Saving the Earth is overwhelming, and now the Rainforest is burning!

Image of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, during the cold season, by David Mark from Pixabay
Image of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, by David Mark from Pixabay

Saving the Earth can feel overwhelming, because it is overwhelming.

I had coffee with a friend recently and she was telling me that it’s hard to know which environmental practices to follow since there are so many problems. She wasn’t sure where to start. I know that most of us feel the same way often. Thank you, Amanda, for inspiring this blog post.

It gets to all of us, even me! Though driven by a genuine heartfelt desire to do everything I can to protect the planet, the animals, and ourselves, even I get overwhelmed. Last week I felt despair and defeat when I learned about the lax environmental policies under Brazil’s President (much like the environmental attitude of our own president) that have resulted in rainforests burning down. These fires were likely intentionally set in order to clear land to use to make profits, and the hot and dry conditions spread them quickly. This week the fires are still burning and the devastation spreads. Scientists indicate that these fires are an 85% increase over last year’s fires.

The rainforests provide 20% of the Earth’s oxygen. Do we really want to do that to ourselves? Deprive ourselves of oxygen? I’m not even addressing the many species that inhabit the rainforests. Or the fact that the rainforest, in essence, cyclically filters the Earth’s air. Or that rainforests help maintain the temperature of the entire planet.

Photo of a rainforest.
Image by Rosina Kaiser on Pixabay

But it’s not really the Earth that we’re trying to save.

It’s humankind and all living creatures that we are trying to protect. We can’t really destroy the planet. The planet will go on without us. But if we keep polluting the ocean, burning down the rainforests, egregiously using up all of the natural resources, and contributing to global warming – yes, we will all die off. Permanently. But the Earth will keep turning.

Image of the Earth from space.
Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

So what can we do?

Keep trying, keep spreading the message. Do as much good as you can. Spread love and kindness and others will follow.

The best thing to do is start simple. More specifically, start with just one thing. Begin with one small mission, such as refusing plastic bags. Buy some canvas bags at the craft store and keep them in your car for shopping. You can use them for any shopping – the grocery store, department stores, pharmacies, bookstores, any store!

If the plastic waste from food and beverages bothers you, I’ve got a list of 11 Ways to go Plastic Free with Food.

Maybe you’re more concerned about the disposable coffee cups you’re using every day. Buy a plastic-free reusable coffee mug (I personally recommend Hydroflask) and bring that to the coffee shop every day. Some shops will even give you a small discount for using your own cup.

Perhaps you’re tired of buying gas for your car from one of the worst industries known to the modern world: Big Oil. They drill and spill and don’t care. Is it time for an electric car? Is this even a viable option? From what I’ve been told by two Tesla owners, it is a viable option. Other electric cars have had limits on travel before requiring a recharge, but Tesla has exponentially improved this. If the unacceptable actions of petroleum companies are what bothers you most, start with this issue by researching electric cars. Personally, I’d like to save up for a Tesla! Might take me a little time though.

The way we trash our own landscapes may be what upsets you. Read my post about Litterati and download the app. Join local trash clean-ups, or just pick up trash in your own neighborhood! Any garbage, especially plastics, prevented from washing down storm drains (which usually end up in the ocean) is a small but important help!

Heart drawn in the soil.
Image by Carla Burke from Pixabay

Just start.

Those are just a few examples. It doesn’t matter what problem you fix first, because any change you make will make a small but oh-so-important difference. You can do this. We can do this. And each time you conquer one challenge, you’ll find yourself motivated to conquer another. It’s addictive, trust me.

This week my newest change is that I joined a green initiative committee at work. I’ve also requested a recycling bin for the office so that I can take the office recyclables home since we do not have adequate recycling.

Many bloggers, myself included, have lists and guides with ways to start. Beth Terry of myplasticfreelife.com has a page called 100 Steps to a Plastic-Free Life. I have a list of books, films, Individuals Making a Difference, and websites to help you learn more. Subscribe to my blog and I’ll show you how I’m tackling one problem at a time. Contact me if you have topics you’d like me to investigate or write about. Follow other bloggers too – and we can all work through these problems together.

So what about the rainforests?

I don’t have any great advice on this, except to pay attention to what’s going on and vote for people who aren’t idiots. Here’s a CNN interview with Jeff Corwin (if you’re not aware, I’m a fan of his but more importantly he’s become a symbol of good stewardship in regards to wildlife and environmentalism).

I’m very sad about the rainforests, and I bet you are too if you’re reading this. But staying sad won’t change anything when it comes to environmental issues. Taking action will. Thank you for reading, and please subscribe!

