Now that Earth Week has passed, hopefully you’re eager to make a difference yourself. Not sure where to start? Here are 10 simple (but significant) actions you can take today.
1. Try Bussing/Carpooling/Biking
The majority of Bellevue College’s carbon footprint comes from the daily trips our students take—a large portion which consists of solo drivers. Carpooling reduces gas, insurance, and parking costs for students. Direct bus lines serve Seattle, Issaquah, Kirkland, Redmond, and Crossroads, with arrivals every 15 or 30 minutes. And did you know BC subsidizes your bus fares by half with discount ORCA cards? Choose a day this week, and plan out your normal trip via bus. See how convenient it is for you to get around! [http://metro.kingcounty.gov/]
2. Look into Green Energy
Everyone uses electricity, whether for home or business. But did you know you can choose to have all of your energy come from clean, renewable sources? If you own your home, consider Green Power (PSE) or GreenUp (Seattle Light), and for roughly another $10-$12 a month, your entire energy bill will fund clean energy sourced from within Washington State. None of it will come from polluting coal, oil, or gas power plants!
3. Eliminate Energy Hogs
Five appliances consume almost 80% of the energy in your home. If you have a thermostat, set if to 55-60 degrees while at work or school, and no higher than 65 degrees when at home. Close windows and seal cracks in doors, to keep winter heating and summer air conditioning inside. Lower the temperatures of your hot shower, dishwasher, and clothes washer if it isn’t necessary. Turn off TVs, computers, fans, and lights if nobody’s in the room, or set automatic timers on these devices after an hour of inactivity.
4. Don’t Toss It!
We’ve all heard something along the lines of “the food wasted by Americans yearly could feed Canada for 6 years.” But why do we recycle and compost? The biggest reason is energy— for most of Western Washington, our garbage is put on a nightly train destined for a large pit in eastern Oregon, where it stays forever. Our compost travels roughly half an hour to Maple Valley, where it is converted to rich fertilizer for Skagit Valley farms. With recyclables, it’s not that we’ll run out of plastic or metal; it takes 92% less energy (aluminum), and 60% less water (paper) to reproduce the same materials.
Learn what should go into your recycle, compost, and garbage bins. For obscure objects (light bulbs, batteries, electronics, chemicals, clothes, appliances, furniture, etc.) consider donating it, giving it away for free (Craigslist, Freecycle), or consult www.Earth911.com before tossing it. Did you know everything from surfboards to Styrofoam packing peanuts can still be recycled? Of course, remember the three R’s; Reduce, then Reuse, and if all else fails, Recycle.
5. Watch What You Eat
From obesity and cardiovascular disease, to workers’ rights and animal cruelty, to reducing energy and water use, there are numerous reasons why everyone should alter their diet. Though not everyone is willing to be vegan, here are a few simple actions that can go a long way;
- Try designating a meal or day of the week as ‘Organic Friday lunch’ or ‘Meatless Monday’. Try it once, and see if you can carry it on!
- Visit your local Farmers’ Market, and try some local specialty produce. Never tried using kale, fava beans, parsnips, or rutabagas in your dishes? Bring out your inner chef! Feeling adventurous? Try raising a small garden.
- Craving meat? Try replacing beef and pork with turkey or seafood. Not only is it good for the tummy, raising cattle or pork requires much more water and feed. They also produce lots of methane (aka cow fart), which is 7x more harmful than carbon dioxide.
- Look for certifications and special labeling: fair-trade crops benefit small farmers; dolphin-safe and sustainable-harvest seafood combat overfishing; free-range and organic meat ensures healthy animals; and locally grown produce reduces transport emissions. Minimally processed, whole foods, and natural or artificial-free foods ditch additives impossible to pronounce.
6. Retrofit and Retire Old Friends
Do you have a dripping faucet? Old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs? A top-loading washer? A ginormous TV or PC? A yellowing fridge, oven, or dishwasher? If you’re replacing any of the above soon, consider a modern, Energy Star compliant version. Not only will it save energy, it’ll save you money, even if upfront costs might be slightly higher. Rebates from the government and utilities, along with tax rebates are common for these upgrades. Thinking of something larger? Consider installing a Tankless Water Heater; instead of continuously heating a hot water tank for 24 hours a day, this small box will heat water only when a shower is turned on.
7. Lighten Up on the Toxics
Did you know that American homeowners apply 2-4x more pesticides per square foot on their lawns and gardens than most farms? Do you really need that whole bottle for a single dandelion? An entire bag of fertilizer for your lawn? What about your toilet cleaner, insect repellent, and grout cleaner? Not only are these chemicals dangerous with small children and pets, anything that goes into your lawn typically ends up in your local stream. Use chemicals sparingly, and anything you need to handle with gloves or masks shouldn’t be in your home. Never dump chemicals or medications down sinks, toilets or drains. [Hazardous Waste collection sites are located throughout King County, free of charge. http://your.kingcounty.gov/solidwaste/facilities/hazwaste.asp]
Spread natural compost over gardens, lime powder/soil sweetener to combat moss, coffee grounds for slugs, and plant flowers to attract aphid-eating ladybugs. Got dandelions? Pluck them by hand. And though they might be creepy, spiders and bats love to eat pests. Also, try having your car wash over the lawn, and if you’ve got a rainstorm coming, leave out a couple buckets to water plants the next day.
8. Get Involved
Want to burn a few hours (or weeks), get to know amazing people, and most of all, make a difference in your community? Get involved with volunteering, and standing up for what you believe in. Tree planting and invasive plant removal events happen almost every week around Seattle, with no experience necessary to take part. Rebuilding trails, creating wetlands, developing parks, maintaining community gardens and counting migrating salmon all depend on volunteer help! Want to take it a step further? Advocate for the environment and sustainable development to your city council, legislators, and community. Join a local organization, and advocate for environmental change to reach ballots. You might even find a career along the way!
9. See the Outdoors
Never been to Mt. Ranier, Olympic National Park, Mt. St. Helens, or the San Juan Islands? You’re missing out on some of the most famous attractions of Washington State! With three National Parks, three National Monuments, and over 100 State Parks, take your family and friends for a camping trip this summer. Opting for a day trip? Hike Rattlesnake Mountain or Bridle Trails, dig for clams in Hood Canal, enjoy skiing at Snoqualmie or Stevens Pass, or swim in Lake Washington. Got a few days? A drive through the Columbia Gorge, Olympic Peninsula, North Cascades Highway, Grays Harbor County, Wenatchee Valley, and along Lake Chelan are some of our state’s most famous natural areas. Nothing makes you want to protect our environment when you can take for granted what we have in the Pacific Northwest.
With any activist issue, the majority of people are not fully informed, even if they already support the cause. Take it into your own hands to understand why climate change, pollution, ecological destruction, and other pressing issues are of major concern to our planet and livelihoods. Hit up a few documentaries, attend or watch lectures and speeches, dive into an eye-opening book, talk to activists and skeptics, and if possible, take an Environmental Science course. When you understand a topic better, you’ll be able to take into your own hands how to contribute towards a more sustainable planet.
Want to know how else to get involved? Contact the Office of Sustainability at Bellevue College! We’ll be happy to chat with you on how to make changes, whether big or small. http://depts.bellevuecollege.edu/sustainability/