At this point, most of us are tempted to just go to bed and pull the covers over our heads and eat some (probably-also-going-to-kill-us) chocolate. Our planet’s problems seem so enormous and dire; they’re practically beyond our scope of comprehension and certainly out of our control, right? Well, hold up. Not exactly. It’s easy to do nothing because you can’t solve the whole thing, but if we each do a few small things, it can all add up to one big save. With that in mind, I have some individualized one-person-saves-the-planet tips and tricks for you to incorporate into your daily life that are low-key, not dramatic and totally doable.
This isn’t about the politicized phrase “climate change” or about politics. Because whatever you believe about rising sea levels (or not), I think (hope!) all of us can agree on two things: (1) we would like to have clean water, clean air and clean soil so we can live happily and healthily – or, to put it another way, we don’t want anyone sticking us with filthy water, air or soil; and (2) if we wait for our politicians (of whatever party) to save us, well, we’re all gonna die.
Are we with each other on this one? Clean planet for us and our progeny and screw the politicians? If so, please read on for 8 simple tips.
1. Ditch the Plastic
I’m probably starting with the toughest to do and ending with the easiest so feel free to read in reverse order if you prefer. Ditching plastic sounds easy but anyone who has tried it knows it’s not. If you think about it, we’re surrounded by plastic – plastic bags, straws, water bottles, plastic plates, cups, plastic wrap. You get the gist. This is because it’s cheap and easy. Cheap and easy does not equal good when it is so super horrible for our environment. Plastic breaks down into tiny pieces, not visible to the eye, commonly called “microplastics,” that pollute our water and soil. What’s the problem? Well, they may just be causing a whole host of ill effects from breast cancer to erectile dysfunction. Gross. Again, who wants air, water and land contaminated with stuff that won’t degrade and can mutate and kills our cells? Ummm. I think nobody. With that in mind, tips for individually saving the planet by reducing your individual plastic (and getting yourself a bit healthier and safer while you’re at it!):
Use Re-Useable Cloth Bags and Straws
We all have too many of those tote bags that seem to get given away for free at every event I have been at recently. Use them for all your shopping instead of getting plastic bags! If you truly don’t have extra tote bags just lying around, ok, I guess, buy a cheap fabric one. I love when store clerks start beaming when I tell them I brought my own bag. One guy told me he was in love with me for bringing my own bag for my groceries (wow). Who knew being eco-friendly would make perfect strangers fall in love with you?! Bonus.
We all saw the videos of sea turtles dying and bleeding with plastic straws caught in their noses and throats and, if you didn’t see them, don’t … unless you want to be really sad. “I want to be really sad!” said pretty much no one, ever. In addition to being problematic for sea life, plastic straws are problematic for us because, again, they contribute to plastic pollution that is killing us off, or at least making it hard for the guys to procreate and giving the gals increased breast cancer risk. You don’t want to shoot blanks or die of breast cancer, right? Just say no to straws or, if you must have them, get your own! Corkcicle has really cool stainless steel straws (only $5 for 2 at www.corkcicle.com). No, they do not pay me to say that and I won't get anything if you buy a straw from them.
Grocery Shopping Tips
Again, bring your own cloth (not plastic) bags. It does require some pre-thought but you’re smart and you can do it. It just takes making it a routine to get into doing it consistently. Some stores, like Ralph’s, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Target, and more will actually PAY YOU when you bring your own bag in the form of discounts or other benefits. See more details on thathere. YES! Money in your pocket for saving the planet! You're such a (well compensated) super hero!
Bring cloth napkins or dishtowels, as well, to wrap veggies in, instead of using those plastic bags in the produce section. This is actually healthier for you and better for your produce since plastic bags increase bad humidity, lower aeration and speed up spoilage.
A tip: keep those re-useable bags and cloths clean. Just remember to throw them in the washing machine when you do your regular laundry. Easy breezy.
