Blah blah blah compact florescent bulbs, blah blah blah drive less, blah blah blah turn your thermostat up in the summer and down in the winter, blah blah blah, conserve water, conserve electricity, save the polar bears, read this book, read that book, believe this politician, believe this actor…
It’s enough to drive you crazy, right? It would be enough for me, if I weren’t already a little nutso. So, here’s what I decided: only do what you can and don’t freak out about the rest. A little is more than a lot of other people are doing (thanks, Andy), so do your best and sleep better for it.
So let’s cut through all the nonsense and the b.s. and check out some simple things you can do (many of which I do, and which you may already do) to make the world a better place.
1) While you’re on the internet anyway (and I know you are), visit The Animal Rescue Site (http://www.theanimalrescuesite.com) and click through the tabs at the top to help animals, the rain forest, improve literacy, improve child health, fight breast cancer, and fight hunger. You can sign up for e-mailed reminders (daily, week-daily, whatever-ly) from the left column. The site makes money from the sponsors and advertisers that pay per click so all you have to do is click. Also visit http://freerice.com/ and play the game. Not only does it improve your vocabulary and brain function, but for each word you get right, they donate 20 grains of rice through the UN World Food Program to help end hunger.
2) If you live within drop-off distance of me, save the aluminum tabs and bottle caps from your cans and bottles. I know that the internet says no one is collecting these, but my friend who works for the Kidney Foundation says differently, so I give them to her and they either pile up in her basement to keep the ghosts and spiders at bay or they help pay for dialysis, so either way we’re doing some good.
3) Don’t buy bottled water. Often, municipal water actually has stricter standards and is cleaner than bottled water, and can be helped along by a pitcher or tap filter. If your local water is really gross or you must buy bottled for some other reason, try to reuse the bottles for at least a week and recycle them when you’re done. Also try to find bottled water that didn’t travel halfway around the world to get to you. Wegmans bottled water comes from Forestport, NY. If you can, buy a reusable bottle, but try to find recycled aluminum or nonpolycarbonate plastic if you choose this option (http://www.nalgene-outdoor.com/,http://www.sigg.ch/, http://www.camelbak.com/).
4) Take your own bags to the store, the library, your mother’s house, everywhere (keep them in your trunk so they are there when you need them). Save your clean plastic bags and return them to grocery stores that accept them. Wegmans accepts all kinds of plastic bags, saran wraps, plastic wrapping, bread bags, newspaper bags, pretty much anything you can think of. See here https://www.wegmans.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10052&productId=563786&catalogId=10002&krypto=QJrbAudPd0vzXUGByeatog%3D%3D&ddkey=http:ProductListView or contact your local store for more information.
5) Donate, donate, donate.
6) Recycle, recycle, recycle.
7) When you recycle, save your plastic screw-on caps (peanut butter, soda bottles, nail polish remover, salad dressing, etc.) in a separate location and the beauty products company Aveda will recycle and reuse them (http://aveda.aveda.com/aboutaveda/caps.asp). Most garbage collection companies do not recycle this kind of plastic, so Aveda will be collecting them at their stores and salons in order to repurpose them into new Aveda packaging. Find an Aveda location near you: https://www.aveda.com/templates/door/locator.tmpl (when I contacted them, they said that local -Rochester- salons will start collecting caps in September, so call before you go).
8) Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. -Michael Pollan. Check out more advice from his book, “In Defense of Food” here: http://internettime.com/2008/07/09/eat-food-not-too-much-mostly-plants/
9) Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Avoid packaged and processed foods as much as possible.
10) Buy locally and/or organically, and buy what’s in season. Visit http://www.localharvest.org/ to find community supported agriculture, farmers markets, grocery stores and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, or you may even feel called to grow some food of your own. You’d be surprised what you can grow in a 3’ x 6’ plot or a few containers on your front steps.
11) If you buy nothing else organic, buy these five things: milk, potatoes, peanut butter, ketchup, and apples (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/22/five-easy-ways-to-go-organic/). Also check out http://www.foodnews.org/ for a list of the most and least pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables, to help you decide what you feel you should buy organically. I keep a list in my coupon box, along with a list of what’s in season locally (http://www.nrdc.org/health/foodmiles/; http://www.nyfarms.info/whatsinseason.html).
