One-day extravaganzas like Earth Day usually don't attract me. Shouldn't we be caring toward nature at all times? However, it is an opportunity to think more deeply about how we can be less destructive to our environment. Generally, earth mindfulness doesn't require great sacrifices. But even when it does, the benefits of slowing climate change and reducing waste far outweigh those of our alleged must-haves.
Here are four simple ideas of how to honor the earth year-round.
1. Think needs-based
In rich countries we have been taught that fulfilling our desires will bring us happiness. We rarely consider what we actually need -- which tends to be much less than what we want. Many people I know who have tested the needs-based versus wants-based approach to life have been pleasantly surprised.
Whenever I'm about to make a big purchase, I like to ask myself, "Do I really need this?" If I do, I go for it. When I don't, I consider how much pleasure it would bring me in the long run. If it's just a short-lived spike of "Life is good!" it's usually not worth it. And that's liberating. Plus, I save money and avoid cluttering up my place.
Water bottles are a good example. Instead of buying hundreds of little throwaways every year, invest in a durable one that's made of the least problematic material and refill it with tap or filtered water. Same thing goes for takeout coffee cups.
And there are lots of other ways to reduce waste: write with pens that have refillable cartridges; jot notes on the blank side of printed paper; bring your own shopping bags to the store; use grandma's cotton dish towels to wipe up spills and upgrade yourself to cloth napkins. And the list goes on and on.
Yes, you will have to wash and maintain all these reusable objects. But even busy people have time for that. Come to think of it, you'll probably save time -- and definitely money -- because you'll make far fewer trips to the store to pick up all those disposable things and fewer trips to the garbage can as well.
3. Fix things
Here is a novel idea that has been popular for thousands of years. Why have we forgotten about it? Planned obsolescence is big business for corporations and it's become cheaper to buy a new product than to repair the old one. Unfortunately, the price we pay in terms of environmental impact is much higher than the sticker price on that new TV or mobile phone.
The good news: more and more people are finding ways to fix things and extend the life of almost everything, even smartphones. I have to admit that I take great pride in mending my clothes and repairing lamps and other mechanical things. I'm not good at more complex machines but it looks like more fix-it outfits are popping up with this new trend.
4. Create new things from old ones
In the face of the incessant consumerist push of fast fashion, recycled fashion and slow fashion offer a welcome respite. I absolutely admire people who create art or new products out of old things, sometimes even out of garbage.
There is really no limit to creativity in this area. Anybody who can sew, weld or use a stapler, can turn cardboard boxes into a kids' playground or make a "silver" platter out of recycled metal. Just make it beautiful, make it useful, make it yourself.
What is your favorite earth-first approach that makes your life more meaningful and fun and reduces stress on Mother Nature?
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Cartons are used package some of our favorite culinary picks like juice, milk, soy milk and soup and are available in two types – shelf-stable (or aseptic) and refrigerated (gable-top). Both varieties of cartons are recyclable, and curbside recycling options are expanding by the day. According to the Carton Council, curbside recycling for cartons has increased 128 percent in the last three years – meaning more than 40 percent of U.S. households can now recycle them. Once recycled, cartons are turned into everyday products like paper towels, tissue paper and napkins. To find your best local recycling option for cartons, check out Earth911’s recycling guides or head to www.recyclecartons.com.
Made from plastic #5 (PP), yogurt and butter tubs are a bit more challenging to recycle than many other types of plastic packaging. But that doesn’t mean you have to toss them in the trash! A growing number of communities are expanding their curbside programs to include plastic #5. Check out our recycling guides to see if yours is one of them. If curbside isn’t an option, Preserve’s Gimme 5 program allows you to easily recycle your empty polypropylene containers at hundreds of retail locations nationwide. Gimme 5 collection bins can be found at participating Whole Foods Market stores and other select locations. Check out this list to find the bin nearest you, or learn how to mail your plastics to Preserve for recycling.
Although plastic bags are not commonly collected in curbside recycling programs, most grocery and retail stores provide drop-off bins at entrances and checkout areas for customers to recycle their used bags. Plastic produce bags can usually be recycled alongside carryout grocery bags at these locations. If your local grocer or retail store collects a wider variety of “plastic film” or “plastic bags and wraps,” as most of them do, they will gladly accept your plastic produce bags for recycling. Unfortunately, mesh produce bags (such as those often used to package citrus fruit) are more challenging to recycle, so try reuse for these instead. (INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
Condiment and salad dressing bottles are typically made from glass or plastic #1 or #2, are readily recyclable and can be tossed in the curbside bin in most localities. Just be sure to rinse out your bottles first, and check with your local program about caps and lids. In some communities, you may need to remove your caps before recycling.
A select few communities offer curbside collection for food waste, including Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Ore. and Austin, Texas. If you’re lucky enough to call one of these cities home, recycling your food scraps is as simple as tossing them in the curbside collection bin. If you’re like most of us and have no curbside food waste solution available, consider composting food scraps yourself to keep trash cans empty. Think you can’t compost due to limited space or lack of free time? Think again. With a little research, you can find a composting system to suit virtually all conditions (even urban dwellings with concrete “backyards”). Check out our quick and easy guide to choose the composting method that’s right for you. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A tasty summer staple, berries are usually packaged in one of three containers – plastic #1 clamshells, mesh plastic #5 baskets or molded fiber boxes, which are commonly made from recycled newspaper. All of these materials are recyclable, but not all curbside programs will accept them. Plastic #1 containers will likely be the easiest for you to recycle locally, but some communities will also accept plastic #5 baskets and molded fiber boxes for recycling. Check with your local program to find out what types of berry baskets and boxes are accepted, and try to choose berries packaged in that material to make recycling easier later. If your local program does not accept berry baskets and boxes, try one of these creative ideas for reusing them instead.
Squeezable bottles, such as those used to package honey and mayonnaise, are typically made from LDPE or plastic #4. Once a very hard-to-recycle resin, plastic #4 is popping up on the “accepted” list in an increasing number of curbside recycling programs. Check with your local program to see if they accept LDPE containers for recycling. If plastic #4 is accepted in your community, feel free to toss squeezable bottles in the blue bin alongside other plastic packaging.
Many greenies opt for water filration systems to reduce their use of plastic water bottles. If you’re one of them, we’re here to let you in on a little secret: Those water filters are recyclable! Through Preserve’s Gimme 5 program, consumers can easily recycle their spent Brita brand water filters at one of hundreds of retail locations nationwide. Check out this list to track down the drop-off bin nearest you, or simply mail your filters to Preserve for recycling.
Six-pack beverage rings are made from plastic #4 (LDPE) and can be recycled in programs that accept low-density polyethylene resin. If your curbside recycling program does not accept plastic #4, or limits the types of LDPE accepted, consider getting a group collection together and participating in the Hi-Cone Ring Leader Recycling Program. The Ringleader program will accept the six-pack rings in large quantities for recycling through various school or group programs, as well as through the mail. Click here to learn more about the program.
Plastic shakers, such as those often used to package spices and Parmesan cheese, are actually made from plastic #1 (PET), a highly recyclable resin. Almost all curbside programs that accept plastic will take your PET bottles and containers for recycling. Just be sure to check with your local program about caps and lids. In some communities, you may need to remove your caps before recycling. Editor’s Note: Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. The Carton Council is one of these partners.
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