Taking steps to reduce waste and your carbon footprint

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The Amazon is burning. Have you heard? At the G7 Summit, leaders pledged a mere 20 million dollars to help. Sure — it sounds like a lot, but not when you consider things like rich folks pledged over one BILLION dollars when Notre Dame was burning. Notre Dame is historically important and a beautiful structure, but it doesn’t provide us with air to breathe. It doesn’t provide a home for 10% of the world’s species. The Amazon does.

For reference, the Amazon is FOUR TIMES the size of Alaska. As reported in the Washington Post, the Amazon pulls carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Destruction of the forest releases carbon stored in the trees and reduces the amount of carbon dioxide used by them. If all of that carbon ends up in the atmosphere, it will speed up climate change.

I’m not going to get into how childish the Brazilian president is acting about this and selfishly refusing to accept help until French President Macron apologizes to him — you know, while the Amazon continues to burn. Even if ALL of the trees were replanted, it would take 10 MILLION years to bring the whole ecosystem back. That’s crazy.

I spent an entire hour talking with my therapist about how climate change keeps me up at night. I’m distraught at thinking about what kind of world we’re leaving for our kids (and maybe grandkids?) or if there will even be one.

It kills me that people aren’t spending every waking moment finding ways to help. Ways to reduce waste. Ways to reduce our carbon footprint (maybe you heard of Elton John recently letting Meghan and Harry use his private jet and all the backlash from it? He ‘offset’ the carbon footprint by donating to have trees planted).

I asked in a local moms group what people were doing to help and here are the (summarized) responses. They go from simple to more complex. And I loved the mom who said “start with one, not all at once.” This makes it less overhwelming and will help you succeed:

  • Composting: this reduces the amount of curbside trash and can also help you put good nutrients back into the Earth when you plant your garden (or flowers).
  • Shopping for clothes on ThredUp, Poshmark, eBay, etc or at local consignment shops: fast fashion has a REALLY big carbon footprint.
  • Local buy/sell/trade or buy nothing groups for toys for kids
  • Cloth diapers: I’m a little annoyed at myself for not doing this — especially when I think about HOW MANY DIAPERS we have used in 2.5 years. Just waste, sitting in the dump.
  • Reusable water bottle: this seems simple but I see so many people everyday with plastic bottles.
  • Reusable snack bags: I just purchased these and won’t be buying any more ziploc bags.
  • No more aluminum foil, use reusable covers for bowls
  • Black out curtains will help keep your home cool in the summer and reduce the need for AC
  • Change light bulbs to more energy efficient ones and turn off the lights when you leave a room
  • Reusable bags at the grocery store — or at the very least, get paper bags instead of plastic
  • No plastic straws (or no single use straws period): we purchased stainless steel and silicone straws last year — both are great. I recently saw these glass ones recommended because you can see if the inside is still dirty (ew).
  • Take a reusable cup to Starbucks (or your local coffee shop) — most give you a discount on your coffee if you do this and you’re also not using a single use plastic cup this way. Don’t have your cup? Skip the caffeine trip.
  • Adult cup for (reasonably aged) children at restaurants instead of kid’s cup
  • Cook more whole foods (veggies, meats, fruits, etc.) instead of boxed or bagged (processed) foods
  • Reduce your consumption of meat: this one is HARD for me. I grew up on a beef farm. Try one day at first — meatless Monday, then add a few more meals or days throughout the week.
  • Meal plan so you don’t have to run to the grocery store multiple times
  • Don’t use the plastic bags for veggies at the grocery store
  • Bar soap instead of bottled — think how many bottles you go through a year!
    • Refillable bottles for soap and beauty products at Be Pure in Carr Mill Mall or Fillaree at Bulldega in Durham
  • Take public transportation when possible — Chapel Hill has free buses.
  • Diesel car — this was new to me, seems like electric/smart car would be an even better option
  • Purchase glass Tupperware instead of plastic. The reusable bags work great for freezing leftovers.
  • Speaking of leftovers, try not to waste food. We have gotten better here but need to really focus on how we can incorporate leftovers into future meals
  • CleanCultI use Squeak (made in Wilmington)
  • Buy milk in a glass or carton container instead of the plastic jugs
  • You can get cat litter refills at Petco! No need to buy a new bag, just take a container and refill it.
    • Cat litter has a lot of plastic in it (ew) but there is a walnut shell option that is better for the environment
  • Use biodegradable bags for picking up dog waste (and put it in a bin, don’t leave it somewhere along the way on your walk)
  • Energy efficient appliances and water saving tubs and shower heads
  • Don’t use hot water in the washing machine and don’t do extended drying times in the dryer — let your clothes air dry if possible — hang a clothesline
  • Cloth napkins and reusable wipes instead of paper towels (someone mentioned that 51,000 trees are cut down daily for our paper towel habit!)
  • Set your thermostat to 79-84 or higher when you aren’t home in the summer
  • Use a rain barrel for collecting water and then use that to water your plants/garden
  • Stop buying feminine hygiene products and purchase a reusable cup 
  • Solar panels
  • Electric lawnmower/weedeater
  • Spray foam insulation
  • Buying in bulk: buy the big carton of goldfish for your kid’s snacks instead of the box that has 30 individual bags in it
  • Amazon delivery day: try to have everything shipped on one day each month and not order in between ( I DEFINITELY need to get better about that)
  • Use bamboo utensils and carry them with you to restaurants
  • Recycle everything you can (while recycling is good, it still uses a ton of energy so reduce here as much as you can, too): Whole Foods takes plastic #5
  • Get a bidet to cut down on toilet paper use (at the very least, use the TP that is made from recycled materials such as Who Gives a Crap TP)
  • Carbon credits for when you travel: offset your travel buy purchasing carbon credits (just build it into your budget)
  • Purchase from Etsy (a carbon neutral company) if you can’t find the product locally
  • GO TO THE LIBRARY or use an e-reader — if you have to buy a book, go for paperback
  • Dropps for laundry and dishwasher
  • Use ecosia for your search engine — they don’t track your searches like other engines do and they use proceeds to plant trees
  • Online invites and holiday cards instead of printed ones (does anyone really keep these anyway?)
  • Limit water use: turn off while you’re brushing your teeth, don’t refill the tub to keep the water warm, take shorter showers, run dishwasher/washing machine on energy saving cycles
  • Voting for politicians who take environmental protections seriously and prioritize climate change (it IS real and it is happening NOW).
  • Have your child take the bus to school instead of driving them and picking them up every day
  • Don’t leave your car idling. If you have to run in somewhere, turn it off. If you’re stuck in stand-still traffic — turn it off.
  • Buy the bigger carton of yogurt instead of individual containers — or make your own at home (really easy in the Instant Pot).
  • If you’re going to eat food from a restaurant, eat it IN the restaurant instead of getting take-out
  • Don’t use paper/plastic products for parties — break out your real dishes or silverware and wash it after
  • Don’t run the dishwasher when it isn’t full — it can wait another day

SO many incredible recommendations here. I realize this is a little off-topic from what I normally post but it is SO important and I want my child to have a world where he can breathe, visit a beach that isn’t underwater, see wildlife that isn’t extinct, not get cancer from environmental factors, have normal seasons — not the most extreme. Don’t you? Next time you pick up a plastic bottle, take a second to run back in and grab your reusable bottle. Recycle everything you can. Reuse things when you can (I’m not encouraging you to be a hoarder but you don’t necessarily need to buy something new if yours is barely used). Consider what you REALLY need to buy. Purchase less plastic toys for your kids — wooden toys will hold up for YEARS! L is playing with a metal tow truck that my brother had as a child.

Additional resources via websites / readings that were recommended:

Small changes add up. We can do a lot on our own — especially in terms of attitude adjustment and motivating others as one mom pointed out. But all of this is in reaction to a huge volume of consumer goods.

Why does everything have to be wrapped in plastic? Why does every single shirt I order need to be in plastic? We can do a lot with WHERE we spend our money. And how we use our voice. I mentioned above voting for politicians who prioritize climate change and environmental protections — this is important. Show up at your local government and tell them that this is important. There’s a climate strike in Raleigh on September 20th. We can’t turn this around on our own — even with the strictest of individual actions — we need governments and companies to change their actions.

I’d love to hear other ideas that you have — leave them in the comments and I’ll gladly update this post so we can keep working to make positive changes.

*some links are affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you purchase the product. But you’ll also be doing things to save the Earth so it’s a win-win for both of us.

2 comments on “Taking steps to reduce waste and your carbon footprint”

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