The Evolution of an Environmentalist
by Becca Stallings
No matter how strongly you feel you should do your part to save the planet, it can be difficult to change your lifestyle. I recommend a gradual approach: Do one new environmentally-friendly thing every few months. This gives you time to get used to each change and incorporate it into your daily life. As an example, here's a list of changes I've made in my own life:
- My family saved newspapers and steel and aluminum cans; we donated them to school fund drives or took them to a recycling plant a few times a year.
- We had a compost pile.
- We rarely used air conditioning and turned down our furnace at night and when away from home.
- We had a water-saving faucet aerator in the kitchen sink.
- We re-used gift wrap, boxes, and packing materials.
- My mother made a lot of foods from scratch, and we avoided individual-serving packages.
- We made juice from concentrate, instead of buying it ready-to-drink in a huge container.
- Started saving paper that was blank on one side to use for scratch paper and letters to my cousins.
- Started looking for recycled content and minimal packaging in products I bought. For example, I stopped buying feminine pads that were individually wrapped in plastic.
- Started washing all laundry in cold water and line-drying in warm weather.
- Refused to learn to drive, partly on environmental grounds. I rode the school bus in a town where most teenagers drive to school; therefore, the bus was uncrowded and a relaxing ride.
- Started bringing home cans from soda pop I drank at school and adding them to the recycling bin at home.
- Started recycling glass.
- Stopped using rayon tampons and purchased all-cotton ones by mail. (I didn't yet know about the health risks of rayon, but I found it caused a burning sensation.)
- Learned to drive but continued to walk to most places within a two-mile radius; that fall, I started college in Pittsburgh and had access to public transit.
- Started taking all my class notes on blank-on-one-side paper. During four-and-a-half years of college, I bought only two packages of notebook paper.
- Started line-drying laundry year-'round.
- Started recycling plastic bottles and "office" paper.
- Took my first Greyhound bus trip. I've had occasional unpleasant experiences with Greyhound, but none have been worse than my experiences with airlines. Bus stations are not as dangerous as many people think. Usually I find bus trips very pleasant.
- Started buying food and hygiene products in larger packages to save money and reduce waste. I lived in a dorm with limited storage space, but I set aside one end of my closet shelf for spare stuff.
- Started making my own peanut-butter-cracker sandwiches, instead of buying little plastic packs of crackers.
- Started using a cervical cap instead of spermicide capsules individually packaged in plastic.
- Started diluting shampoo to prevent myself from using too much.
- Started using rechargeable batteries in my portable tapedeck.
- Started a magazine exchange in my dorm. People put magazines they'd read into a box, where other people could pick them up instead of buying another copy.
- Redesigned several interoffice forms at my summer job to reduce paper waste.
- Started using a plastic insulated mug instead of paper cups in campus dining facilities.
- Started using canvas tote bags for grocery shopping, instead of taking the store's plastic bags.
- Convinced a dormitory cleaning person that instead of changing the plastic bag in my wastebasket (or anyone else's), she could just dump the contents of the bag into her larger bag.
- Started making large batches of marinara sauce and refrigerating it for later use, instead of buying prepared sauce.
- Had a housemate who drank a case of Mountain Dew each week, so I began using the empty cases instead of wastebaskets. Our landlord allowed us to place these directly in the trash can, saving garbage bags.
- Cleaned out a filing cabinet at my summer job and acquired enough old two-pocket folders (from promotional mailings) to see me through the last three semesters of college and to fill all my filing needs through 1998.
- Started using cloth napkins instead of paper.
- Started carrying plastic forks, spoons, and chopsticks in my bookbag to use when eating on campus or in fast-food restaurants.
- Started saving reply envelopes that came in junk mail and using them for my own mail by covering the address with computer labels (which I had purchased in bulk from American Science & Surplus).
- Started buying products like lip balm and hand lotion made from hemp instead of petroleum.
- Started recycling glossy paper.
- Bought a computer with an EnergyStar monitor that shuts off after 15 minutes of idle time. However, when I know I'll be away from the computer for a while, I turn the monitor OFF to save even more power. (Appliances in standby mode waste a lot.)
- Started working full-time and contributing 5% of my income to charity, mostly environmental groups.
- Protested my supermarket's decision to stop selling toilet paper and paper towels made from recycled paper, in favor of selling adult wet-wipes in plastic boxes! They refused to bring back Green Mark products. However, I learned that Soft'n'Gentle brand is made from recycled paper, although it doesn't say so on the package.
- Bought a low-flow showerhead and a kitchen sink aerator for my current home.
- Started a plastic-recycling program at work. The cleaning people had been pulling cans and glass bottles out of the wastebaskets to recycle at home; I set up recycling bins to collect all bottles and cans in designated locations so the cleaning people wouldn't have to dig through the trash as much. A co-worker and I added the plastic bottles to our household recycling.
- Had a frightening experience with toxic oven cleaner and switched to a citrus-based cleaner, which works better anyway!
- Switched from buying yogurt in individual containers of #5 plastic (not recyclable in Pittsburgh) to buying big containers of plain yogurt in recyclable #2 plastic.
- Started buying in bulk (by mail order) toilet paper, facial tissues, and paper towels made from post-consumer recycled, chlorine-free paper.
- Bought a reusable menstrual hygiene product, The Keeper, and found that I liked it better than tampons.
- Implemented several paper-saving policies at work.
- Bought reusable coffee filters for work and home.
- Bought a cloth shower curtain, which we treat with non-toxic mildew remover and machine-wash with borax.
- Bought sneakers made of hemp and recycled rubber.
- My housemate started making homemade yogurt, so I stopped buying yogurt in plastic containers at all.
- Started buying plant-based dish and laundry detergents and bathroom cleaner.
- Compiled a chart of the best prices on environmentally-friendly products we buy for our household. E-mail me for the latest version!
- Bought a car because it was required for my job, but chose one with good mileage and low emissions. I drive it as little as possible.
- Started making homemade mouthwash (half hydrogen peroxide, half water, plus a dash of peppermint oil) instead of buying chemical mouthwashes.
- Fought off bugs that were killing my houseplants by spraying the plants with diluted citrus-based cleaner, instead of pesticide.
I've compiled a list of places to buy many of the products described above.
Copyright ©1999-2003 by Becca Stallings.
Last update: 2003-03-07
Maintained by Dan Efran - email@example.com