Strive to Leave Your World Better Than Your Found It

play-stationI can’t say I’m big into recycling or saving the Earth like modern society tells me I should be. “Horrors!” I know.  Be the parent of any school-aged child and your 1970’s throw-away mentality will land you in a heap of trouble!  The importance of saving our planet, protecting our watershed and ensuring that we don’t harm [enter your favorite species here] seems to be drilled into elementary children on a near-daily basis.   Maybe all this indoctrination is akin to the challenges my generation went through in convincing our elders that wearing seat belts was important, but sometimes I think it gets to be too much. After all, it is just common sense. We all need to leave our little corner of the world better than we found it.

And in this time of economic uncertainty facing our nation, taking a practical approach to responsible living is not only good for the environment, but it is pretty darn good for the wallet too!  Efforts to conserve energy, reuse versus discard items intended to be disposable and make some conscious decisions to abandon some modern conveniences in favor of some more practical alternatives will have both financial and environmental impact.  No, we may never live to see true environmental impact of our efforts, but then again, will we really ever fully realize the true efforts of the daily work we put into instilling values and character into our kids?  But we do it anyway…

So, from the world’s biggest non-recycler – the girl who put her glass, bottles and paper in the garbage until the city’s trash company figured out how THEY were going to sort it – here’s some suggestions on what we can all do to leave our world better than we found it.

  • Only order water in a restaurant if you are going to drink it.  Next time you dine out, look at how many people in the restaurant are served water and never touch the glass.  That’s a lot of water being used to make ice, fill glasses and wash them later – all for nothing!  Simply suggest to the wait staff that you don’t need the glass – and tell him/her politely why.  (That said, you need the 6-8 glasses a day!)
  • Do more laundry in cold water.  The technology advances in laundry detergents to allow for some pretty powerful cleaning in cold water alone is pretty impressive.  (Trust me on this; being in the grocery business, I’ve sat through some pretty lengthy presentations on the topic!)  While we’ve all been taught that whites must be washed and rinsed in hot water only, I think you’ll be impressed with the results you get from a cold water experience.
  • Shop and Dine Local.  The movement to support local businesses is continuing to gain momentum.  There are some seriously practical reasons to support your local restaurants, grocery and specialty stores that are worth considering:  you can save gas, you will have opportunities to meet and interact with your neighbors and local community residents, a thriving local business community directly benefits the value of your home and you will find products and services that the big box stores and chains cannot offer.  You might pay more on some items, but consider the entire value of the experience before you jump in your car and head to the nearest mall.
  • Plant a Tree.  It’s good for the land and the air we breathe!  If you plant it on the West side of your house, it can help save on cooling bills by eventually providing shade.  Planting a tree will help improve the value of your property …if you pick the right ones!  Consider planting a tree to commemorate significant events in your family’s life:  birthday trees are a great way to honor a family member each year and help the environment!
  • Bottle Your Own Water.  Bottled water isn’t what it used to be.  If you look closely at most labels, you are really just paying for someone else to fill a bottle (most are not recycled, BTW) from some public water supply in a factory somewhere.  Yes, if you love artisanal, high-end waters and know what you are buying, you may be justified (the Ritz-Carlton in Battery Park has their own water sommelier for all their amazing offerings!).  But if you are just trying to stay hydrated, consider seriously a reusable bottle.  It is a better choice for your purse and the environment.
  • Recycle Wire Coat Hangers.  Nobody likes those nasty things except your dry cleaner, so take them back to them!  Steel cannot be recycled and those hangers are about the worst possible thing for your clothing.  When you are going to the cleaners, take a stack of his hangers back so he can use them again!
  • Keep Lists and Combine Your Trips.  Trip consolidation is something we’re all doing more of to conserve time and gas.  Keep a list handy in the kitchen of what you need and where you need it from.  It pays to ensure when someone is running out to the grocery store to grab a gallon of milk that they know the repair shop they are driving right past has your job ready to be picked up.  In busy households, a good central communication spot and list making habits will enable you to better plan and consolidate trips; you can save time, gas and money!
  • Pack Your Own.  We’ve become lunch-packers at our house and it has started a trend of sorts for us.  Not only has my daughter slimmed down from eating healthier, but we’re using more reusable containers and real silverware (“tastes better to eat from, Mom!”), we are buying less individual pre-portioned foods (the cost-per-serving was ridiculous!) and we are discovering all sorts of creative new menu ideas that would never before have been an option.  It takes a little extra effort, but the routine of packing a lunch is a great way to live better on so many levels – and it give me a chance to tuck in a little note of encouragement to pump up my girl midday!
  • Second Hand; Not Second Best.  There is an unnecessary stigma in the minds of many with using pre-owned items.  I say ‘get over it!’  When I look around my house at all of the things I needed, paid dearly for, and only used once or twice, I get a little irritated with myself.  How much money have I wasted?  Consignment stores and resale shops are great options for many of the things we need, but only for single-use or short periods of time:  kid’s bicycles, play and exercise equipment, home and garden appliances, etc.  Many times, the items you need can be purchased and sold back, allowing you to basically rent them for the time you need them.

We all have a responsibility to take care of our space and be good stewards of the environment.  We need to use common sense to ensure that the messes we make are necessary messes and that we’re doing all we can to clean them up and leave the space in as good of – or even better condition – for the next guy who comes along!  We need to think twice before using the things we use and see if there is a better alternative:

  • paper towel or dish towel
  • plastic container or glass container
  • lights on or lights off
  • drive or walk
  • buy new or explore pre-owned, rent or borrow
  • need immediately or delay until there are more errands to run

Simple, conscious choices; changes really can make a difference.

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