7 Easy Ways to Help Save Our Planet

Happy Earth Week!* Let’s all take a second to reflect on and give thanks to this wondrous planet we call home.

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This picture was taken along the Village Walking Trail at Kapalua on Maui in November 2016. The trail you see here was the cart path along the old Village Golf Course, closed in 2007. When they built the new course, they decided to let nature reclaim this one, meaning that the vegetation you see here, already so full, lush, and overall jungly, was actually a fairway not that long ago. If you have the chance, I’d highly recommend stopping by; there are many different levels of difficulty available. The one we did was equally hilly and rewarding. Side note: read The World Without Us.

 

As I age and continue to read the horrifying stats about the shape of the planet, I find myself becoming increasingly concerned with my personal carbon footprint. Consequently, I’ve taken great strides to become a more conscious citizen of Earth in the last few years. I have also come to feel strongly that this needs to be a regular topic of conversation between friends and neighbors; sharing, educating, and spreading knowledge of how we can better care for our planet is the only way we will continue to make permanent positive changes.

Now, I recognize that this level of focus on the Earth’s health and well-being comes with a certain level of privilege. When you’re worried about meeting basic human needs, stopping to read a recycling label is certainly not going to be a priority. But for many of us, immediate personal convenience often trumps potential long-term ecological impact. Helping to save the Earth doesn’t necessarily mean you have to plant trees or contact your local legislator (although those things are important too!). Sometimes it’s rather simple. I’d encourage you to think really hard about the little things you do every day that may have bigger implications than you realize.

Don’t be like Titus.

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While I’m no behavior change psychologist, I’ve personally been most successful in making permanent changes when I start small. My goal in sharing the below list is that you may find something new to incorporate into your routine. Remember, every baby step you take is still a step forward.

*This isn’t really a thing, but since I dropped the ball by not getting this out on Sunday, I hereby proclaim the week following Earth Day to be Earth Week! Even better, let’s just go ahead and treat every week like Earth Week.

7 Simple, Eco-Friendly House Rules

1. Get yourself a reusable water bottle.

For real, this is 2017. There is no reason why you should still be using plastic water bottles. For one, they are expensive. Happily, in many cases, reducing your carbon footprint also means reducing your cash outflow. Secondly, multiple studies have proven that there is no real difference in quality between tap water and bottled water (most Americans have access to clean drinking water). In many cases, bottled water is actually just purified tap water. If you’re afraid to use the tap, just get a water filter for your fridge. Lastly, and very importantly, bottled water bottles produce a helluva lot of waste. According to Ban the Bottle, Americans recycle only 23% of plastic water bottles used, meaning 38.5 billion bottles flood our dumps each year.

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I really like my Klean Kanteen because it’s a good product and because of the company’s mission to help people kick single-use habits.

2. Turn off your lights when they’re not in use.

This isn’t just a cool little Mormon trick!

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Just like the tip above, this one is not only good for the environment, but it saves money, too. My grandfather used to admonish me when I’d leave a trail of lights behind me, “Are you the one paying the electricity bill?” Now that I am, it sure feels good to keep the bill as low as possible. Especially since doing so means I’m helping to reduce wasted energy as well. While the amount of energy saved really depends on the type of bulb in question, suffice it to say it’s best practice to turn off any light that’s not needed.

That said, consider getting rid of your incandescent bulbs altogether. Of the energy they use, 90% is given off as heat and only 10% produces light. That is pretty horrible in terms of energy waste and it can also result in potential fire hazards, especially if the lights are left on for prolonged periods. You’re better off with compact fluorescent bulbs which, while more expensive upfront, will last longer, more efficiently consume energy, and save you more money in the long run. Learn more here or here.

3. Similarly, turn off and unplug appliances and electronics.

Simply put, if you’re not actively using an appliance, you don’t need to have it turned on (obviously the refrigerator and freezer are different). Mom, Dad, this is when I tell you again that Nestle does not need to watch TV while you’re gone. She just doesn’t.

