With final exams over and summer planning in full swing, why not factor environmentally friendly practices into your summer of fun? You don’t have to cancel your backyard campfires and beer pong tournaments in fear of it increasing the size of your environmental footprint. Here are some easy, affordable, and surprisingly effective ways to stay green this summer.
- Walk, bike, or take public transit: Commuting to work in the morning can be an unnecessary cause of anger and headaches. Rush hour traffic jams and being cut off can make the most well-mannered of us lose our cool. Why not skip the drive altogether and walk, bike, or bus to work? You would be doing yourself and the planet a huge favor. It has been shown that walking and biking have numerous health, financial, and environmental benefits. Public transit helps reduce air pollution, financially supports the community, and reduces traffic congestion. Walking or taking the bus in the dark can be frightening to a lot of people, but with summer comes longer days and more hours of sunlight. So why not give your car a much-needed summer vacation?
- Reuse, Reuse, Reuse: What is a backyard BBQ without eating a burger on a Styrofoam plate and playing a good game of beer pong or flip cup? No one is asking you to give up your favourite summer activities, but there are small things you can do to make your favourite games more eco-friendly. Why not save some money and buy a set of reusable plates, cutlery, or red cups for your backyard games? Reusable red cups can be found for as little as $1 at grocery stores and sets of plastic plates can be found for even less at your local thrift store. Once you buy them, you have them forever. It costs a lot less than buying a new bag of plates, forks, knives, and cups every time you have a party. You can even bring them with you to other parties or loan them to your friends when they host events. Keep extra money in your pocket and extra plastic out of our landfills.
- Alternative bug repellent: For most people, summer is a time for fun and relaxation outdoors. But with warm weather comes mosquitoes. It is customary for most of us to carry a bottle of bug spray in our bags when going to the park or hiking, but the DEET in conventional bug sprays can be harmful to both our skin and the environment. DEET has been known to cause skin irritation, especially for young children, and can accumulate in the environment and become slightly toxic to animals. Why not use a DEET-free, but just as effective, alternative? There are many common garden plants such as lavender, mint, basil, chives, and marigolds that are known to repel pesky insects. Planting a few of them in your garden or in pots on your patio can provided some protection from unwanted blood-suckers. Not into gardening? There are many recipes to make your own bug sprays out of essential oils, herbs, and other household ingredients. There are also many DEET-free sprays that can be purchased online, or at many stores and farmers markets.
- Avoid flying: Summer is the season for vacations, but airplanes are a large contributor to air pollution. For some people, road trips across the country are some of their fondest childhood memories. I know it seems unlikely that replacing one fuel-guzzling vehicle for another would have an impact on emissions, but driving is significantly greener than flying. Driving from Regina to Edmonton (around 500 kilometres) would produce around 110 kilograms of CO₂, while the same trip on a plane would generate around 180 kilograms of CO₂ per passenger. If you consider the benefits of carpooling, driving is a much greener alternative to flying. So take the extra time this summer to bond with your trip-mates over the licence plate game and I-spy during a nice road trip. Maybe you will discover some hidden gems to stop at along the way.
- Save water: In recent years, water is getting more and more scarce, and drought is an increasing issue. It is still possible to have fun in the water this summer without being wasteful of our most precious resource. An easy way to go swimming without having to fill an entire pool with water or without subjecting your skin to harsh chlorine is to swim in a natural body of water. Instead of filling up a kiddie pool for your children to only play in once, why not have a beach day at the lake, river, or ocean? Determined to have water fun in your own backyard? Setting up rain barrels can provide water to fill up your water guns and have enough left over to water your garden and wash your car.
- Turn down your A/C: On the hottest summer days, air conditioning can be a welcome respite from the heat, but it can also be a huge waste of energy There are many simple things we can do every day to reduce our dependence on A/C. The simplest thing we can do is simply turn up our thermostats. Most people unknowingly have their A/C much colder than it needs to be. Keeping our houses even a couple of degrees warmer can save a lot of money on our electricity bills and can help keep the planet a little cooler in the future. Turning the A/C in your home off while you are not home or at night when it is cooler outside is another easy way to prevent overuse. Simple things like closing the curtains when you are not in a room can help insulate your home, so your air conditioner can work more efficiently. Nobody likes getting into a car that has been sitting in the hot sun all day but having the A/C on full blast is not the most efficient way to cool down. A good rule of thumb is to roll down your windows on city streets and save your A/C for highway driving. You would be surprised how much money rolling down the windows will save you on gas. Depending on what type of vehicle you drive, turning off the A/C can save 3-10% of your gas. During extreme heat, A/C can waste up to 20% of your car’s power. The hotter it is outside, the harder your air conditioner needs to work to maintain your car’s internal temperature.
- Eat more fruits and veggies: Summer is the season for fresh produce. The longer period of sun is fantastic for growing plants. Take advantage of the new variety of food available at your local grocery store during the summer season. Shop local: go to a farmers’ market and buy fruits and veggies grown locally rather than those shipped in from a tropical country. Locally grown produce helps benefit the local economy and cuts down on thousands of fossil fuel kilometres. Meat can be delicious, but it can also contribute 10-40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions than plants. More variety and less waste–there’s no downside.
- Unplug: The sun provides us with all the energy we will ever need. This is especially true in the summer. Why not unplug for a while and take advantage of all the sun gives us. Open your curtains and turn off your lights. Turn off your TV, go outside, and read a book. There are many physical and mental health benefits to natural over artificial light. Do you absolutely need to use your gadgets? With the development of new technologies, we are able to power many of the gadgets we use every day with solar power. Try reducing your electricity bill by picking up a solar powered phone charger, solar lights, solar bluetooth speakers, or a solar keyboard.
- Burn carefully: Mmmmmmm…. Smores. Whether it is a conversation starter at your backyard get together or your only method of cooking food on a hike, campfires are a summer must. But they can cause a lot of environmental harm if they are not done properly. It is important to make sure you are burning the right things. You should only burn newspaper and fire-safe wood. Burning old lumber or treated or painted wood can be harmful for your health and can release harmful chemicals into the environment. And don’t forget to be mindful of no-fire zones and fire bans in your area. In the words of Smokey, “Only you can prevent forest fires”.
- Garage sales: One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Watch out for garage sale signs on in your neighborhood this summer. Sometimes you can find an amazing deal on a piece of furniture or a rare collectible. Not to mention, when you buy something second hand instead of new, you are eliminating the resources needed to manufacture and transport that product.
- Plant plants: Planting a garden or decorating the outside of your house with potted flowers can be a rewarding summer hobby. Stocking your garden with tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and other vegetables can provide a convenient stock of organic produce all summer long. Potting plants inside and outside of your house can help beautify your space, lower temperatures inside your house, increase oxygen, repel mosquitoes, and purify the air. Planting a variety of flowers outside can help keep bee populations from declining and can provide a relaxing area for you to read a book or hang out with friends.
- Get involved: Summer can be a busy time with all the fun activities going on in your community. Make sure you make time for the environment this summer. It can be as easy as making a few small changes in your life. If you are feeling particularly productive this summer, why not volunteer for an environmental organization? Get a few friends together and clean up garbage on your trip to the beach? Maybe even donate to environmental causes? It only takes a small action to make a big difference.
What are some other ways we can stay green this summer and all year long?
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