While we often strive to improve our own health, or the health of those we love, what about the health of the Earth? Taking a few small actions can truly make a difference.
Since we live here, every day should be Earth Day. And from decorations to cleaning supplies, here are a few ways you can make your home and habits a little more earth-friendly—and healthier to boot.
1. Ditch the glitter when decorating
According to an article published in the New York Times, scientists, conservationists, and even nurseries are seeking to ban glitter. No, this isn’t a case of someone who hates unicorns and rainbows, it turns out it’s actually a viable environmental and health concern.
In a similar article, CNN pointed out, “Most glitters are in essence teeny tiny bits of shiny plastic, called microplastics.” The article goes on to say that “they are a well-known environmental hazard.” Why? According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “plastic is the most prevalent type of marine debris found in our oceans and Great Lakes,” and microplastics, commonly found in beauty products such as makeup and toothpaste, can “easily pass through water filtration systems […] posing a potential threat to aquatic life.”
And it isn’t just the whales who have to worry about the microplastics in beauty and crafting products. In 2016, a young mother lost her sight after a piece of crafting glitter blew into her eye and scratched her retina. While the flecks of glitter common in makeup like eyeshadow and mascara won’t cause damage quite so serious as crafting glitter, Cleveland Clinic’s Health Essentials points out that “it can also flake off and add sparkles in your eyes—causing redness and irritation.”
Luckily, for those of us who aren’t sure we can get by in a world with no glitter, there is another option: biodegradable glitter. However, on your quest for environmentally friendly decorations and makeup, it’s important to note that “vegan” glitter is not necessarily environmentally friendly. Vegan only means that the glitter wasn’t tested on animals, and unfortunately doesn’t account for the aquatic life that could be impacted by the microplastics after they are thrown away or washed down the drain. So, if you do go questing for sparkles, make sure they’re biodegradable and not just vegan!
2. Get non-toxic cleaning products for your home
No matter how much care is taken, a house and its inhabitants are bound to get more than a bit messy at times. Unfortunately, many of the cleaning products and soaps available in stores are full of chemicals and toxins. But fear not: There are healthier options for getting your kid’s boot prints off of your living room carpet.
If you’ve ever been camping for more than a night or two, chances are you’ve come across Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-one organic soap. This magical soap can be used as toothpaste, dish soap, shampoo, pet and baby wash, household cleaner, laundry detergent, and even insecticide. And the best part about it? It’s non-toxic, vegan, and certified fair trade.
Unlike other shampoos, soaps, and household cleaning products, organic castile soaps like Dr. Bronner’s don’t contain chemicals like nitrogen, phosphorus, and ammonia, which are typical in many commercial brands. This means that in addition to keeping your family and living space toxin-free, you’re also helping the environment.
According to SFGate, when the chemicals common in non-organic cleaning products “enter a freshwater environment as residues of household cleaning, their levels are not controlled.” Therefore, the chemicals artificially nourish certain types of plant and aquatic life, causing “dense vegetation that clogs waterways, crowding out animal life and other marine plants.”
While this may not sound so terrible at first glance, the problem with the “chemical-accelerated life cycle” is that it also causes the plants to “die in large masses, decaying and depleting the oxygen in the water.” This then leads to the suffocation of other freshwater animals, exacerbating the cycle and leading to long-term negative impacts on the environment. So be kind to Mother Nature, and consider buying environmentally friendly substitutes in place of your current cleaning supplies.
3. Wait to use large quantities of water until nighttime
Even though I usually wait until the evening to shower, do dishes, and start the washing machine, I was surprised when a New York State D.E.C. officer told me my after-hours water and electricity habits were actually more environmentally friendly. For me, this unintentional environmentalism was just a perk of my schedule and habits, so I had to know: Why does it make a difference?
It turns out that holding off on your shower until just before bedtime puts less of a strain on the local electric grid, because these are off-peak hours. According to National Grid, peak hours are from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., while off-peak hours are from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. During off-peak hours, businesses, restaurants, and schools shut off the lights, turn off their ovens, and turn down the heat for the night. This means that less energy is expended to heat up your water tank, and you’ll be contributing less to greenhouse gas emissions. And, as an added bonus, showering and using electricity at night is 29% cheaper than during the day.
In addition to giving the local grid a rest, nighttime showering can have some positive health benefits as well. With temperatures dropping and snowflakes falling, you pretty much have to blow-dry your hair—or risk having it freeze—if you shower in the morning during the colder months. However, if you wait to wash your locks until night, you avoid the breakage and dryness caused by freezing, and reduce heat damage from blow-dryers by letting your hair air-dry.
We hope that armed with these three small changes, you can do your part to help out the Earth, and reap the health benefits yourself, too.