Six Smart Ways to Save the Planet
Photography by: Juliette Borda
4. WASTED FOOD MEANS WASTED RESOURCES.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), nearly 20 percent of all edible dairy and meat (and a whopping 44 percent of farmed salmon) ends up in landfills. About 20 percent of the total emissions tied to these foods—from production to transportation to disposal—can be attributed to the amount wasted. “That makes the fertilizer, pesticide and water used to produce the wasted foods unnecessary, and the resulting emissions and environmental damage entirely avoidable,” says Oakland, Calif.- based EWG senior analyst Kari Hamerschlag.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: The solution comes down to simple planning, says Hamerschlag. Don’t buy too many groceries ahead of time, don’t let food go bad in the fridge and serve yourself only what you know you’ll eat. The EWG also encourages people to make use of all of their food; i.e., eat the broccoli stalk. “The more you use, the less you waste—not just of that particular food, but the resources that went into producing that food,” says Hamerschlag. Learn more at ewg.org/meateatersguide.
5. YOU CAN BE GREEN EVEN AFTER YOU'RE GONE.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Each year, approximately 104,300 tons of steel and 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete (in addition to 1 million gallons of toxic chemicals) are buried in the roughly 22,500 U.S. cemeteries, says Joe Sehee, founder of The Green Burial Council in Santa Fe, N.M., which promotes environmentally sustainable funeral services. The goals of eco-burial, available in 41 states, are land preservation, lowering the waste and carbon emissions generated by the use of steel and concrete, and reducing the use of toxic chemicals. In a typical ceremony, bodies that have not been treated with chemicals are placed in simple caskets made from sustainably sourced wood and buried in existing natural habitats, such as Whitefield Haven Memorial Park in New York.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Spread the word. “Tell your family, friends and your local cemetery this is what you want: a better end-of-life ritual for both you and the planet, rooted in ecological responsibility,” says Sehee. Get started at greenburialcouncil.org.
6. CITIES NEED TREES TO STAY HEALTHY.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Aside from sequestering more than 100 pounds of carbon dioxide each year, trees in urban areas (defined as 10,000 people or more) can lower city temperatures by up to 10 degrees, reducing the concentration of ground level ozone (an air pollutant), says Greg McPherson, Ph.D., research forester with the Urban Ecosystems and Social Dynamics Program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service in Davis, Calif. “The production of ozone is temperature dependent: When temperatures are lower, less ozone is produced,” he explains. Trees also provide shade in the summer and act as windbreaks in the winter, reducing the amount of energy needed to cool and heat homes and buildings by up to 35 percent. Plus, their leaves and branches intercept rainfall, storing water and reducing the amount that hits the ground by 20 percent to 30 percent. This keeps runoff lower, thereby reducing the amount of pollutants that make their way into rivers, lakes and oceans.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Plant trees on your own property, or join local organizations that plant trees in public spaces. While McPherson agrees that it starts with planting, he stresses the importance of stewardship. “Trees must be watered, pruned and cared for correctly so they grow to be long-lived, high-performance plants that give back,” he says. For tree-care 101, visit the Arbor Day Foundation at arborday.org
Sometimes environmental problems (and solutions) are just plain simple.
* Save water with every flush by placing a glass jar filled with water, plus some sand or pebbles, in your toilet tank (bricks work too, but will eventually disintegrate and cause plumbing problems).
* Shower with your partner— half the water, twice the fun.
* Fill up your fridge for maximum efficiency: The mass of cold items will allow the refrigerator to recover more quickly after the door’s been open. Don’t keep enough food around at once? Use containers of water instead. Batch your errands. You’ll use less gas (and improve your timemanagement skills). You can also boost your gas mileage by getting regular tuneups and keeping your tires properly inflated and aligned.
* Waste less water by filling ice trays, water purifiers or watering cans while you wait for the tap or shower to heat up.
* Browse the Internet through goodsearch.com: Each search generates a 1-cent contribution to your favorite cause, such as Action for a Clean Environment