I cannot stand when people throw a plastic water bottle in the trash. I feel the need to pull them aside and give them a long winded rant, equal parts scolding and preaching, about their role in the environment. (I recommend everyone buy themselves a Contigo stainless steel insulated water bottle, a little pricy but worth it!) When I do bring up sustainability in conversation almost every one, no matter their habits, laments the lost cause that is our home planet. I too am guilty of this. When overwhelmed it is easiest to throw up your hands and walk away. You and I aren’t Atlas, but this Earth is a ball too precious to drop. I don’t have solutions to our crises. What follows are the small ways I make a difference in my home.
A well known but underutilized option to curb our garbage production is composting. When most people think of composting they see a large pile of rotting food, flies buzzing angrily, and peeved neighbors complaining. In reality, composting is clean and odors are kept to a minimum. In my family we use a tumbling composter. Imagine a barrel on its side with two circular doors each leading into a compartment. To start composting successfully the compartment should be given a few shovelfuls of dirt, old leaves, loam, grass clippings, etc. Then you can start adding your food scraps. What I like best about the tumbler design is that there’s no need to turn the pile, just give the barrel a spin and the compost is mixed. After decomposition works its magic you are left with fresh, nutrient dense soil that can be used alone or added to other soil as a fertilizer. Composting can be as basic as a pile on the ground, to our tumbler model, to smaller indoor containers that can be kept on the kitchen counter top. In the same pioneer-esque vein as composting, consider rigging up a clothes line. Nothing beats the smell of summer sun in cotton.
One of the first habits of mine I noticed repeatedly creating senseless trash was drinking with disposable plastic straws. So I set out to find a greener alternative that didn’t involve me sacrificing my beloved straw habit. A quick internet search showed me I had three options; ditch straws altogether which I’d already nixed, switch to metal straws which were a promising alternative, or use plastic straws that were dishwasher safe and came in many colors. The vibrant colors won out and I bought a package of five reusable straws. They continue to work like a charm. After each use they get cleaned in the dish washer and once every other month or so I gather all my straws, boil them, and scrub them with a sippy-cup brush to make sure they stay fresh. I also have switched to reusable snack bags for my lunches and longer shifts at work. They come in two sizes, big for sandwiches and small for snacks. There are many brands available on line, but I prefer the bags that close with zippers as opposed to Velcro.
My next attack on garbage may be a little tmi, but all is fair in saving our Earth. Reusable cloth pads or other reusable methods of menstrual protection enable women to greatly reduce their bathroom trash each month. These alternative methods also tend to be much healthier for their user. The bathroom in general is a great place to make other environmental changes. Bajillions of toilet paper roles get trashed each year when they are effortless to recycle. Recyclable containers like hand soap and shampoo bottles are tossed without a second thought. If recycling in the bathroom is a new concept for you consider putting a clean and small recycling bin right in the bathroom as a convenient and easy reminder. Think outside the bin too! Orange pill bottles, the box your toothpaste comes in, and broken hair clips are all recyclable.
To help my family cut down on our unsustainable habits I’ve taken to posting sticky notes where I see we can improve. One sticky note lives on the washing machine reminding us to choose the single rinse option. Another sticky note lives above the outlet in which my mom charges her laptop, reminding her to unplug it when she’s done. My sister has a similar note above her phone charger. I’ve also been working with the same sister to reduce the time she leaves her car idling. Perhaps I’ll have to leave a sticky note on her dash…
When I was a little girl I remember reading The Lorax and not entirely catching the message but understanding enough that “unless someone like you (or me) cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” We can thanks Dr. Seuss for that gem of good advice. We need more Loraxes and less Onclers if our home is to remain safe. No matter the odds, don’t turn your back on the Earth. My momma always said to leave something better than how you found it. Recognize yourself as a citizen of this Earth and work to leave her better than when you arrived.