 

Only You Can Prevent Beach Trash

Trash with the words "100% Leakproof" on it
“100% Leakproof”

In my recent post about my trip to Hilton Head Island and its environmental consciousness, I mentioned that the beaches are really clean and well maintained. Even with their efforts, I still picked up about 300 pieces of trash during my week there. Of course, I logged these into my  Litterati app (also see my post on Litterati).

I thought I could put the images of my trash to good use, to show people how they can prevent beach and ocean pollution!

I bet you already know a lot of this. But if you share this post, it might enlighten others who will then use preventative measures. And then the world can be a less polluted place!

Common Types of Beach Trash

I noticed that the same types of trash commonly appear on beaches all over the country. So I’ve divided this post into sections based on the common types of trash I’ve found.

Image of a Plastic water bottle in the surf.
Plastic water bottle almost in the surf.

Plastic drink bottles and caps

These are the most common items I pick up EVERYWHERE, and not just on beaches. Our love affair with drinks in single-use disposable plastic bottles and cups (I’m including styrofoam in this classification because styrofoam is chemically a plastic) is completely out of control. I even picked a red Solo cup that I used to collect cigarette butts and microplastics! Here’s just a few images of the many single-use disposable drink items I picked up:

What can you do?

Buy a reusable drink container (or two) and use that for all your liquid refreshments. I have two: a Kleen Kanteen for water; and a Hydroflask coffee cup. They handle pretty much everything.

If you must buy a beverage, please dispose of it properly.

Food and snack wrappers

I find this type of litter on the beach (and everywhere else) very often. This includes food wrappers, containers, zipper bags, etc. Below is an image of a washed-up cannonball jellyfish next to the plastic lid of a cylindric chip container.

Plastic bottle cap next to a washed up jellyfish.
Plastic lid next to a washed-up jellyfish.

Here are some additional examples of food and snack wrappers:

What can you do?

Follow the saying, “Leave it cleaner than you found it.” Or “carry in, carry out.” Don’t lose track of your trash and disposables. Put them inside of your beach bag until you can find a proper trash can. You can also consume less prepackaged food, which will be better for your health as well.

Beach Toys

This is one item that is particular to beaches but so easily preventable. Children scatter and lose their things easily, and almost all beach toys are made of plastic. When these items are left on the beach, they go straight into the ocean during high tide.

Toy pink crab sand toy.

You can see how easily small toys are overlooked in the next image. Can you guess what that is?A toy buried in the sand.

If you guessed a toy car, you’ve got a good eye! A toy car buried in the sand.

Here are some other examples of left behind or broken toys:

Yellow plastic toy boat.
We found this and my son named it “Mr. Boat.” It’s the only toy we kept – the rest we donated.

In particular, we found multiple plastic bucket straps, as they are not usually permanently affixed. These are easily forgotten about but this cheap plastic will make it into the ocean by the next morning.

There are a few brands, such as Green Toys, that features a rope strap that is not easily removed. The bucket is even made of recycled plastic. It’s the one we own and play with year-round.

What about the packaging for all of those beach toys?

A plastic net bag that the plastic beach toys were sold in.
A plastic net bag that the plastic beach toys were sold in, from American Plastic Toys Inc.

Below are images of a discarded boogie board left at a wash station near the beach. I’d seen these little styrofoam balls lining parts of the beach and I couldn’t figure out what they were from. I did not manage to get a good photo of them. Once I found this broken board and looked at it closely, I could see that these are cheap boards are simply nylon or polyester fabric (fabrics made from plastics) over styrofoam. You could not make a worse product for the beach – a product meant to be used in the water that is made of cheap materials and not meant to last more than one vacation – WOW.

Please don’t buy these. This one made it into a proper trash can, but how many end up in the ocean?

What about the dog’s toys? These can be easily lost. And yes, they are made of plastics and other synthetics.

A yellow tennis ball made by Kong.

What can you do?

The best thing you can do is to not leave beach toys behind, obviously. The best way to keep track of your children’s toys is simply to own less of them. Perhaps just one bucket and one shovel, for example. In general, kids don’t need many toys when playing outdoors to stay entertained and engaged. Besides the sand and water, the beach offers so many shells, sticks, seaweed and other washed up items that kids are curious about and love to experiment with.

Place broken toys in your beach bag immediately so that it doesn’t get left behind.

As for dog toys, how about throwing a stick for Fido instead of a ball or plastic Frisbee?

Items related to smoking

This is another common item I find everywhere and not just at the beach. Cigarette butts are made of synthetic materials that do not biodegrade. Plastic lighters are found in the stomach of birds and marine animals. Honestly, I used to smoke a long time ago and I sometimes threw cigarette butts on the ground. I had no idea how bad they were for the environment. I pick them up regularly now as part of my Litterati mission, as I feel like I owe the environment for this terrible habit I used to have.

Cigarette lighter lying in the ocean's surf.

