When you hear the word eco-friendly, what does it mean to you?
To mean, it means the item was created with the Earth's best interest in mind, without unnecessary or harmful chemicals and can be either recycled or composted when it is no longer useful.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary,
Eco-Friendly: not harmful to the environment: not having a bad effect on the natural world
Now ask yourself WHY eco-friendly IS important.
What do you want to get out of this world? Why is our planet worth protecting? How are the items we, as humans, use affecting our planet?
When we take a good look around us, we see bits and pieces of our trash and discards littering the sides of the road, overflowing the trash cans, floating in our water systems.
Maybe it isn't intentional, maybe that Styrofoam plate blew away and you couldn't catch it. Maybe you didn't care and just let the wind take it. Now think of where that plate must go. It's out there, in nature. Will an animal eat a piece of it, having it sit in its stomach until it dies? Will it blow out to the ocean, to float along the ocean currents?
When we look around us, how many everyday items do we use that would not be considered eco-friendly?
What items can we stop using and substitute for a more eco-friendly option?
This is the question I asked myself a few years ago.
Let me tell you a little about myself. Growing up, my friends and I spent hours playing outside. From the play house my grandpa built us, to the woods behind our house. We had so many adventures back in those wood! I specifically remember one winter where water froze on the ground creating a natural ice skating rink. I remember the creek that meandered through the woods, and how ice started forming along the bank. Just how peaceful it was back there, surrounded by nothing but my friend and the trees.
Growing up, we had the opportunity to travel around the US, visiting National Parks and sightseeing what the country had to offer. While we also visited the "standard" kid places, amusement parks, water parks, etc, the trips I enjoyed the most were the ones where we saw things we normally did not get to see at home. Ones where we could be out in nature, exploring our surroundings, hiking around. One of my favorite places we visited was Yellowstone National Park. Nowhere else in the US can you see what you can there. Geysers, hot springs, fumaroles... I saw herds of wild buffalo and bear roaming the valleys.
Nature has always been a big part of my life. It brings me peace.
Picture your own relationship with nature.
How would your memories be different if there was trash everywhere? Would it have been as enjoyable?
Let me paint a different, more recent picture.
We now live near the Gulf Coast. We are a family of fishers. We enjoy taking the time to drive an hour to the coast where we can throw in a few lines and try and catch a redfish or a speckled seatrout. Where our kids can play in the sand or stick their feet in the water and catch tiny minnows and baby crabs in their nets, which they let go and watch swim off, only to try and catch them again. We have taken a whole Saturday and driven around to different fishing spots. But you know what? There are spots we just won't go back to. Why? Because they are absolutely disgusting. The amount of trash thrown on the ground and left behind looks like a dump. It stinks. Literally. You need to make sure you don't step on rusty hooks or broken bottles. The empty plastic bottles have often been there long enough that they have grown algae. Long strings of discarded fishing line litter the ground, stuck in the little remaining grass left that hasn't been trampled, waiting for an unsuspecting bird to trample through it and get stuck. There have been multiple times my kids and I grabbed our own trash bag and picked up some of the trash. Sadly, some locations are beyond just us.
Now, let's head back to eco-friendly...
Just imagine the meat trays were replaced with cardboard and the plastic bags were replaced with reusable bags or even cotton bags. Any cardboard left to blow away would biodegrade back into the Earth. The reusable bags would be cared for and actually brought back home. Let's face it, if you leave a plastic bag behind, who cares, right? You have no vested interest in it. It means nothing to you. The reusable bag, you bought it, made it, it was given to you... You are vested in that bag. You care about that bag. Today's society is filled with throwaways. Single-use items, manufactured for single use purposes, to be used and thrown away.
Our world would look vastly different if we used eco-friendly products. The litter on the side of the road won't linger for years, our trash facilities wouldn't run out of room for our trash. Chemicals in our single-use items wouldn't leach into the ground. Our world would be a better place to live in. We would be healthier. The animals and trees surrounding us would be healthier.
What can YOU do?
Look around you. Make a list, whether it is in your head or on paper. What can you change in your life that would be more eco-friendly?
For me, my first switch was paper towels. With kids, we went through a TON of them. Oops, you spilled your milk, grab a handful of paper towels to wipe it up. Need to dry my hands and can't find my dish towel, grab a paper towel to dry my hands with. We were going through so many paper towels, it was ridiculous! In comes the change. Un-paper towels. My first eco-friendly switch. Don't get me wrong, I still do have that roll of paper towels hiding in the cabinet (for the occasional clean up of vomit, dog accidents or cat hairballs), but 99% of our daily "paper" towel use is now un-paper towels. I sewed myself 3 sets of 10 and 5 years later we are still using the same sets! When they have reached their life expectancy, the snaps will be cut off and the fabric will be composted, returning the cotton I used back into the Earth.
After looking around my own home I saw other items I could easily switch to being eco-friendly and continued with that. It's been 5 years and has been a slow process. It is OK if it takes time and some changing out of certain items will be harder than others. We, as a family, are by no means perfect and still have room for improvement, but once one step has been completed, it is time to move onto the next!
If you need a few suggestions on ways to be more eco-friendly, here are a few easy (and not as easy) items you can switch out in your own home.
1. Switch out paper towels for fabric un-paper towels.
2. Instead of using a disposable sponge, use an un-sponge. Find one that is natural and can be composted when its useful life has ended
3. Ditch the plastic baggies for food and snacks and use reusable snack bags instead.
4. Opt for a reusable cup to carry with you rather than buying a beverage everywhere you eat out or eliminate the bottle you buy at the gas station because you're thirsty on your way home from work.
5. Use fabric, beeswax or silicone covers instead of cling wrap or aluminum foil.
6. Bring your own bags (including PRODUCE bags) to the grocery store to reduce the amount of single-use bags. TIPS: leave the bags in your car trunk. When you unpack them, put them right back in your trunk. If you walk into the store without them, walk back out to get them! Remembering to bring them from home each grocery trip just did NOT work for me! PS: reusable bags are not just from the grocery store. Bring reusable bags everywhere!
7. Bring your own container to put fresh deli or butcher meats into rather than having them put in the single-use bags or on Styrofoam trays
8. Make your own cleaning and body care products
9. Stop buying disposable plates and silverware
10. Instead of buying small, single-use bags of snacks, opt for the large bag and portion the snacks out yourself.