For SELF, by Meg Lappe.
Eco-friendly made simple.
If you’re looking for easy, affordable ways to help the environment, we’re here to help. There are some ridiculously quick things that can be done every single day to help save the forests, animals, and planet.
You already know to recycle and use reusable shopping bags. But have you ever thought about just how much waste piles up from buying bottled water? (A lot.) Or how eating just a little less beef can cut down on greenhouse gas emissions?
We gathered some simple actions you can take to do your part on Earth Day and every day. Even just attempting one of these ideas can make a difference.
1. Say goodbye to meat, just for one day a week.
Going meatless just one day a week can save you money and help the earth. About 24 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are from agriculture or the cultivation of crops and livestock, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Can eating less meat really make a difference in greenhouse gasses, though? In short, yes. To assess the differences in various dietary habits on greenhouse gas emissions, scientists analyzed the food questionnaires of more than 55,000 meat eaters, vegetarians, vegans, and fish eaters in the United Kingdom. (Food questionnaires can be unreliable, but they’re one of the best ways to get this information for a large population.) The scientists then used standardized tables for the greenhouse gas equivalent for the production of specific foods—that is, how many greenhouse gasses are produced when making a pound of beef versus one apple.
The results of the analysis, published in the journal Climactic Change in 2014, found that meat eaters contributed to twice as many greenhouse gas emissions as vegans. But eating less meat also made a significant difference—about 35 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions between people who the researchers dubbed high meat consumers versus people considered low meat consumers. (High meat consumers ate the equivalent of a large hamburger patty per day or more, where low meat consumers ate about half that amount.)
2. Recycle paper, batteries, plastics, glass, used oil, tires, and more.
You already know you can recycle papers and cans, but what about batteries, used oil, and used technology? Yup, you should be recycling all of those things, too.
It’s important to recycle batteries because “they contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel,” according to the EPA. You can’t just throw them away among your day to day garbage. You can take lead-acid car batteries back to any store that sells them, and you can take most other regular batteries to in-store recycling bins (check out Best Buy or other similar stores).
If you fill up your own car or boat (or another motorized vehicle) with motor oil, you need to be careful not to pour the used oil down the drain. Dumping your used oil “can contaminate one million gallons of fresh water,” the EPA says. Recycled oil can be reused in fuel oils or as a raw material. Check out Earth911 to find a recycling center near you that takes used oil.
For most everything in your home and office, you can try to recycle it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers valuable resources for you to tap into when you have items to get rid of, but aren’t sure if you can actually recycle them. It’s always a good idea to check first since recycling can help reduce the amount of waste in landfills, saves natural resources like timber and water, and overall saves energy. Find a recycling center near you (even one that picks up your stuff!) at recyclenation.com.
3. Buy less stuff.
A great general rule of thumb to help our planet is to just stop buying so much stuff. Simply cutting down on the number of purchases you make in a week—whether it’s groceries, flowers, clothes, or shoes—can help reduce your carbon footprint. First, almost any new physical good requires raw materials from the earth to make it, energy to process it, fuel to ship it, and so on. Plus you won’t be eventually getting rid of all that stuff down the line. It's one of the simplest ways to help the environment.
4. Save your trash from landfills and start cultivating a compost.
About 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away in terms of food scraps and yard waste should be composted instead, according to the EPA. So if you have a back yard, starting your own compost pile is an easy way to cut down on how much trash you’re sending to a landfill. You can compost everything from fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, tea bags, and anything yard related from grass clippings, to leaves to wood chips, to hair and fur.
Composting is beneficial to the soil, reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, and reduces methane emissions from landfills, which helps to reduce your personal carbon footprint, according to the EPA. You can start your own compost at home, or check out if there are any near you at findacomposter.com.
To get started, all you need are three things: some brown organic material, some green organic material, and water. Mix dead leaves, branches, or twigs with grass clippings, vegetable scraps, or fruit peels. Then add water. You should have about the same ratio of brown stuff to green stuff to get your compost going. Check out the list on EPA.gov about what should go in a compost (sawdust, vacuum cleaner lint, fireplace ashes) and what shouldn’t (coal, dairy products, fat, and meat scraps).
5. Buy sustainable seafood.
It’s important to not bankrupt the oceans of all the fish for future generations, and also be super careful about how much fishermen are polluting the ocean or water ways when they gather your fish.
“In how we catch and harvest seafood, there are harmful ways and helpful ways. Our oceans are our life support system so have to take care of them first” Crystal Sanders, a sustainable fisheries scientist and the founder of FishRevolution.org, tells SELF. It’s best to chat with the team at the fish counter if they're knowledgeable about how the fish was raised and harvested. You can also plug in the names of the fish on sale into Seafood Watch, a site and app run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, to see how it was caught and if it’s sustainable or not. The app adjusts its recommendations based on how fish populations go up and down.
6. Make the switch to a reusable water bottle for once and for all.
If you’re already using a reusable water bottle at your desk, at the gym, and around the house, go you! If not, now is the time to make that official switch. Pretty much any water bottle you can reuse is better than using a plastic one once and then throwing it away.
Americans buy enough plastic water bottles to circle the earth five times each week, according to the EPA. That is an atrocious amount of plastic that is then wasted.
If you hate the taste of your tap water, but want to invest in a reusable water bottle, check out GoPure Pods, a tiny reusable tap water purifier. “One pod lasts up to six months and can treat up to 264 gallons of water. That’s over 2,000 single-use plastic water bottles one individual can keep out of landfills and the ocean,” Kent Atherton, Go Pure Pod CEO, tells SELF. They’re also running a special Earth Day promo for 20 percent off with code GOEARTHDAY through May 31.
7. Whenever you buy anything, try to support businesses with eco-conscious practices.
The great news is more and more brands are trying to give back in some way, whether it’s a one-for-one program, Fair Trade Certified, or they use sustainable business practices. “Look for the Fair Trade Certified™ seal on products when you shop. All Fair Trade items—from coffee and tea, to coconut water, seafood, and even apparel—were made or grown according to rigorous environmental and social standards. It’s an easy way to do good,” Jenna Larson, senior communications manager at Fair Trade, tells SELF.
When you buy a water bottle (or anything, for that matter), it can be helpful to look for companies that donate some of their revenue back to a good cause. There are a broad range of companies that participate in One Percent for the Planet, where corporations or individuals promise to give back 1 percent of their annual sales (or annual salary), directly to approved environmental nonprofits. There are over 1200 member businesses you can indirectly donate to when you go shopping.
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