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8 Ways to Reduce Your Negative Environmental Impact

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One of my favorite songs as a kid was "Colors of the Wind" from the Pocahontas soundtrack. I would dance in my yard, singing this song loudly, belting out my favorite line:

But I know every rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name.

Something about this song and its non-negotiable truths really resonated with me then, and still does today. 

One year after Pocahontas was released, a logging crew moved in and cut down fifteen to twenty acres of beautiful trees on the property neighboring ours. For months after that, I wept each time we drove past the ravaged land and tried to remember what my favorite trees had looked like. 

Years later and well into adulthood, I find myself still passionately drawn to the natural world. I seek solace there, and I find hope there. I ardently wish to preserve and protect this beautiful earth, as I know so many of you do. So today, let's talk about simple changes we can make in our everyday lives to reduce our impact on the world around us.  

1. Less is Less 

How many times each week do you swing through a drive-thru with your friends or kids for a quick and easy meal? Think back just two weeks and write that number down. Add to that the number of times in the last two weeks you have had food delivered to your home. Each drive-thru visit comes jam-packed with plastic straws, styrofoam cups, plastic containers, and condiments that you know you said you didn't need. Each take-out delivery comes to the door in big plastic bags with disposable utensils in another little plastic bag, food in styrofoam containers, and just so much excess. SO MUCH WASTE. 

Look at the number above and ask yourself if you can cut that number in half this week. Now set a goal and try to stick to it. My bet is that you can keep working this number down gradually until you feel aware and in control of your "fast" food waste. 

Tip: Making casseroles or soups that will last a few days decreases the likelihood of defaulting to eating out when evening cook time is limited. 

Added perk: This will also save you money! Hence, less is less. Less eating out is significantly less waste and less money spent. 

2. Two Birds, One Stone

If you started reading this article immediately dreading the part where I tell you to start composting, let's just rip the band-aid off now and get right to it. Start composting. Why? Because you can. Also because as a composter, you are a direct agent of change in the natural world. I use a rotating composter in my backyard, and while it is pretty gross, it is also a really cool science lesson for kids and adults alike! 

I love that when I compost our biodegradable waste, it has a dual effect. 

  1. I reduce the amount of waste I contribute to the dump (also reducing the number of trash bags I use), and
  2. I make my OWN fertilizer to use in my garden to grow my OWN fruits and vegetables!

If you do not have the backyard space for a tumbler like what I use or for a small stationary composting bin, that doesn't mean composting is totally off limits for you! You can use a small indoor can to collect food waste and find a community or university composting program. I know that the public university in my city has a weekly drop-off window for people to bring their compost. Try googling "composting programs near me" and see what comes up! 

3. Hot, Cold, Hot, Cold

I feel like the thermostat has become the trendy toy in my household. My husband wants the temperature to be perfectly comfortable no matter which room of the house he is in, and it seems like he cannot physically walk by the thermostat without pushing a button. I feel like we are in an infinite game of thermostat tag. 

Unless you are in a perfectly insulated home (you aren't), it simply isn't possible to have the temperature of your home exactly where you want it all the time. I have found that if I allow my home's temperature to naturally adjust with the seasons, my body does as well. When I keep my thermostat at 75 degrees in summer and 65 degrees in winter, it is very easy to dress accordingly and be comfortable in my home. This means that I do wear sweats in my home in the winter and shorts in the summer, and that suits me.

My heating and cooling systems are activated less frequently, using less electricity and gas energy. It's fun to use the sun's heat or a cool breeze to vary the conditions in my home on days when the HVAC doesn't kick on at all. It's also really cool when the electric company sends that report stating that we are in the bottom 10% of energy consumption in our neighborhood! 

4. Ladies, This is For You!

The best eco-friendly decision I have EVER made is my menstrual cup. The reason it is listed at #4 and not #1 is because it is only applicable to roughly 50% of the population. To say I am obsessed with my menstrual cup is an understatement. This cup has changed my life.

Historically, my periods have been unpredictable, sometimes popping in after a 13 day hiatus and other times laying low for 6 weeks. Sometimes they lasted 5 days and sometimes 10. Since my body doesn't tolerate hormonal modulators, external regulation of my cycle hasn't been an option. Suffice it to say, I was living with constant anxiety about not having the supplies I needed when my period decided to rush in. Too often, I would run out of tampons and have to send my husband on an emergency errand. I agonized over the money we would spend on liners, pads, and tampons. Furthermore, my green core cringed at every plastic and cardboard applicator thrown in the trash. I hated every aspect of menstrual care.

