Love the Earth

Feature story - April 22, 2003
Today is Earth Day and while we should be celebrating, it is unfortunate that the earth and the environment have been under a continuous threat.

Everyday we make hundreds of choices that impact the environment. So think carefully about the things you do, the products you use and the waste you produce. Are there less environmentally destructive alternatives you can chose that will make a difference-- It's the first step towards making a difference. Here's what you can you to help save the earth:

Save electricity and energy

-- Be energy efficient. From compact fluorescent light bulbs to fuel efficient vehicles, each choice you make can reduce the amount of CO2 emissions entering our earth's atmosphere and help prevent global warming. Keep heating levels to a minimum. Choose energy efficient appliances. Learn about the most energy efficient options and purchase them whenever possible. It's good for the environment and can reduce your energy bill too.

-- Drive less and use public transportation. You know you should, but are you using public transport-- Walking or cycling are obvious alternatives too. These are easy and often cost-effective ways to make a big difference to the amount of fossil fuels we burn, the pollution we produce and the contribution to global warming we make. If you do have to drive, try to ride-share [car pool] whenever possible.

Conserve Water

-- Fix leaky faucets, toilets or water pipes. Even a small drip can lead to a lot of wasted water over time. Water gardens and lawns only when necessary and do so in the early morning or evening to reduce evaporation.

Don't buy GMOs

-- Stop the spread of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Ask your food shops if they stock products that contain GMOs. If so, let them know that you don't want any GMOs in your food, not only because of health considerations, but also because GMOs pose a major threat to the environment.

-- Ask restaurants if they use GMO products and tell them you would like GMO-free option, such as organically grown vegetables, on the menu.

Reduce the use of plastics

-- When you must use plastic, ensure that it is not PVC. The entire life cycle of products made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pollutes the environment and your home. Toxic by-products such as dioxin are emitted during production and when PVC is thrown away and burned in incinerators. Toxic chemicals can also leach out of PVC products when they're used. PVC items include window frames and other building materials, flooring, soft furnishings, cling film, shower curtains and even some children's toys.

-- Avoid as much as possible using foam

Reduce your waste

-- Reduce your food waste. Compost your food waste in your garden to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfill. Buy food in bulk -- it's cheaper and requires less packaging. Buy products loose rather than in packaging when you can.

-- Grow your own food and/or buy locally grown foods. The mass production and transportation of foods around the world is one of the most wasteful practices on earth. Buy local produce or grow some of your own food. It saves money, allows you to use environmentally friendly techniques, helps you avoid toxic pesticides and saves energy at the same time.

-- Recycle everything you can. Even items such as batteries, cardboard boxes, steel and tin can be recycled. Talk to your local authorities about where to recycle all your waste. Whenever possible buy used or recycled goods. Take your own bags to the shops and avoid excessive packaging.

Reduce the use of toxic materials

-- Avoid toxic materials and pesticides. Although industry is by far the greatest producer of toxic pollution, we all contribute to the toxic waste problem. Read product labels before you buy and choose simple, less polluting options. Use cleaning agents such as vinegar instead of chemical glass cleaners, plain soap instead of chemical detergents and avoid using toxic pesticides when you can. Avoid using drain cleaners and aerosols. Choose water-based latex paints over solvent-based paints and never use lead-based paints. Avoid plastic containers for storing food.

-- Choose alternatives to toxic and disposable systems. Most dry cleaning solvents are highly toxic and carcinogenic. These chemicals often remain in your clothes after you bring them home. Try to buy clothes that you can wash rather than dry clean. Many of the clothes that are 'dry clean only' are actually washable by hand with soap and cold water.

-- Don't dump hazardous household waste into the environment. Paint, paint thinner, pesticides and car fluids should never be put down the drain or in your waste bin. Ask your local authorities for advice on the best way to dispose of these materials and avoid using them when possible.

Be part of the solution

There are serious threats to our environment and our futures. But there are solutions. Reduce your individual impact. Really, the best thing that we can do for the planet is to use fewer of its resources. At the heart of the environmental crisis is our consumer society. Ask yourself these questions before you buy something: Do I really need this-- Is there another product which would do the same thing but more sustainably-- Will this product last-- Do I know how this item was made, how it will be used and how it will be disposed of-- If you ask yourself questions like these every time you buy something, your buying habits will change for the better and you may even save money.

-- Educate your children about the environment and support environmental education in your schools and community. Future generations will have to tackle some huge environmental issues such as global warming, dwindling biodiversity, the disposal of waste, including hazardous and nuclear waste and the potential impacts of genetically engineered crops. Ensure that they are ready to understand and be involved in protecting their environment through programmes in schools.

-- Plant native plants. If you have a garden or share a community garden, plant native plants that will not damage the local ecosystem. Look especially for those native plants that are endangered in your area. When possible, choose plants that require less watering and therefore less energy to maintain. Plant flowers, trees, ground cover and vegetables instead of grass. Protect and foster diversity.

-- Use your buying power. When possible, support services and buy products that you know have minimal impacts on the environment, with considerations such as reduced waste and packaging, less energy consumption, and sustainably harvested timber.

-- Don't buy endangered species. Be sure not to buy products made from endangered species. African and Asian countries in particular offer a huge range of items, food and alternative medicines made from endangered or threatened species including coral, turtles, rhino horn, bears, monkeys, tropical birds and whales. Inquire about endangered species before you travel and avoid buying any by-product from those.

-- Use your political clout. Demand to know what position your politicians take on important environmental issues before you vote in the next election.

-- Start your own local environmental group or participate to an existing one. You can make a difference in so many ways - local land conservation and restoration, making your community bicycle-friendly, organising clean ups and tree plantings, starting letter-writing campaigns and raising funds for environmental organisations are just a few ideas. Pool your efforts with others and get started together.

-- Right to know. If you live near a factory or incinerator or a nuclear plant ask the owners to tell you and your community which chemicals they are producing or emitting into the environment and what the health risks are. Challenge them if they are not open about the working of their plant.

-- Support alternative energy. Many countries are lagging behind in investing in renewable energy. Tell your politicians and utility suppliers they should make more of alternative energy sources like solar, wind and wave power.