It's Earth Day, which seems like a great time to remind everyone to try just a little bit harder to reduce their carbon footprint and treat our planet with the respect it deserves. From plastic islands in the ocean to greenhouse gasses, humans have created a lot of problems -- but we can also work together to find solutions. Imagine if every single person who read this article were able to do even four of the things listed here, we’d each be able to reduce our carbon footprints by roughly 20%.
You've seen this all over social media. So why haven't you stepped up yet? Plastic waste is destroying our oceans, so think of that the next time you stick a straw into your favorite beverage and then toss it in the trash. Ever seen those photos and videos of the plastic “islands” in the sea? You don’t want to contribute to that. You can buy reusable straws from a number of retailers, whether it’s a variety pack of Bubba Big silicone straws from Amazon, pictured above, or a straw and lid set for your Yeti 20 oz rambler, which is my mug of choice.
BYOB (bring your own bottle).
On the subject of reusable mugs, always remember to bring your own water bottle(s) too. I have four different Nalgenes that I rotate around on trips, and I ALWAYS bring one when I fly. In the event that I must buy a bottle of water, I go for SmartWater, because I save these bottles and re-use them on backpacking trips, as my Sawyer Squeeze filter fits perfectly on top of them. Whether it's tracking down a water fountain at the airport or asking the barista at a local coffee shop to fill up your Nalgene during a road trip pit stop, this will put a serious dent in the amount of plastic water bottles you use each year.
Ditch the plastic wrap.
Again, plastic is a huge problem, and anything you can do to reduce your consumption of it is a step in the right direction. Plastic wraps and ziplock bags aren’t eco-friendly, but how else are you supposed to keep certain foods fresh? Honey bees! Bee’s Wrap makes reusable, compostable food storage wraps from organic cotton, beeswax, organic jojoba oil and tree resin, which you can wash with warm, soapy water, dry, fold up, and reuse until you’re ready to toss them in your compost bin. And if you're not sold on that, the cute patterns will certainly hook you.
Read the label on your bathroom and beauty products.
Some exfoliating scrubs contain sea salt, sugar and even small pieces of apricot, all of which are natural ingredients that will eventually break down. Exfoliating scrubs (and toothpastes and cleansers…) with plastic microbeads? Not so much. Microbeads end up in the ocean, where they can be ingested by marine wildlife, with devastating results. Many of these products have been banned over the last few years in countries like the United States and the U.K., but you can still buy cosmetics with microbeads in other parts of the world, so always double check your labels.
Eat less (factory farmed) meat.
In particular, try to avoid beef and lamb, as cows and sheep emit large quantities of methane, which is among the worst of greenhouse gasses, thus making it a major player in global warming. If you do consume meat, make sure you buy organic and buy local, as that leaves less of an impact on the planet.
Bring your own grocery bags.
A lot of people do this already, but I still see far too many folks leaving the store with paper bags, or worse yet, plastic. If you re-use them once or twice, you’re still throwing them out at some point…and where do you think they end up? Why not get a reusable bag that can be reused for years? Keep them in your car so you won’t forget, and you’ll never need grocery bags again. I have a few tattered reusable bags from National Parks and other random spots, but if you're interested in something a bit more aesthetically pleasing, BAGGU’s nylon bag, pictured above, is just $10 and holds 50 pounds of whatever is in your grocery cart.
Really make an effort to recycle.
This goes beyond taking out the recycle bin every week for collection. How many times have you crumpled up a piece of paper and thrown it in the trash, rather than finding a recycle bin? Or how many times per year do you toss out a plastic cup at a gas station because you simply wanted to get rid of it? Just be mindful of every little thing you use — and where it goes when you’re done.
Line dry your clothes.
Did you know that drying your clothes uses 5 times more energy than washing them? And that the average dryer load is the same as turning on 225 light bulbs for just one hour?! Getting rid of a dryer isn’t an option for everyone, especially for larger items like sheets and towels, but simply making the commitment to hang dry your clothes from here on out could make a sizable difference. Hangers work, as do drying racks, like the one pictured above.
Buy fewer clothes.
Not only will this make organizing your closet easier, but you’re actually doing the planet a favor too. Do you really NEED 15 pairs of jeans? And every time your favorite store comes out with new clothes for the spring or back to school, cut back on what you’d normally purchase and instead, invest in classics that last more than a few seasons. You see, quite a bit of clothing ends up in landfill, and on top of that, the more clothing that’s purchased means more chemicals being pumped into the environment to make them, which is just as bad.
Most people whine about how they can’t compost, because it’s not something their local recycling/trash collectors pick up and it's "smelly." That's a pretty garbage excuse if you ask me. Kitchen scraps and other compostable material can go in a bin like the one pictured above, and you can create a small garden in your backyard if you have space...or simply find the nearest location for collection or drop off. If you don't have a regular collection, freezing your compost works until you can find the time to unload it somewhere. Big bonus points if you get a friend or relative to do this.
Avoid driving and air travel when possible.
There are plenty of times where you simply cannot get around driving somewhere -- or flying. As a travel photographer without a permanent residence, this is something I really struggle with, and I feel like a hypocrite for even listing it here. But, I'm going to, because this might be more relevant for someone else, who works a 9-5 and has access to public transit or city bikes. If you don’t need to take your car and it’s possible to walk or bike, do it. If you travel for work and must fly, it's hard to get around that, but by taking other measures to reduce your carbon footprint, you can still make a difference.
*My article was first published on Tastemade's Snapchat channel on Earth Day, but I wanted to share it here, so it could have a more permanent home.