Did you know that in 2007 alone, 22571 beaches in America were closed due to pollution? As if that’s not bad enough, air pollution is a major issue in practically all of developed world. Meanwhile, we are running out of clean water, arable land is getting smaller by the day and global warming messed up Earth’s ecosystem, causing widespread famine – and thus hunger – in about half the world.
Sorry to paint such a bleak picture but that is a pretty accurate picture of where we are now. Of course, activists have been campaigning for these issues for as long as we can remember. Progress have been made, to be sure, but many experts are of the opinion that we are going about it much too slow.
The reason is simple: Sustainable products, at least those in the supermarkets, are often more expensive than their conventional counterparts. And rightly so. We pay a low price for conventional products because other people in the production chain are paying various other non-monetary prices.
The environment pays the price of pollution, in the form of everything from pesticides to non-biodegradable rubbish. The people in third-world countries pay the price of low-cost labor (sometimes even slavery). And of course those products will have to be shipped in from half the world away – When it comes to food products, we are paying with our health. When it’s not food products, the environment pay with the pollution that comes with burning fossil fuel.
But in an economy where about 10% of the population (by conservative estimate) are without a job, who could care about all those issues when you can’t put food on the table? The recent Occupy Wall Street protest shows just how bad the situation is for regular Americans – people thousands of dollars in debt, graduating with a PhD and found no suitable job, home foreclosed and still paying off a mortgage… It’s no wonder there’s been a drop in the consumption of organic/sustainable food source.
In this article, however, I would like to point out that there are ways where you can do your part for the environment, live a healthier life and still save money at the end of the day. There are many ways you can achieve this, but for now, let’s start with 5:
1. Be Water Efficient
Only about 3% of the world’s water is available for humans to drink. Available doesn’t mean accessible, however. Of that tiny proportion, most are frozen in polar ice caps and glaciers or buried deep in layers of rock. As New Yorker reporter Michael Specter once wrote, “If a large bucket were to represent all the seawater on the planet, and a coffee cup the amount of freshwater frozen in glaciers, only a teaspoon would remain for us to drink.”
Having said that, there seem to be a sense of entitlement to water among Americans. That it is our inalienable rights to have access to it – and we can use as much of it as possible. Americans consume an average of 500 litres of water a day; more than any other people on earth. Even the Europeans use only half of that.
Want to save the world and save money? Start by using less water. There are plenty of ways to do it – everything from taking shorter showers to using water efficient machines – but there’s one I would recommend more than others: collect rain water. Most houses can do this and save hundreds over a year in water bills.
A pleasant side effect of using less water, of course, is using less energy.
Did you know that some 30% of your energy bill is a result of heating water for your shower? It drives me nuts that people are changing light bulbs, turning off the fan, etc but are taking longer showers!
2. Grow a Home Garden
With your rain water all filled up, now it’s time to move on to the next stage: growing your own vegetables. It sounds daunting, I know, but thousands of Americans all over the country are doing it right now.
The permaculture Research Institute of Australia defined permaculture as “a system of assembling conceptual, material, and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its forms.” One of the benefit of permaculture is you can do it even in small spaces.
So instead of that patch of spending money caring for that unproductive lawn, why not growing something you can eat by implementing permaculture? Your grocery bill will be a fraction of what it was, plus you’ll know exactly what you are putting in your mouth went through.
3. Make Your Own Cleaning Products
Cleaning products may not make a large part of your bill but the price you pay by using conventional ones is more than just monetary. A recent Berkley study warns that cleaning products such as household cleaners and air fresheners may contain toxic pollutants like Ethylene-based glycol and terpenes in levels that are harmful to human health.
What disease a person would develop by accumulating such toxins but you can be sure you’ll be paying for it – if not a huge medical bill then loss of a week or two’s productivity!
Instead, why not make your own cleaning products? It’s easy and you can use harmless ingredients like vinegar, baking soda and lemons. Here is a great guide on how to create these products yourself.
4. Sustainable Insulation
I mentioned above about how heating water is one of the most expensive expense when it comes to your energy bill. Well, turning on the air-conditioner (cooling) comes second – plus it releases harmful CFCs (among others) into the environment.
Instead, consider investing in various sustainable insulation options. “Green roofs”, for example, is a popular choice whereby you’d place living vegetation on your roof. The plants protect your house from the intense summer heat much like a tree would if you stand under it.
Other ideas include installing fiberglass insulation (cheap and simple) or simply plant more tree around your house.
5. Visit a Farmer’s Market
Would you like fresh produce at a great price? Visit a farmer’s market. Better still, form a relationship with that farmer and buy direct! Heck, why not organize a neighbourhood group buy to get the best price possible? It’s also possible for an individual to buy in bulk and preserve the food with traditional methods – like pickling, drying, canning or bottling.
By visiting a farmer’s market, not only will you be supporting a local farmer, you’ll also be supporting sustainable farming practices – one that doesn’t involve pesticides/herbicides.