Parents do well to teach their children the importance of doing what we each can, to help save our planet. The efforts of one person alone don’t amount to much, true; but when you add many, many people, and many families, we collectively surely can make a big difference.
Below are many simple, easy things that you and your family can do around the home, to help keep your surroundings environmentally friendly. These steps won’t cost any more money; in fact, they will often save you money!
1. Avoid using harsh cleansers around the home:
These are not only expensive, but they have chemicals that are toxic to living creatures and bad for the soil and our water supplies. Use effective, natural cleaners (such as: vinegar and water, baking soda, Borax) for simple cleaning jobs like surface and glass-cleaning, bathroom sinks, tubs, fixtures, etc.
2. Buy foods in big sizes:
Save lots of money, and help cut down on packaging materials (as well as trips to the store) by buying big sizes; then, store and carry foods in reusable containers. For instance, instead of buying tiny containers of milk or fruit juices for your children’s lunch boxes, buy milk and juices in gallons or half gallons, then pour into reusable containers to be taken to school, the game or wherever.
3. Avoid using disposable cups, plates, utensils or paper products in the kitchen or dining room:
- Save trees, paper and plastic by using reusable dinnerware
- Use cloth napkins, instead of paper ones
- Clean up spills with washable rags, instead of paper towels
4. Avoid using polystyrene (trade name: Styrofoam) and aluminum products:
Polystyrene, which is made of petroleum (and air pockets), is not biodegradable. According to the website isites.harvard.edu, maintained by Harvard University, polystyrene now takes up more space in landfills than paper; there, it has the potential to re-enter the environment when water or mechanical forces act on landfills.
Polystyrene contains the chemicals benzene and styrene, which are suspected to be carcinogenic and toxic to the human nervous system. Polystyrene leaches styrene when it comes into contact with hot foods, alcohol, oils and acidic foods. As such, it’s not a good idea to consume foods out of Styrofoam-type containers.
Because there are few and far between polystyrene recycling centers, the best solution is to avoid buying plates or cups made of this, or any consumer products such as electronics that use polystyrene as a packaging material. (Ask salespeople for other alternatives.)
Aluminum, also called aluminium, is a light metal refined from naturally existing ores in the Earth’s crust. However, the refining process of aluminum produces environmental pollution, as well as toxicity in workers exposed to high levels of aluminum dust on the job. Long-term inhalation of aluminum powder is associated with asthma-like conditions, pulmonary fibrosis, impairment of cognitive function and peripheral nerve damage.
The best thing to do is avoid cooking in, or consuming food from, aluminum vessels (yet another great reason to avoid drinking sodas…). And beware: aluminum is also found in most anti-perspirants and over-the-counter antacids.
Glass, plastic, aluminum, other metals, paper (magazines, newspapers, office paper). Make it a family rule to throw all recyclable food containers into a bag (or bags) set aside for this purpose, after giving them a good, quick rinse with a little water.
6. Compost your leftovers!
If you have a yard, you can fertilize your trees or any fruit or vegetable patches by mixing food scraps into the topsoil. Note: do not use pieces of meat or pieces of dairy products (like cheese), as these could attract rodents or other animals. Also, while a little used cooking oil on the soil is no problem, you don’t want to dump bigger amounts of used cooking oil (or grease) on your garden or crops, as it will smother them (stop the oxygen from getting into the soil).
7. Use only natural fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides in your garden:
You don’t want your family tracking chemicals from the garden into the home. Children can also be exposed to chemical gardening products when they play in or near the garden, on the grass, etc.
If you want to get into non-toxic, green gardening, you will be pleasantly surprised by how many ideas you can find searching online. (Did you know vinegar is a great weed killer? And garlic oil will repel garden pests; you can make the oil at home.)
As for pesky dandelions, so common in gardens, instead of looking for ways to kill them, why not learn to love them? We mean really, really love them. They are brimming with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients … why not snip off the fresh, green leaves, wash them (in water with a little vinegar), and toss them in your salad!
8. Conserve electricity:
- Teach your family not to leave lights on when no one is in a room
- Unplug electronics and appliances (phone chargers, computers, microwave ovens, etc.) when not in use. As an easier alternative, you can plug several electrical devices into a single power strip; that way, when you turn off the strip every night, after turning off all devices, you turn off the power to the devices completely
- Put on warm clothes and a sweater when the weather is a little chilly, avoiding having to turn up the thermostat
- Dress coolly and drink plenty of cold, iced beverages on a warm day, instead of running air conditioner
9. Conserve water (and power):
- Run your dishwasher only when full
- Tell your children to turn off the faucet in the sink while they brush their teeth, turning water back on when they’re ready to rinse
- Keep swimming pool covered when not in use, to keep water clean longer. It’s also a good idea to shower before and after using pool
- Water your garden in the early morning or after sundown, to avoid water evaporating with the heat of the Sun. The best time to water is early morning; if you do water in the evening, make it early evening, to give water time to dry off the surface of your vegetation. Plant diseases are more likely to develop when plants are soggy-wet in the middle of the night
10. Buy locally grown, organic produce that’s in season:
When you buy fresh produce at the market, choose varieties that are in season (out-of-season fruits and vegetables often have to travel long distances to get to you). Buy from local growers whenever possible; and of course, buy organic when you can.
11. Reuse grocery bags:
Some U.S. cities have recently stopped supermarkets from giving away plastic grocery bags to their customers; in those cities, people now have to bring their own bags each time they shop (or they can purchase bags from the store for 10 cents each). But in cities where markets still give away bags, use those bags to line trash cans or cat litter boxes.
12. Dry clothes outdoors:
It’s easy to put up a couple of clotheslines, buy clips and dry your laundry outdoors. You’ll save money on electricity — and as a bonus, clothes will last longer. (Note: this may not be a good option for people who have dust or pollen allergies, as clothes will pick these up a bit when they’re outside, especially in a hot, dry environment.)
13. Invest in a water filter for your home:
A good water filter costs more than a few dollars; but in the long run, it will more than pay for itself, compared to the cost of buying bottled water.
You may have the best of intentions and be willing to drink tap water; but let’s face it, that’s not an option in some cities where the tap water tastes awful! A good rule of thumb is that if your water has an unpleasant taste at all (which could be from the chlorine, lead or other substances), you’re better off not drinking it as a general rule. (Boiling the water will help remove chlorine, but will do nothing to eliminate excess lead content, which is also toxic.)
14. Consolidate errands:
Rather than going out to run one errand at a time, make a list once a week of all the errands you need to do. Then, tackle as many places as you can on one trip, choosing stores, etc., that are in the same area.
15. Choose cloth diapers:
By the time a child is potty-trained, parents will have changed thousands of dirty diapers. That’s a lot of plastic diapers ending up in landfills. Choose cloth diapers, and launder with gentle, biodegradable soaps. (You can add a little non-chlorinated bleach to boost cleaning power when necessary.) If you launder diapers at home, you will save money over disposable types, as well as help the planet.
By Jamell Andrews