Eco-living challenges: You’ve seen them before. People get book deals and sell the movie rights for their tales of living sans modern conveniences. Some appear to be income-driven stunts and others are earnest missions for the sake of Mother Earth, usually plotted with the hope that a year of not bathing will teach us all to stop whining about the pains of reusable bags. But I have a couple of problems with doing those challenges myself:
a) I don’t buy into the idea that my records of extreme (and temporary) lifestyle change will inspire the world to make significant change. After all, we’re inundated with stories of dramatic weight loss from all angles (TV, movies, and magazines, to name a few), and they haven’t vastly altered our country’s obesity problem, from what I can tell.
b) I haven’t sold a book deal (although if you’re interested, I’m currently running an Earth Month special…), so I currently have to do other things to make money and, as such, I can’t devote all all of my time to neutralizing my carbon output and finding ways to live like I’m off the grid.
So, instead of trying to be the next martyr of eco-living, I’m going to what it’s like to really concentrate on doing a few of those “small things” that everyone’s always telling us to do for the sake of the environment. They’re not documentary fodder, by any means, but by focusing on these small things (which, if you’ve ever tried them, are actually fairly big things to work into your already-busy days) for Earth Month, I hope that we can all learn a thing or two about how to make eco-friendly living work for you.
Here are my Earth Month challenges:
1) Ride my bike instead of buses, subways, and cars as much as possible. The reasons for riding a bike are plenty, and they don’t just include benefits for Mother Earth. Riding bikes promotes mental and physical health, and it also significantly cuts back on carbon emissions compared to almost any other mode of transportation. My advantages: Owning a bike, being used to riding one in the city, next to cars, and having warmer weather than we did a month ago, when I couldn’t bike at all. My disadvantages: Living in a different borough from where I work, occasionally needing to look like I didn’t just come from the gym, and a forecast of April showers.
2) Ditch plastic. (All of it.) Easy in theory; difficult in practice. Everything from bananas to eco-friendly toiletries comes wrapped in plastic, so ditching it isn’t as simple as it sounds. My advantages: I already own lots of reusable bags, tupperware, and a reusable mug that I love, and I belong to a food coop where I can buy stuff that has minimal packaging. My disadvantages: Plastic. Is. Everywhere. I’m already really conscious of avoiding excess packaging, but even my favorite eco-friendly restaurants and businesses use it a little. Oh, and I like to drink smoothies, which are so much easier to drink with a plastic straw.
3) Use less water. Ever since I saw the documentary FLOW, I’ve been ultra-conscious and ultra-guilty about my consumption of water. I don’t buy bottled water anymore unless I have to, but I still use a shocking amount of water compared to a lot of the world. I want that to change. My advantages: I already avoid bottled water, and I don’t have a yard or lawn that requires watering. (In fact, the plus side of being a lazy plant-owner is that even my houseplants are water conservationists.) And having a mom who knows a thing or two about conservation, I was raised to shut off the faucet while I’m washing my hands. My disadvantages: I don’t consider myself excessive, but when it comes to showers and sinks, I can be. Unless the water heater is broken, I take the opposite of a military shower. Plus, I live in a rental where the faucets and appliances won’t be replaced with water-efficient versions anytime soon.
4) Try composting instead of landfilling. Tons of the garbage we throw out every day is biodegradable (especially if you’ve been good about challenge #2). By sticking it in a compost pile, you’re not only creating healthy soil for gardens and farms, you’re keeping your landfill contributions down to a minimum. If you have a garden and a big back yard, this is mostly a matter of investing in a compost bin and getting yourself in the habit of tossing your orange rind in a pail by the sink instead of launching it into the trash. But if you’re in the city, like I am, you probably don’t have time or space for a garden (and you might not have the investment money, either). But people tell me that city dwellers can still reduce their trash by composting in their freezers. I’m going to see what that’s all about. My advantages: I live near a community garden and there’s a compost drop-off at the farmer’s market near my work. Plus, I live alone, which means I have space to try out this whole freezer composting thing I’ve been hearing about… My disadvantages: I don’t have a car to haul around large piles of compost, and I don’t have a lot of time to spend hauling my frozen banana peels to a drop-off. (Remember that food coop I mentioned? I spend my spare time working shifts there, and I’m even behind on those.)
Do you have advice, ideas, or stories to help me with my eco-challenges? Email me or leave me your tips in the comments section, below. (And if you’re interested in my Earth Month special, we can talk book deals, too…) I’ll be posting throughout Earth Month about the ins and outs of my challenges to help you figure out how to make eco-friendly living work for you, too.