Happy Earth Day! On our homestead, one of our goals is to reduce waste and take good care of our land and animals in a way that is healthy for the ecosystem that we live in. To that end, we are moving toward renewable energy as much as we can, trying to buy less stuff, and continuing to eat a meat-free mostly plant-based diet. We are certainly far from perfect, but we try to keep striving to do better.
I do think that it is important to remember that the idea of an individual carbon footprint was a marketing strategy to distract people from the damage done by big oil companies. To fight climate change, we have to hold companies and governments accountable for their role, vote accordingly, and keep the pressure on. I also subscribe to the Future Crunch newsletter to help with my climate anxiety.
Nevertheless, we are not off the hook for reducing our own impacts as well. Here are some of our thoughts on reducing our impact this Earth Day.
Don’t Fall for Greenwashing
Early this week, I started to get emails about Earth Day sales. Although I am not one to sniff at a coupon for a product I already use, the very idea that there is something “green” about a sale is kind of laughable. One of the biggest ways that we can live more sustainably is by buying less stuff.
It reminded me of a struggle I had recently over a body wash we were using, but which I discovered had been “Green Washed.” Green Washing is when a company uses marketing smoke and mirrors to appear more eco-friendly than they really are. My complaints with the body wash in question were that it is produced by an “eco-friendly” company owned by Unilever, which tests on animals, and that it contains palm oil, a nearly ubiquitous ingredient linked to deforestation of tropical rainforests. Certainly, this product was “greener” than some other options, but in trying to find a body wash that did not include palm oil, I just ended up switching to vegan, palm-oil-free bar soap. That also meant no plastic bottles. I’ve been happy with the switch, but the experience was eye-opening.
Fast Fashion, Worn Slow
The fast fashion industry is terrible for the environment and relies heavily on fossil fuels not only for production but also for shipping. The whole business has been built on releasing more and more styles in shorter and shorter seasons, and making clothes less durable so that they have to be replaced more frequently, making the cycle hard to break for the average consumer. This rapid increase over the last century has been really bad for workers and the planet.
One idea I’ve seen that I really like is “fast fashion worn slow.” The idea is to buy clothes that you need, or really love, but to buy much fewer (perhaps 75% fewer) garments overall and wear them for longer, moving away from the idea that you can’t repeat outfits, even for big events. It’s also important to take good care of the garments you have, washing them in cold water, and line-drying the less durable fabrics. And thrifting helps too, of course.
Become a St. Kateri Habitat
We are proud to be a St. Kateri Habitat. This program, run by the St. Kateri Conservation Center, encourages Catholics, Indigenous people, and “people of good will” to use the land they own (homes, businesses, schools, etc.) as healthy habitats for people and wildlife, with an emphasis on native plants and ecosystem services, as well as religious expression. Making your property a habitat is not as hard as you might think and it has been really rewarding to us, helping us think carefully about what we plant and how we care for our habitat.
The Zero Market
If you are local to Denver, check out The Zero Market (at Edgewater Market or Stanley Market). It is a good place to get products to replace single-use options, but it is best for buying household and beauty products in bulk, refilling your own containers to keep them out of the landfill. While not necessarily cheaper than buying soap, etc. in single-use packages, the quality of their refills is excellent, and you save those plastic containers. I take my own glass jars and get refills of hand soap, dish soap, air fresheners, tea, dental floss, and rosewater. Their rosewater is the best I’ve ever tried and I also really like the smell of their Sweetgrass room refresher spray. My mom loves their save soap. The Zero Market has a rewards program in which you earn a point for every container you save from a landfill, but they also regularly send out coupons, which helps with the cost/benefit equation. Recently, I was really excited to buy half of a shampoo bar from them for $3.50. I have wanted to try that switch for some time, but I have long hair and didn’t know if it would work for me, so the low investment was great. So far so good!
I am still struggling to get composting just right, but in the meantime, our food scraps are decomposing in two compost tumblers instead of releasing greenhouse gasses. Composting is an easy but impactful way to reduce waste in your home and there is a ton of information about how, why, and where to do it, as well as urban composting services (even in Denver) if you want to get started, but don’t want to manage the pile. Right now, I am a little compost obsessed, so if you want to talk about it, hit me up!
Reusable Cotton Rounds
An easy low-waste switch is to use reusable cotton rounds. I bought my set off of Etsy years ago and they’re still going strong. Now, you can find them everywhere. I wash them in a lingerie bag that gets tossed in with my other laundry. I also got reusable nail polish removal pads from Zero Market and they were a game-changer. One side is slightly scrubby and so the nail polish comes off so much better than with disposable tissue. (Ella + Mila is my favorite cruelty-free brand of nail polish, by the way.)
No Paper Towels or Napkins
Back in 2018, I bought a couple of packs of cheap washcloths and have been using them, washing in hot water, and reusing them instead of paper towels since. Some of them are starting to get tattered, but I set them aside for really bad messes or for cleaning up things like paint. We also use cloth napkins instead of paper. Once (or twice, depending on the toddler) a week, I wash and dry them, which does use energy and water, but less than producing new paper products does. Back when we made this change, I was worried that it would be a heavy lift, but, even when we had a shared apartment laundry room, it was not a big deal, and folding the cloths and putting them away (we use a basket in the kitchen) is actually a meditative task for me. Between washes, we put the cloths in a bucket under the sink, out of the way. We do keep a roll of paper towels for emergencies such as dog barfs, but that’s it.
Bamboo Toilet Paper and Toothbrushes
We have a subscription to Who Gives A Crap and it lasts us a loooong time. We were set during the great 2020 toilet paper rush, too.
We also switched to bamboo, biodegradable toothbrushes. A plastic toothbrush basically lives forever. I have one I reuse for cleaning tight spaces, but I don’t like the idea of our household putting at least 8 in a landfill each year. Not only do these babies take care of that issue, but they also look and feel chicer than a plastic toothbrush. I was even able to find some for our toddler.
In the same vein, I looked at the pile of floss building in our bathroom wastebasket and didn’t like it. At the Zero Market, I got us each a roll of biodegradable floss. They came in the cutest little glass vials with a screw-top lid that makes it easy to replace the roll when it runs out. This switch wasn’t as cheap as our old floss, but the biodegradable floss lasted longer than I thought it would, so I felt okay about it in the end. We ran out when I wasn’t planning a trip to the Zero Market soon, so I found a similar product at the grocery store. Reducing waste is getting easier and more popular! I still like the glass vial better though.
What are some of your favorite eco-friendly tips, product swaps, or resources? Let us know. Happy Earth Day!