My menstrual cup has revolutionized period care for me. It is so easy, super effective, extremely cheap, and crazy convenient! My last cup cost me around $20.00 and lasted a full two years. Some quick imperfect math tells me that I saved at least $450.00 and eliminated over 1,300 items of applicator and wrapper waste over those two years. I am NEVER going back!

Here is the amazon link to my current menstrual cup, manufactured by Saalt. Saalt is an incredible company and a certified B Corporation giving back around the world. You can read about this company's environmental and humanitarian impact here.

5. Reusable, Reusable, Reusable!

So, I did something fun today! This morning, I borrowed my MIL's sewing machine, and I sewed some cloth napkins from some leftover material I had from DIY Halloween costumes. In our home, we don't go through a crazy amount of paper towels (tissues, though, ugh!), but I feel like I am constantly reminding my son that he needs to wipe his hands on something other than his clothes. Hence, cloth napkins or handkerchiefs. If you have sheets or curtains that you don't use anymore, consider repurposing. Also, don't be intimidated by the sewing machine if you've never used one before. I literally just learned a month ago, and it's kind of fun! 

Do you have a house full of paper towel loving individuals? Is it runny-nose-season all year long? If you don't have scraps lying around to make cloth napkins, check out these reusable "unpaper" towels. They are totally on my Christmas list! 

Another item on my Christmas list this year is these reusable mesh bags for produce shopping! I am so tired of bringing home those thin plastic produce bags from the grocery store. I can't wait to add these reusable, washable bags to our grocery shopping routine! 

6. Compostable Trash Bags

So, I actually just made this switch a few weeks ago, and I think our compostable bags are here to stay. You can buy compostable bags in a variety of sizes for kitchen and bathroom cans. Now I have no justification for bringing home Kroger and Target plastic bags for the bathrooms. 

Though compostable bags are pricier than regular plastic bags, if you are also composting your food waste, one bag can definitely last at least one week or longer. Don't forget to check for certifications when you shop around. True compostable trash bags should comply with the U.S. Standard ASTM D6400 or European Standard EN 13432. Check out this article to learn about the pros and cons of different brands. 

7.  "Refill is the New Recycle"

A big movement right now to reduce single-use plastics in the home is to provide refillable products. There are many companies moving in this direction. One company I am following and planning to purchase from soon is Blue Land. This company specializes in household products from hand soap to laundry detergent to all purpose cleaner. They ship glass, silicone, and tin dispensers/containers once, and then customers purchase refills as needed. 

What I love most about this company is that they are also reducing their environmental impact by shipping tablets rather than heavy liquids. You order their tablets and add them to water from your tap to make your own bathroom cleaner or hand soap. This is so awesome, and I can't wait to jump on the "Refill" bandwagon! 

Other companies, such as Well Earth Goods, have an even wider variety of products to choose from. 

8. Support Companies That Support Our Earth

Something I absolutely love is when I am browsing Facebook and an advertisement for a proactive earth-centered company pops up on my newsfeed! We all know by now that our phones are watching and listening all the time, and it always makes me smile when I see that my phone has learned that I love trees and animals and Mother Earth! Since my phone probably knows me on a more personal level than most actual human beings, I consider this a big WIN for me. 

Because my phone and Facebook have partnered up to bombard me with all the small and growing companies seeking ways to protect this beautiful earth, I have happily discovered many businesses that I love to support. 

One of my favorite businesses, Save Lands, is an online clothing and accessory store with beautiful, original products! Not only do their earthy and tie-dye designs speak to the hippie in me, but this company plants 12 trees for every item purchased! Read all about their mission here

Some other great companies include tentree, Tree Tribe, Create Forest, and so many more! 

Final Thoughts

Every lifestyle change begins with a shift in perspective. To be better stewards of the earth, I first encourage you to outline your "whys." Why do you want to lead a more eco-friendly lifestyle? Why should people care about and for the earth? Why is it important to start now?

There is so much information about our global impact circulating now, so here are a few of my favorite resources:

The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells 

Lost Mountain by Erik Reece  

Our Planet: documentary streaming on Netflix.

If this all seems like a lot, that's because it is. I keep reminding myself that it's okay to start small and make changes gradually. One positive change is significantly better than no positive change. I challenge you to pick a number 1 through 8 today and make one small improvement! As your new choices become habitual, you will feel confident in taking that next step toward living a greener life. 

Thanks for reading!