Tag Archives: money

One Unsustainable Habit

Change just one unsustainable habit today. I hate to say it, but for a very long time I was one of those people who left the water running while brushing my teeth. I cringe when I think about all the fresh, potable water that I wasted with utter disregard. If you do it too, today’s the day to start turning off that water.

Here are some more unsustainable habits to think about changing:

String_bagPaper or plastic? Neither. Bring your own shopping bags. Added bonus – reusable bags are very inexpensive and you can find pretty ones that suit your style. You can also get reusable produce bags for the grocery store, so you can stop wasting all those little plastic bags. Those things are the bane of my existence. I hate them. You can even up-cycle t-shirts to make your own bags. Here’s a tutorial.

Buy local – You’ll save all kinds of resources by buying local. Farmers who sell their fruits and veggies at farmer’s markets typically use more sustainable practices, and don’t unnecessarily package their produce. If you have a local spice and/or tea merchant you might be able to buy from them and use containers you already have. Local merchants are more willing to work with you to help you be more sustainable, something national grocery chains don’t do.

Appliances & electronics – Even turned off, most electronics and appliances still draw power. Unplug them when you’re done using them, or use a power strip that you can simply switch off. Many large appliances can’t really be unplugged without a huge hassle, but things like toasters and toaster ovens can.

plastic-631625_640Bottled water – I’m not a fan of tap water, but I’m also not keen on all the waste generated by bottled water. The solution – a filter. There are several different kinds you can use in your kitchen to filter your own tap water. Many bottled waters are also owned by major corporations like Pepsi, Coke and Nestle that you may not want to support because of their involvement in the anti GMO-labeling campaign.

Make, don’t buy – There are probably several things that you buy on a regular basis which you can very easily make, reducing the amount of packaging waste that you personally generate. For example, salad dressings are fast & easy. They are also a product that often contain fillers and GMOs and gunk that you can avoid by making them yourself.

Towels – Use cloth instead of paper towels in the kitchen. Like many of these other suggestions, it may require a small initial investment but will save you money over time in addition to being a more sustainable practice.

Go Dutch – By which I mean, of course, ride your bicycle. Do you drive to the corner store that’s half a mile away? At a leisurely pace, that only takes 10 minutes to walk. Go by bicycle to get there in just a few minutes. Most trips that Americans take are less than 3 miles. A 3-mile bicycle ride takes around 10-15 minutes, depending on how fast you go.

Take it step-by-step. If you try to change your whole life at once, you’ll just get frustrated and then nothing will change. To really make a difference, you have to really make a change, so set realistic goals for improving your personal sustainability accountability and meet them one at a time. And don’t be surprised if it takes a few weeks to stop making that return-trip from the supermarket to your car to retrieve your forgotten grocery bags from the back seat. It’s all part of the process.

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Fast Food & Soft Drinks

no_fast_foodI could write for days and days about all the ways that fast food & soft drinks are horrible things to do to your body. There are oh so many reasons to avoid both at all costs, but I’ll rein it in and mention a few that are most closely related to sustainability, as there are plenty of resources to learn about all the nasty effects on your health of these nutritionally depleting grab-bags of chemicals, neurotoxins, carcinogens, and endocrine disruptors. If it sounds like I’m being harsh, you should read more about what these do to your body over time. For example, here, and here.

Sustaining your family – the economics

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Despite what many people think (I don’t know why) it’s not more economical to buy fast food rather than regular food at a grocery store to make at home, if you buy the right things. It’s also often pointed out that soft drinks are commonly cheaper than other drinks. True, for many drinks.

But what about water? Or make yourself tea or coffee. Jasmine iced tea and mint iced tea are two of the most refreshing drinks I’ve ever had, and you can’t buy them just anywhere. You have to buy the tea and make it at home. Much less expensive and much better for you than any bottle or can of soda.

The problem here may well be the food deserts that many lower-income families live in, and the lack of education regarding food economics. These are problems that desperately need to be solved, for the health and welfare of everyone.

Trash talk

The amount of garbage produced by these businesses is astronomical. Everything comes individually wrapped. Some of it ends up in the dumpster and some of it ends up graciously adorning our streets and parks. A study was done in the San Francisco Bay Area to determine the sources of litter. 49% of the litter collected in random samples from four Bay Area cities was from fast food.

