Earth Day – April 22, 2021
Happy Earth Day! What little or big things can you do to lessen your impact on the earth? Living sustainably doesn’t have to be intimidating or an all or nothing lifestyle. In our household, we bring our clean plastic bags to drop off bins, and own an electric vehicle. But, we also shop online far too much, resulting in an excessive amount of cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, and plastic bags. We also are quick to purchase items that are new, instead of considering second-hand options. There’s always room for improvement, and that’s part of the process.
It’s ok to not be perfect at living sustainably. Wouldn’t you rather have more imperfect people taking earth friendly actions, than one person doing it perfectly? Do what is comfortable for you and your family, but don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and up your eco-friendly game a notch. In honor of Earth Day on April 22, here are 22 earth friendly ideas you should consider, or pat yourself on the back for already doing! Let’s make earth day be every day!
1. Try mesh produce bags
Take your grocery shopping to the next level and invest in reusable produce bags. These have been a game changer for us as we try to reduce the amount of plastic encountered at the grocery store. Cashiers have never had an issue with these at the checkout counter. They are easy to use, easy to wash if they get dirty, and can also be used for things other than food! Use them to tote beach toys, to wash delicate laundry items, or store just about anything else.
Shop: purifyou Premium Reusable Produce Bags
2. Install solar panels
Rooftop solar panels aren’t suited for every building or home due to their location and roof angle, but some buildings are perfect candidates. All Eden Prairie schools will have rooftop solar panels installed by the end of 2021. You may have also noticed homes around town with solar panels. Why would a family invest in this technology? For the VanLangendon family, “We chose to get solar panels to reduce our carbon footprint by producing about two-thirds of our total energy use for the year. In addition, this has made us more aware of our energy usage and we challenge ourselves to reduce how much we use. We had a great experience working with All Energy Solar.”
There may be incentives or rebate programs available for solar panel owners. To see if your location is suitable for solar panels, you can check out the MN Solar Suitability website.
3. Hang dry your clothing
Reducing consumption of things like electricity can also benefit us in other ways. By choosing to line dry your clothes, you not only reduce your use of electricity, but you also prolong the quality of your clothing. After laundering our clothes in cold water (because it’s more energy efficient), we will toss it in the dryer with a ‘damp dry’ setting. This helps shake out the wrinkles. After that, onto drying racks the clothing goes! Clothing will take longer to dry during the winter, but putting it over a heating vent or by a sunny window helps.
4. No Mow May
Are you looking for a good reason to get out of yardwork? Join the No Mow May initiative and commit to holding off on mowing your yard or doing other rough yardwork until after May. The Stebner family has chosen to participate in No Mow May. “By delaying the first mowing of the season until June, you give pollinators an extra place (your yard) to find food while parks, gardens, etc. are still in early stages of growth.” By cutting down and mowing these food sources, bees waking up from winter hibernation will have a more difficult time finding food. Native pollinators are important in sustaining our agricultural food systems.
5. Switch to reusable facial rounds
We use so many products every day in our bathrooms, many of which are single use items. With reusable facial rounds, you can remove makeup or apply toner without creating waste. You use them just like a disposable cotton round. Once you use them, just wash, dry, and reuse! My pick are these bamboo facial rounds found at Tare Market. They are even softer than disposable ones!
6. Reuse your baggies
If you need to use plastic baggies, why not reuse them? Many just need a good shake out or rinse to make them useful again. If you feel weird about reusing them for food, save the used baggies for non-food items like game pieces, screws, or office supplies. Megan Mulder says, “I have this wood rack that I use to put all my Ziplocks or bags on, and let them dry after I wash them.” When your baggies have met their true end, you can recycle them at places that accept plastic bags.
7. Eat less meat
Ever stop to think about how much energy goes into growing, producing, and delivering the food that you eat? According to the World Resources Institute, beef is a more resource-intensive than other foods. Cows require a longer growing period, thereby needing more resources like feed, water, and land. There are compelling reasons to decrease the amount of red meat you eat. Having a lower red meat diet can decrease the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. You don’t have to cut out meat completely. Start by having a “meatless Monday”, or substituting tofu, ground turkey, or plant-based alternative when a recipe calls for ground beef.