Once your veggies are at home, keep them wrapped gently in the cloth napkins or dish towels and don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them (to make them stay fresher longer). Always buy organic (better for you because it won’t give you cancer from the toxic pesticides and herbicides used for conventionally grown produce. . Growing organic helps increase our soil, air and water quality and it's obviously way healthier for you. However, because I know sometimes organic is impossible, price-wise, a way you can at least reduce pesticides on the exterior of fruits and veggies when you just don’t have enough $$ to buy organic is to soak them in a mixture of salt, hot water and baking powder. For mushrooms, just dunk them in the mixture and rinse them quickly because mushrooms absorb everything really fast and it won’t be yummy to eat salty, baking powder-y mushrooms.
I also really like re-useable glass “Tupperware” instead of plastic and glass bottles for carrying around my beverages instead of plastic bottles (better for my own health; better for the planet). Links to some examples of good glassware you can order are below the text of this post.
Diapers & Bottles
Hey Moms and Dads! According to the Clean Air Council, Americans throw away 49 million diapers per day, accounting for two + percent of all garbage generated in the U.S., making diapers are one of the largest contributors to landfills. Don’t fret! It’s possible to reduce this landfill conundrum.
You actually have a number of options. My personal favorite are these brightly colored re-useable cloth diapers from Target for the baby with the heightened sartorial sense (click here). There are multiple other options though, from the re-useable cloth diapers to the admittedly not-as-good-but-still-something disposable diapers that are at least biodegradable (see a list of them here) to, if you have that oh-so-nice extra disposable income, services that will do it all for you, like this one I just randomly googled but have never used (just google eco friendly diaper services in your geographic region and then read the BBB, etc., reviews of the business to make sure it is legit before using).
On bottles, again, this is more about the health of your baby than just ditching plastic, but every time you heat that plastic bottle up, the plastic is degrading and your kiddo is swallowing some and it’s not a good thing. Go glass. LifeFactory has terrific glass baby bottles in thick, cushiony sleeves (a little plastic for the cushion; well, nobody’s perfect) to prevent breakage if excited baby tosses them or tired parent drops them. You can google them, buy them in baby supply stores or, if all else fails, use my easy link to order them online, below the text of this blog post.
Doggie Doo Bags & Wee Pads
Don’t pick up after your dog – JUST KIDDING!!!! Ok, for dogs, we have two issues: (1) wee pads and (2) poo bags.
Ideally, your dog will only relieve herself or himself outside but, if you have a puppy you’re training, an older dog who has incontinence issues or just a dog you want to have an emergency option just-in-case for, re-useable, washable pads are there for you!
I use PoochPads for my dog and they are AWESOME. Really. I highly recommend. They’re not bad looking and they’re super absorbent and easy to spot clean (or just throw them in the washing machine – please, if your dog does a doo instead of a pee, scoop it up with toilet paper and flush it. Do not put THAT in your washing machine). You can find lots of other brands of re-useable wee pads, too. Just ask for recommendations at your local pet supply store.
Doggie Doo Bags
There ARE eco-friendly biodegradable bags but be CAREFUL because a lot of the advertising on poo bags are very misleading and the bag you think is all earth friendly, well, isn’t. Rover has a great article on this here that every dog parent should read. This also lists the “good” bags (like Biobag, Flush Puppies and BioDOGradable, which I have links to below the text of this blog post if you can’t find them at your local pet supply store).
For those of you who are just superstars, this is a quote from the above-referenced Rover article:
- Use a dog-waste-only composting bin. There are several commercial options like the Doggie Doolie on the market, but you can also make your own with supplies available at your local home and garden store. While pet waste compost should never be used on edible plants, it can be great fertilizer for decorative gardens!
- Flush it. Yes, depending on where you live, you can flush dog poop in water-soluble waste bags. Just be sure to check with your municipal sewage guidelines, and never flush pet waste into a septic tank.
- Bury it. This option works best if you live in a rural area with space away from the house. Waste should be buried at least five inches underground, away from vegetable gardens and water sources.
- Transport it to an industrial composting facility that accepts pet waste, or hire a waste removal company that does the dirty work for you (for example: Portland’s Green Pet Compost Company).
