By Elizabeth Parker, PhD, RD
April 22 is Earth day and we can all do our part to help the environment. How often do you pay attention to the amount of trash you create each week? How much of that trash could be recycled, composted or reused for some other purpose? Here are some tips to help you reduce your carbon footprint and to reduce the amount of waste you produce.
1. Buy local and/or plant your own garden.
Growing your own food or buying food from local vendors such as your local farmer’s market reduces the amount of emissions by reducing the distance that your food has to travel. On average, vegetable shipments travel about 1,600 miles and fruit shipments travel about 2,400 miles to reach your plate. Farmers markets also help to reduce food waste because they allow growers to sell good-quality products that might not meet size, shelf life, or other criteria imposed by larger retailers that would cause it to be thrown away. Finally, walking to your local farmers market not only reduces your carbon footprint, it’s is also a great way to increase your daily physical activity! The same goes for gardening; you can burn anywhere from 200-400 calories per hour planting and weeding your garden. Need some tips on what to do with all your produce? Check out Erin’s recent blog on farmers markets, or keep reading for tips on how to use all the produce before it goes bad.
2. Reduce food waste.
Did you know that up to 40% of the food grown in the US goes uneaten? That’s nearly 70 billion tons of waste that will most likely end up in landfills where it becomes a significant source of methane, a greenhouse gas. According to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans throw out the equivalent of $165 billion each year in unused food. Next time you have unused produce in your fridge, search the internet for recipes. Traditional preserving methods such as canning and pickling help you store those fruits and veggies longer by making them shelf stable. Soups and casseroles are a great way to get rid of leftovers that are hanging out in your fridge.
Compost is an organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. According to the EPA, food scraps and yard waste make up 20-30% of the waste we throw away. This could be composted instead and used as fertilizer for your garden! Don’t have a backyard? There are special containers you can use to compost indoors that can be purchased at your local gardening supplies store or hardware store. For more information on how to compost at home, check out the EPA’s website: https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home
3. Cut back on water use.
Did you know the average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day at home? One way to cut back on outdoor water use is to use a rain barrel. Rain barrels capture rain water that can be used at a later time to water your grass or garden. Collecting and reusing rain water is a great way to reduce storm water runoff and save money on your water bill. Contact your local Department of Public Works to see if they offer compost and/or rain barrel sales during Earth Month, and for more information about recycling programs in your area.
4. Use reusable containers.
About the Author: Elizabeth Parker, PhD, RD
Liz Parker, Assistant Professor of Family & Community Medicine in the Center for Integrative Medicine, part of University of Maryland School of Medicine, completed her PhD in Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise (HNFE) and Bachelors of Science in HNFE with a double option in Dietetics and Exercise Health Promotion from Virginia Tech. She is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer. Her research interests include obesity, energy balance and lifestyle interventions to improve health and chronic disease related outcomes.
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