Happy Earth Day! How are you celebrating?
Sustainability is important to my family. We are very appreciative of the ways that Mother Earth supports us, and we try to make decisions that will have a positive impact on the planet. Our home is heated entirely from wood off-cuts, created when my partner mills wood. The woodstove also heats our water. I’ve discovered one way to get teenagers to conserve and take shorter showers is to make them cut logs, carry the wood indoors, and tend the stove! While not everyone can change their home heating system to avoid using fossil fuels, there are some small ways we can make a difference each day. Here are just a few ideas to get you started.
1. Make a weekly meal plan
Lockdown helped me to get back into the habit of making meal plans. When I know what I’m cooking for the week, it makes it easier to write my shopping list. It’s also a good idea to check what you have in the cupboards and refrigerator to help you choose what meals to serve. Not only does being organised help to avoid food waste, it is also better for budgeting.
2. Eat only plant based food a couple of times a week
Of our six “children” (two of the boys are technically men now), three have given up eating meat. My oldest is a vegan. Two of the younger four are vegetarians. Let me tell you, Christmas dinners have become an extra challenge trying to accommodate everyone! I’m not a vegetarian anymore, but I’ve reduced my meat intake since my daughter became one. Adding a Meatless Monday to your diet is a good place to start if you’d also like to cut back.
Wondering why meat is so bad?
The agriculture sector is one of the world’s biggest sources of climate-altering gases, the vast majority of which come from meat and dairy production. If cows were their own country, they would be the third-biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
Farming also requires huge amounts of land. Forests, wetlands and savannas are carbon sinks: They absorb and store carbon. But when these ecosystems are chopped down to make way for farms, that land turns into a carbon source.Read More: Are My Hamburgers Hurting the Planet? by Sarah Kaplan
4. Shop locally
Whether you shop at a farmers market or in the grocery store, buying food that was grown locally (and in season) helps the environment. Food miles add up when your produce is shipped around the world. Not only is more energy used, but more packaging may be required to keep the food fresh. Learn more reasons why shopping locally is beneficial by clicking here.
8. Bring a reusable bag or basket grocery shopping
This is an easy habit to change. Simply leave a cotton tote or reusable shopping bags in your car to help cut down on using plastic at the checkout counter.
5. Walk, cycle or choose public transport
If you’re able bodied and going on a short journey, choose to walk or cycle. If you live in a city, opt for public transport for longer trips. In rural areas it’s possible to share lifts on car journeys (at least it was pre Covid-19). Consider a staycation rather than taking a plane to a foreign destination.
2. Listen to an environmental podcast or watch a documentary
Becoming informed is important because it can provide motivation to enact change. Why not listen to an inspiring podcast such as What Planet Are We On? with Liz Bonnin. Experts offer practical tips and solutions to help combat climate change.
Prefer to watch a documentary instead? Check out National Geographic’s recommendations for Eight New Environmental Documentaries to Watch on Earth Day 2021. We plan to watch Seaspiracy this evening. Many friends have raved about it over the last month.
7. Make it, mend it and recycle clothes
Slow fashion is satisfying. Knitting or sewing clothes can be a fun creative hobby. It also means you’ll have your own unique style. Try to find ethical yarn sources and support local small businesses.
If you choose to buy store bought clothes, wearing them longer will help reduce fiber waste. Patching holes or darning socks is a lost art but one that can easily be reclaimed. Upcycling has also become trendy. There are ways of re-purposing old clothes to create something new and fabulous. Check out Pinterest for ideas. Learn how to make felted lined mittens out of old sweaters. Once you start browsing, you’re bound to become inspired by one of the projects!
When you’ve decided to part with your clothes, donating them to a charity shop is a great way to make sure they’ll be worn again. Buying secondhand clothes is a smart way of recycling and may also benefit a charity such as St. Vincent de Paul. You might also consider organizing a clothes swap with friends when Covid-19 is no longer such a threat.
Further reading: Vogue’s The Future of Fashion is Circular: Why the 2020s Will Be About Making New Clothes Out of Old Ones
2. Hang clothes out to dry
I’m guilty of using the tumble dryer, especially during the winter. Did you know that running one tumble dryer cycle uses as much energy as leaving on 225 light bulbs for an hour? If we all air dried our clothes, it could make a huge difference. In the UK alone, more than a million tonnes of CO2 a year could be saved by making the switch from using a tumble dryer. I’m definitely going to dry as much as possible in the conservatory and possibly add a clothesline outside!
For further reading check out How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint by Harriet Dyer.
9. Let the grass grow
At this time of year many insects, including bees and butterflies, need nectar which can be provided by wildflowers. By allowing your grass to grow and temporarily rewilding your lawn, common weeds such as dandelions will provide sustenance for wildlife. Last year I was amazed by how many daisies grew in our yard.
This is one of the easiest ways to make a difference as it literally requires nothing from you. I live next door to someone who uses weed killer and has an immaculate lawn. I’m willing to endure disapproving looks from my neighbors while we participate in Plantlife’s No Mow May each year. Honestly it’s a small price to pay to help pollinators. Join the movement and read about why Every Flower Counts.
10. Plant something
Maybe you’d like to plant a tree or start an organic garden. Digging in the earth is a great way to remember all that she provides. Growing your own food is especially rewarding. You can grow fruit or vegetables in containers in even the smallest town terrace. My friend has a beautiful roof garden in downtown Cincinnati, a quintessentially urban environment. Whatever your circumstances, I encourage you to plant something and take pleasure in watching it grow.
We are late planting this year as spring in West Cork has been unusually cold. I scattered wildflower seeds outdoors in mid-March, but none of them sprouted. Yesterday was warm and sunny so we planted a mix of sunflowers, cosmos, and a variety of wildflower seeds that are perfect for pollinators. I’ll keep the trays in the conservatory for now and hope we have better results. We have lettuces and sweetpeas hardening off outside. Soon we’ll sow vegetable seeds in the raised beds. Christy has already planted potatoes on his land. I’m undecided about buying a polytunnel as my garden in town isn’t huge. Slowly, slowly we’re all getting into gardening gear…
Hopefully some of these ideas will resonate with you. I’d also recommend spending time in nature as much as possible. If you’re in a city, take some time to enjoy local parks and green spaces. Not only does connecting with nature make us feel better, it also helps motivate us as caretakers of the Earth. By making small changes together, we can make a big difference to the future of our planet!