Extreme weather leading to floods and forest fires, melting polar ice caps, pollution of the air, water and land … sometimes it can feel like our environmental problems are so big that we can’t do anything about them. But as they say, there is no planet B. If we want future generations to still have a place to live in, we should start cleaning up our act now. This requires making good lifestyle choices, being mindful of the impact of our carbon footprint and advocating for movements that help save the earth.
Easier said than done, I know. But do we have a choice? While it may not be possible for us to live a life with zero impact on the environment, we can start by making small changes that in time, may produce big results. To help you out, we’d like to suggest 10 simple efforts that you could do today. Remember, every bit of effort counts!
Turning off the tap while brushing teeth is a great example of a little thing that makes a big difference. Doing this saves gallons of water per day. Just imagine the amount of water you save when multiplied by the number of people in your household! You could also consider shortening your shower time (shortening it by two minutes can save more than 10 gallons of water), inspecting and fixing leaky faucets immediately, and using a professional car wash (since they use less water) instead of washing your car yourself.
If you’re considering starting a garden this spring, learn about the plants you wish to cultivate first so you can avoid overwatering. Interested in other simple ways to save water? Get more tips here: 100 ways to conserve water by Ground Water Canada.
Here are a few simple ways to save energy:
- Use energy efficient light bulbs. Choose LEDs (light emitting diode). An eight or nine watt bulb emits as much light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb. This saves energy and saves you money too.
- Turn off lights when not in the room.
- Turn off your computer at night or when not in use. You will use up less energy to recharge.
- Use rechargeable batteries whenever possible.
- Adjust temperature in your home and office.
Read Manitoba Hydro’s Energy Saving Tips for more great ideas to use at home and work.
Did you know that the food and drinks you choose have an impact on the environment? Producing the food that we eat requires resources such as water and soil, energy for processing and packaging, as well as fuel to transport them. Studies have shown that animal-based foods use up more of these resources than plant-based foods. Choosing to eat fruits, whole grains, nuts and vegetables, especially those grown locally, is more sustainable for the environment in the long run. But this doesn’t mean that you have to give up meat for life (but you could if you wanted to)! Even having one meatless day a week counts as a good contribution to the cause.
Food waste is another issue that contributes to pollution. It is estimated that half of all food waste happens at home. Wasted food ends up on landfills and produces methane, a greenhouse gas (greenhouse gases trap heat from the sun, warming the planet. As the volume of these gases increase, more warming occurs, Prairie Climate Centre). This is why proper food storage, meal planning and smart shopping are important for every household. Read Canada’s Food Guide. It has great tips on healthy eating and conserving the environment.
Plant trees in your backyard or join tree-planting drives. It is estimated that a young tree can absorb CO2 at a rate of 13 pounds (5 kilograms) per tree every single year. And when it matures (in about 10 years) it can absorb 48 pounds (21 kilograms) per year. Trees are also capable of removing sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and small particles, making the air we breathe fresh and healthy for us.
You can also help save trees by reducing paper use. Subscribe to an online account or use e-tickets so that you won’t need paper bank statements, bills or print-outs. Use online directories instead of the bulky book. Recycle newspapers, or better yet, subscribe to an online newspaper. Recycling newspapers even once per week saves half a million trees. Has your office gone paperless yet? Maybe start an initiative to reduce paper use around the office.
Make this as your mantra: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. Reduce waste by not buying disposable items. Reuse items like paper, cloth or plastic so they don’t end up in landfills. Fill your recycling bin responsibly. Read Recycle like you mean it: More recycling do’s and don’t’s to know how to segregate waste properly. If you want to take your efforts to the next level, try composting. This reduces solid waste that goes to landfills and provides rich, natural fertilizer for your garden.
Carpool/Use public transit/Bike or Walk
Using less fuel or not using fuel at all should be our goal. Even one car off the road makes a big difference. For this, biking and walking are your best options – you’ll also become healthier because of the exercise. But if the places you need to go to are not within walking or biking distance, arrange ride-sharing schemes with your office mates or friends, or use public transit as much as you can. If you absolutely must drive a car, make sure to maintain your vehicle regularly. This means keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure and your car engine in tip-top shape. This not only lessens emissions but improves your gas mileage by 0.6 to 3 percent.
Give up plastics
It is estimated that eight million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year. This amount accumulates year after year because it is non-biodegradable, meaning it does not break down. It is instead eaten by sea life, making them sick or killing them. This also means that plastic has become part of our food chain; we may inevitably eat contaminated seafood.
Avoiding plastic will not only divert a ton of waste from the oceans but from landfills as well. Start by using reusable/recycled bags for your groceries and when shopping for clothes and other items. Do your best not to buy items that are packaged with a lot of plastic materials, and don’t use disposable plates, spoons, stirrers, cups, straws and napkins. Stop buying bottled water! Having a reusable tumbler (preferably glass) on hand and refilling it with filtered tap water will be good for the environment, not to mention healthier and more economical for you.
Join cleanups and conservation efforts in your community and support causes that promote environmentalism. Conduct recycling drives and help educate people about environmentalism. The more people get on the bandwagon, the better it will be for the environment.
Buy second hand/buy local
Buy second-hand equipment, clothing, furniture or appliances whenever you can. Items that have a short usage period (for example your little one’s bike) are better bought second hand. It will save you money and will help reduce waste from packaging materials. Buying local products will not only reduce pollution (from transporting goods from a longer distance), you will also be supporting community business and the economic growth of your area.
Educate yourself and others
Learn more about climate change, conservation, recycling and the environment. Be involved and join discussions about environmental efforts and help others understand the value of our natural resources. Be a good role model to the youth, especially your kids, by walking the talk in your everyday life. You can also share this list with others and help make the world a better place!
An additional note:
We wrote this article before the pandemic broke out and started affecting everyday lives. You may be thinking: “What does environmentalism have to do with COVID-19?” As it turns out, a lot! Experts have seen that “climate change, globalization and land use changes such as urbanization and deforestation can contribute to the emergence and transmission of diseases” (Katie Clow, One Health professor at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph). There is a lot of evidence showing that climate change and deforestation are making the transmission of zoonotic disease and pathogens easier in our steadily growing human population. Moreover, a new study shows that there are more deaths due to COVID-19 in areas where the pollution is high.
In short, our environmental issues contributed greatly to the dilemma that we are facing today. It’s why talking about changing our lifestyles to help our environment recover is as relevant as ever before. Watch this video from the UN Environment Programme to see how urgently the planet needs our commitment today:
Article updated April 6, 2020.
Sources: 10 things you can do to help save the earth, Katie Lambert and Sarah Gleim, How stuff Works; Protecting our planet starts with you, US National Ocean Service; 50 ways to help the planet, 50 ways to help; and Composting, Eartheasy. Accessed February 21, 2020. Coronavirus: How environmental destruction influences the emergence of pandemics, Daina Goldfinger, Global News; and A message from nature: Coronavirus, UN environment programme. Accessed April 6, 2020.
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