According to the ‘Waste Disposal and Diversion Findings for Selected Industry Groups‘ (2006), fast-food restaurants generate about 6,528 lbs of waste material per employee per year. Per employee! How many employees does McDonald’s have? If you let that sink in for a moment, it’s horrifying. A staggering 42% of what gets thrown away, winding up in a landfill, is classified as “disposed, easily divertible,” which means it’s recyclable or compostable and it wouldn’t take that much effort to do it. And that doesn’t include the 2.5 million plastic bottles that North Americans throw out every HOUR. And THAT doesn’t include all the aluminum cans that don’t get recycled, each of which could save the amount of energy produced by half that can full of gasoline. (For those and other fun facts, click here.)

Accountability for sustainability

sea-1017596_1280Did you know that We need to start holding these businesses and ourselves accountable for this waste. By making the choice to make food from scratch at home, you improve your own health and the health of your finances, as well as living more sustainably. Of course, the packaging of items at grocery stores is also typically very wasteful, but, again, you have the power of choice; find as many products as possible that are less wasteful or whose containers can be reused. Example – stay away from unnecessarily pre-packaged vegetables. Those things do no one any good. They don’t save you any time – they still need to be washed.

This is a simple, real way we can each contribute to sustainability – say no to fast food, soft drinks, and other things that are wastefully packaged.

Sustainable Education

Diminishing returns

I’m not just talking about a curriculum that includes educating students about sustainability, though that’s also important. I’m talking about the system of educational diminishing returns that we’re seeing, especially in the United States. I’ve got a family full of teachers, so I’ve been exposed to the particular challenges they face for my whole life, and I’ve seen first-hand the disgusting lack of support for all teachers, but more specifically for teachers that work with the students that need the most support – children with behavioral disorders, learning styles that are at odds with the current system, language impairments, math-based learning disorders, physical disabilities, and developmental disorders. The recent U.S. Education Sequester has made things worse, disproportionately so for the teachers and kids in special & alternative education programs. Let’s face it – even with the current economic difficulties, this is an incredibly wealthy country. We’re just not using the power of our wealth to back the right horse. And if we don’t start changing things when we can, I think it will eventually lead to a situation where we don’t have the wealth or the skill-set that makes change like this potentially so easy to implement.

Education refugees

knowledge-1052011_640Because of the diminishing returns that are being seen by all students, more of us are looking outside our borders to pursue higher education. “The number of U.S. students at Canadian colleges rose 50 percent in a decade.” And that’s just Canada, one of our closest neighbors. Lots of us are going to other countries where we can get an excellent education for half the cost, or less. I’m an education refugee myself, and I’m in the Netherlands. I took my brains and my work ethic and moved them overseas. Not because I don’t love my country, but because it doesn’t love me. It loves big agra and big pharma and a big military. It certainly wasn’t the easier choice in the short-term, but it’s the more sustainable choice for me, for many reasons, one being that I no longer need a car; I go everywhere by bicycle, train or bus, greatly reducing my personal carbon footprint. Another thing that makes it a more sustainable choice is that I don’t have the crippling student loans I would have had otherwise. I still needed student loans, and they’re still through the US federal government, who’s robbing me blind on interest, but it’s tens of thousands less than it could have been.

learn-793095_640There’s another way to read ‘education refugees.’ Current and potential teachers are making other choices for careers. When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher because of the inherent ability of the profession to inspire future generations, and the massive contributions teachers make to the general good of society. But that ability is being eroded by increasingly bad policies, like the rise in emphasis on standardized testing which forces them to ‘teach to the test’ instead of accenting critical thinking, research, and interactive learning, all of which engage students. Also eroding that ability is decreasing federal funding. Schools are closing, kids are being shuffled around, teachers are losing their jobs, and the ones remaining have bigger class sizes, more work, and mountains of stress. This is a downward spiral – by nature not sustainable.

Back to being green

Of course, this all has serious ramifications for the overall sustainability movement as well. Everything’s related. If we aren’t inspiring and educating people to be good critical thinkers and inventors, we’ll have a hard time coming up with new technologies that will help move us away from dependence on fossil fuels. Research and development are vital to this process. For example, biotecture wouldn’t be feasible without a really good understanding of how different materials interact with heat, and how to use that knowledge to increase the self-sufficiency of buildings. We’re actually holding back our own scientific development, and increasing the overall danger to the entire world, and that’s just unforgivable.

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