No Bottled Water
At least not plastic bottles. For a whole blog post on why plastic bottled water is truly awful for you and what water is awesome for you, click here: http://jenniferbetityen.weebly.com/ethical-is-beautiful-be-beautiful-a-blog/whats-in-the-water
Try not to use them. Chances are, you have a stash of plastic bags somewhere in your home from past shopping trips (before you read this blog, of course, right?). Re-use those as trash bags when you simply must. Or use biodegradable, earth-friendly bags (links to some examples below the text of this blog post).
COMPOST and RECYCLE! Even in large cities, there are compost stations. Likewise, even in rural areas, there are recycling stations. Just ask your city government offices or google it by city. A quick and dirty guide (no pun intended) was created by another blogger on this topic here.
2. Recycle and Re-Use and (of course) Reduce
Old Clothes and Textiles (fancy term for fabrics like sheets and towels)
If your things are gently worn, donate them to Goodwill or another charity so someone else can benefit from them. If they’re ripped or stained, there are plenty of textile (fabric) donation spots. The clothing retailer, H&M, accepts donations of used clothes and textiles at any of their stores AND they’ll even give you a discount coupon to say thanks!
Click here for a terrific list of places that take old clothes and fabrics, even old undies.
Old Furniture, Appliances and Fixtures
Gently used? Donate or sell! I use Craig’s List to sell my old furniture all the time and it works like a charm.
You can also donate! Salvation Army, Goodwill and a host of others may be able to put your old furniture, electronics and fixtures to good use! Here are two terrific resource guides (in some cases, you can get tax deductions for donations and free pick up’s of heavy items):
For mattresses, click here for info on how to recycle those.
For bigger ticket items, like bathtubs – say, if you’re doing a home renovation - just google places like Big Reuse (https://bigreuse.org, located in New York City), which can recycle and re-use this bigger items.
A lot of companies, such as Apple and Staples, will recycle your electronics, even giving you money for them if they’re recent enough and, even if they’re old, providing you with a free prepaid shipping label (for more on Apple's program, click here). Most Staples and Bed, Bath & beyond stores have areas you can drop off old batteriesto be recycled, as well.
Many cities, such as New York, offer electronics recycling and you can just do a quick google search for electronics recycling in your city for the 411 there.
If You Have Extra Disposable Income, You Can Literally Recycle EVERYTHING
This one I am putting last because, financially, it’s just not a real option for a lot of people. If you makes heaps o’ money though and have some disposable income you’d be happy to allocate to saving our planet, you can pay to conveniently recycle pretty much anything at terracycle.com. They send you shipping labels and boxes and you fill ‘em up with, again, just about anything and they swear they’ll recycle all of it. They do have some free recycling programs, but there are wait lists for most of them (I know; I’ve been on one of their waitlists for over a year). The pay programs are fast and easy … however they do cost money.
Terracycle has free recycling programs for bigger entities like schools and companies, so, if you’re feeling ballsy, loudly advocate for your work and/or your kid’s (or your) school to get their recycling services.
3. Eat Organic
Filling your body with weird chemicals is just generally unhealthy. You don’t have to be a doctor or rocket scientist to figure that out. Unfortunately, toxic pesticides linked to cancer, such as weed killer glyphosate and organophosphate pesticides malathion and diazinon, among others, are used on conventionally grown food crops. Not only do these chemicals badly contaminate the soil and water, they can get into the plant’s root structure and, once that happens, there’s no washing them away. They’re going in your body if you eat the food.
If I gave you a bottle of weed killer or bottle of insecticide and told you to drink it, you’d tell me to go to someplace not very nice, wouldn’t you? So, why are you eating food awash in that gunk? Stop. I want you to live a healthy life. You want to live a healthy life. Go organic.
Also, for those looking to whittle their waistlines: guess what? Toxins like those mentioned above are stored in your fat tissues and, if you consume too much, guess what your body does? Makes MORE FAT to store those toxins. Yup. Makes more fat just as a little gift to you along with that increased risk o’ cancer! That’s according to an NIH study, among other sources. Not “Fake News”! Unless you feel like getting sick and fat, the best thing to do is go organic. According to the British Journal of Nutrition, organic produce has 70% more antioxidants (yay! Anti-aging!) than conventionally grown produce and study after study after study shows eating organic can slash your risk of a whole host of health problems, such as cancer.
