STEPPING DOWN FROM MY SOAPBOX

 …if I treated the resources that pass through my hands as though they were precious, might I also begin to feel that this very life—the one right under my feet right now and right this very moment—might be precious, too?
Colin Beavan, No Impact Man
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On a previous post, I discussed my urge to reduce my environmental impact. I’ve always been more inclined to hug a tree than cut it down, but my day-to-day choices do not always reflect this. The sole purpose of realigning my life is to make sure my habits reflect my mindset. I always carry a soapbox with me in case I need to spout off facts and advice about how everyone else should be living. And like Beavan, I realized that my beliefs “had too often been about changing other people…and too seldom about changing myself.”

The following lists are habits to acquire and/or maintain in hopes to reduce my overall environmental impact. If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, please see the resources listed at the end of the post.

19 Things I’m Already Doing to reduce pollution, waste, and energy use while simultaneously saving water and trees.

the obvious

1. Attempt to repair before replacing
2. Donate or sell before trashing items
3. Recycle glass, plastic, metal, paper, cardboard, and electronics
4. Replace light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs
5. Switch to paperless billing
6. Use a menstrual cup made from natural, unpigmented, healthcare-grade silicon
7. Turn off water when not in use – this is obvious, but I don’t think we’re all as mindful of water use as we could be. When you become aware of why the facet is running, you’ll start to notice it is running for no other reason but to save you the hassle of turning it off and on between actual use (e.g., while brushing your teeth, cleaning dishes)
8. Turn off lights when not in use
9. Use a reusable water bottle and other food/drink storage

the not-so-obvious

10. Adjust the thermostat – This is really my roommate’s doing. I like my environment to be warm and nap-inducing all the time. My roommate, however, also happens to be the owner of the townhouse as well as caretaker of heat-sensitive animals. I would never seriously combat her rationale to keep the house cooler, whether it’s for her own personal preference or for her animals. After learning that her preferences also had a positive environmental and financial impact, I was sold. I also learned that it is cheaper and more effective to heat the person, not the house.

11. Batch errands – really a no-brainer. Instead of running errands multiple days of the week, I try to combine errands into one trip, getting as much of what I can at one place and creating a logical driving pattern that is efficient on time and gas.

12. Download software instead of buying – The software you’re buying is a digital good. That’s why it’s called software and not hardware. Why purchase the software on a plastic disc wrapped inside plastic and paper packaging material just so you can use it once for the install and store somewhere to collect dust or throw away? I have not found a software company that requires a hard purchase, so I stopped supporting this unnecessary step in production.

13. Eat primarily vegan and organic – It reduces my indirect contribution to greenhouse gas emissions; land destruction (including deforestation); water consumption; land, water, and air pollution; prevalence of illness; and healthcare costs. I actually started eating primarily vegan for different reasons, but I’m not going to deny how excited I was to find this additional benefit to my lifestyle choice.

Please keep in mind that I am not trying to preach veganism as some kind of foodie religion or mandating a shift in your own choices. These are just benefits I found after making this change. I think everyone can make better decisions about food though—vegan or not.

14. Keep up with vehicle maintenance – It’s pretty obvious that simple maintenance of oil, fluids (brakes, power steering, transmission, coolant, differential), filters (oil, fuel, air), and tires will increase the longevity of your vehicle (so less need to replace what could be sustained) and increase the performance of your vehicle (so less pollution and better gas mileage).

Of course, your vehicle will require much more complicated-sounding maintenance over its lifetime, but these are the basics that should not come as a surprise when taking your vehicle to a mechanic. If you’re worried that your mechanic is trying to rip you off, you may want to find a new mechanic or educate yourself about your vehicle’s suggested maintenance timeline. If your owner’s manual suggests flushing the transmission fluid every 30,000 miles and your mechanic is pushing you to do this every three oil changes, you should be asking what else may be going on to require transmission flushes with such frequency. Having an informed conversation with your mechanic will help you build a relationship of trust rather than skepticism and educate you more about the proper upkeep and inner-workings of a commodity you most likely rely on daily.

15. Make cleaning products (for body and home) to reduce waste created through production and shipping. And because I get to choose my ingredients, I no longer absentmindedly pour harmful chemicals down the drain and into the environment. I currently make laundry soap, hair conditioner, deodorant, lotion, lip balm, shoe polish, toothpaste, mouthwash, hand sanitizer, and kitchen, bath, and glass cleaner. I’m working on other homemade products as well, such as shampoo and exfoliating body wash and masks. (As a sidenote, I don’t make up my own recipes. I find recommendations and tweak them until I find the combinations that work best for me.)

16. Use cruise control to improve gas mileage.

17. Use hand towels for napkins and pieces of cloth for tissue – I cut up almost a dozen t-shirts I never wear to replace tissue. I’ve used, washed, and reused them hundreds of times. I have enough squares cut to prevent me from reaching for tissue paper between loads of laundry.

18. a) Use the dishwasher instead of handwashing to reduce water consumption and b) fill the dishwasher to capacity before running – the dishwasher uses the same amount of water regardless of the load. There is no reason to run a half-filled dishwasher.

19. Wash clothes in cold water to reduce electricity use.

10 Things I Could Be Doing to reduce pollution, waste, and energy use while simultaneously saving water and trees.

1. Unplug vampire electronics
2. Stop ordering takeout food and drink to reduce trash production
3. Take a Navy shower 
4. Use the back of rejected paper before recycling
5. Buy more food and products locally to reduce gas consumption required to deliver items to my town
6. Shop bulk bins and bring containers from home
7. Avoid receiving junk mail – I used OptOut and DMA Choice to reduce junk mail, but I’m still receiving a few unwanted papers. I will have to call the distributer directly to figure out how to stop the waste.
8. Bike more and drive less

9. Drive smarter to improve gas mileage – I will have to monitor my RPMs and avoid speeding and rapid acceleration and braking. Luckily, my car has a MPG meter to give me my average based on the current trip on my odometer.

10. Wash the car – Professional car washes typically use less water than individuals doing it at home. That being said, being mindful of the amount of water used at home will likely save you money and water. I was in debate over whether or not washing my car was even necessary. Who cares what my car looks like, right? You’re. So. Vain. Then I learned that dirt, sap, and bird droppings can etch away a car’s paint. Losing paint exposes the car to moisture, which causes rust and corrosion. Eventually, the car’s body will be compromised, which can expose vital, intentionally-internal car parts and weaken the body overall, making the car less safe in a collision. I won’t be washing my car every weekend, but I will keep an eye on its body, giving it a thorough cleaning after exposing it to damaging conditions such as excess dirt, sand, or salt (from Ice Melt and the ocean).

There are several other ways I could help reduce my impact, but, for one reason or another, some are not feasible at this moment in my life. I have a decent list of habits to maintain and ones to acquire. I will write a follow-up post about my progress in a few weeks and try to tack on a few more challenges.

Please comment with questions or more suggestions to reduce my impact. If I appear to be grossly misinformed about the benefits of specific habits, please let me know. I do not want to promote habits that aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Moreover, I’m here to learn, and a like-minded community of readers and writers is the best way for me to do that.

Resources

…Help Save The Earth Every Day
50 Ways to Help the Planet
The Story of Stuff
No Impact Project
My Plastic-Free Life
Life Without Plastic
Zero Waste Home
Trash is for Tossers
Zero Waste Journey
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Shalom Mama (natural living)
DIY Natural
Wellness Mama

2 thoughts on “STEPPING DOWN FROM MY SOAPBOX

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