We live on an amazing planet. It’s the only planet in our entire galaxy that can support life, and it’s home to an estimated 8.7 million different species.
What makes Earth so special? Scientist credit many unique features, including:
- Our planet is just the right distance from our star, the Sun. We live in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone”. If we were any closer to the Sun, the planet would be too hot to sustain life. Any farther away, the Earth would be too cold.
- 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, a molecule essential for life. The Earth is unique among the planets of our solar system because it contains liquid water, and just the right amount. Geoffrey Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, says, “ The Earth is remarkable for its precisely-tuned amount of water, not too much to cover the mountains, and not so little that it’s a dry desert, as are Mars and Venus, our ‘sister’ planets.”
- The Earth is surrounded by an atmosphere 300 miles thick that blocks the Sun’s dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays, and traps heat, keeping our planet a comfortable temperature for life.
- The molten iron core at the center of our planet produces a magnetic field that surrounds the Earth. This field acts as a shield and protects us from space debris and from harmful solar radiation. (It’s also responsible for the Northern Lights).
- The Earth travels at 67,000 miles per hour and takes roughly 365 days to make one trip around the Sun. The planet’s 23 degree tilt on its axis as it travels around the Sun is what causes the seasons.
Because our planet is so unique and amazing, it’s important that we do our part to take care of it. After all, it’s the only planet we’ve got! No matter your worldview, we are stewards of the Earth and we should use our resources wisely and leave a healthy planet for our children and grandchildren.
I understand how easy it is to become overwhelmed by the many issues facing our environment. In fact, because there seems to be so much that needs our attention, it’s sometimes easier to do nothing at all. That’s why in this post, I’m going to share 50 ways you can start today to love your planet. The list is ranked by difficulty; the easiest ideas to implement are at the top while those that are a bit more challenging are towards the bottom.
- Clip your plastic rings. When you purchase sports drinks, sodas, or anything else that is held together by plastic rings, be sure to cut them before throwing them away. Otherwise, you run the risk of wildlife becoming ensnared in the rings.
- Turn off the sink while you’re brushing your teeth or shaving. The average faucet releases about three gallons of water a minute, so shut it off while you brush your teeth or shave. Not only will you conserve water, but you will lower your water bill!
- Turn off the lights or fans when you’re not in the room. Since studies have demonstrated that approximately 30% of a home’s energy usage comes from the lighting, flipping the switch when you leave a room can dramatically reduce the amount of energy you use.
- Reuse your pasta water. The next time you make pasta, instead of pouring the water down the sink, save and use it to water your plants (after it’s cooled down, of course).
- Opt for no plastic utensils with your take-out or delivery order. If you’re getting take-out or delivery to eat at home, more than likely you don’t need plastic utensils. When you place your order, take a second and let them know not to include plastic utensils.
- Water in the morning. If you water your plants, do it in the morning. This practice will limit the amount of water that is lost from your plants by evaporation. Consequently, you won’t need to water your plants as often.
- Don’t let your car idle. While you’re waiting in line at the pharmacy, bank, or in the school pick-up line, don’t let your car idle. Shut off your engine instead. Idling your car for any length of time burns more gas than it takes to restart your car.
- Switch to energy efficient light bulbs. You’ve got to change your light bulbs anyway. Why not swap them out for energy-efficient light bulbs? While the bulbs may cost a bit more at the store, they are reported to use at least 75% less energy than incandescent lighting and last longer too!
- Combine online orders. We’ve all grown accustomed to the ease of online shopping. With many online businesses offering free shipping, it can be easy to buy items as soon as they come to mind. However, every item comes with packaging (oftentimes more than necessary) and requires fuel to ship your items to your door. I’m not advocating giving up online shopping; I’m only suggesting that you wait until you have multiple items to purchase before completing your order. That way you can cut down on packaging and conserve fuel.
- Pick up litter. Litter is so commonplace anymore that it’s easy to become blind to it. During the winter when the trees were bare, it was easy to see the mounds of trash along every roadside. I was especially saddened to see that a squirrel had used a discarded plastic bag as part of its nest. The next time you’re out walking your pet or out for a stroll, consider bringing a bag and picking up some trash. Every little bit helps.
