I consider myself environmentally conscious. I eat mostly plant based, I recycle, I use a reusable water bottle. I took a test to determine my environmental impact on the Global Footprint Network website, and if everyone lived my lifestyle, 2.3 Earths would be needed to sustain the population’s energy needs.
According to the website, the number of Earths needed if everyone lived like the average American is 5.0 and the overall biocapacity of the United States is much less than our collective footprint.
Glaciers and polar ice are melting at rates 2 to 3 times higher than they previously have. Rates of human-driven animal and plant extinctions are hundreds of times higher than they have been historically. The coral reefs are disappearing. There is a mass of plastic waste twice the size of Texas floating on the Pacific Ocean, called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”
Humans did this. Humans, as far as we know, are the smartest creatures on Earth, and this has enabled us to create many amazing things, and yet many horrible things, unfortunately often at the expense of the Earth that sustains us. If we want to have an Earth to continue to live on, we need to take action to help sustain her as well.
While the consequences of human-influenced environmental impacts cannot be reversed overnight, there are many easy things you can do at home to show you care about Earth and her health. You are likely aware of the push to reduce, reuse and recycle, but another “r” has recently been added to the list: rebuy. That means purchasing items that have been made from recycled or partially recycled materials.
When it comes to recycling, the rules can be very confusing, and it is often easier to throw materials away rather than research whether an item is recyclable. According to a study, in 2015, only nine percent of waste from plastic was recycled. Help raise this number, not lower it. Recycle.
If you are unsure of whether an item is recyclable, look on the lid or bottom of the container/item. “Recyclable plastic usually comes with a little recycling symbol printed on the bottom and depending on the product, there might be a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 stamped in the center of the symbol,” according to lifestyle brand Green Matters.
Items labelled with a “1” or “2” are recyclable in most cities, whereas those with higher numbers may or may not be available depending on the city’s resources. Colorado Springs is fairly environmentally conscious, but wherever you go, this is a great website that explains exactly what is recyclable in your city. It also provides recycling station locations in your area for different products.
Recycling at UCCS is convenient and easy as there are recycling options next to almost every trash can on campus.
Reusing is also an easy and cost-effective way to reduce waste. I know many people who purchase bottled water because it supposedly tastes better. This is ironic because “25 percent of bottled water is sourced from…the tap,” reported mindbodygreen (MBG). Bottled water is also less regulated than most city water, so it is more likely to be contaminated with toxins.
Purchasing reusable water bottles and food containers saves waste and can help you save money. While plastic containers are often recyclable, even ones labeled BPA-free can contaminate food with toxins, according to an article by Epicurous, a brand that focuses on food and cooking issues.
Glass containers can last indefinitely, and glass is 100 percent recyclable. Plus, because glass is nonporous, you do not have to worry about your food containers being stained forever after storing spaghetti in them once or wonder if your Tupperware will magically change shape after running it through the dishwasher.
Diet choices also make a huge difference when it comes to loving the Earth. See my article on plant-based diets for more details about this, but per that article, “The production of red meats…produces 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as vegetables and grains… Their waste produces about 20 percent of methane emissions—a greenhouse gas—in the U.S.”
Lowering meat consumption, especially red meats, and consuming locally-grown foods that have not been pre-packaged makes a significant difference.
Also, shop smart. Try to use all your food before purchasing more. According to the Earth Overshoot Day website, one-third of food produced for human consumption goes to waste. Go through your fridge prior to shopping to ensure you do not purchase food you already have that may have been hiding in the back of your fridge (sorry, lettuce).
To lower energy use in your home, let the natural light do its thing and only turn on artificial lights when necessary. Also, if it is cold, try putting on a sweatshirt and warm socks before turning up the thermostat. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, turning the thermostat down 7-10 degrees for 10 hours a day reduces your energy bill by about 10 percent. However, do not go lower than 55 degrees, as pipes may begin to freeze below that temperature.
Keep blinds and curtains closed in the winter to help insulate buildings naturally. In the summer, close blinds that are in direct sunlight and open blinds that are facing away from the sunlight to naturally keep the building cooler.
Turn off the water when brushing your teeth. Do not let the water constantly run when doing the dishes. Carpool. Work from home a few days a week to reduce fossil fuel usage (bonus points because it also helps prevent the spread of COVID-19).
For students living at UCCS, there is a “Residence Life Real-time Energy Dashboard” you can download to help track your energy use. Visit this link to learn more and to see how you can become more involved in green practices on campus.
There are many things you can easily do from home that you may not even notice but that will be very noticeable to Earth. Learn what your personal global footprint is here and check out the specific recommendations the website suggest for you to lower your environmental impact.