I was at the pool the other day when suddenly this guy started spraying his bald head with aerosol sunscreen. I watched as if in slow motion as my kids walked right through the cloud of droplets clinging to the air, inhaling the toxins he released. I grumbled to myself the same as I do whenever someone lights up a cigarette within a few feet from my children, knowing I’d never say anything to him about his own choices, but feeling angry and entitled to cleaner air just the same.
The problem, I thought to myself later, is that those choices aren’t just his choices. When someone throws trash out of his truck while zooming down the highway, dumps garbage into the river, drops a cigarette butt onto the ground and walks away, uses aerosol cans for spraying paint or hairspray or sunscreen, those choices affect us all. Wherever you side politically, we can all agree that we need to take better care of Mother Earth for the sake of ourselves—and most importantly, for the sake of our children.
It actually wasn’t until I had my son that I started thinking about “going green.” We always recycled since that was easy, but otherwise we were clueless. I remember staring at the back of a container of lunchmeat and trying to read the ingredients, turkey halfway to my son’s lips, and having the realization that I could not in good conscience feed my child food whose names I could not even pronounce. It was a little while before I could honestly say we were living as greenly as possible, and even now there are ways we could improve. But we are getting there! And if we all do our part, we’ll make a huge difference.
Kermit says it’s not easy being green, but that dude was whack. You don’t have to live in an underground eco-pod and reuse toilet paper to make Al Gore proud. Just make baby steps for your own family, and you’ll be surprised how many ways you can reduce that old carbon footprint. Here are some of the ways we can all channel our inner tree-hugger:
Ok, I know it seems obvious, but it’s really surprising how many times I see plastic and paper in people’s garbage bins. Nashville picks up recycling once a month, so it can be tricky if you run out of space before they empty your bin. We actually requested a second recycle bin from the city, and they gave us one free of charge. That has helped immensely. We also use a local glass recycling company that comes and picks up our bin once a month—for only $6! (I am only slightly embarrassed by all the wine bottles they have to haul away for us. They may or may not think we host a lot of parties.) (We don’t.)
2. Just say no to aerosol cans.
Spray paint, spray on tans, spray cheese…not one of these things is good for you—or for the Earth. Best to cut them out entirely. I TOTALLY GET wanting to use spray-on sunscreen for your kids, mamas. It is such a pain to slather lotion on that wiggly toddler. But, in addition to depleting the ozone, aerosol sunscreens have all kinds of problems that make them truly not worth it. Studies have shown that those same wiggly kids are very likely to inhale all those toxins which can be extremely hazardous to their health. It’s also hard to get enough sunscreen coverage on your kiddo with the spray-kind—especially if it’s a windy day. Stick to lotion, and bonus crunchy points to you if you get the organic, all-natural kind.
3. Eat locally sourced and organic fruits, vegetables, and meats as often as possible.
Eating local produce and meats cuts down on shipping pollutants, and (bonus!) they taste better anyway. Eating organic foods ensures that your family won’t be ingesting toxic insecticides which, in turn, cuts down on the amount of farms that use insecticides in their gardening practices. Better for you AND the planet.
4. Leave the car in the garage.
Another immediately good-for-you step toward living greener: walk or bike as often as you can! Nashville has a few great, walkable neighborhoods, and with bike rental stations popping up more and more, we’re becoming quite the biking city as well. If you can ditch the car for a stroll to the coffee shop with kids in tow or from your office to grab lunch, do! You’ll be saving the planet, and you’ll get a boost of energy for yourself. (After a while, you might just find your jeans fit a little better too!)
5. Switch to energy-efficient lighting.
LEDs make a great substitute for energy-sucking lightbulbs, and where they used to look clinical and cold, the technology has improved so that there’s hardly a difference between the look of the LED and a traditional lightbulb. The bonus for you is that you’ll save loads on your electricity bill, and the bulbs last for years.
6. Cut down on your paper and plastic waste.
Think about the way things are packaged: a tampon comes individually wrapped in plastic with a disposable plastic applicator. Yogurt comes in baby-sized, individual plastic cups with disposable foil lids. When possible, go for the product with less waste. Buy the yogurt that comes in the larger container, skip the plastic bags for your veggies and fruits, and put your groceries in reusable bags. (Here are a couple of tips that have saved a ton of waste for us: when at a restaurant or coffee shop, don’t get a straw and a lid unless you have to, use real cutlery instead of plastic if you have the option, and use only the bare minimum of paper napkins.) If you want to go full-on granola, give reusable feminine products (like the Diva Cup) and/or cloth diapering a try. I do both, and I promise I’m not a weirdo; they truly are easy and better for me (and my family).
7. Switch to all-natural cleaning and beauty products.
Many of America’s most trusted household brands are loaded with harmful toxins. Switching to Earth-friendly cleaners, bath products, and makeup ensures you’re not covering your sweet baby or your floors or dishes in harsh chemicals, and they’re better for the planet in lots of ways too.
As long as life continues, we will need to take good care of Earth. It’s the only home we humans have, and I know we all want our children and grandchildren to be able to enjoy clean water, fresh air, and plentiful fruits and vegetables—not to mention all the splendor and beauty Earth has to offer. None of us want to live in some kind of garbage-heaped, post-apocalyptic, Wal-E-type world. That’s why living green now is so important. In doing so, we will preserve Earth for our kids and teach them the importance of doing the same.
Now, everyone take a deep breath and go hug your favorite tree.