- Donate your unwanted clothes, toys, household supplies instead of throwing them away. Donating unwanted items couldn’t be simpler. There are many drive-through drop off locations for organizations such as Goodwill, Salvation Army, The Humane Society, and Habitat for Humanity. Often you just need to pull up and they will unload your items for you. In my area, donation services even come to your house to collect your items! Why let your unwanted items take up space in a landfill when other people could use them?
- Unplug your appliances when not in use. Did you know that appliances still use electricity while plugged in, even when not in use? Unplug your coffee maker, toaster, blow dryer, etc. when they’re not in use.
- Use a rain barrel. Why spend money to water your plants when you can get rainwater for free? Use a rain barrel to collect water, then use that water to water your plants or lawn when needed. You can buy a rain barrel or make your own. HGTV has some cute ideas for do-it-yourself rain barrels which can be found here.
- Don’t bag your grass when you mow. Some reports indicate that yard waste makes up 20% of the solid waste collected in the United States each year! Leave grass clippings in the yard after you mow. The grass will decompose and release nutrients (such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) back into the soil. This, in turn, can significantly reduce the amount of fertilizer you need to apply to your yard to keep it green and healthy. Oh, and while we’re at it, you shouldn’t rake your leaves either. Fallen leaves provide habitats for many creatures (including box turtles, chipmunks, and butterfly pupae) during the winter. They also release nutrients back to the soil as they decompose.
- Use a professional car wash service. I’ll admit that this one surprised me, but the more I looked into it, the more it makes sense. Since car wash services try to reduce costs in order to maximize profits, they have figured out how to wash cars with the minimum amount of water. Many also have water reclamation systems that allow the same water to be used over and over again. If everyone in the USA who washes their own cars used a car wash even once, it would save 8.7 billion gallons of water per year. Additionally, when you wash your car in your driveway, the soapy water ends up in the storm drains. From there, it is released into streams, rivers, and eventually, the ocean. Professional car washes empty their excess water into the sewer where it will be treated in a water treatment facility.
- Pre-plan your weekly menu before you grocery shop. Food is the largest component of American trash. In 2014, more than 38 million tons of food waste was generated and 31 percent of the available food supply went uneaten. When this food reaches landfills, it is decomposed by microorganisms, releasing methane gas. Not only is this incredibly smelly (as you know if you’ve ever driven past a dump), methane is also a greenhouse gas. We can reduce much of our food waste by being more mindful of the food we buy. By taking the time to plan your weekly menu before you shop, you can avoid buying foods that won’t get eaten.
- Bring your own bags to the store. I have been bringing my own reusable canvas bags to the grocery store for years. They hold much more per bag than plastic bags, meaning I can unload my groceries from the car in fewer trips. To encourage the use of reusable bags, stores in some states like Maine and California charge for each plastic bag they provide. Some grocery stores have even committed to phasing out their use of plastic grocery bags completely.
- If you do use plastic bags, recycle them. Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, you end up at a store without a reusable bag and have to accept a plastic one. Don’t despair! You can recycle that bag! Just be sure to do it the right way! Many grocery stores have plastic bag recycling bins just inside their doors. Not only will they accept your plastic grocery bags, (including produce bags) but they’ll also accept plastic dry-cleaning bags, food storage bags, plastic newspaper bags, product wrapping, bubble wrap, and bread bags.
- Commit to recycling. Did you know that it takes the same amount of energy to make twenty recycled cans as it does to make just one new one? If you aren’t recycling at home, there’s never been a better time to start. Curbside recycling pick-up is available in many locations. Even if curbside recycling isn’t available in your area, county-sponsored recycling collection receptacles are typically located in convenient locations.
To learn more about which items you can leave out for curbside pickup and how to dispose of those you can’t, go to earth911.com. Already a recycler at home? Fantastic! Why not start a recycling program at your work or school.
- Do errand batches. No one likes to do errands, me included. Rather than spacing them out through the week, why not get them all out of the way in one block of time? Not only will it save you time, it will also cut down on fuel costs.
- Use rechargable batteries. Did you know that batteries contain corrosive acid that is harmful to the environment? Why not opt for chargable batteries? Although they may cost a bit more than traditional batteries at the outset, over time they will save you money.
