1. Reduce your use of plastics, especially single use plastics ( plastic grocery bags and water bottles).
Plastic pollution is a huge problem. Plastics don’t decompose in the environment, they just break in to smaller and smaller pieces. As a result, we’re finding plastic everywhere, from remote mountain glaciers to fish and shellfish that we consume .
Instead, find non-plastic alternatives such as canvas grocery bags, metal water bottles, personal care products free of plastic microbeads, biodegradable cups and utensils.
2. Recycle, and more importantly, recycle correctly.
Learn what you can and can’t recycle at home, especially which plastics (1-6 can re recycled but not 7!). A shipment of recycling contaminated with too many non-recyclables (even as little as 0.5%) can be considered unusable and trashed.
For items that can’t be recycled at home, look for alternate recycling locations. Most grocery stores have bins for recycling plastic grocery bags and other thin film plastics. Electronic stores and possibly your office IT department often accept electronics, ink cartridges and batteries. Look for your municipal recycling center or neighborhood pick-up days to recycle appliances, tires and other bulky items.
3. Be conscious about what you’re eating.
Different foods can have hugely different environmental impacts, so try to make sustainable choices.
Studies have shown than reducing your meat (especially beef) and dairy consumption is one of the single biggest things you can do to reduce your environmental impact. Livestock is a major source of green house gasses as well as a contributor to deforestation and has been associated with loss of wildlife.
When choosing produce, look to see the distance the produce comes from, and therefore how much energy it takes to transport it to you. When possible, choose local, seasonal produce. Certain produce also requires more pesticide, fertilizer and/or water to grow. Strawberries, spinach and tomatoes are particularly culpable.
Similarly with seafood, not all fisheries are equally sustainable and some result in much more environmental pollution. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a great app to help you choose wisely.
4. Cut back on your energy use.
Both the environment and your electric bill will thank you!
Try turning down your thermostat by even one degree in winter and up in summer. That one degree can save up to 10% on your energy use. Install energy efficient light bulbs. Unplug appliances and turn off lights when not in use. Use a clothesline to dry your clothes. Switch to rechargable batteries.
5. Reduce your water footprint.
Overuse of water resources is not just a problem in arid areas, it’s a concern in our region too! For example, over-pumping of groundwater in New Jersey has led to saltwater contamination of wells along the coast.
To help, take showers instead of baths, as baths can use over twice the amount of water. Install low-flow shower heads, toilets and faucets in your home. Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth. Water your lawn only when it needs it. And, visit the Fairmount Water Works to learn about where our water comes from, where it goes, and what we can do to help.
by Marie Kurz, Biogeochemistry Section Leader