6 sustainability tips for Earth Day
It's not exactly a cause for celebration, though — these events are the result of the coronavirus pandemic, and come with a heavy price. The virus has infected at least 2.5 million people and killed over 176,000, shut down businesses, and locked down countries. The environmental gains have been made because there are fewer cars on the road, planes in the sky, and factories at full production. With most people at home, nature is prospering.
Few believe these improvements will continue when people are able to head to the office again. Still, they're a good reminder that the everyday choices we make can have a large cumulative affect on the environment.
Earth Day was started 50 years ago to get people mobilized to enact environmental change. To commemorate the occasion, Alexis Reyes, assistant director of sustainability at Pomona College in Southern California, shared with The Week a few things to keep in mind as we try our hardest to do what's right for the planet — now and in the future.
1. Help the environment while eating healthier.
Lockdown is a good time to try more plant-based recipes, Reyes said, using ingredients that have "a much smaller environmental impact compared to using animal products." While you're in the kitchen, instead of throwing away your bits of onion, celery, and garlic, scoop up the scraps and "try re-growing them" for your own garden, Reyes said.
2. Time for spring recycling.
A lot of people are using their extra time at home to purge their closets, drawers, and cabinets of clothes they'll never wear again and birthday cards from a decade ago. Instead of throwing it all away, there are several companies and nonprofits that will accept these items, turning them into new products or recyclable materials. Old jeans can be returned to their natural cotton state and then recycled into housing insulation through Blue Jeans Go Green. The Crayon Initiative takes discarded crayons — hundreds of thousands of pounds of which are simply thrown out every year — melts them down, and remanufactures them, with the new crayons then sent to children's hospitals. Even old birthday, Christmas, and thank you cards can be made new again, thanks to St. Jude's Ranch for Children.
(Please note: in all aspects of life, things are changing on a daily basis because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these offers may not be applicable when you're ready to participate; please check with each organization.)
3. Throw away those bottle caps.
Here's a smaller decision that can make a difference: When recycling a bottle, make sure you first take off the bottle cap and throw it in the trash. Also, when cafes are back open again, "opt for a reusable thermos or enjoy your drink in one of their mugs" because paper to-go coffee cups are "lined with a plastic film that can't be recycled," Reyes says.
4. Don't get fooled by bioplastics.
Bioplastics are made from renewable material, and used to make disposable items. "Think cornstarch utensils or cold drink cups labeled 'compostable,'" Reyes says. While bioplastics are less toxic than traditional plastic and leave behind a smaller carbon footprint, "bioplastics are unlikely to actually degrade," Reyes says. "They require intense heat from a commercial compost system. Also, if they end up in the ocean, they break down into microplastics, which harm aquatic wildlife." Reyes said when you "consider the 'life cycle' of bioplastics versus plastics, neither are good options," although researchers are trying to make greener bioplastics and they do hold promise to lessen plastic pollution. The best course of action is "choosing a reusable option," Reyes said, "and then something that is compostable/biodegradable." Speaking of microplastics ...
5. Order a lint filter.
While in the wash, clothes made out of polyester, or any type of synthetic material, shed microplastics into the water. Tiny pieces of microplastic, especially microfibers, have been found in samples from rivers, lakes, ocean water, and even arctic sea ice. This can be prevented by purchasing a lint filter for washing machines, which not only protects marine environments, but also safeguards plumbing and septic systems. "One filter like this can remove more than 80 percent of microplastics," Reyes says.
6. Properly dispose of prescription drugs.
In order to keep expired or no-longer-necessary prescription drugs away from kids or anyone else who shouldn't get into them, some people flush them down the toilet. This can "alter the water supply and affect aquatic wildlife," Reyes says. Most communities have a safe place to dispose of old and unused prescriptions, with pharmacies and hospitals often accepting the drugs. Click here to find a location near you.