photo by Charles Buchanan How to Reduce Your Environmental Footprint
Lowering your environmental footprint, goes from the easy and inexpensive, to pretty difficult and requiring some major changes in your life. All of us can make an impact on our use of energy, non renewable resources and generation of landfill wastes.
Do the simple things.
Ensure that you do not have any water leaks in your home. This cost you money, wastes purified water and can cause costly damage to your home.
Replace your homes light bulbs with fluorescent bulbs. These bulbs will last up to ten times as long as current bulbs, use 3/4 the energy and do not give off huge amounts of heat energy, cutting cooling and diminishing fire hazards.
Compost your veritable scraps, leaves, grass, cardboard, old newspapers, coffee grounds, egg shells, dryer lint, pet hair and dead garden plants. (do not add animal droppings, bones or meat to the pile) Composting makes new dirt for your plants, drops the amount of trash dumped in landfills and is easy to do. Just make a pile, turn it regularly and add materials. (as an option you can have a worm bin under your sink, or buy a composter for your kitchen).
Turn off lights and appliances. When not being used: turn off the TV, computers, room lights and other appliances. Use an energy saver surge protector that leaves power on to TVs and microwaves as standby power, but turns off your other appliances that use power when plugged in and off. Most appliances will draw power when turned off as long as they are plugged in. This causes a drain on energy resources and costs you money.
Buy solar powered outdoor lighting. Solar powered outdoor lights turn on automatically, recharge with sunlight, and are low cost and low maintenance. They do not cost you money other than the initial purchase and do not put a drain on the electrical grid. These are also available in porch lights, entrance lighting, garage and shed lighting.
Buy local, buy fresh and buy in season. Raise some of your own fruits and vegetables, catch rainwater for watering and be organic. This is a bit more difficult for most people but saves on using fossil fuels for shipping, processing and storage of food products.
The environmental cost for shipping food items around the world is very high. One study showed the average distance for a product to your table was 2200 miles. That is a lot of fossil fuel use.
When you buy locally and buy fresh, you are dropping your environmental footprint. Locally produced foods encourage biodiversity, local farms, safer food raising and are generally healthier. Trips to farmers markets, direct farm sales or farm coops are one solution, but buy what is available and eat what is in season to cut down on shopping trips.
Cook rather than eat fast foods.
Most fast foods are mass produced and shipped world wide. The advertising, serving materials, foods themselves and all the materials for cooking and cleaning are bought from thousands of miles away. Food is generally not fresh, but processed. Many of the mass ingredients are purchased overseas using large amounts of fossil fuels to ship.
Cooking at home with local food items will be healthier, better for the environment and taste better. Most fast foods and prepackaged foods demand a lot of procession and long distance shipping. They are generally high in sugars, salts, preservatives, food additives and saturated fats. Frozen and imported items give no indication of the purity of water used or the amount of pesticides or chemicals used in processing. Local foods must meet or exceed USDA standards.
Buy what you need not what you want.
We are a consumer nation. We have to have the latest fashion, car, game system, telephone, etc... Get off the rat race. We buy a lot of stuff we don't use, don't need and really don't want. Think before you buy. Save money, live more frugally. Invest in things that will last. Our garbage dumps are full of useable, recyclable items.
Most of us have attics, garages, basements and storage buildings full of things we might need. Take your unwanted items to second hand shops, give them to charity, give them to people in need, sell to thrift shops or sell them on EBay or Craig's list. Shop at these same places for useable prior owned items, become part of the reuse, recycle, reinvent movement. Trade, barter or give away useable items. This cuts down on landfill use, waste of natural resources and saves you and your neighbors money.
Make your house energy efficient.
Only buy Energy Star* appliances. Replace single pane glass windows with energy efficient windows. Replace your water heater with a tank less type. Use awnings to shade your windows in summer. Use zone heating and air conditioning to heat and cool the living areas you use. Turn up your thermostat in summer and down in winter.
Rainwater barrels and cisterns
Install a rainwater catchment system. Rainwater that flows off of rooftops and driveways fill our sewer systems with oils and yard pesticides, this water must be treated at a treatment plant. A rainwater catchment system prevents this water from going into the system. It allows you to capture rainwater for watering plants, washing cars, watering grass and other outdoor needs. This can save your yard and garden in a drought. Rainwater is also better for your plants.
Stop using pesticides
Use organic cleaners and materials in your home and yard. Use of chemicals has become a major concern in the environment in general and your family in particular. Children and adults are accumulating some alarming amounts of household chemicals in their bodies. Many very toxic home products have been replaced by biodegradable and safer natural alternatives.
Look for non toxic cleaners that are now available (and cheaper) for your household cleaning. These products are readily available and in your local supermarket. These are safer for you, your children and animals and most do just as good a job as the toxic chemicals did. Reuse the plastic dispensers by buying refills instead of throwing the bottle in the trash.
Try organic gardening without the use of pesticides, instead try garlic soaps, herbal repellants and alternative gardening methods. I have done this with pretty good success and I have a garden, many bedding plants and fruit trees. Keep pesticides out of our water supply, food and our environment.
Wash your clothes in cold water. Use a biodegradable soap. If you have the space and the time, air dry your clothes instead of using an electric or gas dryer.
Stop using plastic bottles for water and drinks. Some plastics leach out of the bottle into your system. Buy a water filter and non-plastic storage bottles. A plastic bottle can take 1000 years to break down in a landfill. Scientist still do not know the total damage to the oceans, animals and people as a result of microscopic particles of plastic entering out food chain. Be part of the solution, stop buying plastic bottles. Buy drinks in cans and recycle.
Home furnishings, repair and maintenance.
Buy rugs instead of carpet. All carpets have formaldehyde and other chemicals in them. In addition they trap pollen, dirt and allergens in the fibers and pad.
Use low or no VOC paint on the walls of your house. VOC or volatile organic compounds are hazardous to your health and the environment. Many paints now are low or no VOC. Check the label.
Combine trips to cut your gas consumption. Carpool. Ensure your car is turned, catalytic converter is working, the tires are at the right pressure and the oil is changed so that your car can be most efficient. Purchase a hybrid or electric as they become more practical and economic.
Fix oil leaks and don't change your own oil at home. If you do, capture all the old oil for recycling. Old oil poured on the ground or down the drain is an environmental problem, it pollutes ground water. Old oil can leach into ground water for years. Properly remove old batteries and recycle.
Turn in your old newspaper, magazines, glass, and aluminum and scrap metals to a recycle center. Turn in old motor oil and car batteries to your local garage, parts store or repair shop, they will either recycle for you or tell you where to go.
Obsolete computers, cell phones and their batteries can be turned into several nationally known computer stores and some recycling centers. Check with your computer retailer or check the internet for your local turn-in location.
Pesticides, old paint, unknown fluids, hazardous materials and flammables should be turned into a hazardous waste disposal site. Check with your local recycling center or the internet for the closest location near you.
Above are some of the steps you can take to lower your footprint on Mother Earth today. You can of course buy an environmental house, live on solar and wind energy, etc,... Unfortunately that is not possible for most of us, yet! But even the little steps we take will help.
Tips & Warnings
- Do one step at a time
- Do what you can do today and plan for tomorrow
- Think natural, use non toxic products
- Buy sustainable, natural, organic, non toxic and locally produced products when available
- conserve, reuse, recycle daily
- don't dump oil or chemicals on the ground or down the drain, take them to a recycle facility
- Use rugs, tile or natural flooring, all carpets and linoleum products all use formaldehyde and chemicals.