Millions of people will recognize the 41st anniversary of Earth Day this year. Some will pick up trash beside a riverbed or highway. Some will plant trees. Some will eat an organic meal. Some will remember to use their canvas shopping bags. A few folks might even swear off disposable plastic water bottles.
These are lovely gestures, but frankly, they’re not enough. If people really want to make more of an impact protecting the planet for Earth Day (and the rest of the year), they have to start leaving less of an impact. Our human habits of consumption are destroying the planet more than our grand gestures are helping it. In the last hundred years people, particularly Americans, have destroyed more habitat and decimated more natural resources in their quest for bigger, better, more comfortable and more luxurious. Our living space has tripled, our driving habits have grown exponentially, we burn more fuel for electricity and heat. For every “green space” we’ve planted, we’ve paved many more acres over with roads and strip malls and subdivisions. Our food is processed with chemicals in factories, wrapped in plastic, packaged in boxes, shipped across hundreds of miles, and carried home in plastic bags. Our air, soil and water is full of manufactured chemicals that leech poisons into fish, wildlife, birds and ourselves. Our climate is changing, our shores are shifting, creatures of all species are dying.
Depressing stuff, really. It’s easy to make ourselves feel good by planting a tree or saying “No, thanks” to the cashier offering us a free plastic bag for our purchases. Enviro Girl challenges readers to raise the stakes this Earth Day–for April 22 and for the rest of their lives. It’s a tough challenge, not for the fainthearted or weak. She can sum it up in four words: Use less, buy less.
Let’s break it down, starting with “Use less.” Pick any area of your consumption habits–water use, energy use, food or plastic. (The Earth Day Network Website has a footprint calculator to get you started.) Determine how much you gobble up in a week’s time and then commit to reducing that amount. Perhaps you can reduce your water use in your garden by employing rainbarrels or installing new shower heads. Maybe you can cut some plastic out of your life by opting out of single-use plastics like to-go cartons, straws, shopping bags, Happy Meal toys and individually packaged servings of food. Maybe you can install better insulation, screw in different lightbulbs or turn down your home thermostat to conserve energy. These adjustments will help the planet exponentially over the long haul and will ultimately save YOU money, too.
“Buy less” also saves money, but it requires a shift away from a consumer-based mentality that gets foisted on us everywhere we turn. Enviro Girl suggests this trick: for a single month buy only consumable items. Steer away from the new towels, the spring home decor, new clothes, new gadgets. Purchase only food and toiletries. Enviro Girl did this and was floored by the money she saved every month. Years ago she called Target “The $100 Store” because she simply could NOT walk out of there spending less than that amount. Now she routinely spends less than that amount because she’s curbed her impulse buying by sticking only to the necessary aisles to purchase her family’s toothpaste, toilet paper and deodorant. It’s become her habit to ignore the home goods and clothing departments and head directly for the dish soap and mosquito repellent. For gift-giving she tries to buy people experiences or consumable goods like nice chocolates or plants. When something breaks or wears out (as all things eventually do), she replaces it only if she needs it. Her household has adopted an “equal mass in, equal mass out” philosophy and it has simplified her family’s life. They believe the human experience should be more about what we DO and who we ARE, not what we OWN.
“Use less, buy less.” Enviro Girl challenges you to consider participating in this year’s Earth Day Challenge. To further celebrate this week before Earth Day, the Eco Women are giving away a 4-pack of wool dryer balls (homemade!), a Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Kitchen Basics Set (consumable) and two Envirosax shopping bags (designed to reduce your consumption). Each comment telling the Eco Women how you plan to celebrate Earth Day this year is an entry to win–we’ll announce the lucky winner next Monday!