by Lindsay Wheeler

Although today’s the official Earth Day, I’ve been reflecting more and more on my own lifestyle and the efficiency with which I live.  It started a few months ago, when I was watching the BBC series Planet Earth with my brother, and I found myself almost to the point of tears thinking about what we, as a human race, have done to the planet.  I grew up spending summers in the backcountry of Wyoming and I have always considered myself as a person who has loved the outdoors.  However, living in Washington, DC, I often find it easy to forget the fragility of the world around us when I feel sheltered by looming buildings.  With these reflections and to mark Earth Day, I have set three standards for myself in order to lessen my environmental impact.


#1: Walk everywhere.  Where I live in Washington, DC, this is not difficult.  I live a 30-minute walk to campus, so walking comes naturally.  There is a bus I could take and the Metro is nearby; neither are ideal, but both are plausible, relatively low-impact options. 

When I’m in a rush, I most often take a cab.  This makes me feel guilty.  I am setting a goal to only take a cab when I actually need it, for instance, if I am carrying an excessive number of bags or if it’s pouring rain.  To quantify my goal, I’ll aim for no more than one cab ride every two weeks. 

#2: Use cloth bags for groceries.   This requires some pre-planning, such as, anticipating when I intend to go to the supermarket.  Other than that, I find this goal to be relatively easy.  The only problem that occurs is if I decide to stop somewhere on the way home and I don’t have a cloth bag with me.  In this case, if the store is Trader Joes, for example, I request paper bags.  I’m able to re-use them in my apartment.  If I decide to stop at Safeway, it is only two blocks from home so I can easily detour first to my apartment to pick up my cloth bags.  

I know this seems like a small change to make, but half the battle is getting into a mindset to change my behavior.  Frankly, using new bags on each trip to the supermarket is ridiculous and wasteful.  

#3: Watch plastic bottle usage.  Everyday, I hear more and more about the dangers of plastic water bottles. (Read SKAPP cases study on bisphenol A.)  As much as I would like to completely eliminate plastic bottle usage, at this point in my life, I honestly cannot.  Personal hydration is one of the cornerstones of body care and my life gets to be so hectic that I need to be able to purchase a bottle of water on occasion without feeling tremendous guilt. 

In order to keep myself in check and minimize the use of water bottles, I will make an effort to make any water bottle that I buy last at least a week.   I know the first question that will come to mind, is why not use a nalgene or other plastic water bottle?  The problem is I have heard mixed reports about chemicals going into the water from such water bottles and they also tend to be large and difficult to carry around.  I have seen that there are new titanium water bottles available, and they are something I’m considering fitting into my lifestyle, even though their size and weight makes them less convenient. I will also make a point to talk to peers and coworkers about bottled water and the effect it has on the environment.  Hopefully, by limiting my own use as well as educating others, I will make an impact over time.

While I know none of these changes are earth shattering, I think that by forcing myself to keep to these basic standards, I will be able to slightly minimize my impact on the environment.  I do hope that these goals will continue to grow with me as I transition into my adult life. 

Might you be able to identify a few changes in your life to help sustain planet Earth?

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Lindsay is finishing her final year at the GW School of Public Health and Health Services.  She plans to continue at GW to pursue a MD/MPH degree with a focus in health policy.  Lindsay currently works as a research associate at the Sabin Vaccine Institute with the Global Network, which is dedicated
to the control of neglected tropical diseases.

 

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