1. Stop buying plastic water bottles and use stainless steels bottles filled with filtered tap water instead.
Maybe I'm way behind on this, but only within the last year or so have I discovered that most of the bottled water we drink is actually just bottled tap water from various cities around the country. If you look at the "source" label on the back of most water bottles, you'll actually see that it comes from some municipality - there is nothing that distinguishes most water from whatever you'd get from your tap anyway. Here are some frightening facts from thewaterproject.org:
• Bottles used to package water take over 1,000 years to bio-degrade and if incinerated, they produce toxic fumes. It is estimated that over 80% of all single-use water bottles used in the U.S. simply become 'litter.'
• Recycling is only feasible in limited circumstances because only PET bottles can be recycled. All other bottles are discarded. Only 1 out of bottles are sent to the recycle bin.
• U.S. landfills are overflowing with 2 million tons of discarded water bottles alone
• It takes over 1.5 million barrels of oil to meet the demand of U.S. water bottle manufacturing.
• It is estimated that actually 3 liters of water is used to package 1 liter of bottled water.
So my plan is to get a "six-pack" of stainless steel bottles and use a Brita pitcher. As much as possible, I plan on "pre-packaging" my water before I go on long trips and then just filling up along the way from (gasp!) the tap. A person could also get a Thermos-style water jug and take that - which is okay, as long as you use it over and over again. Both the stainless steel and Thermos-style jugs keep water cold and are a great alternative. If you think about this from an economics standpoint, when you buy bottled water, you are really throwing your money away because you're paying at least double for tap water!
2. Don't drive one day a week.
This step is a little challenging because no matter how hard you try some days not to drive, there is always something that comes up. My plan is to launch "Two-Foot Tuesdays," which means that on Tuesdays if I have to leave the house, I will do my best to walk wherever I go (difficult because I live at least a mile out of town, BUT it's potentially good for my health and fitness plan). If I HAVE to drive somewhere, then I want to make that trip as short as possible and perhaps trade-in no driving for another day. Often, for me, if I'm not playing a show, this day is Sunday. I do enough driving when I'm on tour, staying home every now and then is a good thing.
According to an article on washingtonpost.com: "Leaving your car at home just two days a week can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by an average of two tons annually."
If you could save two tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, think about how much money you'd save in gas itself by not driving just one day a week? Other options for not driving would be to ride a bike or carpool one day a week. Every little bit helps.
3. Grow a garden.
Growing up, my mother always grew an enormous patch of various vegetables in our yard and one of my fondest memories of summer is sitting out in it eating sugar snap peas straight off the vine. One of the greatest advantages to being in Iowa again is the opportunity to dig in our black dirt and make something grow. I’m going to take every advantage I can of it this summer!
Gardens are GREAT on so many levels. Here's just a few of the advantages of growing a garden
• Growing your own vegetables saves money at the grocery store (you can freeze and can extras at harvest-time and, as singer-songwriter Greg Brown says, "Taste a little of the summer" in the dead of winter)
• Most store-bought produce travels thousands of miles in packaged in cardboard and plastic - growing your own garden potentially reduces carbon emissions and waste from packaging
• When you grow your own garden YOU control the amount of pesticides and chemicals that the produce contains
• Gardening is an EXCELLENT form of exercise and great mental therapy
This one is kind of a no-brainer, but I often find myself randomly throwing stuff into garbage cans at gas stations when I’m traveling with little thought of where this
“stuff” is going once it is collected by the trash man. Obviously, not buying plastic bottles will help, but so will buying items with less packaging. If you’re not recycling these days, I’m sorry but you somehow managed to miss entering the twenty-first century.
5. Pick up litter
Yes, folks. Once a month, I plan on donning a pair of plastic gloves, grabbing a garbage bag and doing some outdoor “cleaning.” It appalls me as I take my little country walks, that there are still people ignorant and lazy enough to throw their trash out the window. If you are littering - STOP IT. You might have a “Smart” phone, but you are an idiot! Here are some disturbing statistics about littering from www.litteritcostsyou.org:
• 9 billion tons of litter ends up in the ocean every year
• $11.5 billion is spent every year to clean up litter (mostly by the government - i.e. YOUR tax dollars)
• The most common object found during litter clean-up is fast food litter. (no comment)
If someone you know is a litter bug, use this video to remind them that littering is bad: Litterbug Litterbug Shame On You
