How to Help the Earth if You're in Your 40s
Small changes. Big impact.
With global pollution at an all-time high, there's never been a better—or more important—time to work toward a more eco-conscious lifestyle. However, short of shelling out for a hybrid car or living entirely off the grid, the ways someone can reach their green dreams aren't always clear—especially for people over 40. Decades ago, environmentalism was not as much of an integral part of education and everyday life. So, if you're a forty-something eager to make the world a healthier place, start with these easy tips from some of the world's top sustainability experts.
Use reusable food containers.
Foregoing plastic bags at the grocery store in favor of reusable totes is a step in the right direction. But if you really want to do your part to help planet Earth, try using recyclable food containers, utensils, and straws, too.
"You may have seen painful videos of sea turtles found with plastic straws or forks up their noses. Using reusable materials is a small but effective way to reduce the plastic pollution that harms marine life," says Eric Otjen, a member of the SeaWorld Rescue Team. "Choose to drink straw-less, or buy reusable metal ones. Drink from water bottles instead of disposable cups. If you go out to eat, bring your own containers to take home leftovers."
Pare down your party supplies.
Celebrating a work milestone, anniversary, or birthday? Choosing eco-friendly party supplies can make a major difference over time. "Instead of balloons at your birthday, use biodegradable confetti or rice paper lanterns," recommends Otjen.
Cut down on your lawn space.
Having a well-manicured lawn may look nice, but opting for a garden or planting trees will yield more benefit for the environment in the long run. "Put in native trees, shrubs, and flowering plants. By doing this, you'll restore the ability of your garden to absorb rainfall and soak it into the ground," says Maya K. van Rossum, the original organizer of the Green Amendment Movement and author of The Green Amendment: Securing Our Right to a Healthy Environment.
In doing so, van Rossum says, "you will also create a beautiful and healthy habitat for butterflies, birds, and other local wildlife, enriching your lives and theirs."
Turn off your outdoor lighting.
Decorating for the holidays may make your house look festive, but if you leave those lights on for months on end, you could be having a deleterious effect on the environment. "If you put out holiday lights, consider putting out less than you did last year, and make sure you turn your lights off when you go to bed—overnight, nobody (or practically nobody) will be awake or outside to enjoy your holiday display," says van Rossum.
"Similarly, be sure to turn off all outside lights when you don't need them, and especially when you go to bed," she notes. "And think about putting LED lightbulbs throughout your home—they last longer and use significantly less energy. All of these little steps can be a big money and energy saver that reduces your carbon and pollution footprint."
Quit using chemical herbicides.
If you're eager to keep weeds and pests from destroying your garden and eating your vegetables, opt for fencing and good old-fashioned manual weeding instead of chemical herbicides and pesticides. "[Herbicide] glyphosate in the environment can be toxic to an array of living organisms including plants, animals, and microorganisms," says van Rossum.
She adds that research shows that frogs and toads are particularly at risk, even in your garden. Instead, "use non-toxic options, hand-weeding, or handheld burning for managing weeds."
Recycle your kids' art supplies.
If your kids are getting too old for those crayons they once loved, or their markers have dried out, don't drop them in the trash. Recycle them! Crayola's ColorCycle program will recycle reused markers from school classrooms, while non-profits like The Crayon Initiative will recycle old crayons and distribute new ones made from recycled materials to art programs in hospitals.
Save water with low-flow fixtures.
While turning off the tap while you brush your teeth or taking shorter showers is a great place to start, if you really want to reduce your water consumption, replace some of your fixtures.
"Look for easy, inexpensive ways to reduce your usage, such as finding EPA WaterSense-labeled fixtures and low-flow faucets and toilets," explains Matt Daigle, CEO and founder of sustainable building company Rise. "Toilets are the single largest water user in a household, accounting for up to 30 percent. So installing a more efficient toilet is your best way to reduce your water consumption."
Add heat pumps to your home.
Keeping your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer may be necessary, but oil and gas heating and traditional air conditioners eat up a ton of energy and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
"Switch away from fossil fuels—oil, gasoline, natural gas, and propane—to energy efficiency and renewable energy," says Daigle. "A great and easy way to do this is to invest in a heat pump. Heat pumps can reduce the amount of energy needed to heat and cool your home and reduce or even limit your reliance on fossil fuels."
Wash your recyclable plastics.
Tossing containers with food still on them directly into the recycling bin can cause serious environmental harm—so when in doubt, rinse it out.
"Wash recyclable plastic food containers prior to recycling them," says Kaméa Chayne, host of the sustainability podcast Green Dreamer. "Contamination can render entire batches of recyclables un-recyclable."
Keeping clothes out of landfills is a major environmental effort. It's why H&M, the Swedish fast fashion giant, has pushed a sustainability effort in recent years: Bring in your old clothing—even if they're not H&M brand—and they'll give you a 15 percent discount on your purchase.
Now, thanks to the proliferation of used clothing sites and apps like ThredUp and Kidizen, it's easier than ever to find high-quality used clothing, saving you money while saving the environment in one fell swoop. And if you're in need of a wardrobe upgrade, sites like The Real Real and Poshmark can help you get used designer pieces that might otherwise be prohibitively expensive at a serious discount.
"Prioritize secondhand clothing, then ones made with up-cycled or deadstock fabrics, then ones made with low-impact natural fibers, then clothes made with recycled polyester/nylon (avoiding ones made with virgin microplastics if possible)," suggests Chayne.
Separate out compostable goods.
If you're simply tossing compostable containers in the trash can or recycling bin, you could be causing more environmental problems than you're solving.
"Compostable 'plastic' only works if it is hand sorted and sent to an industrial composting facility," says Michael Martin, CEO of Effect Partners and r.Cup. "If compostable plastic is put in recycling, it contaminates the entire load. If it is put into an incinerator, it releases CO2. If it goes into a landfill, it does not really compost for decades or centuries, and acts essentially like petroleum plastic. If it goes into the environment, our roadsides, or the ocean, it will not compost and acts like plastic."
Join a CSA.
No garden? No problem! Getting a share of a community-supported agriculture (CSA) plot means you can enjoy fresh, local fruits and veggies even if you don't have room to grow them yourself—some farms and gardens even let you plant your own.
"Subscribe to local available organic and regenerative agriculture-focused CSAs to support local farmers, enrich our soils—and nutrition level in our foods—and reduce food waste," says Chayne.
Get an energy audit.
If you're worried about how much energy you're using, an energy audit from your local electric company can help you lower your electric bills and your carbon footprint in no time.
"Power companies are under instructions to encourage conservation," says green business profitability expert Shel Horowitz, author of Painless Green. "So they typically do energy audits for free—or for a $10 or $20 fee." And for more ways to improve the planet as you age, read up on How to Help the Earth if You're in Your 50s.
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