Earth Day started in 1970. I was 13 years old, in junior high school, and thought it was the oddest thing—Earth Day? What did they mean by that? I couldn’t imagine this was something that was going to catch on. Was it going to be one of these artificial Hallmark holidays, fabricated to send somebody (who?) a card on that day? In my young mind, it didn’t register that it was meant to increase public awareness about environmental issues.
When I was vacationing in the Bahamas this past December, here we were, more than 50 years later, and I realized how far we have yet to go in this awareness. I was visiting one of the pink sand beaches there and stopped for lunch. A woman struck up a conversation with me. Turns out she was a researcher working for an NGO, studying the coral reefs in the Bahamas and a mysterious virus that was killing them off. By the “kill pattern,” they were able to trace the source of the pollution—the source of this virus—to south Florida. If it weren’t for this chance conversation, I would have been like any other tourist in that beautiful place, oblivious to the manmade destruction that was going on underneath those pristine waters.
It was a wakeup call for me to double-down on my efforts, to do what I can. One individual can’t have much of an impact, but many tens of thousands of individuals can have a mighty impact. Here are a few things I’ve done, and a few things I’m planning on doing, to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
[The rest of this post has affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission on purchases at no additional cost to you.]
- Switch to a clean form of electricity. I’ve toyed with wind-powered electricity plans for many years here in Texas, but they’ve always been priced out of reach. Two years ago, when it was time for me to renew, I finally found a renewable energy plan that was no more expensive than those powered by fossil fuels. I signed up for a fixed-rate, 2-year plan that has kept my electricity bills remarkably low in one of the hottest states in the US, even after our “big freeze” and electricity grid debacle in 2021. Renewable energy has come a long way—look into it again if you also have been turned off by the high prices. If I weren’t a renter I’d also look into solar panels, but that will have to wait for another day.
- Stop buying bottled water. I stopped buying bottled water about 17 years ago when I became a homeowner and was able to purchase a refrigerator with a water and ice dispenser in the door. What is important, along with this, is keeping your refrigerator filter current. I’ve made this so I don’t have to think about it. Every 6 months I’m sent a new one by discountfilterstore.com. If you don’t like the taste of your municipal water but don’t have a fridge dispenser, then you can buy a special pitcher with a filter, such as the Brita Water Filter Pitcher.I drink ice water constantly all day long, and once I discovered Yeti tumblers, I never went back. Now both my ice and my water are filtered, and I’ve got a tumbler that keeps it cold all day long. But best of all, I’m not generating the colossal amounts of plastic waste that ends up as microplastic in our oceans, poisoning our birds and fishes.
- Reduce water consumption in the garden. I’ve rigged up my entire container garden to be on a drip irrigation system that operates off a timer, which reduces water runoff. Part of this is for the plants and part of it is for me: once it gets to be 90° and 90% humidity outside, there’s nothing I like better than knowing I don’t have to be out there every morning with the garden hose, making sure my plants don’t die. Both Raindrip and Rain Bird sell great kits that are easy to set up and use. The City of Houston just raised their water rates, again—this will help me stay below the threshold of the next-tier pricing.
- Compost your kitchen waste. When I lived in Rockport I had a huge back yard, and a big section of it was devoted to my compost pile, hidden by tall bamboo. That compost pile eventually broke down into black, rich soil amendments that I worked into my flower beds each spring, and I never had to buy bagged compost. Now that I live in a townhouse with only a patio space, I can’t do that anymore. But there are composting solutions for city dwellers like me. I plan to buy a composting bin like this one this year, and try this on an urban scale. A few things to remember about what can go inside these bins as far as kitchen waste: only vegetable matter, no meat, grease, or dairy. And all dead or dying plants, leaves, and grass clippings from the garden are great fuel for the compost!
- Stop buying “fast fashion.” It’s been in the news lately: the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters on our planet. If you have a teenage girl in your household, I probably don’t have to educate you on what fast fashion is all about—cheaply produced goods, pushed by influencers on social media, from brands such as Zara, Forever 21, and H&M. Not only are their clothes sewn by exploited and underpaid women and children in third-world countries, but are often worn once and then tossed aside for the latest, greatest trend. The dyes alone that the industry uses end up in our rivers and oceans, the fabric scraps and clothes end up in our landfills, and microplastics in our oceans. Fashion has become the second biggest consumer of water of any industry.What can we do? Refuse to be a slave to trends and buy into slick marketing schemes, for one. Upcycle, reuse, repair, recycle, buy from second-hand shops such as ThredUp and Poshmark. My Facebook sewing group is always amazing me at how they are upcycling older fabrics and worn-out clothes, even sheets, into new, wearable art. If you don’t sew, find someone who does who can repurpose a garment for you.
- Buy upcycled furniture. When I was in the market for a new dining table, I bought from an unlikely source (for me): an antiques dealer. I was in his shop a few years ago, needing some window frames to replace my wood-rotted, termite-ridden windows. I spotted a table there that knocked me out: multicolored planks of wood, forged together and sanded down in an irregular pattern that preserved the color but also exposed some of the original wood underneath. I thought it was breathtaking. They told me the wood was reclaimed from a 150-year-old hotel that had been torn down near the Texas-Mexico border. They had quickly gone down there to lay claim to the wood pieces and were building custom tables out of it. He said they had some left. Was I interested? Was I?! You bet I was!
Many emails, a custom design, and a year later, and I had my dining table. I’ve never regretted this purchase or the time it took to realize it. How wonderful that this wood didn’t end up in the landfill when this hotel was torn down, and instead has new life in my home.
- Sell or recycle your old electronics. Don’t throw them away! I’ve always had good luck selling electronics on eBay, even dead electronics. People buy them for parts. But if you don’t want to hassle with it, at least recycle them.Yesterday, as part of Earth Day in Houston, I saw on the morning news that a local electronics recycling company (CompuCycle) was holding a drive, encouraging people to bring in their old, outdated or dead computers, phones, TVs, printers, and whatnot so that they could be shredded and the components recycled. They have the largest electronics shredder in the US at this company, which they call The Beast, that literally demolishes these items, then sorts the bits into plastic, glass, copper, aluminum, other rare metals, and then sends or sells to recycling centers.Well! I had a dead hard drive removed from a computer last summer, just sitting in my office. The technician who replaced it at the time told me, “If you’re worried about the data on this, just take a hammer and beat the crap out of it. No one will ever be able to pull anything off it. Then you can throw it away.” But it still meant it would end up in the landfill. I liked the idea of recycling it a lot better.
On the news they’d said, “Just look! No awful lines here, only five cars. Easy peasy.” When I arrived around 10 a.m., the line of cars was a half-mile long and it took almost 45 minutes of waiting to get to the front. I knew I’d been in Texas too long when the thought went through my head, “I could just hit the gas, jump this curb, park over there, and walk there faster with this one hard drive…” But I waited and handed the thing over. “This is it?” the volunteer asked. “Yes, but…nuclear secrets on there.” We grinned at each other.By the time I was driving away, the line was easily a mile and a half long. Good for you, Houston.
If you have some unique ways in which you and your household are reducing, reusing, and recycling, please let us know by leaving a comment below!
If you are interested in submitting a post to this blog, submissions are open! I invite you to peruse my submission requirements, and if you have any further questions, you can reach me via my Contact page.