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Also important to note, however, is that many appliances consume energy even when they are not turned on. While this “standby power” is sometimes helpful because it allows certain appliances to show a clock display, use a timer, etc., in many cases it’s wasted energy, consumed for no other reason than because that appliance is plugged in. According to the Three Actions Project and Energy Star, “the average household spends $100 per year to power devices while they are off (or in standby mode). On a national basis, standby power accounts for […] more than $10 billion in annual energy costs.”

There are a couple of easy ways to improve this. One, try to only plug in certain, more single-use items when you actually use them, like your toaster, coffee maker, phone or toothbrush charger. Two, group some appliances together with a power strip so they can all be unplugged at once, like your TV, cable box, and game console. Realistically you don’t need these things plugged in for more than a few hours at a time, and that way you don’t have to go through the hassle of re-plugging them individually.

4. Remember to stash your reusable shopping bags everywhere.

Even though I do reuse the ones I have as garbage bags for my bathrooms, plastic bags make me so anxious. They’re terrible for the environment, take thousands of years to break down, and are difficult and costly to recycle. (I like this list of reasons why they should be banned.) Thankfully, many cities are wising up and straight-up banning these flimsy atrocities altogether.

Also thankfully, there is a very easy alternative to the plastic bag and that is the increasingly present reusable shopping bag. They can be found at almost any retailer nowadays, and some stores are actually sending you away with their own branded version in lieu of any other type of bag. It’s not hard to accumulate quite the stash (in fact, I recently had to unload a bunch for the sake of storage space). What’s more difficult is actually remembering to bring them with you when you go shopping, especially for those unavoidable impromptu stops.

To combat this problem, I like to keep a few in the car and at least one in the stroller (since we walk so many places). I recommend you do the same!

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I used to have this exact bag!

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5. Recycle, recycle, recycle (but do so responsibly).

First, become acquainted with what you can recycle, especially as it can vary by city (here’s Chicago’s guide or find your city’s here). Recycling can be surprisingly complicated, and unfortunately many of us (I’m definitely guilty of some of the no-nos) are aspirational yet misinformed recyclers, leading to increased contamination and, sadly, more trash. Some general tips?

  • Don’t bag your recycling. Doing so often results in the entire bin going to the landfill instead. This also includes leaving the recyclables in brown paper bags. Shake them out first, then throw the bag in.
  • Don’t recycle some of these common contamination culprits:
    • Styrofoam
    • Electronics
    • Coffee cups
    • Toys
    • Plastic bags (some grocery stores recycle them, but home recyclers do not)
    • Pizza boxes (unless you’ve removed the greasy parts)
    • Anything stringy (like hoses or lights)
  • Do rinse out your food containers before recycling. Again, anything greasy or filled with food could cause the whole bin to be thrown in the trash. Anytime you feel annoyed by the 30 seconds it will take to clean a container, think of how sad it would be to clog up the landfills instead. Yes, I even mean the damn peanut butter container. Think of the planet!

Well, maybe not that last one.

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6. If it’s yellow…

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This one is going to be more controversial, but I think that’s more because of baseless societal norms than logic itself. In fact, it’s a policy that can result in major water conservation.

According to Conserve H20, the average modern toilet uses 1.6 gallons of water per flush (older toilets can use up to four times more while high-efficiency toilets use 1.28 or less). Let’s say you have an up-to-par, modern toilet and pee at home six times a day (conservative by my standards). That means you’re flushing 9.6 gallons a day. If you only flush once every three pees, or twice in that same time period, that means you’re saving roughly 4.8 gallons a day, 33.6 gallons a week, 144 gallons a month, 1,752 gallons a year! Because there is “not an infinite supply of water,” it’s important to acknowledge what a huge impact we’d have on one of our most precious resources if more people started to save this much water each day with such a simple change.

And if you’re worried about cleanliness, don’t be. Assuming you have no sort of infection, are properly hydrated, and regularly clean your toilet, holding back on flushes for a couple of hours will have no impact on the cleanliness of your home. In fact, it might even increase it because the amount of toilet particles flying into the air upon flushing will be reduced. (Real talk. Can we make it a RULE that people have to close their toilet lids before flushing? If you think I’m gross for not flushing my pee each time, just know that I’m judging you for your poo splatter.)

