Beyond Recycling: 5 Other Eco-Efforts We Can Practice
The effects of global warming are clear. There are an increasing number of forest fires, deadly flooding, and extreme weather temperatures and conditions. These natural disasters and weather patterns have inspired me to take a more conscious look at my ecological efforts.
If you are like me, you probably already have some practices that help conserver our environment. Most of us already have a practice of recycling plastic, glass, paper, and cardboard; we carry our own cloth bags when we shop instead of using plastic bags from supermarkets and grocery stores; we have stopped buying plastic water bottles and carry our own refillable water containers; and we have stopped using to-go containers at coffee and tea shops and use our own re-usable to-go containers.
I wanted to see what else we could do and looked into other practices that allow us to make more of an impact. Here are five.
1. Reusable Straws
Single-use straws have been in the midst of the eco-friendly news in the last few months. Plastic straws aren’t recyclable and are thus one of the most polluting items we use.
Many cities, such as Malibu, Davis, and San Luis Obispo in California, Seattle, WA, and Miami Beach and Fort Myers in Florida have already banned their use, and many others are considering doing the same. Companies have also banned their use, including Starbucks and American Airlines (Loewe, 2018).
I would encourage us to stop using straws altogether, and drink directly from the cup or glass. But if compelled to use them, look for biodegradable or compostable options, or consider reusable ones that are made out of glass or metal (Loewe, 2018).
2. Other Re-Usable Items
I hadn’t realized that there are many other reusable items I could use until I found an article on MindBodyGreenthat listed a few items.
One of them is using cloth produce bags to pick up and store fruits and vegetables (Ristow, 2018). These can be easily carried with the totes and bags we already take to grocery stores. And, we can use them instead of the compostable or other plastic bags grocery stores supply for produce. The best part is that we can wash them and reuse them.
We can use reusable dryer balls instead of dryer sheets. This not only decreases our use of paper items, but also the amount of chemicals we are exposed to in our household practices. The best part is that we can add a few drops of essential oils to the dryer balls and incorporate an aromatic component to the tumble of our laundry.
Better yet, avoid using a dryer, and line or air-dry clothing.
We can also use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins when we eat, and use can use reusable containers instead of plastic wrap and aluminum foil to store food.
3. Recycling Contact Lenses
I use disposable contact lenses and assumed I could recycle the blister packs and the foil in which they are packaged. Apparently, that is not the case. Recycling facilities aren’t able to recycle them so they end up in landfills (McDonough, 2018).
TerraCycle is a company that specializes on recycling, and they have partnered with Bausch & Lomb to create a program to recycle contact lenses and their containers.
We need to collect them for a period of time, and once we have enough to fill a box, we can ship them for free to TerraCycle. Or we can drop them off at a participating doctor’s office. Check out this link for more information.
Block (2018) provides more than 200 ideas on how to reuse items that we have in the house. These ideas include the use of plastic spoons to create decorative frames, old phones as bookends, wrapping paper to uplift the look of a clock, mason jars as candle holders or light fixtures, and many more.
I used this inspiration to make hot plates and table protectors from gluing old wine corks together. I also have filled vases with used corks, adding an earthy look to my home décor.
5. Making Your Own Compost
Some cities actively encourage composting. The objective of composting is to breakdown organic matter, enabling us to put these ingredients back into the Earth so as to make soil richer for future use.
Unfortunately, not all cities provide composting, including where I live in Washington state. However, with some effort, we can create our own compost, and once it is ready, place it back into our home pots or garden soil.
The key is collecting the right ingredients and components that create the right nutrients to put back into the soil.
Compost needs bulking agents that help keep the compost aerated. These can be wood chips, sawdust, grass hay, wheat straw, or corn stalks. Compost also needs raw materials that compost or breakdown without much effort in order to keep the process going. These can be ground or shrub trimmings, deciduous leaves and legume hay. Finally, compost needs energy-generating agents that grow microbes quickly, such as herbs, grass clippings, garden trimmings or kitchen scraps such as, fresh dairy, fruit and vegetables, and coffee grounds.
The ideal ratio for these components is one-part energy materials to two-part bulking and compost agents. The materials can be piled up in alternating layers (as in a lasagna), to ensure proper exposure to all three types of materials.
Make sure not to compost meat, bones, fat, or animal manure, unless it comes from horses, chickens, or rabbits, as these create hazardous contamination and attract animals to the yard. Also, avoid using chemically treated or fertilized components.
Compost can be created in compost bins or as a simple pile on the ground. If the compost is being made in an apartment, then it can made in a worm bin. In addition, materials cut as small as possible so that microbes have larger surface areas in which to grow and develop. The compost contents should also be moist, but not too wet.
The pile should be turned on a regular basis (every three to four days) to ensure greater mixture of the materials, generate more heat and create the compost faster. Heat is important in compost creation because the higher the heat the more thermophilic microorganisms that grow in the pile, which in turn kill off disease-causing organisms yet support beneficial fungi. The hot pile should be between 120 to 150 degrees F (Petersen, 2014).
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has some recommendations on how to create compost here.
I would encourage you to further search how to undertake some of these eco-efforts to determine the best way for you to practice them in your area.
Sometimes we are discouraged to make eco-friendly efforts, thinking that what one of us does doesn’t really make a difference. In reality it is quite the opposite.
What one of us does can make a difference. It takes one person to change, to shift, or to take on a new practice in order to create a major shift. What one of us does sends out a ripple, a small tide into the universe, that can have an effect or influence on other people. Maybe your one action inspires another person, and that person then inspires another person, and then another, eventually reshaping the way we care for our Earth and our environment.
Block, T. (2018). 200+ upcycling ideas that will blow your mind. Popsugar. Retrieved on August 26, 2018 from https://www.popsugar.com/smart-living/Cool-Upcycling-Projects-24338804
Loewe, E. (2018). Biodegradable straws: what they’re made of, why they matter, & where to get them. MindBodyGreen. Retrieved on August 26, 2018 from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/biodegradable-straws-101
McDonough, D. (2018). Contact lenses are polluting the ocean- here’s how to actually recycle them (spoiler: it’s not easy). MindBodyGreen. Retrieved on August, 26, 2018 from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/how-to-recycle-contact-lenses
Petersen, D. (2014). Herb 502 Advanced Materia Medica I. Portland, OR: American College of Healthcare Sciences.
Ristow, C. (2018). 7 reusable items you should always have around (because recycling isn’t enough). MindBodyGreen. Retrieved on August 26, 2018 from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/reusable-straws-thermoses-and-eco-essentials