- Switch to environmentally-friendly laundry and dishwasher detergent. Most laundry and dishwasher detergents contain phosphates which have been shown to contribute to harmful algal blooms. These algal blooms lower oxygen levels in lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans, killing aquatic plants and fish. Instead, consider switching to one of the alternative detergents made with biodegradable, plant based products.
- Avoid products with extra packaging. When you have the option between buying similar products, opt for the one with less packaging.
- Use pressure cookers and microwaves whenever possible. Both cook faster than conventional ovens, cutting energy costs (and freeing up your time for other things).
- Ditch the phone book. I haven’t used a phone book in years, but the phone company hasn’t gotten the hint. Did you know that you can opt out of receiving phone books? Just go to yellowpagesoptout.com. It takes less than 2 minutes. (Just don’t forget to recycle any old ones you may have).
- Reduce your junk mail. Believe it or not, the average American citizen receives forty pounds of junk mail per year. To rid yourself of the nuisance (and save the paper from being wasted), you can register for services that reduce the amount of junk mail you receive. Catalog Choice allows you to choose which catalogs you want to get and which you don’t. DMA Choice helps you opt out of much of the junk mail you receive. While you may have to pay a small fee ($2), it is good for ten years. You can find more information here.
- Donate your old shoes. It seems you can recycle nearly everything, including those filthy, stinky shoes that are falling apart. Just look for collection bins near you. They will transform the rubber from the old shoes into new things like playground padding and equipment.
- Donate your old glasses. The Lions Club International collects old eyeglasses, readers, and sunglasses (both prescription and non-prescription). Club members clean and repair the glasses and distribute them to people who can’t afford their own. Donating is easy: you can either drop them in one of the club’s donation bins or mail them to the Lions Club International headquarters.
- Bring your own water bottle. Every year, 17 million barrels of oil are used to make disposable water bottles. 90% of them end up in landfills rather than being recycled. Commit to bringing your own reusable water bottle instead of using plastic.
- Bring your own reusable cup to get your caffeine fix. Think about how much coffee you drink at work, at church, or on the go. If each of those cups of coffee was served in a disposable cup, how many cups do you throw away? Why not bring your own reusable cup instead? Many companies (including Starbucks) offer discounts when you bring your own coffee cup.
- Run your dishwasher only when it is completely full. In my house, my dishwasher is always full so this isn’t an issue. Dishwashers use a lot of water to clean your dishes and a lot of energy to heat that water. Not only will waiting until you have a full load to run the dishwasher help the environment, it will save you money on your water and electric bills too. If you only have a few dishes to wash, consider washing by hand. Rather than washing dishes one at a time under the running water, it’s best to plug the sink and fill it one-quarter the way full with soapy water.
- Use reusable containers to store food instead of aluminum foil and cling wrap. Store your leftovers in reusable containers. These containers often come in a set, are easily stored, and conveniently stack in your pantry or refrigerator.
- Shop locally. Not only does shopping locally support local economies, it’s good for the environment.
- Buy second hand. Even though this idea is lower on the list, this is an easy one for me. Since I found thrift and consignment stores, it’s rare for me to buy anything new. Why would I pay full price for something when for the same amount of money I could score name-brand clothing items for every member of my family? Consignment shops in particular often have high standards for the items they will accept in their stores. Your dollar really goes a lot further when you buy things second-hand.
- Carpool when possible. If you and your friends are traveling to the same place, why not carpool? It saves money on gas, is good for the environment, and you’ll enjoy the ride more with friends.
- Recycle old cell phones. You may not realize it, but cell phones are made with precious metals that are hard to find. They also contain hazardous materials including lead, arsenic, and mercury. Unfortunately, only about 10% of the cell phones are recycled in the United States. For every one million cell phones recycled, 75 pounds of gold, 772 pounds of silver, 33 pounds of palladium, and 35,274 pounds of copper, and other elements (tin, zinc, and platinum) can be recovered. Many programs are available for recycling cell phones: some will pay for your old cell phone while others will donate to charity. Learn more here: 10 Places to Recycle Your Cell Phone.
