-by Jade de la Rosa | 05/08/2018 |
The beginning of spring signals the return of green to the earth: small, bright buds replace crinkled leaves and bare branches, purple-pointed crocuses grow next to damp sidewalks, and daylight lasts longer than the work day. While St. Patrick’s Day, spring cleaning, and the return of our evenings signal spring, there are ways to be a little greener as the world turns green once more, too. Here are three surprising ways to help Mother Nature.
The problem: Perhaps you already volunteer at the local food bank, or started a community fundraiser—fantastic! Volunteering is always a good thing, but it’s also helpful to take a look at the state of your local environment to get down and dirty with, well, the dirt. Throughout the United States, several plant species wreak havoc on native species, thanks to a lack of predators or a particularly hardy growing temperament. The Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States (yes, unfortunately there’s a database) lists more than 1,200 invasive plant species. Many of the plants are so common, you might mistake them as native to your region. These include English ivy (a popular tree-killer in the Pacific Northwest), bamboo, Chinese wisteria, common periwinkle, and Japanese honeysuckle—almost all of which you can purchase at plant nurseries. Worse still is one invasive plant species that we enjoy: Himalayan blackberry. This pervasive, thorny bush quickly takes over native habitat and outcompetes smaller, younger plants for sunlight.
What you can do: Luckily, most communities host invasive plant clean-ups. These are generally held on weekends, and involve a few hours’ worth of work. Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, bring along a pair of gloves and a shovel, and enjoy making space for native plants.
2. Kitchen Sink Meals
The problem: An estimated 30-40% of the United States’ food supply is wasted. This works out to approximately 133 billion pounds, and also takes up the most space in landfills across the country. This is problematic for several reasons: one, we end up wasting valuable land, energy, and water resources to grow and produce food that ends up in the landfill; two, it poses moral implications, whereas there are millions of people who are starving, even here in the United States, while excess food does not get to them; and three, the decomposition of food in closed spaces (i.e., without oxygen) creates methane, a massive contributor to global warming, as this article points out.
What you can do: Individual actions add up to big changes, so even taking stock of your family’s food waste can make a difference. Some easy ideas include planning a weekly menu, reducing grocery store trips to several times throughout the week rather than once a week where estimation can be off, and making use of a kitchen sink lunch or dinner. I like to make this when there doesn’t seem to be enough food left in the fridge to make dinner. Stir-fries work well for this style of cooking. Simply add your leftover grains (rice, quinoa, pasta), add your protein (leftover chicken, steak, fish, beans, tofu, tempeh), and any scraps of vegetables on hand (broccoli stalks, limp carrots, a celery stalk, frozen peas) and a few shakes of amino acids, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, or hot sauce.
There’s another way to stop waste from ending up in the landfill: compost.
3. Join a Community Challenge
The problem: The Alliance to Save Energy states that the average American household spends more than $2,000 annually on home energy bills, but that most households could lower their energy costs by more than 25% with a few simple swaps. Most people are now familiar with strategies like turning off lights when leaving the room, swapping inefficient bulbs to energy-efficient, incandescent ones, and installing low water-use toilets, shower heads, and washing machines. Unfortunately, staying motivated can sometimes present a challenge.
What you can do: Join, or even start, a community challenge. Most cities want to lower energy costs—it saves everyone in the long run. Local energy companies often offer rebates for energy-efficient appliances, and many encourage home audits to determine where you can likely save money and energy. Host a neighborhood party where the focus is on working together as a community to reduce energy costs; join a local group to petition for better energy sources, and find out if solar energy is a possibility for your home.
How do you welcome spring? What earth-friendly actions can we do this season?
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