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  • Writer's pictureJen Nickel

An Earth Day pledge

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

5 simple but profound lifestyle changes you can make to help our planet

Did you know that today, April 22, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day? How have you commemorated Earth day over the years? My memories of Earth Day as a kid include spending the afternoon at school doing a school-wide yard clean up, picking up litter that had collected over the winter. One year, I recall the school creating a natural garden that opened on Earth Day. This year, I got an email from my kids school suggesting that we try to spend the day at home without using electricity. I'm not sure how that is supposed to work, since we are living in self-isolation during a pandemic and getting all of our school work from teachers online!

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It's always been a bit confusing to me how living without electricity for an hour or a day is supposed to make a difference. It's like a crash diet of starving yourself for a few days to lose a couple pounds, that will result in a pizza and chocolate binge when you allow yourself to eat again!

For lasting change, we don't need a crash diet, we need to make a lifestyle change.

As a designer, I see massive negative impacts that the modern design and construction industry has on the environment – polluting the air and water with toxic chemicals; destroying forests and other animal habitats, and contributing up to 50% of the waste in our landfills!

Though these huge industry-wide challenges feel overwhelming, I’m encouraged to see increased interest and movement toward more eco-friendly materials and methods. My hope is that more professionals begin to educate and advocate for sustainable design and home-owner begin to ask for sustainable options, which will demand change for the industry. But it begins with individuals becoming aware, and making different choices. What good is a sustainably-designed home, if we are going to continue to live wasteful, earth-polluting lifestyles?

Each one of us as home-owners and consumers have a say in shaping the market with our lifestyle habits and purchasing power.

There are many simple ways we can improve our daily habits to make big impacts on the health of the planet. This Earth Day, instead of going on a crash electricity diet for the day, I invite you to make a lasting change. A lifestyle change for the whole year, and hopefully beyond. This Earth Day, take a pledge to make one (or all!) of these simple but drastic lifestyle changes:

1. No more bottled water!

If you don't do anything else, do this one thing and commit to eliminating bottled water from your life! Every minute, a million water bottles are bought around the world, and in Ontario alone, one billion water bottles are sent to the landfill each year! Up to 2000 times more energy is used in producing bottled water than tap water, and it actually takes three times more water to produce the plastic bottle than to fill it! Emily Charles-Donelson does a great job summarizing all the devastating impacts of plastic water bottles in this blog post.

Do the earth a favour - get yourself a reusable water bottle and stop buying bottled water! A good quality insulated stainless steel water bottle will last for years and replace hundreds of disposable plastic bottles, plus it will keep your cold drinks cold, and your hot drinks hot. Get into the habit of taking it with you on a daily basis.

Try this bottle from Klean Kanteen, a company that takes sustainability seriously, with certifications for being climate neutral, and a commitment to giving back to their community and environmental causes. Their insulated stainless steel water bottles are made to last with materials that aren’t hazardous to your health. Find it here

2. No more saran wrap!

Saran wrap and Ziploc bags are one of the many forms of single-use plastic that have become integrated into our daily lives. I get it, it’s just so easy and convenient to pack up a lunch with no dishes to wash. But for that moment of convenience, that piece of plastic will take dozens or hundreds of years to decompose, while releasing toxins like BPA into the earth, then breaking down into microplastics that get ingested by animals and introduced into our own food chain. I’d say it’s worth the extra few minutes to wash a reusable container!

There are so many great reusable food storage options available now. Try using bees-wax wraps or reusable silicone baggies. One of my favourites are silicone lids that can be easily slipped over a glass bowl of leftovers.

3. No more plastic shopping bags!

I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this. The devastating effects of single-use plastics on the environment widely known. In fact, over the last number of years, numerous countries have put full or partial bans on single-use plastic bags, including countries in Europe, South America, and many in Africa. Culture is starting to shift, and more and more people are adapting to reusable shopping bags. If you've made that change already, let’s start looking a bit further, past the shopping bags, to the plastic produce bags at the grocery store, and produce that comes prepackaged in plastic. Instead, choose the produce that comes in bulk and bring reusable produce bags as well. It’s about forming new habits, and making reusable bags a part of your shopping routines.

When looking for reusable shopping bags, choose natural materials, like cotton and canvas, preferably organic cotton. These are better for the planet and are easily washable.

4. No more disposable feminine hygiene products!

For the females out there, have you ever thought of how many feminine products you are throwing out each year? Over the last number of decades, pads and tampons have been transformed to incorporate more and more plastic, from plastic packaging to plastic applicators and plastic linings, and even plastic-reinforced strings. An average woman will use somewhere between 5 and 15 thousand pads and tampons in her lifetime. Certainly, I understand that time of the month is no walk in the park, and we’ll do whatever we can to make it more bearable. But maybe it’s time to reframe our perspective and see the impact that our periods are having on the earth too.

Non-disposable options for feminine hygiene products have come a long way in recent years. Silacone menstrual cups, like the Diva cup, and reusable cloth pads make it possible reduce your contribution to the landfill during that time of the month, plus they are far better for your body than bleached and fragranced disposable products.

This is one area that I’ve personally been working on. There’s been a learning curve, and some uncomfortable moments, but I’m happy to say that I have just about reached my goal of waste-free periods! From personal experience, I recommend giving the Diva cup a try! Find it here Expect there to be a learning curve and some inconvenience as you adjust, but keep at it and learn a new normal. For cloth pads, I been loving Lunapads, (now rebranded as Aisle) a Canadian company committed to sustainability. Find it here

5. No more chemical cleaning products!

Unlike food and medication, Canadian law does not require cleaning products to display a complete ingredient list. There are thousands of chemicals in existence, any many of them haven't been fully tested for human health or their impact on the environment. Countries in Europe have bans on many chemicals that are still in use here, like phthalates that are used in many cosmetic and cleaning products. The products we use to clean our floors and counters will come in contact with our skin and the food we eat, and infiltrate the air we breathe, and are damaging to wildlife and the environment.

We don't need to use these harsh chemicals to clean our homes. Stop buying chemical-filled cleaners, and use ones with natural ingredients instead. Or make your own! The basic building blocks of a multitude of effective home-made cleaners are as simple as vinegar, baking soda, lemon and essential oils.

This Earth Day, consider making one of these pledges. These changes are not only for the health of the planet, but are also beneficial for your health as well!

And for help designing a healthy home with healthy and sustainable materials, get in touch with INVISION Design Solutions.

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