Did you know that April is Earth Month? Planet Earth gives us so much – food, water, clean air, and beautiful landscapes to explore. But unfortunately, with our busy lifestyles and love for convenience, we tend to make decisions in our daily lives that aren’t always the best for the environment. Our oceans are filling with plastic, ice caps are melting, and we’re losing our forests.
Fortunately, there are simple things that we can all do to change the environment for the better. And it really is true that every bit counts. Although the small things that you and I can do might not make an immediate difference, it’ll cause a ripple effect. It’ll catch on to our friends and family, and their friends and family, and eventually companies and organizations will change too.
So here’s what you can do:
- Don’t waste food. When we throw our food into the garbage, it decomposes in a way that releases greenhouse gases. This makes climate change worse. It sounds simple enough, but last year alone, Canadians threw out $31 billion worth of food. And most of that waste happens at the household level. Studies have found that household food waste is usually vegetables that go bad in the fridge. If this sounds like you, here’s a tip: choose a day when you have some extra time and prep your vegetables for the week. You’re more likely to eat your vegetables, whether it’s raw as a snack or throwing them into the pan, if they’re already washed and cut.
- Use clear boxes. Another big contributor to food waste is leftovers. Did you know that we’re more likely to eat leftovers if they’re kept in clear boxes? Think about it. If you have food in Styrofoam boxes and some in clear containers, are you more likely to open each Styrofoam box to see what’s inside? Or will you go for the leftover chicken thighs that you can see in the clear container? Take the time to transfer any restaurant leftovers into clear containers (this will also help your food last longer!)
- Reuse plastic containers. More and more restaurants are starting to use plastic take-out containers instead of Styrofoam. This is a step up for the environment. But unfortunately, a lot of these take-out boxes are made of black plastic which can’t be recycled. Instead, try to reuse these containers for as long as possible. They make great lunch boxes for everyday use, and over the holidays and other special occasions, I like to use them to gift cookies to family and friends.
- Eat less meat. If you’ve seen any of the popular health documentaries in the past 10 years, you’ve probably heard that eating meat is killing the planet. And although these documentaries tend to stretch the truth a little bit, it’s true that our meat consumption, especially beef and lamb, is a major contributor to climate change. That’s the bad news. If you’re a meat eater, the good news is that even going meatless one day per week can have a significant impact on the environment (and your health!). So try having Meatless Mondays! And remember: meatless doesn’t have to mean rabbit food. Vegetarian meals can (and should) be filling.
- Recycle and compost. This should be your last resort after trying to reduce and reuse, but it’s important that it’s done correctly. It’s easy to get confused about what goes in the garbage vs. recycling vs. compost bins, but unfortunately when we make a mistake, this contaminates the waste and it usually ends up in the landfill, which results in greater greenhouse gas emissions. If you live within the City of Toronto, check out the Waste Wizard. It’s a great resource that tells you what goes where when you’re unsure. And if you live in a condo building that doesn’t have compost collection, write to your management board about setting one up!
Renita Lam, Registered Dietitian (RD)