7. Switch to all-natural cleaning supplies.

Despite what you think of me now after having read that above suggestion, I am a clean freak.

Please. Disorderly is different than dirty, okay?

 

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I love to clean. Strangely enough, cleaning bathrooms is one of my preferred chores. But since I’ve become more focused on greener living, I’ve had a hard time justifying the use of potentially dangerous chemicals to so. Instead, I’ve started to use one of the oldest tricks in the book: plain old water and vinegar. Now my go-to, all-purpose cleaner, I use it almost everywhere in our apartment (sigh, I still prefer Windex for glass). I use it on our floors (for the hardwood, I add a little olive oil), in our bathrooms, on our counters, on the door handles, to dust, even to help rinse off our fruits and veggies. Everywhere.

Aside from its ridiculously low cost (so incredibly cheap; out-of-the-ballpark cheaper than any solution found in stores), I rest much easier knowing that I’m not “cleaning” my apartment with chemicals that come with warning labels, or releasing said chemicals into our air or water supply. I’m not afraid my toddler, who has been known to lick random surfaces on occasion, is going to come across the bottle, and I’m not afraid to breathe the air when I clean. Win-win-win-win-win.

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Here’s my set-up. It’s about 1/3 white vinegar and 2/3 water with a few drops of lemon oil (or lemon juice if I have a fresh lemon). I bought the nozzle from a gardening spritz bottle at the dollar store and just screwed it straight onto the vinegar bottle. I keep another vinegar bottle for refills.

 

A Few Other Simple Tricks

These don’t need much explanation, but are always worth mentioning.

  • Turn off the water as you brush your teeth.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Walk more and/or take public transportation if it’s available.
  • Buy locally sourced produce and meat. Better yet, try eating less meat overall.
  • Wash your clothes with cold water.
  • Pay your bills online and unsubscribe from paper notices.
  • Use your blinds accordingly to help regulate your home’s temperature (open during the winter and closed during the summer).
  • Buy second-hand toys or toys made from recycled plastic (I love Green Toys).

Educate Yourself

All of these tips help make a difference in terms of eco-friendliness, but overall I want to stress the importance of mindfulness as it relates to energy consumption (something I continue to work toward every day). In general, I think we do a poor job of thinking where energy comes from when we’re going about our daily lives. Yet much of what we do requires some level of power and has some level of impact on the Earth.

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Remember, right now, most of our energy comes from burning fossil fuels (petroleum, coal, gas). Fossil fuels are high in carbon, so burning them produces a lot of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is a leading cause of global warming. Plus, while they are naturally formed, we consider them to be non-renewable resources because the process by which they are formed takes millions of years and, no surprise, we are going through them much faster than that.

The bad news is that we simply don’t have time to waste on the climate change denial crisis going on. But…

neil degrasse tyson

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The good news is that there is a concerted effort taking place by many of the world’s top scientists to increase the efficiency, cost effectiveness, and prevalence of renewable resources, and it led to record high wind and solar production in 2015.

Long story short, there are things we can all be doing better to help improve the quality of our planet. The only way it will get better is if we all start to think outside of ourselves a little more and do the best we can, now.

What’s Next?

First, I will take a deep breath. If I already felt a little panicky about the state of our environment, doing research for this article sure as hell did not help the matter.

Not me.

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Okay.

Now, I must remind myself that becoming greener is an ongoing process. Even the above tips, which I already practice regularly, can be improved and refined. For example, I’m terrible about unplugging my phone charger each time I’m done with it. I also just now learned some of the important rules of proper recycling.

There are also countless ways I can continue to build on and enhance my personal eco initiative. I shamefully admit my dependence on paper towels and napkins. In the coming months, I’d really like to work on this, especially because we already have some of these adorable “unpaper towels.”

