April is a month when the earth springs to life in a time of renewal. We can feel gratitude for the earth’s abundance and thankful that Earth Day — on April 22nd this year—helped to mainstream environmentalism and to promote the shift to a circular economy that keeps stuff out of landfills and extracts less from the earth for our ever growing population. As consumers, our choices and behaviors very much dictate our carbon footprint. Greta Thunberg says, “Living more sustainably is all about sending a signal that in a crisis you change your behavior.” Studies show that you change your behavior when the people around you change their behavior. One thing is for sure. Nothing great ever happens in isolation and there is no shortage of easy-to-adopt behaviors or things to learn when you can crowdsource your questions. Many of us will join the yearly clean-ups at local parks and beaches. The popularity of picking up litter while jogging (plogging) or walking (plalking) are displays of good-citizen environmentalism, just like being choosey in the brands you buy. It helps to remember that your purchasing choices can impact landfills, the waterways, the soil, and the air. Let the 5 Rs lead the way.
The Five Rs
Refuse what you don’t need and things that can’t be recycled
Reduce your carbon footprint
- Say no thanks when offered a bag for your items at a store. Bring your own bag instead.
- These days, everyone is ordering their meals as take-out or delivery at home. Tell the restaurant to skip items you have on hand, like plastic flatware, straws, and napkins wrapped in plastic.
- Have you thought about replacing your paper towels and napkins with cloth? Yes, you’ll need a lot of them, and they must be washed and folded, but you’ll be using far fewer resources. And when time is right, recycling these textiles is important for the circular economy.
- Roasting pans are so hard to clean and that’s why so many of us use tin foil. But most recycling centers will not accept tin foil because it’s difficult to clean and recycle. A reusable silicone mat or parchment paper can be just as easy with lower impact.
- If you’re like most people, the majority of your trash is packaging material. Shopping at the local farmers’ markets, farm stands, and food coops is a delightfully easy way to avoid some of the most common types of packaging. Supporting local agriculture is a slam dunk in reducing your carbon footprint since transportation is greatly reduced.
Reuse and recycle everything
- If your stove, home heating, and autos run on fossil fuels, when it’s time to replace them look for an energy efficient electric replacement. This has a huge impact on your carbon footprint. Check to see if your utility offers financial incentives (NY, IL, MA, ME) for a helping hand on your next replacement purchase.
- Cozy up to the idea that energy efficiency can make you more comfortable when you weatherize your apartment, home, or building. Insulating and air sealing, just like LED lighting, is the low hanging fruit of energy efficiency when it comes to savings. Some utilities (NY, IL, MA, ME) offer this service at no or low cost.
- Can’t put solar on your roof? Community Solar farms offer a ray of hope because they allow the masses to take part in the great transition to renewables. Think of it this way: supporting clean, local energy is just like supporting local agriculture – it reduces your carbon footprint in a big way.
- Everyone finds themselves putting reusable things in the trash – a pair of sandals or a toy. Donating anything reusable – including clothing or textiles – gives them a second life in the booming reseller and recycling market, including users of freecycle.org
- By now we know we can find most things secondhand, and this helps the progress toward a circular economy. Sometimes, secondhand items look brand new.
- Did you know that 25%-40% of our garbage is food waste? Or that putting food waste in your garbage disposal can contribute to unhealthy waterways? Try composting your food leftovers in a backyard composter to benefit your soil or join composters who use a curbside service. These days lots of communities have convenient drop-off locations for food waste, such as the local farmer’s market or yard waste facility.
- Americans throw away an estimated 1 billion plastic toothbrushes per year. Try using a bamboo toothbrush because it can be composted!
Everyone wants to feel better about the times we live in today. Finding a new sustainable habit to minimize your carbon footprint truly helps and sets an example for others in your circle to follow. Message your lawmakers, sign petitions and spread the word to keep reminding your legislators that a clean, healthy environment brings a better life to all.