6. Buy thrifted clothes OR buy high-quality clothes. Donate them back.
(Note: this step probably does not apply to men because you tend to wear the same thing OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER again until it is in
shreds or SO OLD it is stylish again)
I have been a thrifter for most of my adult life - mostly because I LOVE vintage clothes and the thrill of the search. I’ve also had excellent luck scoring really high-quality designer clothing at thrift stores for little next to nothing and these high-quality items have lasted a long, long time. You might think when you are buying “knock-off” fashion - cheaply made clothing that emulates designers top looks (from places like H&M, Target, Forever 21), you are making an impact, but really all you are doing is contributing to a global problem. Even though I don’t have a high clothing budget and I LOVE variety in my wardrobe, I am working really hard this year to only buy new clothes that I know are well-made - otherwise they have to come from the thrift store. When I’m done with them, I don’t throw them away unless they are not wearable - I take them back to the thrift store to be “recycled.” Even the unwearable clothes I recycle by using them for rags. Here’s some scary data about the damages “cheap fashion” causes (from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov “Waste Couture Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry):
- “The manufacture of polyester and other synthetic fabrics is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil and releasing emissions including volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride, all of which can cause or aggravate respiratory disease.”
- Much of the cotton grown in the U.S. is exported to China where it is milled, woven into fabrics, cut, and assembled according to the fashion industry’s specifications. Workers receive between twelve and eighteen cents an hour in poor working conditions. These articles are then shipped across the ocean, back to the U.S. for sale. That’s a HUGE carbon footprint.
- “According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year, and clothing and other textiles represent about 4% of the municipal solid waste. But this figure is rapidly growing.”
CHOOSE QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
7. USE GREY WATER
In addition to my vegetable garden this summer, I plan on having a little kitchen herb garden. If I collect the water I use from washing dishes - i.e. the “grey” water - I can use this for the herb garden and other plants. It is better than wasting good “fresh” water, especially when you think of droughts happening in places like California. Again, every bit helps.
8. Use non-chemical cleaners and personal products.
There are a lot more options in this area than there used to be and one really great thing about using the non-chemical cleaners and personal products is that most often they’re locally made by individuals. Vendors at farmers’ markets often sell items like handmade soaps, facial cleansers and even laundry detergents. Not only are you not dousing yourself in a chemical bath when you use them, but you are supporting your local economy when you buy them. If you can’t find non-chemical items for purchase, there are lots of websites devoted to the topic with “recipes” for cleaners and personal products you can make yourself. Vinegar and baking soda, for example is a great cleaning agent; and, one of my favorite facial “masks” is just a combination of honey and avocado!
9. Plant a tree.
Perhaps CleanAirGardening.com says it best: “Trees are like the lungs of the planet. They breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. Additionally, they provide habitat for birds and other wildlife.” Other advantages of trees are that they help reduce runoff and soil erosion, the shade the provide lowers house temperatures in the summer (according to the Arbor Day Foundation shade provided by just one tree is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners running 20 hours a day!) Trees also can reduce noise pollution by absorbing sound. My plan is to plant one tree this summer. According to RedBeacon.com the average total cost of planting a tree is $164 and the average price goes down with each tree you plant. It seems like a lot of money, yes, but I’m sure I have blown that much on a monthly electric bill running the air conditioner a time or two!
As much as possible, I’m going to try to “unplug” from all of the technology that bombards me every day! This literally means unplugging things when I’m not using
them, but also just not using them. I personally find it refreshing to work by natural light during the day and not turn on the television (sometimes for days at a time). Getting away from the computer and my phone also helps me focus on the outside world - practicing my instruments, writing things by hand, going for walks, doing yard work, and making handcrafted items. There is a great amount of joy to be had from doing things by hand - such as chopping food or sweeping a floor, as opposed to “saving time” by having some gadget doing it. Humans were made to move and to toil to some degree - doing “work” is good for us! Of course, like most of the other items on this list, there is an economic advantage to making some changes. www.dailyfinance.com says that 5 to 10 % of your residential energy costs are spent on devices that are plugged in 24-hours a day. Some good things to unplug include coffeemakers, lamps, toasters, televisions you don’t use every day. Some items, like cable boxes and computers are harder to unplug - putting these on a power strip can ease the hassle of plugging and unplugging.
Well, there you have it, my ten steps to save the planet! Obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done! I’m going to don my 100% organic cotton cape, put on my recycled plastic tennis shoes, grab my stainless steel bottle and get to work as a new Eco SuperHero! How about you? What steps will you take to save the planet as we approach Earth Day?