The downside is organic can be more expensive. Many of us joke “Whole Foods Whole Paycheck.” That being said, a great way to get less expensive organic produce is by using local farmer’s markets. It’s also a great way to support local, organic fruit, vegetable and grain farmers who are improving our planet through responsible organic farming. Just good “organic farmer’s markets in [insert name of your city]” and you should get a whole host of results.
Cut Back On Or Eliminate Meat, Dairy & Seafood (don’t freak out; I’ll explain why and give you lots of good substitutes)
Industrialized slaughter of cows and pigs and other animals, as well as the dairy industry, causes all kinds of pollution; more, in fact, than every single car’s emissions in the country. If you're the owner of or worker in one of those slaughterhouses or dairy farms, don't get mad at me. Join me in producing supply to meet the demand of the biggest up-and-comer around: plant protein. You can stay in the "meat" and "dairy" industry; but switch to plant-based farming which will allow you to actually enrich the soil through the organic farming of crops desperately needed to fill a gigantically growing demand from the plant-based milk and "meat" markets (sunflower seeds, peas, quinoa, buckwheat, the list goes on and on). Indeed, the vegan (plant-based) snack market is set to be worth $73 billion by 2028 (read more here) and more and more consumers are becoming educated on the significant health benefits of plant-based eating. Companies like my beloved A2Px exist specifically to help animal farmers transition to more lucrative plant-based farmers to create vibrant and much-needed new plant supply chains; breaking antiquated old chains that harm our farmers, planet and overall health. Message them to learn more at https://www.facebook.com/A2Px1/.
Further, the meat product of industrialized slaughter is not good for us despite what too many of our politicians and lobbyists might say (as they line their pockets with cash from special interest groups – ahem). As National Geographic put it: "industrial feedlots where castle stand knee-deep in their own feces, pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones for them; clogged arteries, obesity and heart attacks for us." See National Geographic (emphasis added). In other words, being carnivorous in our crazy world is polluting the planet and making us fat and sick.
Only 1 in 10 Americans eats the recommended amount of produce and, if we increase our fruit and veggie consumption and go to a primarily plant-based diet, we could prevent 20,000+ cases of cancer EVERY YEAR! While we’re at it, we will also lower our risk of high blood pressure, stroke and cardiovascular disease.
On the fat thing, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found that people on plant-based diets lost around 10 lbs/month when they first began going plant-based, regardless of calorie counting or exercise. Obviously, your weight will stabilize at some point. This is a study of overweight people trying to lose weight.
Seafood doesn’t save you because remember the microplastics issue we discussed above? Fish, lobster, shrimp, etc., are full of them! According to a terrifying NIH study that I read so you don’t have to, we are looking at some serious microplastic contamination with all the associated health risks.
Around this point, a lot of people start screaming, BUT PROTEIN!! First of all, ALL plant-based foods contain some protein. Animal flesh is not the exclusive protein holder of the world. The difference is some plants do not have “complete proteins” – in other words, all 9 amino acids. Note: buckwheat and quinoa have all 9 amino acids and are thus complete proteins on their own. Take that, hamburger! But even for the rest of our plant protein friends, you just have to “stack” them (in other words, eat two different types together – like rice and beans, for example) to get your complete protein. There. That wasn’t so hard.
Now, I know. So-called comfort food is full o’ animal flesh and dairy. But what if you could have your cake and eat it too? You can! There are amazing veggie burgers, vegan milks, plant-based seafood, ice-cream, basically anything your heart desires. It just takes a little gumption and a commitment to your and your family’s health and well-being (oh, yeah, and the planet).
