“It’s not easy being green,” Kermit the Frog bemoaned back in 1970. What was, for a Muppet, a whimsical play on words has become code for the challenge of trying to live with a lighter environmental footprint. Having some signposts can help; here are three that may make it easier to “green” your daily routine.
CHALLENGE THE UBIQUITY OF PLASTIC
Just a few generations back, Americans functioned with little to no plastic in their lives. They wore wool in place of fleece, reused containers and bought fewer processed foods – none of them swathed in plastic wrap. With hardly any disposables then, the waste stream per capita was markedly lower.
Now it’s impossible to avoid plastic. By cutting back on its use, though, we can reduce air and water pollution, threats to wildlife and reliance on fossil fuels. Minimizing exposure may yield personal benefits as well, given health concerns about chemicals migrating from plastics into what we ingest.
An easy first step is to acquire refillable stainless steel containers – eliminating plastic wrap, sandwich bags, and single-serve packages such as snack food packs and Lunchables. To get rid of more plastic packaging, bring reusable bags and containers to farmers markets and stores that have bulk bins. Our family’s yogurt maker with glass jars has eliminated what were once teetering towers of leftover quart containers (made from No. 5 plastic, which is especially difficult to recycle).
A harder step will be reassessing our societal devotion to “performance wear” fleece and nylon, which shed plastic fibers that contaminate aquatic ecosystems. Understanding the wake of microplastics we inadvertently generate reinforces the need to think about not just “green” purchases but the entire life cycle of products we consume.
THINK IN CYCLES
The Western worldview casts products and lives as a one-way street, but ecosystems remind us that life is cyclical and there is no “away” for products that we deem waste. One of the best ways to reclaim this ecological perspective is to get immersed in local agriculture.
Invite children to see where their food originates – picking berries and apples, visiting farms, learning to compost, and witnessing the miraculous transformation of seed to plant. The University of Maine runs a Kids Can Grow program in several counties, helping families plan, plant and tend their own raised bed with help from a gardening mentor. As a volunteer in one of these programs, I have seen families gain – not just a new taste for fresh vegetables – but lasting insights into how wholesome produce can transform their health.
Once families start seeing their households as systems intimately tied to natural cycles, an obvious question arises: why would you knowingly introduce harmful substances into that mix?
CHOOSE SAFER SUBSTITUTES
Every day, our bodies are barraged by a dizzying array of hazardous chemicals from household cleaners, furnishings, packaging, appliances, building materials, lawn treatments and personal care products. When the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine tested 13 volunteers, the samples of blood, urine and hair revealed – on average per participant – 36 toxic chemicals.
While some sources of household toxics are inescapable, many healthier substitutes exist. Find guidance in books like Debra Lynn Dadd’s “Toxic Free” and Beth Greer’s “Super Natural Home.” The Environmental Working Group has a “Skin Deep” database of personal care products and “Top Tips for Safer Products” with guidance on ingredients to avoid.
Pesticides – besides endangering the health of kids and pets – can contaminate groundwater and threaten beneficial insects that help plants to flourish. Find tips online for chemical-free lawn care or consult Paul Tukey’s “The Organic Lawn Care Manual.”
Refusing toxic products sends a strong signal to retailers and manufacturers, reminding them that “being green” – while never easy – remains essential.
Marina Schauffler is a freelance writer and editor whose work is online at naturalchoices.com.