I was already planning to write my weekly column on making more planet-friendly choices at home, when, WHAM! Hurricane Ian walloped me, my house, and my town, my state, sending a not-so-subtle reminder of how much we rely on our planet, and how too often we take her for granted.
Like most mothers, including me, Mother Earth puts up with a lot. But when she gets mad, boy, all hell breaks loose.
In the early morning hours, the eye of the storm came over our home, just north of Orlando, like a vortex of doom, terror on both sides. Ian plucked out trees like toothpicks, peeled roofs back like Tupperware lids, treated powerlines like a game of cat’s cradle, and turned streets into canals. And we’re the lucky ones. Southwest Florida got hit even harder.
While we only lost a couple trees and had some minor water intrusion, I have friends who stepped out of bed into ankle-deep water. Others could no longer distinguish the lake behind their house from their swimming pool from their family room because they were one. At this writing, my cousins on the Gulf Coast don’t have power, cellphone service or water. Many fared worse.
I sometimes forget, as I focus on the physical home, that Earth is our home, too. And while I do try to be mindful of my carbon footprint, after this week, I am vowing to do even better. Not that we can ever prevent earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions or tsunamis, we can show the earth more respect and be better stewards of her resources.
And that starts at home.
So, I talked with an environmentally conscious designer and an eco-friendly product maker to get some ideas on what more you and I could do. I confessed that, while I’m coming around, I have been reluctant to embrace the eco movement because I always thought “more sustainable” was code for more expensive, less durable, fewer options and less convenience.
“People think making environmentally friendly choices is a sacrifice,” said New York designer Clodagh, who goes by one name because she’s a minimalist. “But you don’t have to give up anything. It’s not a tradeoff and it’s so beneficial.”
“We can’t expect to be 100 percent perfect, but maybe we can aim to get better by degrees,” said Bonjoon Ku, of Austin, Tex., who with his wife last year launched Zungleboo, a line of bio-based dishware made from cornstarch and bamboo, and an eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based plastic plates and disposable dishware.
“It’s a hundred little steps that add up,” Ku said, “especially when all of us take a hundred little steps. And if we care about the future, care about our kids’ futures, we need to take every little step we can.”
If you want to join me in an effort to be kinder to the planet, but don’t know how, here are 21 ways Clodagh, Ku and other experts suggest we can start:
THE FOUR Rs
1. Recycle. This is so obvious. If you’re not doing this, start.
2. Re-use or repurpose everything you can. Find a second life for old items. Think how the pioneer women braided rags to make rugs from worn-out clothes.
3. Rehome. Find places that will accept and repurpose your castoffs. Habitat for Humanity ReStores accept donations of reusable building materials and household items diverting them from landfills.
4. Reclaim. If a tree has fallen nearby (yes, several), have it picked up, cut up, dried, and made into usable firewood, lumber, stumps, or furniture, Clodagh advises.
5. Make less waste. We all tend to buy more than we can consume, Ku said. Any time we can throw away less, and use up more is positive.
6. Use refillable water bottles.
8. Use compostable, biodegradable trash bags.
9. Get reusable baggies. Silicone bags from Stasher have a pinch-lock seal that creates airtight storage. You can boil, microwave and freeze them, then wash and reuse.
10. Ditch the plastic wrap. Likewise, Bee’s Wrap products, which are made of organic cotton infused with beeswax, plant oil and tree resin, offer a reusable, durable, natural alternative to plastic food wrap.
11. Bring your own grocery bags to the store.
12. Go paperless. Pay bills online. Think before you print.
13. Buy products made locally to eliminate shipping.
14. Buy products with minimal packaging.
15. Buy in bulk if you do need to order online, to cut down on shipping.
16. Buy used. Before you buy a new piece of furniture, look on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
17. Have it made. If you don’t see what you want, have a local craftsperson or cabinetmaker make furniture for you to your specifications out of reclaimed wood or other recycled materials.
18. Read the label. Look for items made of replenishable materials, like bamboo, linen, jute and wool.
19. Choose products made in the USA, the nearer the better to reduce the energy used in transport.
20. Run only full loads of wash. Use cold water.
21. Invest in energy-efficient appliances and windows. Look for the Energy Star label.
Mother Nature spoke. And I for one am listening.
Responsibly sourced ─ To create this dining and living area for a New Jersey home, designer Clodagh used reclaimed wood for the dining table and floors, and locally quarried stones for the two-sided fireplace. The Tibetan rug is pure wool. Photo by Peter Prymwid
Try a new dish ─ Bio-based dishes from Zungleboo are light, shatterproof, and easy on the planet. Photo courtesy of zunglestore.com.