When Henry David Thoreau moved out to Walden Pond in 1845, he helped to start the environmental movement that we all know today. But has something been lost? With all our modern technology and post-industrial revolution issues, we have way more complicated problems than those Thoreau left civilization to ponder. Or do we?
Will a return to “Walden Pond” get us back on track for what the individual can really do to create change? Is keeping it simple a good mantra for a lot of things, including environmental awareness? To be honest, we’re not sure. But we do plan to find out.
We’ve explored the outcome of making big changes, as it relates to air, land, water and energy, but what if we took it in the other direction? How much of a difference does the simplest of acts make? In order to tackle this question correctly, let’s, well, start out simple.
Simple Acts and Their Impacts
Buy one piece of organic fruit each time you shop
The organic craze has taken off. From the earthy staple of Whole Foods to the family-friendly aisles of Walmart, organic is everywhere. With accessibility removed as a barrier, the issue of price still stands in the way for many consumers.
According to the American Agricultural Economics Association, “American households spent more on organic produce between 2001 and 2004 for all produce except oranges and lettuce. Overall, average per capita spending on these organic fruits and vegetables increased from $1.64 in 2001 to $1.91 in 2004, an increase of 8.5 percent in real terms.”
With money being short and prices going up, what is a reasonable cost versus RTO for food items? Well, in the spirit of simplicity, what if we start with one? Purchase one organic vegetable each time you shop. To see what this would do, let’s crunch some numbers.
According to Bestfoodnation.com, sales of fresh produce accounted for $53.6 billion in 2005, with the U.S. consuming about 346 pounds per person in 2004. This breaks down to 127 pounds of fresh fruit and 219 pounds of fresh vegetables.
Using the above estimates, let's get a bit creative. First things first: What veggies are good organic investments or does it matter? According to studies by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group, thin-skinned veggies absorb a lot more pesticides than their thick-skinned counterparts. In one case, 97.3 percent of nectarines sampled were found to contain pesticides. So, if we're going to make a switch, we should try to pick one piece of produce along the following lines:
- Bell peppers
For our experiment, let's pick a beefsteak tomato. Their average weight is about 240 grams. Let’s say you buy three tomatoes each shopping trip, and they last you two weeks. Every month you buy about 6 tomatoes, weighing about 1,440 grams or about 3 pounds.
So, of your 219 pounds of veggies per year, 36 pounds, or 16 percent, would be organic by just switching from conventional tomatoes to organic ones. If everyone did this, the nation would up its organic produce consumption by 10,946,150,064 pounds. That’s a huge amount from switching to just one organic veggie purchase per shopping trip!
Return your plastic bags to the grocery store for recycling
About 89 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are used each year in the U.S. Though the recycling rate has been increasing, we still have a long way to go before we get recycling and plastic bag into our daily vocabulary.
Some reports state that the average family can accumulate as many as 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store. That is a significant amount of waste if you aren’t taking them to a recycling location. But how is finding a location, making a special trip and hauling around waste simple? Glad you asked...
Though visiting a recycling location for other household items, such as paint, is often a special trip that involves planning and forethought, a trip the local grocery store is as normal as going to work or stopping for gas. We all need to do it, if not every week, at a minimum, once a month.
So, how simple is it to take a light-weight item with you to a place you are already going? Easy, super easy. Start by checking out our plastic bag recycling search to find the grocery store in your area that accepts them, or check with your favorite grocery store next time you're out buying supplies.
The next step is where most people struggle...remembering. Here's some simple tips to make it that much easier:
- Return the used bags to your trunk immediately after you’ve unloaded the groceries.
- Keep them in a larger bag and hang them on the front door as a constant reminder.
- Write a reminder to yourself on your grocery list.
Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth
According to the American Water Works Association (AWWA), “Daily indoor per capita water use in the typical single family home is 69.3 gallons.” With 15.7 percent of this going to faucets, it is easy to see how this simple act can really do something.
If you have an electric toothbrush or keep your eye on the clock, the normal brushing session should last about two minutes. With this ritual usually taking place two or more times a day (depending on how much garlic you had for lunch), it's easy to see the potential impact.
If you have a faucet blasting away, you can lose an estimated 1.5 gallons per minute (depending on age and model of your faucet, could be more or less). That means that your tooth brushing routine can use six gallons or more of water per day. That's about 180 gallons per month and 2,160 gallons per year!
So what's the hold up? Why would anyone not turn the facet off?
Our theory (clear throat): lack of faucet usage education.
Don't worry, we are here to help. Our step-by-step guide should clarify any faucet control issues you may have.
- Wet toothbrush.
- Simply extend your arm forwards, in the direction of the lever which controls water flow.
- Apply minimal pressure and shift the lever into the 'off' position, suspending the flow of water from the faucet.
- Once brushing is completed, repeat steps 2-3 (in the opposite direction).
- Rinse and then repeat.
Ok, ok, you get the point. Though super fun to write, the above explanation is about 10 times more complicated than this simple green act could ever be. This one is a must do. After all, we can’t think of a more simple way to save 2,160 gallons of water per person a year.
Use one less plastic bottle a month
Americans buy an estimated 28 billion plastic water bottles every year. As of July 2008, The U.S. population was estimated at 304,059,724. That means every person buys about 92 or so water bottles per year.
That’s an average of about 1.7 bottles a week, in turn averaging out to about seven bottles a month. If every person gave up purchasing just one of these bottles each month, over a year, the U.S. could save 6,107,699,872 water bottles, an overall decrease of around 22 percent.
With a 23 percent recycling rate in the U.S. for plastic bottles, a 22 percent decrease in the material’s introduction to the waste stream would have a significant impact.
Using this example for just that, an example, it is easy to start to believe that a little change, such as one less bottle a month, could have the power to be huge.
Though these simple acts won’t single-handedly stop global warming or save the whales, getting into a more simplistic mindset might help people feel more empowered, and in turn, more apt to get active. After all, Thoreau said it best, “Things do not change; we change.” Even in the smallest and simplest of ways.