10 Surprising Ways to Help the Planet
After you’ve done the obvious, consider these steps
You don’t need Earth Day to remind you about the environment. You use reusable grocery bags, pass up plastic water bottles and walk or bike whenever you can. You compost, recycle and take shorter showers. Maybe you’re even reusing your wrapping paper and washing more of your clothes in cold water (who knew that five minutes of running warm water is equivalent to burning a 60-watt bulb for 14 hours?).
The next steps — converting to solar power or buying a Tesla — may not be in your budget.
But for people who think every day should be Earth Day, there are some unexpected things you can do to cut waste, save energy and water and ease the burden on our fragile planet.
1. Recycle your old eyeglasses. Recycling eyeglass frames, readers and sunglasses gives you a good-citizen twofer: keeping waste out of landfills and helping others. You can drop them off at many eyeglasses stores and at some organizations such as Lion’s Clubs, where they’ll be distributed to needy people in developing countries.
2. Worm your way to better soil. Garden worms are nature’s recyclers, turning your leftover food compost into clean garden dirt. It’s called vermicompost, and you can set up your own worm compost factory with a 20-gallon bin and worms ordered online. An earth worm digests up to one-third of its body weight a day. The rich compost they create will be ideal for your flowers or vegetable garden. (Photo: Krit Leoniz/Shutterstock)
3. Go meatless once a week (or more). Research has long shown that diets lower in meat contribute to heart health — and to the health of Mother Earth. It takes a lot of resources to produce that steak. Just one meat-free day a week would saves about a ton of water (enough to till a bathtub 22 times) over the course of a year. In fact, you’d reduce greenhouse gases as much as you would by switching to a Prius. It saves money as well, since meat is one of the priciest items on the menu. If everyone in the United States went meat-free one day a week, it would save the amount of greenhouse gasses produced by some 12 billion gallons of gasoline.
4. Reuse shower water to flush. Yes, you can reuse that used water. Put some basins in the shower to collect the runoff as you wash. It’s too soapy to water plants but can be used to flush the toilet or wash floors. This is particularly important in drought-ridden states like California.
5. Teach your cat to use the toilet. You laugh, but billions pounds of non-biodegradable kitty litter goes into landfills each year, where it can cause health as well as pollution problems. (Cat feces can carry toxoplasma gondii, a bacterium dangerous to fetuses.) Solutions: Switch to a green litter made of paper, corn or wood shavings — or teach your cat to use the toilet. The Youtube video How to Toilet Train Your Cat explains how. It’s supposedly easier than toilet training a toddler, but fair warning: Once some cats learns to flush they may do it again. And again. And again. (Photo: Damien Richard/Shutterstock)
6. Support the honeybees. The bees we need to fertilize our crops are being threatened by pesticides, climate change and SOME conventional beekeeping practices, said K. Ruby Blume, founder of the Institute of Urban Homesteading in Oakland, CA who teaches courses in natural beekeeping. To attract and support bees, make water available in shallow pans and cultivate lots of flowering plants in white, yellow and purple, the colors bees see best. Don’t use pesticides or insecticides, and avoid buying plants from places that do use them (such as most big box stores), Blume says.
7. Replace your water-guzzling toilet with a high efficiency model and save two gallons with every flush. Some 26 percent of household water use is for toilets. Older models before 1994 use three gallons or more per flush. New high efficiency toilets use 1.3 gallons or less, and work fine. They sell for around $150 and up, and install quickly. Rebates of $50 or more are available from many municipal water companies across the country.
8. Need a new roof? Go “cool.” So-called "cool" roofs reflect non-visible light. If 80 percent of roofs in urban areas in the tropical and temperate climate zones were white or light, they could offset 24 billion metric tons worth of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s the equivalent of 300 million cars or 500 medium-size coal power plants, according to Chemical Week online editor Vincent Valk.
9. Need a new car? Go white or silver. Researchers at the Berkeley Lab Environmental Energy Technologies Division found that car color affects the car's fuel economy. A light-colored exterior reflects more sunlight, and the cooler the car interior, the less of need to run the air conditioner.The energy savings vary by climate. The hotter the area, the greater the results. Comparing two cars parked in the sun for an hour in Sacramento, California, the interior of the silver car was 9 to 11°F lower than an identical black car. (Photo: ksyproduktor/Shutterstock)
10. Bury yourself green. This might be the ultimate eco way to go on giving. Conventional burials stuff a body with toxic chemicals and seal it in an expensive vault, where it decays with no benefit to anyone except the funeral industry, say proponents of natural burial.
Research shows interment in a conventional cemetery buries 1,000 gallons of embalming fluid, 97.5 tons of steel, 2,028 tons of concrete and 56,250 feet of high quality tropical hardwood boards in just one acre of land.
Thinking of cremation? Almost as bad. Cremations release between 1,000 and 7,800 pounds of mercury into the air and water. A car could drive about 4,800 miles on the energy equivalent of one cremation.
Related: Tips for Greener House Cleaning
Natural burial sites provide an alternative. One, Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve, in rural Upstate New York, offers “an option for people to return to the earth in a natural way, to complete the cycle of life, and give something back to the earth,” said founder and co-director Jennifer Johnson. In a natural burial, the remains are unembalmed and buried in a linen shroud or biodegradable wood, cardboard or wicker casket.
Greensprings, whose motto is “Save a forest — plant yourself,” is one of a growing number of natural burial sites and services across the country certified by the Green Burial Council, which list providers on its website.