This winter felt eternal. Every time the weather would get sunnier or warmer, a few days down the weather forecast was gray and cold. I think the whole Northern Hemisphere is ready to get outside, get in the sun, and get together with loved ones.
Every family has their sacred summer traditions: whether it be a beach vacation, a backyard barbeque, or just sitting in the backyard next to a pool. Without them, it just isn’t summer. This post is to help you make small changes to your summer traditions to make them more eco-friendly.
I always recommend going slowly, making a goal to try one tip (maybe two) this summer.
Reduce your air conditioning use
Air conditioning makes summer living more comfortable, but is a big energy drain. 5% of all energy produced in the US goes to air conditioning use. To cool US homes, over 117 million metric tons of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere each year. You can reduce this amount by following a few quick tips.
Tip 1: Use a ceiling fan or circular fan in conjunction with an air conditioner. They circulate the air much better, allowing you to feel cooler when the temperature is higher.
Tip 2: Close your shades during the day. “When completely closed and lowered on a sunny window, highly reflective blinds can reduce heat gain by 45%”.
Tip 3: Wait to use heat-generating appliances (like computers, TVs, lighting, stoves) until after dark. If you want to cook in a less heat-generating way, use your outdoor grill.
Do not buy new summer clothes
Stores know exactly what to do: once the days get longer, their display windows fill up with cute dresses and summery designs. It feels like a gravitational force is pulling you into the store, to see if the clothes bring that light and summery feel to your skin. We at Earth Mamas shared a lot about the hazardous impacts of the fashion industry. Just one new item of clothes leaves an environmental mess across the globe, as detailed in the post Just One Shirt. So what can you do to lessen your impact through clothes.
Tip 4: Organize a clothes swap! You will get new (for you) clothes and older neglected clothes will get a new life in someone else’s closet. Mimi’s post on her Swig N’ Swap details how to throw a party for you and your friends that gives clothes a second life.
Tip 5: Shop used. Go to a thrift store near you or order online with thredUP.
Support your local insects
Humans are drawn to saving the large animals, near and far. Our house is a big supporter of the Snow Leopard Fund, while other passionately fight for the protection of vaquitas. What is of equal importance is for humans to save the smaller species. The food chain doesn’t work unless the smallest creatures can be eaten by the bigger ones. Your local ecosystem depends on you making space in your garden or yard for insects to live, grow, and join the circle of life by being eaten by a large predator.
Tip 6: Let the ants roam free. Not only do they aerate your soil like earthworms, they also deter pests that eat your plants. A favorite hobby of my daughter’s is to watch the parade of ants in our backyard. She gets to live the motto “Live and let live” from an early age.
Tip 7: Save the bees. The world-wide bee population is down 50-80%, putting our food system into jeopardy. If you have bees visiting your garden, please let them be. If you have a hive nearby, talk with your local municipality workers. They will be able to work with the neighborhood to protect both its citizens (especially allergic ones) and the bees.
Check your sunscreen
The sun is no joke during the summer. Sunscreen is necessary for protecting yourself and your loved ones. The trouble is that certain brands of sunscreen are also reeking havoc on coral ecosystems.
Tip 8: Check out Erika’s article to find out which brands of sunscreen are ocean-friendly.
Tip 9: UV protective clothing is considered the most effective way to decrease skin exposure to UV rays. Invest in a set for each family member. My UV shirt is 5 years old, and still keeps my skin safe during pool and beach time.
Picnics, barbeques, beach cookouts… outdoor eating during summer makes any occasion a party. It can also lead to a huge mess that goes straight to a landfill, or worse clogs up a beach (as seen on this Virginia Beach over Memorial Day weekend). Here are some tips to make your next cookout eco-friendly.
Tip 10: Invest in a reusable set of one kind of item. Again, just one kind of item. For example, buy 20 reusable plates. Switching to reusable can be daunting if it is an all-at-once approach. Just collecting the used plates and cleaning those will feel more manageable as a start.
Tip 11: Share those reusable items with friends. When your neighbors invite you over, offer to bring the plates. They will be happy to have one less chore, and who can say no to eco-friendly help?
Tip 12: Consider serving less meat. Easy to cook veggie burgers are sold in many grocery stores, and local produce is cheap and abundant at this time. Natalie wrote about eating less meat in My (Mostly) Meatless Month, which provides ideas on how to make dietary switches, and statistics for those curious about protein in plant-based foods.
Sprinklers, pools, and slip n slides
Cooling down with water-based activities gets you and your family through the long, hot days. Pools, sprinklers, and water toys are a double whammy of entertainment and air con for our skin. How can we balance the fun with the huge use of water? Here are some tips.
Tip 13: “Using a pool cover alone can lessen water evaporation by 95% and also help cut down on energy usage by keeping the heat in the pool when it is not in use.” Read the Pool Care Guy’s post for more tips on ways to make your pool more eco-friendly.
Tip 14: Put your sprinkler or water play inflatables by dry patches of grass, or garden areas in need of water.
Car trips don’t have to leave a huge carbon footprint. Terrapass has great ideas for how to lower your emissions on your next trip. Here are a few quick ideas they provide.
Tip 15: Tune-up your car and inflate your tires. “A dirty air filter can reduce your car’s fuel efficiency by 20 percent. Tires that aren’t fully inflated can drop your miles per gallon rate (plus they’re dangerous to drive on).” These simple car maintenance routines can make a difference with fossil fuel emissions.
Tip 16: Don’t idle. It can be tempting to keep the car on when caught in traffic or a long pause at a rest stop. The battery will still circulate air around the car, but it will stop cooling any outside air.
Reduce food waste
Summer days can be unpredictable. Too much fun is happening to stop and go home for dinner. This can wreck meal planning and leave food to go to waste. Food waste is detrimental to the environment, as it takes up valuable landfill space, and wastes the resources put into growing the food. I wrote a post with some Food Waste recipes, but here are some summer specific tips.
Tip 17: Think before you shop + Go with a list. I am victim of aspirational food shopping, picking up lots of ingredients that look “yummy”. Before I get my act together and find a recipe, they go off. Now I stick to the list. It saves food and money from being wasted.
Tip 18: Turn leftover fruit into popsicles. No one, ever, has too many popsicles in the freezer during summer. They get eaten before you know it. I feel better when my daughter is eating popsicles where I controlled the additive sugars (and she manages to steal mine too). Here are a range of recipes, for any kind of fruit leftovers.
We are working so hard to make this world a better place, now go out and enjoy it! “Research demonstrates that exposure to trees has a relaxing effect on humans, reducing stress and imparting a sense of well-being.”
Tip 19: Enjoy the later daylight with a walk around the neighborhood. Notice any changes in the trees, plants, and animals. You might watch as birds slowly outgrow their nest, flowers bloom, and fruit grows on trees.
Tip 20: Participate in a park or public space clean-up. Trash Hero is an international organization that works to clean up and reduce waste in communities. Check out if you have a chapter of Trash Hero or a similar organization in your local area.
These tips are meant to manageable and bite-sized. Our mantra at Earth Mamas is less perfection, more progress. What tips do you think you can try this summer? What tips would you add to this post?