8 Ways to Love the Earth Every Day
By: Dr. Serina Patterson, founder of Earthlove and Spirit Wild Farm
Earth Day comes around once per year, but living mindfully with our beautiful planet is a choice that we can make every day. Making more eco-friendly choices doesn’t have to be overwhelming and even small steps can make a big difference. Here on our small farm in the Pacific Northwest, we love stewarding the land that we call home whether that is planting native botanicals alongside our crops and orchard, giving wild pollinator educational tours, tree planting, teaching workshops about eco living, managing our eco store in town (and online), or growing nutritious fruits and veggies that don’t deplete the soil. Here are five ways that you can practice loving the Earth and reduce your impact today and every day!
- Advocate for the Earth
Be an ambassador for the Earth! Support non-profits and initiatives making a difference and vote for people who will enact environmental change through legislation and impactful conservation policies. If you’re feeling ambitious, organize events locally such as beach cleanups, land restoration, clothing swaps, or pulling noxious weeds in critical areas. Local and regional groups organize events regularly, so check to see if there is something happening in your area. Get your community involved, such as a push to switch local restaurants to more eco-friendly options for take-out containers.
There are other ways to advocate, such as setting an example for others. Keep up with good eco habits such as bringing your totes to the grocery store, reducing plastics by opting for more eco-friendly alternatives (e.g., plastic-free laundry detergent or coconut coil scrubbers) and using reusable cups. It may not feel like it, but people do notice and they can then make changes themselves. By simply living according to your values, you can be the change you want to see!
- Eat more Plants (especially local plants!)
According to a study published in 2017 in the journal Environmental Research Letters, red meat can have up to 100 times the environmental impact of plant based food. (According to some estimates, beef gives off more than six pounds of carbon dioxide per serving; the amount created per serving by rice, legumes, carrots, apples or potatoes is less than half a pound.).
Livestock—meat and dairy—is also responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from feed production and processing and methane (25 times more potent than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere over 100 years). Eating fruits, veggies, grains, and beans go a long way to reducing your environmental impact (and is healthier too!). If you are not currently following a plant-based diet, explore ways to reduce your meat and dairy and opt for at least one meat-free meal per week. Consider eliminating red meat altogether to significantly reduce your footprint.
Get to know your local farmers, buy local produce from your farmer’s market (or grow your own!). You are not only supporting the local economy, but food grown locally is fresher too. Eat seasonally when possible and learn about what plants are harvested at what time of the year in your area.
Practice the five R’s when it comes to thinking about products. Refuse things like single use items (e.g., packaged water or single use straws). Be mindful of what you actually need rather than jumping on the latest trend. A rule of thumb I like to use is to wait two weeks if there’s something I really want to buy. This reduces impulse buying and lets me think about whether I truly need it. Reuse items or repurpose them for something else. Recycle or compost when an item reaches the end of life —this includes electronics which can be sent to special facilities and be almost fully recycled!
Recycling is not the holy grail of earth-friendly living that our society often hopes it to be. Many items may be able to be recycled in general, but it largely depends on your local facilities. Only 9% of plastic actually gets recycled. Most of it ends up overseas, or worse, dumped into the ocean. These plastics will break down into microplastics, which then contaminates our food, like sea salt. Beware of “wish cycling” (putting something in the recycling bin hoping it can be recycled!).
Perform a trash audit to look for ways that you can reduce waste in your home and work. If, for example, you use a lot of paper towels, switch to something like an eco sponge that can be reused over and over again. If you have a lot of single-use plastics that can’t be recycled at your local facilities, consider purchasing a Terra Cycle to ensure that your waste doesn’t end up in a landfill.
Go slow and choose one thing at a time if you have a number of things that need attention. Thinking consciously about the trash you and your family produces helps you to consider alternatives and make more earth-friendly decisions.