8. Make your own refillable cleaning supplies
Alison Peterson chooses to refill household cleaning supplies instead of buying new ones. She makes an all-purpose cleaning spray from a concentrated powder. By using a refillable glass spray bottle, she doesn’t have to add to the plastic waste. Concentrated formulas often require less formulation, so a little goes a long way! Her pick for an all-purpose cleaning solution is Norwex’s Ultra Power Plus.
9. Rethink your period products
Products like menstrual cups are becoming increasingly popular because they are reusable, cost-effective, and sustainable compared to other menstrual products like pads or tampons. According to market research company Technavio, the menstrual cups market is expected to grow by USD 366.3 million during 2021-2025. Here’s an article by Cosmo that gives some background info and product suggestions. You can also use this handy quiz to help you figure out what cup is best for you.
10. Streamline with a shampoo bar
If your shower is cluttered with products, consider using a shampoo bar. We featured these locally made SunLeaf shampoo & body soaps in our holiday gift guide. They lather just like traditional liquid shampoos do, and they multi-task as body soap. A two-for-one product and recyclable cardboard packaging for the win!
11. Consider an electric vehicle (EV)
Eden Prairie Resident Jill says, “Last fall our family purchased our first electric car, a Tesla Model Y. We have owned three different Prii (which is apparently the official plural of Prius?!) over the years and love their fuel efficiency, but we eventually started to contemplate the possibility of getting a fully electric car. We were drawn not only to the environmental benefits of owning a zero emissions vehicle, but also the lower maintenance needs of EVs, the ease of charging at home versus going to gas stations, and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. We also just thought they were cool! Our Tesla now serves as our main family car, and we love it! It is fun to drive and has plenty of range and space for our family of four and all of our things. With many car companies announcing new models of electric vehicles and the improvements being made in battery range and charging infrastructure, we look forward to seeing a lot more EV drivers on the road in the near future!”
Considering an EV? Read our blog post about the realities of owning one.
12. Repurpose items
A candle jar as a pen holder? A spaghetti jar container? Yes, you can repurpose items you might otherwise throw away or recycle. While I’m not advocating for you to hoard every scrap that comes your way, having a creative eye might help you give new life to something that otherwise is no longer useful. Spaghetti jars are great for storing pantry items like nuts, seeds, or uncooked pasta. A pretty candle jar can be cleaned with hot water, and reused as a vase or for storing your writing tools.
13. Pack your snacks in reusable containers
Buying prepackaged snacks can be convenient, but they are also more expensive and generate a lot of waste. For Jen Clark, planning ahead helps keep her family from feeling those hunger pangs when they are out and about. “We have two busy boys on the go! One of the things we do to be more sustainable is buy snacks in bulk and portion them out in silicone Stasher bags. That way it’s easy to always have their favorites on hand and eliminate single portion snack waste.” It’s also a great way to help with portion control or if you follow a specific diet plan.
14. Support restaurants that use reusable to-go containers
This pandemic has undoubtedly increased the use of disposable eating utensils and to-go containers. One unique solution to this waste issue is to offer reusable to-go food containers. Say what? Peoples Organic Café has many sustainable initiatives, and their latest one is partnering with r.Ware. When you order online or curbside, your meal will be served in a, r.Ware container that can be returned to the self-serve return station at the restaurant, clean or dirty. You’ll get points for returning your containers, and right now you can earn points toward free beverages. This is a wonderful way to prevent containers from entering the waste stream, and putting them back into circulation. I encourage you to let restaurants know you’d appreciate more eco-friendly serve ware. It’s time to part with Styrofoam clamshells!
For more information about r.Ware, click here.
15. Less is more
Sometimes simplicity is key when it comes to the products we put on our bodies. For Erin Cote, making a facial scrub of olive oil and sugar keeps her skincare routine clean and eliminates unnecessary bottles, tubes, and vials of product.
