Discarded garbage is always all around me, all the time, everyday; swirling, clawing, clinging to my feet, sometimes in big enough piles that I see people kick through it like little snow drifts…and that is just the trash I encounter on my commute through the streets of Manhattan.
Growing up in Cheyenne, I was taught that the natural environment is to be treated only with love, care and respect. I was taught that when I spend time outdoors in the prairie and surrounding mountains, I leave no trace. And when possible, I leave the wilderness even better than I found it; which often means cleaning up others’ messes.
Through all of these lessons, I was learning environmental stewardship (and finding the motivating spark for much of the work I do now with environmental sustainability consulting). Why we care, why we mind the little details about where to walk, what to carry, how to harmlessly move through ecosystems, seemed simple to me back then. Politicizing why we should care about the environment, and the related partisan posturing, has succeeded in making environmental issues feel convoluted. But why we care, on a worldy, national and state level is still just as simple to me now as it was back then: Wyoming is our home, a home unlike anywhere else, and we must ensure it is just as amazing a home forever on.
One of my favorite parts of working on greening projects for music industry clients is when one of the wide array of individuals I work with- from artists to executives, from fans to part-time concessionaires- who have seen the positive impact they help us make at their place of work or leisure, are compelled to ask me about “home”. Specifically, they ask what someone can do to be more sustainable in their own home...
In celebration of Earth Day, I compiled 5 simple strategies- related to us and our stuff- that help reduce an individual’s environmental footprint. I share these tips in hopes that every one of us cowpokes are informed and working toward setting the stately standard for leaving less of a trace.
1. Reduce, reuse, recycle
Let’s throw it back to a phrase that emerged in the 1970’s and matters (even more) today...Consider this: For every individual bin of garage a person wheels to the curb, it takes at least seventy garbage bins worth of waste to create the items in the single bin being thrown away. So before you purchase new, ask these questions:
- REDUCE- What are the alternatives? Can I buy a comparable item gently used? Can I reduce packaging and shipping waste (by buying local)?
- REUSE- Which items can I resell when I upgrade? Is there a version of this product labeled “post-consumer”?
- RECYCLE- Do I have a plan in place for responsibly recycling my waste?
(Heads up- Goodwill Industries is one place that will accept and responsibly recycle your electronic items.)
2. Ditch the disposables
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Here are a few simple ways to reduce your plastic waste footprint:
- Forgo the plastic straws and plastic flatware when you dine out. As an alternative, steel straws and reusable bamboo or steel cutlery sets come in easily packable cases and are widely available for purchase.
- Stash a couple reusable shopping bags in your car so you are always prepared for shopping trips.
- Also in the car, or in your backpack, leave a reusable steel water bottle. If you choose, stash one at work, and one at home in the fridge, and you will be set-up to fully eliminate single-use plastic water bottles from your day.
3. Practice water wiseness
Now that you have eliminated your need for single-use water bottles, let’s talk about other ways to be water wise. It’s time to get around to fixing leaky pipes and that running toilet. When it’s time to upgrade, choose low-flow, less-water appliances. You can also install sink aerators and take shorter showers- simple solutions whether you rent or own. And when it’s time for work outdoors, consider xeriscaping solutions for your yard- techniques which uses native, drought-resistant plants and requires less water and maintenance over time. Not only will these strategies help save water, they will also help save you money.
4. Do a little homework
Why stop with just water when there is more energy (and more money) to be saved by doing a little more work at home… Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). When it’s time to dry, consider hanging clothes rather than using the dryer, and if tea sounds good while you wait- use an electric teakettle rather than a stovetop one for heating water. Programmable thermostats, energy-saving windows and an insulation audit are ways to improve the energy efficiency of your home or rental. Before taking on the aforementioned home projects, call your energy provider- many states now offer advisement and incentives to help you green your residence at little to no cost.
5. Focus on fair trade and organics
Look for a Fair Trade certification label on everyday items you purchase. This certification ensures that imported products- like chocolate, cocoa, coffee, tea, sugar and fruit- are grown using sustainable agriculture methods, and the laborers receive fair wages for their goods and services. Choosing organic options whenever possible will ensure that you and your family are not exposed to harmful pesticides, In turn, purchasing organic options means that farmworkers, wildlife, our land and water are protected from these pesticides too. While organic options can often be a bit more expensive, consider this- organic options are fresher (they contain less preservatives), contain no GMOs (genetically modified organisms), some organic items (like meat and milk) are richer in certain nutrients, and organically raised animals are not given antibiotics, growth hormones or are fed animal byproducts.
If you are interested in learning more about the above strategies and would like additional resources about the purpose behind each of these recommendations, please reach out!