With the Doomsday Clock ticking dangerously close to midnight, Americans are starting to take a hard look at their lifestyles and creating habits that are less detrimental to the resources we need to live like the air we breathe and the water we drink. Still, many wonder do the small daily measures we take really make a difference?
One recent study found human nature might actually be working against our desire to be better to the Earth. As a species we are constantly seeking our own personal equilibrium. What this means is we may do one thing that is good for the environment and then undo our efforts by doing something else that is harmful for the environment. This might look like buying eco-friendly products at the grocery store and then coming home to take an hour-long shower. When we do this, we don’t actually help the environment; we just hurt it in a different way.
In order for individual choices to produce big environmental gains we have to do a complete habit overhaul to trigger an actual deficit in our overall consumption, on both personal and communal levels. Here are some ways we can lower humanity’s negative impact on the solar system’s only inhabitable planet, along with some products to jumpstart a lower overall carbon footprint.
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Replace Single Use Items with Reusable Ones
Most of the time, reusable versions of single use items are better for the Earth but only if they actually get used and we permanently break up with the single use version we swore to replace. Otherwise, we are actually responsible for the energy, resources and materials used to make both the reusable product and the disposable one. These everyday products usually end up in the trash but are easy to swap for a sturdier option.
Water Bottle: According to the Royal Statistical Society, less than 10% of all plastic gets recycled. Instead of filling the ocean with more garbage, a reusable plastic bottles can last for years and take the place of hundreds of disposable ones. An easy to clean option like this Nalgene bottle made of food safe plastic can be thrown in the dishwasher which makes it more likely you’ll reach for this one instead of the single use option.
Take Out Boxes: Polystyrene is really awful for the environment and worldwide 31 trillion pounds of it end up in landfills and waterways every single year. While the crumbly texture that breaks apart easily might make it seem like it should break down to nothing, it doesn’t. Instead it turns into a pollutant known as a microplastic which is both microscopic and almost impossible to get rid of. Instead of taking home your leftovers in a container that’ll be wreaking havoc for a millennia, take one of these reusable take out boxes along. Not only do they take the place of polystyrene but taking your own box alleviates the need for paper or plastic to go bags since they are also leakproof.
Sandwich Bags: Disposable sandwich bags come in a box of 200 because people reach for them on a daily basis. This set of silicone bags are leak proof and microwave safe. You can even throw them in the dishwasher for easy cleanup and use in tomorrow’s lunch box.
Eat Less Meat
Meat production, especially red meat production, is one of America’s worst habits. So bad, in fact, the production of red meat, ie: beef and goat, has an emissions footprint up to 40 times greater than that of most grains and vegetables. Trading out the meat for an extra serving of veggies on a regular basis can help decrease demand.
The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen: Complete with over 700 recipes, this cookbook is an incredible source for Meatless Mondays or Fresh Friday meal ideas. Others can’t go wrong picks include Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian tackles how to convert meals we love into veggie friendly versions and Martha Stewart’s Meatless which looks at how to make satisfying meals without relying on meat products.
Herbs and Spices: It’s hard to argue against the idea that meat brings a lot of flavor to a meal. Spices add back some of what’s lost when switching from an animal protein to a plant based one. This set has 24 different spices to experiment with for a variety of flavor profiles.
Make Your Home More Efficient
Outfitting a home for energy and water efficiency ensures everyday life doesn’t negatively affect the world we live in. While the best thing to do would be installing solar panels and breaking up with anything that runs on fossil fuels, it’s not a realistic option for most people due to the high conversion costs. There are some less drastic measures that can still help lower electricity and water usage for years to come.
Light Bulbs: Light bulbs might not seem like a big deal but new energy efficient light bulbs were a bright idea. They can last for up to 25 times longer than a traditional incandescent bulb and use up to 80% less energy, lessening strain on power plants.
Smart Thermostat: Control your thermostat from anywhere with a wifi-enabled thermostat. Instead of leaving the AC or the heat on all day while no one is at home, users can control it from anywhere and turn it on an hour before they head home. While Nest is probably the most well-known brand, it’s pricey. This version is considerably less money and still cuts down energy usage and costs.
Low Flow Shower Head: A standard shower head uses 2.5 or more gallons of water per minute the shower is running. A low flow shower head is designed to use a lot less water without sacrificing water power. This model is easy to install, and maintains a strong water pressure even though it saves a gallon of water per minute the water is running.
Rachel Brandt is a writer living in Indianapolis with her three kids, two dogs, and husband. When she’s not writing you’ll find her mentally preparing for another Midwest winter, reading Harry Potter books to her kids, or binge watching Joss Whedon shows.