I gathered dozens of cigarette butts and several lighters on the beach, here are a few examples:

I also picked up plastic tips from Swisher Sweets, which if you’re not familiar, are inexpensive flavored tip cigarillos.

What can you do?

Don’t smoke! But if you do, can you please discard your waste properly?

Straws

Aren’t straws like so last year?

No, not really. Not yet. Despite straw bans in different parts of the world.

Everywhere we went in Hilton Head served straws, sometimes automatically in the drink. I’m not criticizing the Island for this, because it happens in my town too. But I hope all eateries eventually end this practice. The exception was the Watusi Cafe on Pope Avenue, which served paper straws – thank you!!!

What can you do?

Ask the server to not give you a straw before he or she brings your drink. I used to decline the straws when the server would set them down on the table, but since so many places automatically put them in the drink I try to cut them off at the pass. Once that straw is opened and in a drink, it doesn’t matter whether or not I use it – it will now be trashed.

I don’t use a straw very often anymore, but if I need one, I have my Final Straw.

Plastic Bags

I still found a couple of plastic bags on the beach despite the town’s ban on plastic bags!

What can you do?

Decline plastic bags no matter where you live! Bring your own cloth bag.

If you don’t have a bag, can you carry your items without one? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped at a store and purchased one item that the cashier bagged. I don’t need a bag for one item! Give them the bag back right away and say thanks but no thanks!

Many stores do have a paper bag option if you ask for one. If not, they likely have an empty box readily available that you can put your purchases in.

Beach tent/umbrella parts

Many people bring their own beach tents and umbrellas to the beach, but there is sometimes waste associated with those items. Below you can see where I found a plastic tent stake accidentally left behind and a zip tie of which I found several. The last image is of a full plastic water bottle tied to a nylon string. I found this buried in the sand but the string was sticking out. Once I pulled it out, it was obvious that this was most likely used as a weight to hold something down. Clever – but forgotten, an immediate pollutant – this would’ve been in the ocean after high tide.

What can you do?

Collect all of the parts to your tents and umbrellas, even if it’s trash. Double check before you leave that you haven’t forgotten anything.

Everyday Non-Beach items

I find many items on the beach that are not necessarily beach items but items that people use daily. These items include wet wipes or baby wipes (most often not made of anything biodegradable even if the packaging makes that claim); dryer sheets; plastic dental picks; cellophane; condom wrappers; and even a bullet casing (pictured below).

Wet wipe or baby wipe in the sand
Wet wipe or baby wipe
Wet wipe or baby wipe in the sand
Wet wipe or baby wipe
Dryer sheet in the sand
Dryer sheet
Bullet casing on the beach
Bullet Casing

The most surprising things I’ve found on a beach were plastic tampon applicators in the Gulf of Mexico. At first, I thought, there’s no way someone changed their tampon on the beach! But I found not just one, but multiple of these and I’ve also since found them along the Tennessee River. It dawned on me that these items were not left behind by careless beach-goers, but more likely washed up from trash and from sewage disposal that made it into the ocean. It turns out they are colloquially known as “beach whistles” among litter collectors.

"Beach whistle," or tampon applicator
“Beach whistle,” or tampon applicator

What can you do?

In general, the best thing you can do is cut down on disposable items and especially single-use disposable plastic items. Even if you’re not leaving these items on the beach, they’re making it onto the beaches and the items are only a portion of what’s washed up from the ocean. Meaning, there’s way more in the ocean.

The answer is to not use disposable items. It sounds difficult, but it can be done. Just work on solving one problem at a time – that’s what I’m doing and sharing with you on this blog!

Beach sunset

Thanks for reading, please subscribe in the box above. Love your beaches and ocean. And keep being the change!

This post does not contain any affiliate links. All images in this post were taken by me.

Inspiration abounds on Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head Island after sunrise
Hilton Head Island just after sunrise.

If you read my post about my family’s weekend trip to Hilton Head Island last fall, then you already know how much we love the island. We recently returned from a week-long trip there, and inspiration was all around! Besides the natural beauty of the island and the gorgeous beaches, there are many environmentally conscious things I appreciate about Hilton Head Island.

My son sitting in the surf, looking out at the vast and beautiful ocean.
My son sitting in the surf, looking out at the vast and beautiful ocean.
Sunset on Hilton Head Island.
Sunset on Hilton Head Island.

Plastic bag ban in Beaufort County, South Carolina

They implemented a plastic bag ban last fall, and I am here to tell you that from a tourist’s perspective, businesses have not been hurt by this. People were shopping in all the shops and supermarkets and the plastic bag ban did not seem to deter anyone from spending money. I have not found any studies on the result of this ban in the last 8 months, but I imagine the impact has been huge!