For more ideas of how you can reduce your carbon footprint, check out some of these lists.

Do you feel jazzed about the environment now? Because I do! Let’s do this people!

Raymond Holt is hands down one of the best characters on television. If you don’t watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you aren’t doing it right. I also firmly believe he’d do everything in his power to reduce his carbon footprint.

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What are your favorite eco-friendly tips?

 

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The Wisdom of The Vampire Diaries

It is official, blog followers. By now, you’re aware that I’ve been steadily binge-watching my way through The Vampire Diaries. In a feat of human strength and perseverance, I can now say I am a graduate of TVD!

I use the term “graduate” very deliberately, of course, because to graduate from something suggests that an actual life accomplishment has been achieved. If I think of the time it took to watch all 171 episodes in the span of 53 days–approximately 120 hours, 7,182 minutes, or five consecutive days–in any other way, I’d be forced to ask myself some pretty tough life questions. Instead, I choose to continue with the idea that the experience has been educational.

As such, my first post in almost two months (I’m sorry!) will be to impart the wisdom I have gained from one of our country’s finest cinematic triumphs. At the very least, I’ll share some of the things it made me learn about myself.

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Kermit gets me.

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What I Learned from The Vampire Diaries

1. I know more about vampire lore than I ever thought possible.

See, this isn’t my first foray into vampire studies. I’ve done my fair share of reading about and watching vampires in all their silver screen glory. Of course, each piece of vampire literature has its own take, making for a pretty well-rounded vampire education.

For example, some vampires are to be feared (Dracula, Interview with a Vampire, or I Am Legend) while others are of the sexier and less frightening variety (The Vampire Diaries or, shudder, Twilight).

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Okay, so maybe “fearsome” isn’t the right word, but this is certainly not Tom Cruise’s best look. Sometimes being a vampire means turning into a scarier version of yourself. #harshtruths

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Some vampires live in a world where their existence is common knowledge (True Blood) while most others dwell in secrecy and shadows. Can they survive–even if begrudgingly so–on animal blood? Do they require sleep? Can they go into the sun or are they confined to dark places? Are they able to eat human food or, more unconventionally, procreate? The list of potential vampire qualities is nuanced and practically endless. In talking to people about my obsession with TVD, I’ve come to realize that I can explain, in greater detail than I’d care to admit, which universe has which kind of vampire and how their differences affect their quality of life and level of human interaction.

2. If I were 164 years old, I sure as hell wouldn’t spend my time courting a 17-year-old high school student in Virginia (or anywhere else for that matter).

I know, I know. Stefan already traveled the world, lived his best life, and came home again after a long time away when he happened upon a beautiful teenager who reminded him of a long-lost love. Of course he had to stick around to learn more about her. But really, willingly going to high school again? Are you kidding me?! I can think of at least 1,757 things I’d rather do first, even if it meant waiting for the “love of my life” to graduate. College, at least, would be a much more fulfilling way to pass eternity.

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Yeah, really, Stefan, WTF are you doing?

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This also begs the question: wouldn’t someone so old be more intellectually attracted to older women, women who have much more wisdom and life experience than a teenager? I get that he has been 17 for 147 years (at least in the above picture; by the end it would have been 153), but are those 17-year-old hormones still so powerful that he is more sexually enticed by a fellow 17-year-old than someone more mature? Perhaps, but if I were such an old vampire, I like to think I’d be drawn to someone a little more in the middle. But then there’s the whole human-ages-while-vampire-doesn’t conundrum. Hm. I guess I’ll never know.

3. High school is still not accurately portrayed on TV.

For one, what high school has such frequent and elaborate dances? Insane social calendar implications aside, can you imagine any high school kid having the budget for all of these costumes and gowns? Below is just a sampling of all their formal events. There would be too many to even show here. Oh, and don’t tell me they’re just rentals. These events usually end in bloodshed. No one in their right mind would return the security deposit on a blood-soaked dress.

