What can you do to help save the planet?
Actually, it’s more than you might think. And it’s easier, too.
Jenn DeRose, who recently joined the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, spent the last few years working with restaurants to help them reduce their environmental impact. Many of the same ideas, developed when she was with Earthday365, are suitable for use at home, too.
To be honest, each tip will only help a little bit. But if enough people do enough little bits, that will eventually add up to a lot.
For instance, DeRose said, look at food waste. More than 40 percent of all the food bought in the United States gets thrown away. If that sounds unlikely, contemplate this: According to DeRose, “When you ask, most Americans say they throw away less than the average person. So the math doesn’t add up.”
The easiest way to cut back on food waste, according to DeRose, is to make what she calls a food blog. That’s just a piece of paper that you put on your fridge, on which you write down every single scrap of food that you throw away.
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” she said.
Instead of throwing out the food, you can compost it, she said. Just make a pile of food scraps in the back yard (no meat or dairy), build a wall around it to hold it in (chicken wire or some pallets will do), and remember to turn it over every once in a while.
You’ll end up with great soil for a garden or a yard. If you don’t have a yard, you can save your vegetable scraps in a sealable plastic container in the refrigerator and have it picked up — for a fee — by a composting company such as Perennial City Composting.
DeRose also suggests serving your food on smaller plates, because we tend to take more food if the plate is larger than 10 inches, which leads to food waste.
And use your senses, including common sense, looking at food labels. Don’t throw food out just because it is past the “best by” date, she said. Often, food stays good long beyond that. Use your eyes, use your nose and “maybe even your taste buds” to determine if the food is still fresh, she said.
Along with reducing food waste, DeRose urges that we all work to reduce plastic waste as well.
This can be as easy as bringing single-use plastic bags back to the grocery store or avoiding buying food that comes in non-recyclable containers. Buying food in bulk can also help, especially if you bring your own jar (the store can weigh it for you, so you don’t get charged for it).
And if you’re having a party, think about purchasing some plant-based disposable options (apparently, such things exist) instead of paper plates and plastic cutlery.
“Your party’s great, but there doesn’t have to be plastic evidence of it in 500 years, she said.
It is also easy to cut back on your energy footprint at home, DeRose said. Most significantly, she said, “the time has come to switch out all your light bulbs to LEDs. LEDs used to make everything look like a hospital, but that’s not the case anymore.”
LED bulbs now vary in intensity and color, and “they are so much more efficient than any other bulbs, including CFL’s” (compact fluorescent lamps, which DeRose identified as “those twisty bulbs”).
You can also save a lot of energy — and money — by unplugging appliances that use energy even when they are turned off. Toasters, coffeemakers and microwaves are examples of energy drains. Basically, if an appliance has a little red or blue light on even when it is turned off, it is using and wasting energy — and a lot more than just goes into that light.
When buying big appliances, and even some smaller ones, DeRose said to always look for a rating from Energy Star, a program run by the Environmental Protection Agency that provides information about energy efficiency.
Finally, DeRose suggested that we can also help to conserve water at home.
“There is a common misperception that I have to address when it comes to water conservation. Dishwashers use less water than hand-washing. If you have a dishwasher, especially if it is Energy Star, use it,” she said.
Fixing leaky faucets will also help, and never (for several reasons, the very least of which is water conservation) defrost meat in the sink by running hot water over it.
And because animals that produce red meat use a great deal more water than plants, she also said it is a good idea to eat less red meat.
“Eat more plants to save more water,” she said.