- Waste Less Food
In the same vein as reducing waste in general, food requires a category all its own. Food waste places immense pressure on our environment around the world. More than one-third of all food that is produced globally is spoiled or wasted. Worse, global food waste is the third largest producer of greenhouse gasses: organic matter breaking down in landfills releases methane gas, which is the second most common greenhouse gas, 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and has devastating effects on our climate. Our global food chains are so unsustainable that scientists estimate that it can collapse by 2050 if we don’t change our systems and habits.
In the US alone, food waste is estimated between 30-40% of the food supply (about 219 lbs per person!) and North Americans are discarding over 40 million tons of food each year. Food is lost at each stage from the farms who produce it to processing plants, retailers, restaurants, and in our own homes. According to Dana Gunders from the National Resources Defense Council, homes remain the largest source of food waste (and not the “ugly” fruit and vegetable companies that lead people to believe it is retailers and farmers). Household food losses are responsible for eight times the energy waste of farms.
Food waste also wastes a huge amount of water, accounting for 25% of all freshwater consumption in the US each year and is one of the leading causes of water pollution.
Why does so much food get wasted? In our overabundance of food production, we tend to toss away perfectly edible food due to misreading labels like “best before” and “sell by” as well as food spoilage.
With so much food insecurity around the world as well as the use of natural resources for agriculture, food waste is a big problem. We need to re-connect to our food, where it comes from and the true consequences of tossing it in the bin.
Do an audit of your cupboards, fridge, and trash. How much gets tossed? How much is packaged in plastic? Create a plan (or vision board) of what you’d like to see when you open the fridge or cupboards. Tossing too much? Freeze what you can’t use immediately or donate excess food to a food bank. Use this challenge as a way to explore alternatives and pave the way to better habits.
- Store food correctly. Garlic, cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions do not need to be refrigerated. Separate foods that produce ethylene gas like bananas and peaches to reduce early spoilage. Have extra fruits or veggies? Many of them can be frozen until you need them.
- Go old school: learn to preserve food by pickling, canning, freeze-drying, and fermenting food to last longer. You can also make broth or stock out of scraps. Preserving food will save on your food bill as well!
- Don’t be fooled by the “sell by” date. Labels are estimated and sometimes regulated (must expire after one year) even if the food is fine. They’re not hard-and-fast rules. About 20% of food waste in the US is the “before date” labels. Check and see if the item is still okay before tossing it.
- Start a compost bin. Rather than discarding food, use it to break down into rich, nutritious soil. Compost scraps can be stored in a freezer and then you can discard at a compost collection site.
- Buy less. If you are prone to filling up the cart, make a meal plan for the week to ensure that everything gets used up. Eat the food you purchased last time before heading to the market. Save leftovers.
- Plant a Pollinator Garden
Help your wild pollinators by planting a garden. According to one recent study, more than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered. While they seem abundant, the total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, suggesting they could vanish within a century. We rely on insects, and especially pollinators, for our own survival. When they thrive, we thrive!
Even if you have a small space or balcony, you can help wild pollinators wherever you live. Plant native flowers and plants in your area (e.g., lupine, milkweed, and swamp rose) as well as plants like bee balm, borage, calendula, chives, lavender, oregano, yarrow, goldenrod, and anise hyssop. Avoid noxious plants in your area (e.g., butterfly bush in the PNW). Even a few pots filled with flowers can support your local bees, butterflies, and other pollinators (and they look pretty too!). If you’re not sure about which plants to grow, we can put together a custom curation of seeds for your needs and geographic area.
You can also provide access to shelter and nesting sites like insect houses, dead wood, brush piles, plants with pithy or hollow stems (raspberries, hydrangea) and host-plants for butterflies. Mulch using shredded leaves or compost instead of wood chips.
Do not use any pesticides like Roundup, which kill non-target insects and degrade habitat by removing or contaminating flowering plants. For pest control, try companion planting, all-natural ‘soft’ sprays like soap diluted to less than 2% and plant oils (e.g., peppermint), and cultivating habitat for ladybugs and predators.