[Sources: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here]

Or how about the fact that these high school kids can have sleepovers with their significant others and no one seems to care? I do realize that Elena’s parents are deceased and her guardian is a young and someone lax aunt. Still, I don’t know a single person who was allowed to conduct their life this way when they were in high school.

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Just a regular morning for a high school student on TV.

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A sleepover on a school night, no less. Even if I were allowed to sleep over with a boyfriend, the idea of being late for school as a result wouldn’t have been worth the anxiety. I guess I’ve always had my priorities straight.

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And if you thought a regular old sleepover was absurd, imagine spending a romantic weekend together at your family’s cabin! What?!

Most importantly, these kids are barely in school with all their vampire-related goings on: conducting spells, burying classmates, learning how to use a crossbow, taking lengthy trips across country with their boyfriend’s brother (okay just one girl; see sleepover comments above), traveling to a remote island to dig through a crypt, learning you’re a doppelganger (don’t even ask), being turned into a vampire, losing your humanity. That’s just scratching the surface. It’s a wonder any educational system would grant diplomas to such absentee students. I mean, did they ever even learn the struggle of deciding where to sit at lunch or having a too-heavy backpack weigh you down between classes? Do they even know what a textbook is?!

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They attend college in the following season, but the real question is when did they even have time to apply?

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4. My life is way more mundane than life in a TV serial.

I’m not a supernatural creature. To my knowledge, my city isn’t overrun with supernatural creatures (though depending on what time I’m on the Red Line, I’d say that’s debatable). I–knock on wood–haven’t been around many dead bodies, I haven’t had much interaction with law enforcement, and I haven’t had nearly the amount of relationship drama that these folks have. It’s a sign of privilege, I guess, to go along living my peaceful little life and getting my fill of drama through a TV screen. But when I think of the alternative, I’m pretty grateful for it.

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And here I am, sitting around and typing on a computer. The biggest explosion I’ve seen lately was when I turned on the stove.

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5. I can never say I don’t have enough time for something ever again.

You heard me before. I watched the equivalent of five straight days of TV in the span of 53. And that’s just counting the time I spent on TVD. Papa Bear and I are definitely what I’d call “TV people,” so it’s unfortunately not as if tube time was limited to vampires. If nothing else, this calculation made me realize that if something is important enough to me, I’ll make time for it. In this case, “important” meant lounging around and burning brain cells, but I’ve come to terms with it and have learned to accept who I am. Don’t worry, I mostly watched the show while Baby Bear was sleeping, so chances are good he never felt neglected.

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If Netflix had eyes, this is how it would look at me. “Are you still watching?” You know goddamn well I’m still watching, Netflix.

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6. I can fangirl like the best of them.

I’ve become so entrenched in the TVD universe that I now dream about it and have found myself thinking about it at the strangest times (like at the opera, for example). I follow many of the actors on Instagram in addition to countless fan accounts (I’m honestly too afraid to count). I’ve spent way more time than a respectable 29-year-old should going down Instagram wormholes (#stelena and #delena are my personal favorite TVD hashtags). I’ve rewatched some of my favorite scenes more than twice. I cried during the series finale even though I was left disappointed by it. I even strongly considered going to the recent TVD convention in Chicago. I am, for lack of a better term, a total fangirl.

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“Hello, brother.” *tear*

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7. There is real value in a guiltless guilty pleasure.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from this whole shebang is that having a “guilty pleasure” can actually be really good for you. There is a lot of crazy stuff happening in the world today–“crazy stuff” being a rather lighthearted euphemism. I think we’d all benefit from stepping away from it from time to time and allowing ourselves to be wholeheartedly entertained by something like The Vampire Diaries. My binge experience made me realize that there is no shame in mindlessly escaping to a fantasy world of juicy and wildly dramatic tales of lust, love, and betrayal. Quite the opposite, actually; watching the show left me feeling more relaxed, sane, and centered than before.

It also doesn’t hurt when the characters look like this.

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Yes, yes you do.

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So…Now What?

You know, there isVampire Diaries spinoff…

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Must. Not. Watch. Must. Regain. Control. Of. Life.

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