12) Try to avoid meat and dairy products that were not humanely treated during their time on this planet. Hormone-free, antibiotic-free, free-range, pasture-raised, grass-fed animals are far happier and far healthier, and the products are far better for you than their factory-raised counterparts. For me, this means buying all my meats and eggs from Heiden Valley Farms (Rick Austin is at the public market every Saturday and takes orders by e-mail), or from Applegate Farms (http://www.applegatefarms.com) (sold at Lori’s and the Abundance Co-op and sometimes Wegmans), and buying organic milk. It also means that if I want to eat meat in public it can only be poultry, as they are the least horribly treated by conventional methods, and I end up bringing my own meat products to family gatherings -but I try to do it in a non-judgmental way.
13) The Monterey Bay Aquarium has designed the Seafood Watch program to raise consumer awareness about the importance of buying seafood from sustainable sources. When you buy seafood or select it from the menu, have this helpful guide handy to determine what to avoid: http://www.mbayaq.org/cr/SeafoodWatch.asp.
14) Visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (http://www.safecosmetics.org/) and Skin Deep (http://www.cosmeticdatabase.com/) to find out about the ingredients in your beauty products. Remember, though, there are no governmental standards regarding “organic” cosmetics, and no final determination of how safe or unsafe phthalates and parabens etc. really are. You have to be the judge and decide whether you really want to put something you can’t pronounce onto your face and into your body. Burt’s Bees, Tom’s of Maine, Badger, Kiss My Face, Jason, Avalon Organics, Nature’s Gate, etc. are all available at many grocery stores.
15) Use more environmentally friendly cleaning, household and laundry products. Seventh Generation, Ecover and Method products are available at many places, and you would be surprised how much you can clean with just baking soda and vinegar. Bathroom tissue, paper towels, toothbrushes, baby wipes, garbage bags, all have “green” alternatives. Hang your clothes out on the line as weather permits -it’s greener, and sunlight kills dust mites! If your towels and jeans end up a little stiff, fluff them in the dryer on an air-only cycle for five minutes or so.
16) Do use compact fluorescents when appropriate (most varieties cannot be used in recessed or enclosed fixtures or on fixtures with dimmer switches). All Home Depot stores will accept CFL’s for recycling at the end of their useful life (http://www6.homedepot.com/ecooptions/).
17) Do drive less and walk more when you can. If it’s impractical to bike or bus or carpool to work, at least try to save gas when you do drive (http://www.mpgplus.com/) and combine errands to take less trips. Check out http://www.walkscore.com/ to see what’s within walking distance of your home or place of business.
18) Do conserve when you can, do more with less, use less, reuse more, buy used when possible.
18) Visit your local library to borrow books instead of buying them new, and donate books that you have back to the library when you are done with them.
20) Remember that you can’t do it all, but whatever you can do, helps.
Further Reading, if you’re interested:
- It's Easy Being Green: A Handbook for Earth-Friendly Living, Crissy Trask
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
- In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, Michael Pollan
- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barbara Kingsolver
- Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating, Jane Goodall
- This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, Joan Dye Gussow
- All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!, Mel Bartholomew
- How to Grow More Vegetables: and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops than you Ever Thought Possible on Less Land than you can Imagine: A Primer on the Life-Giving Grow Biointensive Method of Sustainable Horticulture, by John Jeavons
- The World Without Us, Alan Weisman
- Baking Soda: Over 500 Fabulous, Fun and Frugal Uses You’ve Probably Never Thought Of, Vicki Lansky
- Vinegar: Over 400 Various, Versatile, and Very Good Uses You’ve Probably Never Thought Of, Vicki Lansky
- Grist Environmental New and Commentary: http://www.grist.org/
- Center for Food Safety: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/
- Organic Consumers Association: http://www.organicconsumers.org/
- Mother Earth News, the original guide to living wisely: http://www.motherearthnews.com/
- Kitchen Gardeners International: http://www.kitchengardeners.org/
- Environmental Working Group: http://www.ewg.org
- The Old Farmer’s Almanac: http://www.almanac.com/
- Seventh Generation (http://www.seventhgeneration.com), Method (http://www.methodhome.com/), Ecover (http://www.ecover.com/)
- Gaiam green living and organic products: http://www.gaiam.com/
- Planet Green from the Discovery Channel: http://planetgreen.discovery.com/
- Kraft Foods simple recipes for busy lives: http://kraftfoods.com/kf
And remember, I only nag because I care.