Each year since 1970, the month of April has been synonymous with Earth Day. Although this day of awareness is now 45 years old, it is still gaining popularity as more and more people become interested in finding ways to “go green” for the health and benefit of their children and family, as well as protecting the planet.
Looking at a complete revamp of a lifetime of habits is overwhelming to most, but don’t be discouraged. The best way to tackle a lifestyle makeover is to employ the same advice you tell your children about school projects: Break it into smaller chunks. Take it one step at a time. Focusing on one change a month or one change a week will allow you to celebrate successes more often along the way to achieving your goal.
• Bring reusable bags when shopping; use reusable lunch boxes and wrapping.
This is an easy one to start with. The reusable bags are available everywhere; they hold more items; and big bonus: you won’t have all those annoying flimsy plastic bags to dispose of.
• Reduce or eliminate paper and plastic products, such as plates, napkins and even paper towels. Here is another easy starter. Using “real” plates, cups and glasses just makes meals more enjoyable and less like you are eating fast food. Using cloth napkins could be a second-stage switch if you don’t want to change all at once.
• Drive less—carpool, combine errands, walk when you can. Planning out your errands conserves both gas and time.
• Turn off lights, TV, and other electronics when you are not using them. Implement the good advice your dad always gave you—You are not related to the Rockefellers, you know! It’s also a good idea to actually unplug charging wires from the outlets when they aren’t in use as electricity is still running live through the wire.
• Wash full loads only in the washer and dishwasher. Be careful not to overload the washing machine, though, or your clothes won’t be properly cleaned.
• Plant a garden and grow some vegetables, herbs, and fruit. Connecting with the earth and seeing how food is grown will help teach children about science, nature, agriculture, and so much more. Depending on the size and nature of the garden, it can help save money and beautify your surroundings.
• Spend more time outdoors with kids enjoying nature. A simple walk around your neighborhood will help your children appreciate nature, community and culture. Keep up the conversation with questions and observations. It is always good for them to know their surrounding area.
• Bake from scratch. It’s really not so hard (especially with so many simple recipes available on Pinterest and elsewhere) and it tastes so much better! Added bonus: you know exactly what you’re eating and feeding your kids. Baking with kids is a wonderful activity that combines math and manual dexterity with bonding and fun! It’ll save you money and teach your children skills they can use for a lifetime. Sounds like win-win, don’t you agree?
• Switch to a glass water bottle to eliminate the need to purchase and throw out all those small plastic ones, plus water tastes so much better from glass without chemicals leaching in from plastic (especially if it gets warmed). There are many options available with silicone coverings to protect the glass from breaking.
• Recycle batteries. FYI: the Greenbelt Nature Center has a small bin on the bench just inside the door where you can drop off old batteries. While you’re there, use the opportunity to take a hike in the Greenbelt or attend one of the Nature Center’s classes to have your kids learn more about animals and the environment.
• Be mindful when shopping—look for products with less packaging. If a product is reusable or refillable, even better! Less is more when it comes to packaging. The same is true when it comes to the ingredient list. Look for foods that are not processed or minimally processed. Read the ingredient list and stay clear of high futrose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, and food dyes. Making these changes in what your family is consuming is a great, and important, first step to clean eating.
• Switch to eco-friendly cleaning products. There are several eco-friendly companies that use less chemicals and toxic ingredients. The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. They publish a guide to healthy cleaning with safety ratings for more than 2,000 products http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners
• Buy more organic fruits and vegetables. Start by making sure you choose organic for produce that is especially high in pesticides. Again, the EWG is a great resource for this. They highlight the cleanest and dirtiest conventionally-raised fruits and vegetables so you can make an informed choice. There is even an app you can install on your smartphone for quick reference when you are at the supermarket facing a great sale on conventional cantaloupe. Spoiler alert: Go for it! Cantaloupe is on the list of fruits with the least pesticide residues.
• Select grass-fed beef when shopping for meats. Also, butter made from grass-fed cows. You’ll taste the difference as well as benefit from a healthier diet.
• Buy eggs from free-range hens. This is not only a matter of being humane, but hens raised this way produce eggs that are higher in vitamins. Conventional-raised hens are confined in coops or cages that restrict their movement, crowding them so much that they often cannot even lift their wings. An environment like this is not only cruel, but produces nutritionally inferior eggs compared with hens raised on pasture.
• Skip the antibacterial soap. A U.S. FDA advisory committee found that plain soap and water killed bacteria and microbes just as well as antibacterial soaps without exposing your family to all the chemicals, like triclosan, which can pose serious health hazards. Get a foaming hand soap, and then refill with just a couple of tablespoons liquid castile soap (like Dr. Bronners) and water, adding a few drops of sunflower or olive oil (for moisture and to keep the pump in good shape). This will save money while protecting your family’s health. Cha-ching!
• Shop at the Farmers Market! Support local farms and enjoy fresh produce that hasn’t traveled thousands of miles. A nice Saturday activity for a family, too. Staten Island Farmers Markets:
Saint George Greenmarket
St. Marks & Hyatt Streets (inside theater parking lot)
Open Saturdays, 4/4 – 12/26, 8am-2pm
Staten Island Mall Greenmarket
2655 Richmond Avenue (inside main entrance parking lot)
Open Saturdays, 6/13 – 11/21, 8am-3pm
If you have a favorite tip for going green, please share it with us to pass along. Post on our Facebook page (we are friends, aren’t we?) or email email@example.com. We need to all work together for a better world.