Much like I was inspired by a few home blogs I follow to do an online Holiday Home Tour, I was almost inspired to do a “Design Resolutions” post. But, you know what? You’ll read about my upcoming design ideas and projects if/when I get around to them.
For now, let’s talk about something a little bit bigger. Something we all should be trying to do – every day – and not just as a New Year’s resolution that invariably will fall to the wayside come February. What I’m talking about, my dear friends, is saving the planet.
Can it be done? Some say no. Some say we’re in too deep. We’ve gone too far. To this I say pish posh. Of course, I just so happen to be one of those super annoying idealists who thinks that every little change we make counts and that starting small is the best way to integrate a leaner, meaner and greener way of life into your new year.So, what say you? Want to be tree hugging, organic cotton wearing, SUV forgoing, alternative power touting hippies who not only make their own soap, but eat it too? (I have no idea if people actually make edible soap, but in this crazy world I’d take a wild guess and say yes… yes they do.)
Here are three surprisingly simple ways to help the environment:
Think Before You Buy
I used the phrase “think before you buy” in a post I wrote a few years ago and it’s stuck with me ever since. Now it’s time to take a cold, hard and sometimes yucky (see image) look at the cost of buying before you think. Take food waste for example…
A 2014 study estimated that Canadians throw away $31 billion dollars of chow per year according to this Global News report. The implications go far beyond the fact that wasting food is, well, wasteful. Food waste means not only is the discarded item being wasted, but all the resources used to produce the item have now also been wasted. And don’t forget about the additional resources required to dispose of the food.
And what about the packaging? You ever notice how much cardboard and plastic and paper ensconce our food items? Why do so may brands of cereal need to have both an outside box and an inside bag? That’s twice the waste right there.
Have you ever thought about those plastic produce bags you likely use every time you go shopping? I hadn’t until I came across some washable fabric produce bags awhile back. Now I use them all the time. If for some reason I do end up using the plastic ones, I reuse them too.
On the subject of packaging, may I also add that the quantity of packaging on children’s toys is mind boggling. And don’t even get me started on what happens to toys once they’re broken, the kids have grown out of them, or once they’ve become bored with them. You see, $31 billion dollars of food waste (and that’s just in Canada) only scratches the surface. We’re constantly replacing electronics, clothes, home decor items and so on. And, even if you donate them, you’re still contributing to the cycle of stuff, stuff and more stuff.
But enough with the doom and gloom. I promised “simple” solutions to herculean-sized problems. So… what’s my solution? As the title of this section reads… Think. Before. You. Buy.
That’s it. Take a moment to think before you add something new to your shopping cart and ask: What am I going to do with this? If it’s food – will I eat it? If it’s clothing – will I wear it? For how long? Do I already have something similar and thus don’t really need another one? If it’s for the home – where will I put it? Is there something I already have that it’s going to replace? If so, what am I going to do with the old one?
Once this pattern of thought becomes habit it will literally require zero effort to quickly ask these questions as you stand there with item in hand.
Well, maybe it’ll take 0.1% of your effort. 0.5% tops. But the planet is at least worth that, am I right?
Clean with Care
Do you love to clean? Me too! Oh… you were being facetious? Yeah… me too…
While we may not all agree on whether scrubbing the floor fuzzies behind the toilet can be described as “fun,” I think we can all agree on one thing – chemicals are bad. And if you also disagree with me over my chemicals equal badness statement, let’s – once again – take a look at the dirty (pun definitely intended) details, courtesy of the website belonging to my second favourite moustachioed man (after my dad), Mr. David Suzuki.
Phosphates, which are found in dishwasher detergents, laundry soap and bathroom cleaners build up in our water systems and promote harmful algae blooms leading to decreased oxygen supplies, which in turn kills fish. Certain algae blooms also produce chemicals that can be toxic to both animals and humans (oh no – that’s us!).
Sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate, which is used in toilet bowl cleaners, deodorizers, surface cleaners and disinfectants is toxic to aquatic organisms and may cause long-term disturbances in aquatic ecosystems.
