We already possess the technology and understanding that can stop climate change, and yet our bad habits are still actively destroying our earth. It’s a tough reality, especially knowing that Americans are some of the worst-offenders and our country could be to blame for a major setback in reversing the impact of climate change if the incoming administration continues to ignore the science. I’m not going to get into all of that right now, but highly recommend anyone who’s unsure just how bad it is and how big of a role Americans play in the whole disaster, watch Before the Flood.
Right now I’m trying to stay laser-focused on taking action against so many of the things that are terrifying me at the moment. Climate change is scary. Figuring out how to make an impact is daunting, and we won’t succeed unless we have not just government support but also its initiative and enthusiasm. That said, there’s a whole lot you and I can be doing at home and in our communities right now.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are 10 things we can work on right now.
Stop buying Ziplock bags
It’s no secret that single-use plastics are terrible for the environment. It’s easier to think they just kind of disappear somewhere when you throw them out, but we know that’s not the truth. This is a big change for us, a difficult habit to break, but it’s time. In fact, it’s way past time. My recommendation is to just stop adding it to the grocery list, and order a bunch of new glass containers.
Practice eco-friendly gardening
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you know about this one already. Restoring your local ecosystem by planting species native to your location can have a profound impact on just about everything. You won’t have to water. You won’t have to use fertilizers or pesticides. You’ll be creating a habitat for wildlife that is losing its home on earth. If you choose the right plants, you’ll increase the pollinator population. To learn more, read blogs like this, join your local native plant society and read Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants and Garden Revolution.
Add trees to your neighborhood
Many communities have shade tree commissions or other entities set up to support not just street tree maintenance but planting of new ones. We’ve lost several large trees on our block over the last couple of years, and we’re by no means the only neighborhood suffering from a lack of trees. When I reached out to our Collingswood commissioner about having more trees planted on our block, she was quick to respond and explained that it’s as simple as getting a list of neighbors who would like a tree planted in their yard or the grassy strip between the sidewalk and street.
The sad ending to this story is that only two neighbors responded to my flyers, and one of them didn’t like the selection of trees. Because we couldn’t then get one house on board, none were planted. But I’m going to try again next year and improve our communication. The information I included in the letter about the importance of trees as a habitat, how they increase property values and provide cleaner air was not enough, so perhaps showing how the neighborhood has changed by including a photo of our street from decades ago and one of it today will do the trick. (That was a neighbor’s great suggestion.)
You probably have a more tree-friendly block than us, so do not let that sad story deter you. Also, do some quick research on the list of trees your town has available to ensure that they are native to your region. If not, perhaps send a helpful letter with some suggestions and local wholesalers that carry them.
Email spam is annoying, but all that junk you get in your mailbox? It has an impact that extends far beyond you and your time. Thankfully, CatalogChoice.org makes it incredibly easy to deal with this burden. You just have to create an account with your names/addresses and run a search for any catalog or mailers you’d like to cancel. If they don’t have it setup as an automatic cancellation, they will in most cases offer up the direct line to cancel it yourself via phone.
Recycle More, Better
Pretty much everyone recycles the basics at this point, but pretty much all of us could be doing a better job. We try to recycle everything that can be recycled, but sometimes the lazy or frazzled parents of a toddler sides of us win. Here are a few steps we’re taking to improve our household recycling:
- Take 5 minutes to get the latest information on what can actually go in the municipal recycling bins. If you live in Camden County, this is probably what goes in your bin: glass jars and bottles without caps, aluminum cans, tin cans, plastics (#1, #2, #4, #5 and #7), newspaper, white paper, magazines, paperback books, and cardboard. (Note: One thing that surprised me is the list of what does not need to be removed: cellophane address labels, metal fasteners, plastic tabs, paper clips, stamps, plastic tabs and spiral bounding.)
- Set up a recycling center in the basement or garage to organize batteries, electronics and other recyclables that require special treatment. Mom’s Organic Market accepts many things, like batteries, as do other stores. The big box hardware stores typically accept light bulbs and other things, and the rest might have to be dealt with on special days (Collingswood accepts lots of different items during its Green Festival, for example). Add the appropriate places/times/days to your calendar so you don’t miss it.
- If there is anything at all that you’re not sure if or where you can recycle it, use Earth911. Here’s an example to show you that just about anything works: I looked up motor oil and there was a spot just 3 minutes away that accepts it. Who would’ve known!
- If there are items you’re always throwing out, like toothpaste or baby food pouches, chances are they can be recycled through Terracycle.
- Don’t let lazy win. If it’s a takeout container that seems like a pain to clean, leave it in the sink until you have more energy. Every little bit combines to make a big impact and you absolutely do have the 60 seconds required to do the right thing.
Conserve Water with a Rain Barrel
Okay, I’ll admit it. We’ve had a rain barrel for about a year now, and still haven’t set it up. Our gutters aren’t structured in a way that makes it simple, but this is high on our list for the spring. Don’t be like us. Get yours and set it up immediately ;-).
This is a no-brainer for many reasons. We’re already using the compost bin we bought at a discount through Collingswood’s program, and the amount of valuable waste we’re keeping from landfills is pretty astounding. Getting a counter-top bin makes it easier to do by reducing the number of trips you have to make to your outdoor bin. Plus, there will be major benefits for our gardening efforts. At the recent Native Plant Society of New Jersey conference, Becky Laboy of Ocean County Soil Conservation District said her answer to pretty much every question she fields on improving soil for gardening is “add organic matter.” Done.
Lower Your Thermostat
We don’t have an innovative solution to this, like Nest, yet. And so we’re just diligent about setting an energy-conscious program on our thermostat and using comfy blankets, socks and whatnot when I feel a little cold. (I feel a little cold from roughly late-October through early May.) For more on this, go to Energy.gov and EnergyStar.gov.
It’s becoming increasingly more convenient to eat local food grown without pesticides, thanks to farmers markets, co-ops and CSAs. We shop at the Collingswood Farmers Market, belong to the amazing Buzby Farm CSA and support local spots like Constellation Collective that cook with local ingredients. The two actions I’m taking now is really keeping the momentum going through winter months when less is available, and doing a better job of buying in bulk when certain fruits and veggies are in season. Also, I’m writing mostly about food here, but shopping local for everything else when possible is important.
Turn Off Your Damn Lights
This is one that we’re all used to hearing, but requires a real change in habits. And changing habits isn’t easy. I recommend watching Before the Flood, because there is a moment in the movie where a world map is shown to prove just how much power the U.S. requires. It’s a startling visual, and I think about it every time I see anything left on that’s not in use: a light, the coffee maker, anything.
Bike and Walk Whenever Practical
I think the real actions within this area for us at this point are to encourage each other to bike when running quick errands (being positive influences), to purchase a baby bike seat in the spring to make it easier to get around with Mae in tow and for Tim to continue his work with Bike Camden County, which focuses on bike paths and trail connections that make cycling safer around here.
Photo of Recycled Tires: David K, Flickr Creative Commons