16. Meal plan
Figuring out what to cook every day can be a daunting task. Wandering aimlessly through grocery stores without a plan often results in a lot of money spent, but no real meals put together. Do yourself a favor and write out a meal plan for the week. Factor in scheduled activities that might require a meal that is quicker to prepare. If you have produce that might not stay fresh, plan those meals for earlier in your week. Schedule a ‘leftovers’ day to clear out your fridge. Why is meal planning important? It helps prevent food waste. Food waste is a huge problem in the US. According to the USDA, food waste is estimated to be at 30-40% of the food supply. This occurs at the retail and consumer levels. In 2010, approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food was discarded. That’s not good for the planet or your pocketbook.
Did you know that in Hennepin County, about 1/3 of our trash is composed of organic materials? Organic materials like food waste and food-soiled paper could all be diverted from the trash stream, and instead composted at home or commercial sites. By January 1, 2022, Eden Prairie is required to offer a curbside organics recycling service to all households. This requirement was part of revisions Hennepin County made to its recycling ordinance in November 2018.
For Abbie Burgess, blogger of beautiful and ethical living @thepinkpaperdoll, “Our household composts because it’s the easiest way to reduce our household waste, and it’s great for the garden. We use a 55-gallon drum in the yard.”
18. Say no to straws
Straws are such small items, they often don’t make it through the sorters at recycling facilities. Straws are a problem because they often find their way to oceans. They break down into microplastics instead of biodegrading or dissolving, and these tiny particles are ingested by our sea friends. For most people, straws are not a necessity when drinking a beverage. For others with medical conditions, or a youngster learning how to drink, straws are helpful and required. I challenge you to ask for “no straw” on your next sit down or drive thru visit.
If you really must use a straw, consider a reusable and portable one like this one by ello.
Recycling has been around for a long time, but more modern recycling as we know it has been in practice since the 1960’s. While many people do a good job recycling cardboard and paper, there is still some confusion surrounding plastics. There are also opportunities when it comes to recycling items that need to be dropped off, such as plastic bags and film, metals, and clothing. Hennepin County has goals of recycling 75% of waste and sending zero waste to landfills by 2030. Let’s help achieve those numbers! Check with your waste hauler for specific recycling questions, or read this post to learn more.
20. Plan your lawn watering
As we enter yard care season soon, it’s a good time to review your watering techniques. Avoid watering your lawn on a windy day, as the water droplets evaporate quickly. Plan to water an established lawn in the morning, as it allows more water to penetrate the soil. Watering during the hottest part of the day means water will just evaporate more quickly. Get to know what type of soil you have. Sandy soils require more frequent watering than clay soils. Whether an area of your lawn is shady or sunny will also impact how much water is needed. If you have the option for a smart sprinkler controller, it’ll help you develop a customized watering schedule. We use a Rachio controller that we’ve nicknamed ‘Sprinkles’. Since it is Wi-Fi enabled, we can control each zone of our yard, and view forecasted weather. So, if rain is in the forecast, Sprinkles won’t water that day.
For more information about Rachio, click here.
21. Be intentional with your purchases
We live in a world where trends change quickly and the latest upgrades come along often, promising to change your life through things like clothes in the latest colors and styles, and the newest high-tech phones. It’s tempting to stay on top of these trends and keep consuming, but do we really need to? One strategy is to buy high quality products that will stand the test of time and not single or limited use items. Consider challenging your consumption & shifting towards more durable, long lasting items. Or better yet – consider borrowing before you buy, or shopping in second hand markets to give new life to lightly used items.
22. Join Hennepin County’s | Zero Waste Challenge
Our family’s sustainable living journey truly started when we signed up for Hennepin County’s Zero Waste Challenge in September 2019. We took the time to look at areas in our lives where we were generating waste. Once we identified and achieved goals we wanted to work on, it really spurred our momentum to make it a lifestyle. And while we might not be one of those families that can stuff a yearlong amount of trash into a Mason jar (we take out trash and recycling every week just like most), we certainly know we have a choice in our actions.
The next Zero Waste Challenge starts on May 1, 2021. This is a modified version of what the in-person, eight-month challenge was like, but it’s still a great way to kick off sustainable living habits.
To sign up, click here.
I hope you find some inspiration in some of these ideas shared by local residents! By making slight changes to your routine, you’ll be able to decrease the amount of waste you generate. This will hopefully translate to lifelong actions and a new way of thinking about how you impact the Earth. Good luck with your journey!