Beyond the recycling bin: Earth Day all year long

We’ve all gotten pretty good at some earthy things that are now fairly second nature. But truth be told, we could be doing a lot more.

We’ve spent a lot of time this month talking about those who are doing their part to help reverse or at least slow down some of the damage we’ve done to the planet. And hopefully you’ve gotten some ideas for how to make your Earth Day count from some of our daily tips.

But if we’re going to do this thing, we need to get past the idea that we’ve canceled an action out because we’ve thrown a plastic bottle into a recycling bin. There are big, small, and medium-sized things we can all be doing to make an impact–it goes beyond using your own shopping bags or putting a brick in your toilet. We need to un-trick ourselves that we have to waste our money on new things, and we need to stop convincing ourselves that just because we can’t see something, it’s not really a big deal.

Here are some real and impactful ways you can be less of a deadbeat Earth-tenant, and possibly help your grandkids fight the entirely possible future of living the Interstellar life.

Plant native plants

In case you missed our native plant spiel, you’re basically encouraging food-chain mayhem when you plant those tropical flowers that look so cool. The bugs don’t know what to do with it, the birds have fewer bugs, and everything goes awry. Virginia soil wants Virginia plants, and so do the rest of the critters you need to be thinking about.

Invest in a rain barrel

You know and I know about California, the state where all our food comes from. But will our kids? Our grandkids? Water shortages are no joke, and even if we had tap water aplenty, our plants don’t necessarily love it. A rain barrel taps into a resource that’s coming down from the skies for free, and we’ve been squandering it all this time. National Geographic has a good buying guide that explains a lot of the benefits..

Hang on to your car (and don’t buy new)

It is a magical feat of marketing wizards that convince us we need a new car every five years, and a disgusting fact that we treat these multi-ton computers-on-wheels as disposable. You may have a really good reason for buying a new car and instantly creating 3,000 pounds of waste (even if it’s instantly resold, that’s still more material out there to be junked eventually), but you may not. Here are some interesting facts from Wired about a Prius vs. a used car in an article that blew my mind back in 2008.

On second thought, buy used everything

The less we manufacture, the less that ends up floating on a Texas-sized1 island of trash. If we keep our stuff changing hands instead of being refreshed, disposed, refreshed, disposed, refreshed, we’ll save more than just dollars. Key industries to consider–all of which laugh uproariously at the fact that they’ve convinced you to buy only shiny, new things–the Baby Stuff industry, the Wedding Stuff industry, the Tech Stuff industry. Ask around for hand-me-downs, and pass along your own things.

On third thought, just stop accumulating so much

Next week, we’ll be talking more about how to rid yourself of the physical items that are dragging you down, but if you just keep buying new things to fill their places, you’re missing the point. Buy consciously. Avoid tchotchkes (an industry that should just be banned in general). Turn stocking stuffers into oranges and walnuts, like the good old days. Fix your old pants. Quit believing that the more you have, the better. Unsubscribe from retail email lists. Avoid Target’s $1 bin (and maybe Target full stop). And never shop sad. Otherwise, either you or your descendants will have to eventually put most of your things in huge garbage bags and marvel at how much you have wasted. Spend your money on things you need and things that truly make you happy, not things that dull your sadness for awhile. If you find that’s the case, it may be time to examine your life before you are broke, older, and full of regrets.

Say no to plastic

It’s not going anywhere. I tried the “Make an Effort to Refuse Plastic” approach recently over a weekend on vacation and was surprised at how much was just offered to me by way of routine. Do I need a bag for one book? Nope. Do I need a straw or lid for this iced tea I’m drinking? Nope. Does it take me longer than two seconds to ask the takeout people to hold the plastic flatware that I don’t need? Possibly, depending on how tired and annoyed they are.

Use a programmable thermostat

Why would you not want to save serious money, anyway?

Use the sun

It’s not out of your reach, it just takes a little bit of effort. And it’s getting better all the time.

Make it a game

How little can you throw out? If you’re challenging your friends, neighbors, or extended family to see who can throw out the smallest amount of trash bags per month (or even year), you’re a lot more likely to consider the packaging of something you need or the value of something you want.

It’s all various tips on a big iceberg, but it can slow our rate of resource consumption. And, you’ll notice, most of the above will save you significant funds. So, what if we made Earth Day a year-long event, and made some enjoyable, money-saving, and impact-making changes?

  1. On a good day! 
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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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