When you become a parent, your life revolves around your child’s future. You save for their college tuition. You expose them to career possibilities. You teach them skills that last a lifetime. You want your child’s life to be happy and healthy.
Being environmentally conscientious is just another way of planning for your child’s bright future. Annie Lawson, an environmentally aware mother of four in Grayslake, lives by a basic lesson of Native American culture: "The Earth is not ours to own, it is on loan to us from our children’s children."
Here are 10 steps to take:
1 Walk clean. One of the best ways to see all the Earth has to offer is to get out and enjoy it. Make plans this weekend to go for a walk or bike ride. Bring along a garbage bag and a pair of gloves. Pick up all the trash you find. Not only are you helping to clean a little part of the planet but the whole family is getting some exercise.
2 Cultivate a green thumb. Plant something, anything. Plants naturally clean the air around them. If you have a yard, try planting a small garden. Start with something easy or something your family enjoys eating. If you only have a balcony, try growing a potted herb garden. If you only have a window, try a hardy plant, like ivy.
3 Trash your food. As a family, make a garbage can composter. You will need a plastic garbage can with a tight fitting lid and a water source. Start by poking or drilling into the side of the can, making small ventilation holes, about 50 to 100 throughout. Your compost needs a combination of brown materials, which include cardboard, newspaper and dried leaves and green materials, such as food scraps and grass. Add alternating layers of green and brown materials in equal proportion. The mixture should be damp, so add water as necessary. Keep the lid on and roll the can on its side at least once a week. To see an easy to follow video, check out http://video.about.com/greenliving/Homemade-Compost-Bin.htm.
4 Take time to read The Lorax. Thirty-eight years ago, Dr. Seuss wrote an emotional story of the Lorax, who speaks for the trees. He tried to teach us an important lesson, which we are still working on today. Dr. Seuss’s words invite children to take action, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not!"
5 Recycling leftovers. Lawson saves even the smallest amount of food leftovers such as plain rice, vegetables and pasta in the freezer. Then about once a month, she makes a large pot of soup made from her recycled leftovers.
6 One man’s trash. Instead of trashing packaging containers, give them new life as an art project. Be sure that all materials are clean and free of sharp edges. Large containers, like milk and juice jugs, can be cut, decorated and become the perfect home for a plant. Metal cans and sturdy boxes can turn into pencil holders and jewelry boxes. Cardboard tubes can be converted into rain sticks, napkin rings or party poppers. Egg cartons transform into butterflies or seedling starters. All you need is your imagination and the ability to see beyond the garbage.
7 Dear Mr. President. Does your daughter worry about the amount of garbage being thrown away every day? Is your son coming up with ways to help the endangered gray wolf? Encourage your child to write to people in power. This is a great way for your child to practice letter writing skills and to learn that one voice, no matter how small, can make a difference.
8 Recycle relay. Set up a recycling scavenger hunt. Find a list of everything your local recycling center picks up or allows to be delivered. Go to www.Earth911.com, a comprehensive recycling Web site, and type in #1 plastic (PETE) and your zip code. Click on your favorite recycling place. Print out a list of all the items it recycles. Then go through your house on a hunt for an example of each item on the list. Not only will this familiarize you and your family with all the things that you can recycle, you now have a convenient list to tape on the front of your recycling can.
9 Family mascot. According to www.conservation.org, one species is pushed to extinction every 20 minutes. As a family, choose an endangered animal to become your mascot. Surf the Web, bike to the library to research the history and why your animal is endangered. Brainstorm ways that your family can help. Share your information with others. Support foundations that support your mascot.
10 Take a pledge. As a family, make a pledge to do one positive action every day to help make the Earth a cleaner, healthier place to live. It does not have to be big, just something little built into your daily routine will do nicely. Before your family knows it, it will be your "future" lifestyle.
Some forward-thinking companies offer paperless statements sent right to your e-mail. If you come across a company that does not offer this service, complain. It adds to paper waste, as well as the cost to you with postage, ink and paper.
Junk junk mail
Tired of going to your mail box, just to find junk? Register at Mail Preference Service at www.dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offmailinglist to reduce the amount of junk mail you receive. It costs a dollar, but is well worth it. As for the rest, recycle it.
Before opening the refrigerator, the biggest energy consumer in the kitchen, think about all the ingredients that you need so you only have to open it once. (Think the same way when putting away groceries.) If your meal is going to bake for an hour or longer, don’t bother to preheat the oven. If you do need to preheat, no longer than 10 minutes is needed. Choose the right pots for your meal. Pots that are too big waste water and energy.
Just one please
By asking for exactly what you need, you will be creating no unnecessary waste. If you only need one napkin, ketchup or salt packet, only take one. If you are given more, give them back and explain why. On average, each person in the U.S. throws away six napkins a day. If we all used just one fewer a day for a year, we could fill the entire Empire State Building with the napkins we saved.
Amber Beutel is a teacher, private tutor and mother living in Grayslake.