufacturers directions.
  • Have your cooling and heating systems checked and tuned up in the spring and fall, respectively. Consider cleaning and sealing your ducts to improve the energy efficiency and performance of your system.
  • Rope caulk very leaky windows and apply weather-stripping as necessary. Consider replacing them with quality, energy-efficient windows if problems persist.
  • Choose window treatments that help to retain heat in the winter and block it in the summer.
  • Add insulation or weather stripping to reduce drafts in the attic, basement, ceilings, walls, windows, and doorways. Also check utility cut-throughs (“plumbing penetration”), as well as gaps around chimneys, recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets. Hire an energy auditor to locate the worst air leaks in your home and for additional advice on sealing all the small, invisible cracks and holes which may exist (12).
  • Insulate hot water pipes and ducts wherever they pass through unheated areas.
  • Fix any leaking faucets, hose bibs, garden hoses, and toilets, or have a qualified plumber do the repairs for you.
  • Save water. Turn off the faucet while shaving or brushing teeth. Note that a five-minute shower uses about a third as much water as filling a bathtub.
  • Install a low-flow shower head or spray attachment in your shower (available at most home supply stores).
  • Use home-filtered tap water to fill a reusable, washable, stainless steel or bisphenol-free portable water container daily, or as necessary, instead of constantly buying single-use, plastic water bottles which most often end up in a landfill.
  • Wash clothes with environmentally-safe, biodegradable, laundry detergent. Otherwise, replace half of the recommended amount of commercial laundry detergent with 1/2 cup of baking soda per load of wash. Use hydrogen peroxide when washing whites, instead of bleach. Bleach is harmful to marine life and promotes the formation of dioxin, a known carcinogen. For a color-safe alternative, use 1 cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide (15). Hang as many items as possible to air dry indoors or outside on a clothes line, or place them in the dryer for just a few minutes to remove wrinkles, and then hang them up. You will save energy, prolong the life of your clothing, and reduce the need to iron.
  • Avoid using household cleaning products that contain hazardous chemicals, such as ammonia, glycol, kerosene, petroleum-based surfactants, phosphates, or sodium bromide. Instead, look for natural cleaning products containing botanical ingredients or natural citrus oils. Safe, economical, all-purpose cleaners include baking soda, borax, lemon juice, vegetable-based liquid soap, and white vinegar. For example, a solution of borax, vinegar, and water can be used to disinfect bathrooms and counter tops (15).
  • Purchase biodegradable body products, such as shampoo, conditioner, lotion, etc., in large sizes to save money and decrease material use. Use them to fill smaller, reusable bottles for travel.
  • If you need to water your garden or lawn, do so very early in the morning as the sun comes up, before the hottest part of the day, or later in the day as the sun sets and the outdoor temperature cools. Avoid watering during the hottest hours of the day, since much of the water will simply evaporate and be wasted. Replace poorer growing sections of your lawn with drought-tolerant grasses, or native plants, vegetable, fruit, and/or herb gardens.
  • Reduce your intake of animal products, especially those high in saturated fat, and increase your intake of plant products. An animal-based diet promotes much more pollution, irreparable damage to forests and wildlife habitats, erosion, and suffering for animals, than a plant-based diet. Animal waste is not processed through sewage treatment systems. Often it ends up in streams, rivers, and other waterways, poisoning the water and fish within. Hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides are routinely used in animal agriculture to fatten the animals more quickly so they can be slaughtered at an earlier age, prevent disease in the crowded animal pens, and reduce infestation of their food and living quarters. A plant-based diet is more ecologically sound, since less land is needed to grow food. The amount of land required to produce meat to feed just one person on a meat-based diet could produce enough food to feed at least twenty vegetarians (4, 6, 9, 10, 13). Increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, can also improve your health in many ways. In contrast with a meat-based diet, a vegetarian, or plant-based, diet is associated with a reduced risk of: 1) some cancers, especially prostate, colorectal, breast, and possibly other malignancies of the gastrointestinal tract; 2) cardiovascular disease in the form of ischemic heart disease, hypertension, overweight and obesity; 3) Type 2 Diabetes; 4) kidney disease; 5) Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. There is also evidence that a plant-based diet may help protect against certain food-borne diseases such as salmonella and listeria, as well as the formation of gallstones and diverticulitis (i.e., chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines) (1, 2, 4, 6, 7).
  • Compost fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, and other plant-based food waste, as well as grass, leaves, and twigs, in order to create “black gold,” rich soil to use as fertilizer in your garden. Compost tumblers that are suspended above the ground and are easy to rotate seem to be easiest for most people, although a very basic, passive compost system can be created by simply piling up leaves, grass clippings, plant and yard waste into a pile. Many composters are reviewed on www.homedepot.com, and  much advice regarding composting can be found on the web (11, 18).

Remember, we spend all of our time on and obtain nourishment from the earth each day of our lives. As David Orr has stated, “When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves (14, 15).”

 

References:

  1. American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. www.eatright.org/
  2. American Heart Association: Vegetarian Diets. www.american.org/
  3. “Best and Worst 2011 Cars: Exclusive ratings, recommendations, and reliability.” Consumer Reports. April, 2011.
  4. Bittman, Mark.”Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler.” New York Times.
  5. “Count the Ways (22) You Can Conserve in Honor of Earth Day.” PAIO, Environmental Section. April, 2010.
  6. Deemer, Amy. “Reasons for Selecting a Vegetarian Diet.” Livestrong.com. August 22, 2010.
  7. Derr, Mary Krane. “Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet.” Livestrong.com. August 18, 2010.
  8. “Eco-Workout: Easy Green Tweaks Save Money.” Natural Awakenings: Healthy Living, Healthy Planet. April, 2011. p. 13.
  9. “Eco-Eating: Eating As If The Earth Matters (it does!).” (http://www.brook.com/veg). Comprehensive source with many categories and links.
  10. Environmental Vegetarianism: Environmental Effects of Meat Production.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_vegetarianism) Categories: Vegetarianism/Environmentalism/ Sustainable food system/ Environmental ethics.
  11. Galloway, Willi. “How to Make Compost.” eHow: Gardening and Home. eHow.com. July 8, 2010.
  12. “Home Energy List: To Do Today, This Week, This Month, This Year.” American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. June, 2010. Source: www.aceee.org/consumer
  13. “How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture.” (http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/members/2002/110. p. 445-456. horrigan/horrigan-full.html#sust)
  14. Orr, David. “When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves.” Quotation taken from ‘Living Healthy Wisdom’: Wegmans Nature’s Marketplace. April, 2011. p. 28.
  15. Wegmans Nature’s Marketplace. April, 2011. pp. 14 , 28, 30.
  16. www.directmail.com/junk-mail
  17. www.energystar.gov/
  18. www.homedepot.com
  19. www.hybridcars.com

{ 1 comment }

Melvina October 24, 2011 at 5:51 pm

You’re a real deep thkiner. Thanks for sharing.

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