I blogged extensively on this here:
General Overview of Excellent Brands Supplying Plant-Based Comfort Foods - http://jenniferbetityen.weebly.com/ethical-is-beautiful-be-beautiful-a-blog/the-best-nom-noms-for-health-home-heart
Plant-Based Dairy - http://jenniferbetityen.weebly.com/ethical-is-beautiful-be-beautiful-a-blog/for-the-love-of-cheese
Plant-Based Meats - http://jenniferbetityen.weebly.com/ethical-is-beautiful-be-beautiful-a-blog/ethical-meat-lovers-meat-guide
Plant-Based Seafood – some good options here are Sophie’s Kitchen (I love their seafood jambalaya) and Good Catch. Just check in with your local health food store or order from the companies’ websites.
If this seems overwhelming, check out my recipes on this blog and, if you need someone else to jump start you, try a food delivery service temporarily just to get ideas and the hang of it, such as Sakara (https://www.sakara.com) or Purple Carrot (https://www.purplecarrot.com).
A well-reviewed (but not free) app that helps you find healthy plant-based restaurant options near you, virtually anywhere in the world is "Happy Cow": www.happycow.net/mobile
Basically, eating plant-based is good for you and it’s good for the planet. According to the Guardian:
Appealing to the various drivers of people’s diet choices could help address not only the nation’s obesity problem, but also the environmental impacts of food production, even the stability of the food supply chain. For example, decreased consumption of meat could have a major impact on water usage. According to Arlin Wasserman, founder of food consultancy Changing Tastes, Americans currently get about 15% of their protein from plant-based sources. Shifting that to 25% could result in enough water savings to provide two-thirds of California’s water supply.
So go eat your plants, vegetables and grains and be happy, healthy and free!
5. If You Drive, Drive Electric. Regardless, Make Your Commute Eco Friendly
Electric cars are awesome. I know. I drive a Tesla. https://www.tesla.com My costs in NYC come to roughly $8-10 per 300+ miles for charging my vehicle and they even have a converter with which, were I ever in a pinch, I could just plug MY CAR into a regular old outlet. Heck, yeah! If you’re lucky enough to have a house, you can install Tesla’s solar panel (see “Solar and Powerwall” on their website link above) and charge both your home and car for free, courtesy of our friend the sun.
There are a gajillion electric and hybrid car choices. Many states offer you tax incentives and other $$ help if you go green, so ask the car dealership for information on this when you go car shopping. There’s also an awesome free app called Plug Share that will locate chargers nearby for you. Why be a dinosaur? Join me in the future with fast, gas-free cars that are safe, environmentally friendly and, best of all, so freakin’ fun to drive. If you live near a Tesla dealership, go and test drive a car even if you’re not in the market to buy. If you like to drive and you like fast cars, you are going to have fun.
Regardless of awesome cars, consider walking or biking whenever you can because it’s good exercise as well as good for the planet. Use ride shares and/or public transit to cut down on air pollution. In other words, just be sensible.
6. Use Your Energy Thoughtfully
Use an energy provider that uses clean energy, like Green Mountain. It’s super easy to enroll and you will be on the exact same energy grid you were on before. I use it and my bills are actually quite a bit less now with no decrease in service. They have no idea my blog exists and they definitely aren’t paying me to say that. Check it out here.
As I mentioned above, if you’re lucky enough to have a house, you can install Tesla’s Powerwall and charge your home for free, courtesy of our friend the sun.
Use a biodegradable, chemical-free, dye-free, fragrance-free detergent (I love Go by Greenshield Organic – link to it below the text in this post) and wash in cold water as much as you can. Try not to wash until you have a full load’s worth of clothes to save energy. Simple stuff but it matters. I use pureWash which uses oxygen to clean laundry so I can skip hot water and detergent.
Also, ditch the fabric softener and dryer sheets. You can substitute vinegar for fabric softener and, for freshly scented clothes, just put a few drops of your favorite essential oil on a bit of fabric and throw it in the dryer with your clothes. Gorgeous!
7. Consume Thoughtfully
Do a little research before you buy. Whether it’s shoes, clothes, jewelry, or cars, a little research to make sure what you’re buying is responsibly sourced goes a long way. C’mon. You can do it for the planet (and yourself).
For anything made of fabric, I recommend making sure it is Oeko-Tex certified. For more on that and to search all products, click here.