Advocate on behalf of bees, butterflies, and pollinators by teaching others and spreading the word to your friends, neighbors, HOA, and city to encourage pollinator- friendly practices in your community. Support non-profits like The Xerces Society who are making a difference.
- Wear Slow Fashion
Nowadays, fashion trends come so fast and frequently that it’s near impossible to keep up. As more people want to stay abreast of this never-ending cycle, they desire new clothes at affordable prices. This leads companies to produce fashionable items as fast and cheaply as possible, churning out garment after garment. Unfortunately, this system has devastating effects on the environment.
The fashion industry is the second biggest polluter in the world, topped only by the oil industry. The world buys over 80 billion articles of clothing each year, and in the last 15 years worldwide clothing production has nearly doubled. Discarded cheaply-made clothing made of non-biodegradable fabrics can sit in landfills for up to 200 years. Dyes used for textiles pollute our waterways and tons of water is used to produce new clothing. It takes over 2700 liters of water to make just one cotton shirt — that’s enough water for one person to drink for 2.5 years! Opt to purchase your clothes the sustainable, earth-friendly way: look for natural textiles like hemp, organic cotton (NOT non-organic cotton), linen, and bamboo made from companies that are transparent about their manufacturing processes; purchase or make your own upcycled clothes; browse thrift stores; support clothing sustainable clothing brands and shops (like ours!). Before buying a new piece of clothing, reflect on how often you’ll wear it. Is it one you’ll lounge in all the time or a seasonal item? What’s it made from? Who made it? By asking these questions, you’re not only saving money but also making more eco-conscious decisions.
- Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Carbon footprint is a method of measuring the amount of greenhouse gasses you emit into the atmosphere based on your daily life. From traveling and watching tv to eating and washing dishes, almost everything has a ‘footprint’ that contributes to global warming. According to the Nature Conservancy, the average carbon footprint for a person in the US is 16 tons, one of the highest rates in the world (the global average is 4 tons). Reduce your impact by conducting an energy audit at home to assess what can be improved. Switch to incandescent light bulbs, turn lights off when you’re not using them, turn your water heater down, install a low-flow showerhead, switch to solar if its available in your area or clean energy. You can also increase the energy efficiency of your home by planting shrubs, seal any troubled spots in attics, windows, and doors and trees around it or installing a cool roof.
You can also reduce your carbon footprint by traveling consciously. An average car produces about five tons of CO2 each year (although this varies according to the type of car, its fuel efficiency, and how it’s driven). An easy way to reduce your carbon footprint is to only drive when needed. Walk or bike if possible. If you drive, avoid unnecessary braking and accelerating, and practice trying to follow the rhythm of the road. Take care of your car: keep tires inflated and everything maintained. Combine errands to reduce trips around town. Avoid flying if possible and use other means of transportation.
- Connect with Nature
In our plugged-in world, it seems like we are constantly running on a never-ending treadmill of to-dos: the trajectory is a steady line upward. But that’s not how energy works (and certainly not how projects, self development, and life in general happens). There are peaks and valleys, times to burst forth full of energy, and time to yield, to conserve and reflect. Fortunately, nature can be a big help in reducing anxiety and stress. Our bodies want to be in nature, and it helps us refocus our priorities too.
Living consciously is not just about reducing waste or eating more veggies, but also connecting with the land that nourishes and renews us. Getting into nature reminds us that the problem is not “out there”, but ever-present in our lives. At Earthlove, it has always been our core philosophy that living mindfully with the Earth also means strengthening our own connection with nature every day. Get out into the woods, desert, or ocean, or go for a walk in a nearby park. Learn about the flora and fauna that surrounds you, medicinal herbs, ethnobotany, and your place in your environment. Kindling a relationship with nature not only helps with stress and anxiety but enables us to develop a deeper appreciation of our awe-inspiring planet!
Check out Earthlove on the HealthKick platform to explore natural items that will help you live mindfully with the Earth.