When you read about climate change and the environmental crisis, do you get overwhelmed? When you read that every minute the equivalent of one dump truck load of plastic enters into the ocean, how does that make you feel? Are you angry, depressed or frustrated? So, what can you do? How can we sort through all the information out there on how to be environmentally aware and purposefully green? Well, I too don’t have all the answers but I know what I try to do and what you can do too, and that’s to make small changes in your life to make a positive impact. When coupled with what millions of people around the world are also doing on a daily basis to address climate change, we have the opportunity to make a big impact. Here are some things we all can do:
1. Recycle and do it right. It’s important to get it right because we single stream recycle here in Fairfax County, no longer separating materials at our curbs into paper, plastic and metals. It all goes into one big blue bin and, if you are good, that bin has a lot more in it than your gray trash can. But, unfortunately, a quarter of recycled materials are unable to be processed due to contamination. That’s way up from just 7% ten years ago. With single streaming we get more participation, but it also leads to an increased number of contaminants. It is critical to always clean and dry food containers before recycling. Liquid can soften paper products and make them unrecyclable. Same thing with grease and food debris. Don’t include them. Better to leave it out than spoil the entire load. Same thing for plastic bags or flexible plastics, like wet or soft paper, it can jam up the gears of the recycling machinery.
2. Switch to sustainability. Aim to use public transportation more often, or walk or bike for some errands if possible. If you have a gas guzzler, aim to get a gas sipper. Try a hybrid, or even better, an electric car if you can afford it. Remember that the E-vehicles have far fewer moving parts and fewer maintenance costs too. Over 20% of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. Solar is also a great way to offset fossil fuel usage. Look into solar net metering programs to see if your home meets the requirements. And, finally, a quarter of emissions comes from the agricultural industry, particularly from the raising of meat. Try to cut down on your meat consumption. You don’t have to become a vegetarian, though that would be great, but eat meat less often. Cattle especially contribute to methane emissions and consume much of the food we raise. Fifty percent of all the land on earth is used for farming and three-quarters of that is dedicated to raising livestock. And over one-third of all potable water is used for livestock too.
3. Participate in community clean up efforts and other environmental programs in the community. Understand that if our common goal is to work together as a nation to combat the climate crisis, we will succeed. But we all must work together and do our part.
So, what are you waiting for? We are not helpless nor can we afford to be complacent. Celebrate Earth Day this year with a renewed commitment to the environment. You can join Sen. Scott Surovell and me on April 30th from 9am-12pm to clean up Little Hunting Creek. Our group will meet at the Janna Lee Avenue Bridge.
And, attend the Environment Expo this Saturday, April 23rd, at Fort Hunt Park from 10am to 2pm It’s a free family fun festival where we can enjoy exhibits on environmental challenges and solutions, workshops and educational entertainment.
The best thing that we can do is to take personal responsibility for our own consumption and recognize the areas in our lives where we are most wasteful and work to alter those habits that are hurting the Earth. Not only is this healthy for the planet, but it also helps to save a lot of money in the long run. With some small changes to your lifestyle, you can live a more eco-friendly life. To those of you doing your part, thank you. And, to the rest of us, let’s be a part of the solution. It’s never too late to make a difference. We only have one planet Earth.