To save you time, here are some links to helpful outside sites:
Furniture - https://ecocult.com/ultimate-guide-eco-friendly-ethical-furniture/
Clothing and Shoes - https://www.peta.org/living/personal-care-fashion/vegan-eco-clothing-belongs-in-your-closet/
Jewelry - https://www.treehugger.com/slideshows/sustainable-fashion/looking-ethical-eco-friendly-jewelry/
In general, it’s sort of the same rules as for foods – the items that are the best for your health and that of our planet’s tend to be free of animal products, chemicals and toxins. Kind of a no-brainer.
8. Garden (even in a city apartment)
This is my favorite because it has so many benefits beyond just making our air cleaner and enriching our soil. It’s also extremely calming and studies show we are happier when surrounded by greenery and plants. “I hate being happy,” said nobody ever.
For those, like me, who live in big cities and can’t run around planting trees or creating big gardens outside (we’d probably get arrested), there are awesome home kits.
If you’re lucky enough to have a balcony, put out some tomato plants. Not only are they neat-looking and fast-growing, you can eat the resulting tomatoes, which are rich in lycopene which improves your cardiovascular health and helps prevent cancer. BOO YAH! Here is a link to some tomato growing kits.
You can also do window herb gardens or, and check THIS out (it’s on my Christmas list – please, Santa? Please? Please? Please?): a tabletop AEROGARDEN to grow your very own deliciously scented herbs, flowers, fruits, and/or veggies year-round: https://www.aerogarden.com.
For those in rural areas and/or lucky enough to have their own yards and access to land, plant away! My favorite source for all things gardening is the Gardener’s Supply Company. Regardless, always go organic however and wherever you plant. Skip the pesticides, chemicals and say no to GMO seeds. After all, you want to help yourself and the planet, not hurt both. You don’t want to be exposed to toxic chemicals, even if you are growing non-edible flowers instead of veggies, fruits or herbs. Gardeners.com has a lot of tips and tricks for how to avoid pests and problems without the use of nasty pesticides and, if you’re growing inside, it’s even easier. You absolutely don’t need them.
I decided to grow lavender inside (yes, it can be done!) and now everything smells serene and beautiful and I am happier for it. And, I have the opposite of a green thumb. I am wanted for plant murder in some states so, if I can do it, you can definitely do it. And you will be happier, calmer and more zen if you do. It’s like a gift for yourself that’s a gift to the world.
So go on! Green your space! You’re going to be glad you did.
Some people will argue that some of these changes are worth more or less than others. Cool. Put the emphasis wherever is easiest or makes most sense to you. Customize this to you and don’t get overwhelmed because if we each do some small things, it all adds up to one gigantic thing. Get out of bed, put down the chocolate and go save the world … because you actually can!
See, e.g., https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/microplastics#health-effects,https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/22/health/microplastics-land-and-air-pollution-intl/index.html,http://www.exeter.ac.uk/research/feature/microplastics/,https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/microplastics-have-been-found-in-peoples-poop-mdash-what-does-it-mean/,https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-health-pollution-waste-microplastics/.
See, e.g., https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/feb/19/are-we-poisoning-our-children-with-plastic
See, e.g., https://food.ndtv.com/facts/storing-your-vegetables-in-plastic-bags-heres-why-you-need-to-stop-1729511
See, e.g., https://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-organic-food-cancer-20181022-story.html
See, e.g., https://www.parents.com/baby/diapers/cloth/eco-friendly-diapering/?slideId=slide_b68e1d04-72ec-455b-9acc-19a4600a3d3a#slide_b68e1d04-72ec-455b-9acc-19a4600a3d3a
See, e.g., https://www.ewg.org/release/massive-study-finds-eating-organic-slashes-cancer-risks
See, e.g., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3569688/, https://www.ewg.org/release/massive-study-finds-eating-organic-slashes-cancer-risks,https://www.newsweek.com/eating-organic-foods-linked-lower-cancer-risk-1182713,https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jun/29/usda-diet-nutrition-environment-sustainability-omega-3-beef,
See also https://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-plantbased-diets-weight-20150122-story.html
See, e.g., https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/list-amino-acids-grain-quinoa-1405.html