Earth Day 2020

10 Small Changes

Story & Images by Sarah Carpenter
"Today, just like every other day of the year, we must strive to be more sustainable and kinder to the Earth than the day before...."

I used to stay up at night, in our first year of marriage, reading every university study on reducing carbon emissions and slowing global warming. I read about burying carbon, trash-removing machines, and all sorts. We still have so much work to do. And we can start by pouring love into the Earth (and each other, y’all) and making these small changes, knowing that there are people whose entire life work revolves around the big ones. Every little change matters.

That’s why, on this Earth Day, I’ve made a list of 10 easy changes we’ve made in our life (plus a few extras that we’ve just started or are restarting) to be better to the Earth. These changes don’t have to be expensive or daunting, and they can be easy first steps to take towards reducing your carbon footprint.

TURN OFF THE LIGHTS WHEN YOU LEAVE THE ROOM

My dad taught me to do this when I was a little girl. To be honest, I never understood why we were turning the lights off when we left the room. I think it’s safe to say that, at night, you might need a little light to guide you as you navigate the house once it’s dark, but for the most part, keeping lights off during the day is a good practice to reduce your electricity use.

On a side note, we also put a timer on our Christmas tree and outdoor lights so they turn off by themselves at the end of the night and come on during the time when we’ll be in the living room and able to enjoy it. Not that it is Christmas right now, but always something to think about.

SWITCH OUT YOUR LIGHTBULBS WITH LEDS

LED light bulbs are not ugly like they used to be. They use less energy and last longer than a traditional filament light bulb. I actually prefer the light they give off these days, and a huge plus is that they don’t get hot which is important when you have little fingers trying to reach for light bulbs all the time.

TAKE A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE EVERYWHERE

I am quickly becoming a reusable water bottle fiend. I have found so many cute ones I would love to have. Currently, I use a 26-ounce Yeti (my entire family has Yeti’s now. I think it’s pretty cute when we’re all together and all have our ice-cold water sitting out in 100-degree heat to cool us off when we’re by the pool. Even Sofie has two of them).

We also take our bottles to the airport (empty, of course) and have some place like Starbucks fill them up with ice water for the flight that way we never have to buy a plastic bottle. If we run out of water on the plane, however, we will take a plastic water bottle just because we haven’t figured out a better way to stay hydrated. And you really don’t want to be drinking “tap” water on airplanes.

My next goal is to remember to take a reusable coffee cup wherever I go. I have a Yeti for this as well (that I have a hard time remembering most of the time), but I have my eye on some cute ones like this Porter cup.

TAKE REUSABLE CUTLERY WITH YOU

We found a super fun set of cutlery at Anthropologie in New York one year, and now we take it everywhere. It locks together, is easy to wash, and is sturdy enough to eat with. Now that I’m writing this blog, I found it in pink, and I think I’ll grab an extra one for Sofie.

REPLACE PLASTIC ZIPLOCK BAGS WITH A STASHER

I am obsessed with Stasher Bags. They are silicone, dishwasher safe, microwave safe, can be used in a Sous Vide, can be frozen, and are easy for grabbing snacks. I love them. They come in fun colors, and some even stand up on their own. This is another thing I’m slowly buying up. I also just love the feeling of closing them. That’s so random, but it’s true. I think I’ll start using them for packing toiletries.

DITCH PAPER TOWELS

There are a lot of paper towel replacements on the market, but you know what we use? Towels. Regular towels. And then we wash them. Maybe, one day, we’ll use some fancy-schmancy reusable towel, but for now, a good old terry cloth towel works to clean up messes.

WHILE YOU’RE AT IT, DITCH PAPER NAPKINS TOO

I used to hate the idea of staining a cloth napkin, so I never used them, but we live in a modern society where we can easily remove stains, so I’m good to go.

And if you’d rather use paper napkins, remember that you can find ones that are compostable. Just use them in moderation. Save the trees, remember?

TAKE REUSABLE PRODUCE AND GROCERY BAGS

Ben and I just happen to have quite a lot of canvas bags because, for a while, retailers were handing them out with your purchase. I have one from Hatch, one from Sezane, one from Anne Taylor, and one that says Amsterdam. That last one is not from a store. My sister bought it for me. My canvas bags are a hot mess of un-styled, sustainable goodness, but you wouldn’t know from looking at my place, because I put the pretty French market bag out and stick the rest in the closet. Voila. Pretty.

During this pandemic, many of the stores we typically shop in started asking us not to bring in our reusable bags, so we’ve been using paper bags and trying to make sure those get a few uses for other things (like putting down under Sofie’s paintings and such).

As for produce bags, I bought a few of them from The Wild Minimalist, and I love them.

RECYCLE YOUR CLOTHES

When I no longer feel like I can wear an outfit for whatever reason (which is not that many because I am very picky about the clothes that I purchase), I try to find a recycling program. Some retailers have begun programs that allow you to bring back the clothing you don’t want no matter what condition they are in. Eileen Fisher is one of them. They will fix up the clothing and sell it at one of their stores as a different garment. Madewell gives you a small discount if you bring back your old jeans.

If you don’t know what else to do, don’t throw out old clothes. Donate them or sell them to a consignment store.

ADD WOOD BRUSHES TO YOUR KITCHEN CLEAN UP

We didn’t completely get rid of sponges in our house. There are just some things that I haven’t figured out how to clean without them, but for the most part, we have purchased a few nice wood brushes that we use for glassware, some pots, most plates, etc.

If you need to use a sponge, you can make it last longer by running it in the dishwasher whenever you do a full load of dishes.

Bonus: Buy, plant, and nurture plants. They are good for the environment. Flowers are great for bees, birds, butterflies, etc. And there are several plants that are great for recycling carbon.

Bonus 2 (because I said this would be 10 things, but I keep thinking about more things to add to this list. How about we just say, if you want more tips, email me or message me on Instagram, and I’d be happy to have a discussion): Walk more often. We are lucky to live in a very walkable area. We made the decision to have only one car, for the time being, with the hopes of transitioning to all-electric vehicles in the near future. Currently, we try to walk to places that are within a 10-minute walk from us. You can also choose to ride a bicycle. With both of these, always be aware and be careful of drivers!

A FEW THINGS WE ARE STARTING

Until now, our building had no way to compost, and Ben and I had been starting to put together an email for the building manager to start a composting program. I must have wanted it so badly that I manifested it because yesterday we got an email saying that the building is now offering composting! This is a big win!

I’m currently on Amazon buying us a set of reusable straws. I’m very excited about this one. Sofie loves using straws, and I’ve been hording some compostable ones from various shops we frequent. Now we won’t have to.

Once our farmer’s market reopens, we will go back to buying most of our produce from local farms. It’s actually cheaper, better tasting, and just much more fun than going to the grocery store.

This list is actually very light on what you can do to be more sustainable, but I hope it gives you a jumping-off point. I keep wanting to add more things like bake your own bread (Ben is currently in the works on a very cool app that would help with this one. shhh. It’s all very new, but actually tell all your friends), but for now, let’s start here.