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  • Writer's picturecathy king

How to improve environmental sustainability at home.

Updated: Jan 3

Did you make any resolutions for 2024? I am not a resolution maker, but I did make one commitment. My intention is to fill up my cup with more environmental goodness during this year. What exactly does that mean? It means taking intentional actions that will net environmental improvements for me and my family. I realize that during the pandemic it was hard to think about adding yet one more thing to think about in your everyday decision making, but I think the following tips might help make this easier for you. Even if you decide to take only one action to be environmentally better, it is a win for you and the environment.

There are five broad categories that I am focusing on, which are behavior changes that will net a reduced carbon footprint. Your carbon footprint is the Co2 or Co2 equivalent amount of greenhouse gases that are generated by your actions.

In other words, it is the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by your activities or consumption of products, including manufacturing and transportation during a given time period. According to the Nature Conservancy,“The average carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 16 tons, one of the highest rates in the world. Globally, the average is closer to 4 tons.” In fact, they even has a carbon footprint calculator that you can use to see the impact of your household

You can take actions to reduce your footprint by following the Five R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Rot and Recycle. The following tips will help you with daily decision making.

Plastic - One of the easiest ways to drive a large change to your footprint is to stop buying and consuming bottled water. For that matter, simply stop buying and consuming as many beverages in plastic bottles as possible.

Much of the tap water around the United States is safe to drink and should be the default for water consumption. The problem with bottled water is not just the plastic issue, but rather the total carbon footprint of transportation and manufacturing of the plastic bottles and then transporting said water to the consumer. One change that my family has made over the past several years was the switch to all reusable bottles, as well as using tap water to fill them. We take them with us everywhere.

Several other ways of reducing your footprint is to say “no” to plastic straws, plastic cutlery and plastic bags. Replace sandwich and snack bags with small containers or silicone sandwich bags. There are a lot of alternatives that are sustainable to drive change in our plastic consumption. I just read an interesting article about cutlery that is sustainably made from the pits of avocados in Mexico. With the big demand for avocados (six billion consumed in the US last year alone) the leftover avocado pits become a recycling challenge. As a result, some very creative people figured out how to make the pits into bioplastic products, thus becoming forks, knives, spoons, and even straws.

BIG NEWS – Did you know that most chewing gum is made from a gum base mixture of polymers, plasticizers, and resins that are blended with food-grade softeners, preservatives, sweeteners, colors, and flavorings to give you that sweet tasting delight? Who knew gum was plastic-based? Food for thought.

Textiles - My actions also ensure that my clothing does not end up in landfill. Remember that “pink bag” I mentioned in my closet blog?

When I have a sock with a hole, ripped clothing, or even a stained rag, I put them into that pink bag to be collected for re-textile processing. This bag is picked up by our weekly garbage collector.

I am also looking more carefully at the supply chain of any new fabric products that I buy. I investigate whether the fabricators are using sustainable processes that include the use of organic cotton, bamboo and better working conditions for the employees/workers. It is an exciting time for textiles, as there are so many new textiles being produced that include solar collecting fabrics, pollutant filters, and insulation materials offering a multifunction benefit, yet sustainably made. In BUYING NEW, there is also a challenge to be better with each purchase.

Chemicals – The biggest decision I made in this area was to stop using any form of lawn chemicals to keep my lawn under control. While we had been using environmentally friendly treatments, the water runoff was not good for the water supply. This year there will be no services for the grass, other than the usual aeration and lawn mowing. It will be a challenge to keep a nice healthy green lawn, but we will work at it naturally.

I will also be using less chemicals to clean. I have started using e-cloths to clean with, which can be used dry or with just water. I purchased my e-cloths from Ace Hardware on a great sale. Initially, I was a bit hesitant that these clothes would not be as effective as advertised, but I have to tell you that the two that I used to wash my patio door were fantastic.

There were no streaks and no fog, and a week later it was still looking good.

Additionally, I am utilizing more plant-based and sustainably produced cleaners. They are safe for the environment and still effective. My goal is to also purchase fewer new products that are in plastic jugs/containers. I will be testing a couple of newer products on the market, such as the bar shampoo and conditioner, as well as laundry soap that is just a sheet (picture dryer sheets). Watch for future posts, once I get them tested.

Paper – Another goal for our household is to stop buying paper towels and napkins this year. Paper towels will be replaced with a multipoint solution.

We are starting to use cloth towels and reusable paper towels made from bamboo in the kitchen. Napkins will be replaced with cloth napkins. Both solutions are laundry friendly and reusable. I hope to also drive the purchasing of tissues to near zero, but have not found a sustainable alternative that works for the ENTIRE household. The idea of handkerchiefs is just not going over well for everyone, and the tissue alternatives do not seem to be nose friendly.

For books, I am purchasing used books where possible. Personally, I just cannot do digital for reading. I have found Better World Books does a fantastic job delivering books, and they are a socially conscious company.

I am also working actively to remove my name from as many mailings lists as possible. Ideas that can aid you are: 1. Opt out of credit card lists 2. Call the companies that keep sending you catalogs and ask them to stop (just have the mailing label handy) 3. Subscribe to a service. For example: The Paperkarma app will block and remove your name from national mailing lists for $24.99 for a year. This subscription can help you eliminate 80–95 percent of junk mailings by contacting dozens of direct marketers on your behalf. Think of the wasted paper that you will be avoiding, not to mention the needless weight in the recycle bin and less time spent sorting mail.

Composting – CHALLENGE! I never thought I would be a composter, but as I write I have now been composting for more than five months. Honestly, it was quite a process to figure out what would work for me. I DID NOT want to see a container on my counter with visible remains of food, nor did I want the smell or pesky flies. I found a nice countertop composting container, and I put together a composting tumbler out in my yard.

I am not completely sure that the outside process will work for me, and I may have to resort to curbside composting for pickup. This is to be determined, since I have not yet experienced composting in the hottest part of summer. Additionally, I have not yet been able to reap the benefits of the composter, but I know, environmentally, it is far better than not doing it at all. According to the EPA, food waste contributes to methane gas in landfills, accounting for about 20 percent of methane emissions in the U.S. We all know methane contributes to global warming, which is not a good thing. I compost in some form to try to do better for our earth.

I know this is a lot to take in, but I hope you found it helpful. It is not always easy to be environmentally better, but I do believe if we each just take baby steps to improve our carbon footprint, we will make this a better world for current and future generations. I will leave you with a wise quote by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau: “Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something. Anything.”


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