By: Rebecca Keeven
Climate change, the “garbage patches” in the oceans, air pollution, 250+ million tons of trash created by Americans each year… If you’re like me, these big problems might overwhelm you and quickly consume your thoughts with hopelessness… “I’m not an environmental scientist, how am I going to help fix these issues?”
While there is unfortunately some truth to that, over the past few years, I have learned the importance of transforming a culture, not just “fixing” a problem. I’ve learned the importance of working to transform people’s mindsets, values, and habits so the problems don’t occur in the first place.
Our culture is so focused on instant gratification and convenience today. I know I fall to these temptations way too easily myself. But this is not the life we are called to live! I’m not saying it’s a sin to microwave your food, but we do live in a culture which daily is becoming more focused on wanting things “quick and easy.” This cultural mindset all too often turns into being all about “me” (even if we don’t realize it). We unknowingly ask ourselves, “What is most convenient, easy, and comfortable for me?” The big problem is that this question doesn’t take into account how our choices actually have an effect on other people and the environment too. We can see the way this cultural mindset not only hurts the earth, but the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, and so many more.
As Catholics, we should never want the “quick fix.” We should always strive for what is most wholesome, sustainable, and that which best upholds the dignity of others and the world. This time of Lent, and with Earth Day coming up on April 22, is a great opportunity to change our daily habits to better reflect the culture we hope to live in. Below are some practical tips to do just that!
Buy Used and Buy Less
No new product means no new energy, water, and other resources going into production. Plus, you’ll save money, most thrift stores benefit good causes, and you’ll keep things out of the landfill. Donate your stuff too!
Let’s be honest… marketing and trying to “keep up with the Joneses” convinces us that we need a lot of things that we just don’t really need. Buying something we don’t really want or need ends up creating more trash, more clutter in our homes, and takes our funds away from more useful or wholesome ways to spend (or donate) our money. Plus, the more stuff we have, the less energy and time we have to devote to the people and activities we truly care about.
Reuse Items & Buy Multi-use Items
To just name a few ideas… Reusable grocery bags, bags for bulk items and produce, water bottles (you can often find unused ones at thrift stores), to go containers for restaurant leftovers, travel mugs, cloth napkins (a personal favorite), rags and towels instead of paper towels, reusable sandwich bags, the list goes on…
You can also get creative and save random things like ribbon, brown paper bags, gift bags, and more to use on gift packaging. Check this out.
Extra (clean) napkins left on your table at a restaurant? Take them for when you need a tissue or napkin in your car (plus, the waiter will probably have to throw them out).
Glass jar? Save for a flower vase or food storage. Hello, Trader Joe’s flowers!
Don’t throw it away
Obviously, you don’t want to become a hoarder, but if your stuff still has value, think how you can dodge the landfill. Donate used/unwanted items to thrift stores… throwing it in the trash might be more convenient… but could someone else enjoy this item? Does it still have value in it?
One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Maybe you don’t have a need for that scrap wood, but someone else might. The “Free” section on Craigslist or similar apps are great resources to get these out of your hands and save someone else money. (It’s about the other person too!)
Recycle it! And know what is actually recyclable in your bin. Things like plastic bags, wax-coated cartons, Styrofoam, and a few others are usually never recyclable in the average recycling bin. Check with your recycling company to see what you can and can’t throw in your recycle bin. We all know this takes a little time and energy, but is convenience ruling us or are we willing to put in a little work?
Save on Gas
Carpool! Does a co-worker live nearby? Could you drop your roommate off on the way to work?
Make it a priority to run all your errands in one trip. Plus, who wants to waste all that time and gas money anyways?
Don’t idle. Look up directions, get all your texts out of the way, etc. before even starting the car. (Plus, that’s illegal). Waiting to pick up a friend or kids from school? Turn the car off then too!
Take public transportation, walk, or bike. Although public transportation usually takes a bit longer, at least you won’t have to deal with the stress of traffic yourself. You can also use that quiet time on the bus/train for reading or prayer. Walking or biking by far has the least impact on the environment, and the exercise is good for you mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Know Yourself and Say “No”
Do I actually want/need that much Chick-fil-A sauce? (Okay, I know some of you are giving a resounding “yes!”) Only put on your plate what you will actually eat and save leftovers for another meal. The same idea can be applied to anything we buy. And just because something is cheap or free doesn’t mean we actually need it. Be intentional!
Turn it Off and Keep Moderation in Mind
Get in the habit of turning off lights and using natural lighting.
Air dry your clothing (hey, it’s often better for your clothes too!)
Heating and cooling generally uses up the most energy. It’s okay to not be perfectly comfortable. Wear a sweatshirt instead of turning up the heat. Open the windows at night and let cool air in instead of blasting the AC all day.
Do you really need that much water while washing your dishes? Brushing your teeth? Ladies, if you want to challenge yourself, turn off the water while you shave your legs. Start timing your showers. A fun way to do that is by playing music when you’re in the shower, kick yourself out of the shower after one song! Each minute of a shower, 2.1 gallons of water are used. I’ll let you do the math.
Cleaning, Beauty, etc.
Try the natural options, they’re better for the environment and for you!
Coconut oil is a great makeup remover. Natural cleaning supplies are less harsh on your home, your lungs, and your skin. Plus, you don’t have to be afraid of kids being around them. Make a body spray with essential oils and water. Natural bar soap for body wash. No packaging, all natural, lasts a long time, and you get to support a local artisan. (What’s not to love?)
If you’re a lady, check out menstrual cups. They’re healthier for your body, much more affordable, and don’t create waste.
About 24 percent of our waste is organic material that can be composted. Once things like food scraps are thrown away, 0% of good can come from then. But instead, if you give a little time and effort, you can create compost with these items and bring a lot of nutrients back to the earth and to your garden if you have one! It’s a Christian value to see that good can come out of seemingly “nothingness.” If you’re in Colorado, check out the free composting classes offered by Denver Urban Gardens (DUG)!
In summary, we should all challenge ourselves to not get stuck in the culture of convenience, ease, and comfort. Instead, we can ask ourselves what kind of a culture we want to live in. We can challenge ourselves to get uncomfortable, even if that is as simple as cleaning with a rag and natural cleaning supplies instead of throw-away wipes. It may be over-used, but I think this quote applies very well here: “The world promises you comfort. You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.