We all have a collective responsibility to protect Mother Earth. While this can seem like an overwhelming task, I believe that even just one person can make a difference.
One year ago my husband (now a permaculture designer) introduced me to the concept of permaculture. For those unfamiliar, permaculture, or “permanent culture,” is a sustainable technique to regenerate landscapes. Permaculture encourages you to consider all of the different relationships within an environment and to arrange elements to work in harmony, thus requiring minimal maintenance.
Permaculture extends into all facets of life and offers tools that can transform your family and your community. The three core ethics that inform permaculture are care for the Earth, care for the people, and sharing resources.
We are doing our best to start making decisions based on these beliefs and are sharing what we learn with our son. Ideally, he will share these practices with his children and so on. No effort is too small.
Even if you don’t jump on the permaculture bandwagon, you and your family can absolutely make a measurable eco-friendly difference in this world. One person alone is capable of producing and throwing away over 185 pounds of plastic per year! Here’s another fact from a display at our local science center: A grocery store plastic bag takes 400-1,000 years to break down, yet the average time it is used by a person is only 12 minutes. Yikes! I admit to having used many, many of these bags without much thought.
If you are looking to make a difference with your family, read below for a few easy ways how.
1. Be Producers, Not Just Consumers.
As a nation, we love to consume. We use significantly more energy than we need to. By producing some food at home, you are helping to create your own local food web. Imagine the time, fuel, and energy savings if every house on your street had a different fruit tree that everyone could share? I challenge you to select even just one edible plant to grow this year.
2. Grow a Pollinator (or two or three).
Unfortunately, many of our pollinator habitats are being destroyed. Pollinators (such as bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and bats) are declining in numbers, and 185 species of pollinators are considered threatened or extinct. Why is this a problem? These helpful organisms pollinate over 75% of crop plants grown across the world, approximately every three or four mouthfuls of food that we eat!
This is a very important lesson for our children and, my guess is, they will be happy to dig around in the dirt to plant something special for their pollinator friends. Contact your local Cooperative Extension to determine which native pollinator species are appropriate to plant in your area.
3. Bring Your Own.
I recently put together a “Bring Your Own” tool-kit that I keep in my backpack with me at all times. The contents of this kit include a knitted coffee cup sleeve, real silverware, a glass straw and a cloth bag for purchases or produce.
The straw (which is a must for me) was added to my tool-kit after learning our nation uses over 500 million straws per year. These straws are usually not recycled and are unfortunate dangers for our aquatic friends too. My favorite is Hummingbird Straws, which are pretty to look at, and practical. The glass design allows for easy cleaning since you can see what is on the inside!
There are many opportunities to bring your own. Other ideas to consider:
- Keeping your own bowls, plates, and silverware in the workplace (if they use plastic utensils and plates).
- Carrying a water bottle with you more often.
- Bring your own plate or jars with you to parties, salad bars, gatherings, potlucks etc. My family and I typically bring a large wooden serving dish (the kind that is supposed to be used for dip and chips) to potlucks and festivals we attend to avoid using any plastic.
- Using your own mason jars for bulk grocery items (get them weighed first!)
- Use cloth produce bags instead of the plastic ones at the grocery store
4. Swap our Your Toothbrush.
Did you know that five-billion plastic toothbrushes end up in our landfills annually? I was super excited to find Mable Toothbrushes, a company that created a 98% biodegradable toothbrush made from sustainably-harvested bamboo. They have adult and children’s toothbrushes, and for every brush purchased, one is donated. We absolutely LOVE our bamboo brushes and are happy to have made the switch. Bonus: These brushes stand up by themselves!
5. Choose Organic.
I used to just stick to the Dirty Dozen list of produce when deciding whether or not to purchase organic. Reducing the level of pesticides that my family and I eat is important. It is also important for me to support food that was grown sustainably and did not expose farm workers to pesticides too. Making the choice to swap just one or two items in your grocery cart for organic options can make a difference!
6. Plant a Tree.
Here are just a few benefits to planting a tree.
- Carbon Sequestration: Moving carbon out of the air and back into the ground to help reduce greenhouse gases.
- Function: Properly placed trees can provide shade to your home (energy savings!) and cool hideouts in your yard on hot days.
- Wildlife House: Provides a habitat for wildlife
- Food: Planting a fruit tree can yield tasty snacks in about 3-5 years.
Composting allows us to send less food waste to our landfills, where it would decompose and produce methane gas contributing to global warming. If you just have vegetable scraps, be sure to add a source of carbon to your compost bin to avoid a moldy situation (dried leaves or lawn clippings for example). Even if you do not have a garden, your lawn will benefit from nutrient-rich compost.