- Recycle printer cartridges. Printer cartridges are both recyclable and reusable, so there’s really no reason to ever throw them away. Many programs exist that reward you for recycling your ink cartridges.
- Regularly maintain your vehicle. A well-maintained vehicle is more efficient, reducing pollution and saving you money.
- Opt for online banking and bill pay. Not only is online banking and bill paying quick and convenient, it also reduces paper waste.
- Mulch your gardens to reduce the amount of water they require. A layer of mulch in flower beds prevents evaporation and keeps plants hydrated longer.
- Recycle your car oil. Do you change your oil at home? If so, make sure you recycle the oil rather than tossing it in the trash. It contains harmful substances including lead, nickel, and cadmium which could leach into the ground water if disposed of improperly. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the oil from a single oil change could contaminate 1 million gallons of fresh water.
- Limit your use of plastics. Plastics are some of the most commonly littered items in the world. The very properties that make plastic so convenient—especially its durability and malleability—are the very things that make it so bad for the environment. Due to the chemical nature of plastic, it takes an extraordinarily long time to decompose. It has been estimated that it takes plastic bags (like the kind from the grocery stores) 10-1000 years to decompose, while it takes plastic bottles (like soda or water bottles) at least 450 years. Plastic decomposition isn’t complete, either. When plastic breaks down, it doesn’t break down completely. Instead, it disintegrates into tiny pieces called microplastics. When these microplastics make their way into water sources, they are ingested by wildlife. Microplastics have been recovered from inside many animals including birds, fish, and whales .
A 2015 study determined that there is 15-51 trillion pieces of microplastic in the world’s oceans, weighing between 93,000 to 236,000 metric tons. According to an article by the BBC, 9.1 billion tons of virgin plastic has been produced to date, generating 6.9 billion tons of plastic waster. Only 9% of that waste has been recycled and 12% has been incinerated. The remainder (6.9 billion tons) has accumulated in landfills (or worse, as litter). While recycling plastic is definitely a step in the right direction, ultimately limiting our use of plastic is the best course. Look for ways to avoid plastic when you can.
- Start a compost pile. So much of what the typical American household throws away is biodegradable. Unfortunately, in landfill, those biodegradable items will take much longer to decompose. Consider starting a compost pile. While you can opt for compost bins, a simple pile in the far corner of your backyard will suffice. Just be sure not to compost dairy or animal products. In a few weeks, your compost will be broken down by microorganisms (including bacteria and fungi)—nature’s recyclers—and the nutrients returned to the soil which you can then use as a natural fertilizer in your garden.
- Plant native varieties of plants in your garden. Who doesn’t love a well-kept garden? The most environmentally-friendly gardens contain native plants—those which grow best in that particular climate and soil type. Native plants are acclimated to your region, and require less water (and less fuss) to keep them healthy. Your local plant nursery will know which native plant varieties grow best where you live. Consider adding plants that will attract pollinators.
- Clean safely. Switch from household cleaners that include toxic chemicals to more natural cleaning products. They are better for you, and better for your environment.
- Whenever you buy anything, try to support businesses with eco-conscious practices. When you have the choice, buy from companies with environmentally-sustainable business practices. Look for the “Fair Trade Certified” seal on products. These items were made or grown according to rigorous environmental and social standards.
- Repair your leaky faucet. One dripping faucet can waste 212 gallons of water a month!
- Eat organic. Not only are organic foods better for you, they were grown without harmful pesticides. Animal products labeled organic were not fed antibiotics, so you lesson the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- Install weather stripping around all doors and windows. This will save you money on heating and air conditioning.
- Lead by example. Educate others on the importance of caring for our planet before it’s too late. My mother did an incredible job teaching my brother and me the importance of caring for the environment. As a child (and even now) I would have sooner slapped a baby bunny than even considered littering or throwing away something that could be recycled. Just today, I pulled cardboard boxes out of the trash in order to recycle them. When my son threw away a lamp that was broken, I rescued it from the trash. I reminded him that it would only take a few minutes to fix it, but it would take hundreds of years for the metal to decompose. You don’t have to be preachy about it; even leading by quiet example works.
Take time today, and every day, to love our planet. It’s the only one we’ve got. There is no “Planet B”.
What steps are you willing to commit to today? Leave a comment below.