Did I also mention that the above chemicals, as well as a host of others (with lovely names such as 2-butoxyethanol, quaternary ammonium compounds and trisodium nitrilottriacetate) can cause skin, eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, may cause cancer, kidney damage, liver damage and reproductive defects, while also interfering with the function of hormones? And that’s just the short list, my friends.
And, because there is no requirement in Canada for manufacturers to warn us about the health and environmental hazards associated with the chemicals in everyday cleaning products, we are likely being exposed to compounds that linger in the air of our home for days, weeks, months, years, ever.
So, once again, what’s my solution? Why, it’s clean with care, of course! As an example, here is a photo of the cleaning items I keep underneath my sink…
They can be combined in a variety of ways to create all sorts of cleaning agents and most of them are incredibly cheap and – da da da DA – far less narsty than the aforementioned chemicals. The ones that cost a little more, like the Nature Clean All Purpose Cleaning Lotion and the Dr Bronner’s Tea Tree Soap, are concentrated and last a long, long time. Seriously. I think I’ve had that bottle of Nature Clean for over a year and it’s still half full.
Here are a few easy recipes I found online that you can use to make your own cleaning supplies:
Homemade Baking Soda Tub Scrub (scroll down to the first item on the list)
Homemade Baking Soda and Vinegar Drain Cleaner (scroll to about the halfway mark, you could also use this recipe to simulate a volcanic eruption)
Homemade Toilet Bowl Cleaners (three different recipes, depending on the level of disgusting your toilet has reached)
And don’t worry, you can just whip these up when you need them, taking only a minute away from your precious cleaning time!
Eat Less Meat
I already went into the impacts of food waste above, but what about food production? You may have heard that meat is the most environmentally taxing food item, but what exactly does that mean? (And since I live in the province of the “I Heart Alberta Beef” sticker, I realize this topic is enough to get me shot in some circles. Just hear me out first and shoot me later, nmmmkay?)
And though it’s hard to make an accurate estimate as to how much meat production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, some have stated it’s about 18% (a number which has been called both way too high and way too low, depending on whom you ask).
Worldwide meat consumption is also unequally distributed, with Americans eating an average of 270 pounds of meat a year and residents of Bangladesh eating 4 pounds.
Let’s be more like Bangladeshis and eat less meat. I’m not talking about becoming a vegetarian here (but if you think you can do it or would like to – go for it!). I myself am not a vegetarian, though I have tried before. (UPDATE: I started eating a vegetarian/mostly vegan diet in January 2017!) The difficulty I had was that if the people in your life are meat-eaters it can be incredibly hard to avoid it entirely. So my solution to that problem has been not to banish meat, but to instead reduce mine and my family’s consumption of it.
I don’t cook with red meat ever and I only buy two small chicken breasts a week, which I then divide up into four small portions – each portion being a part of one meal. Thus, you can still have chicken in your strifry, just a really small amount. And who needs a lot of chicken in your stirfry anyway when there are so many amazing veggies to be had!
Over time, I also have conditioned myself to like the heartiest meat substitute there is – beans. Let me tell you, I hated beans as a kid. When my mom made chilli, I spent the majority of meal time picking out all the kidney beans before I’d even take a bite. And while kidney beans still are not my favourite, I do eat on a very regular basis things such as black beans (go awesome with fajitas), garbanzo beans (so good both warm in a pasta dish or cold in a salad) and red lentils (which are technically a legume and are full of protein goodness).
If the whole “eat less meat” movement intrigues you, but you aren’t sure how far you can take it, you could start with Meatless Mondays, which – as the name suggests – means you cook one meatless meal a week.
I mean, we’re talking about saving the planet here – I think you can forgo your steak tartare for one night.
Of course, there are so many other ways to save our mother earth. Is there anything you already do on a daily basis that’s environmentally forward-thinking? Did you make any other resolutions for the New Year? To try steak tartare, perhaps? Please don’t. Just… don’t. Instead, consider making “commenting more on Of Houses and Trees” one of them!
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Posted on January 10, 2016
Former architectural technologist. Current treehugger.
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