Unfortunately, I did find one article indicating that Target and Walmart are using supposedly “reusable” plastic bags. But since they are made of the same material as regular plastic bags, they defeat the whole purpose. I did not happen to shop at either store while there so I did not witness this first hand. As the article noted, that is disappointing.

At the other shops and stores I visited, I personally received only paper bags when I didn’t have my cloth bags with me. I love it! Can’t we do this everywhere?

Dunes with a palm tree.
Gorgeous dunes on HHI.

Wildlife

There’s a lot of cherished and protected wildlife on the island. We saw all types of birds, including pelicans – my favorite! We saw dolphins, tons of fish, and several types of crabs. There are also bald eagles, alligators, and turtles living on the island but we didn’t personally get to see those this time. The local government’s website educates on sustainable living, the types of local wildlife, native plants, biodiversity, ecosystems, and how everyone can help protect those things.

Pelicans flying in a line over the ocean near sunset.
Pelicans flying in a line over the ocean near sunset.
Baby crab, dark gray.
Baby crab!

Sea Turtle Conservation Efforts

Although we did not see sea turtles this trip, we saw at least 7 cordoned loggerhead sea turtle nest areas. They were marked with orange signs provided by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, which alerts the public about the protection of this endangered species through federal and state laws.

Loggerhead sea turtle nest sign, cordoned and marked by the South Carolina department of Natural Resources.
Loggerhead sea turtle nest, cordoned by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Three loggerhead turtle nests on the north end of the island (Port Royal area), cordoned off by the SC Department of Natural Resources.
Three loggerhead turtle nests on the north end of the island (Port Royal area). The SC Department of Natural Resources cordoned the nests.

Many Atlantic coast towns have laws, regulations, and organizations to protect sea turtle nests. On Hilton Head Island, lights on buildings and hotels cannot shine in the direction of the beach. People are only permitted to use red or “turtle-safe” flashlights on the beach between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. between May and October. They have a volunteer organization that patrols, monitors, and reports on sea turtle nests. They also clean up beach litter and plastics.

I read this article about a Kemp’s Ridley turtle making a nest on Hilton Head Island, a first-time event for the most endangered of all the sea turtle species! Wow!

The Coastal Discovery Museum has an “Adopt-a-Nest” Program, which not only sponsors the protection of a sea turtle nest but also supports the museum’s educational programs. Of course, this idea excited me so I absolutely adopted a nest while writing this post! They emailed me to let me know that my nest will be the 277th one this year and that they’ll keep me informed on the progress of my adopted nest.

Can I inspire you to adopt a nest as well? Just use the link above!

Baby sea turtles on the beach.
Photo by Skeeze on Pixabay.

Coastal Discovery Museum

The Coastal Discovery Museum on the island is a great non-profit and Smithsonian Affiliate, dedicated to educating and protecting the natural resources, history, and ecosystems of the region. Their mission “inspires people to care for the Lowcountry,” through their many programs, exhibits, talks, and tours. What a great organization.

We’ve visited several times in past years but this year we did a Dolphin and Nature Cruise with the museum and really enjoyed it. And yes, we did see dolphins! The museum docent provided a dolphin skull replica and spoke about the anatomy, diet, and lifestyle of the local dolphins. The captain provided a rich tour about the history and nature of the island. Both the captain and museum docent were very knowledgeable and kept the passengers engaged for the entirety of the cruise. They even let each of the kids drive the boat for a few minutes!

My son driving the boat on the Dolphin & Nature Cruise.
My son driving the boat on the Dolphin & Nature Cruise.

Beach Trash

Hilton Head Island’s beaches are very clean and well maintained. And there are both trash and recycling cans up and down the beach. Even so, I still picked up about 300 pieces of trash during my week there. Of course, I logged these through Litterati (see also my post on Litterati). My next post will be about the types of trash I found and what you can do to prevent beach trash and ocean pollution!

Thanks for reading, and please subscribe!

All photographs in this post were taken by me except where otherwise indicated.

Happy Earth Day! But every day should be Earth Day…

Illustration of the Earth
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels.

Happy Earth Day!

Established in 1970, Earth Day celebrates 49 years this year. Next year will be a huge anniversary! The first Earth Day “led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.” You can read the full history of Earth Day at earthday.org.

April 22 marks Earth Day every year. It’s an important day to recognize our beautiful planet, but many of us believe Earth Day should be Every Day. We can make a difference every day. We can be the change. We can participate in daily practices that are small but add up when many of us do them! Follow my blog to learn about changes you can make. Additionally, Earthday.org provided this list of actions, and the good news is a great many of them are small and simple but have a big impact.

How do you celebrate Earth Day?

Earth Day is a day of education and support for protecting the environment, preventing pollution, preserving and protecting all species, curbing climate change. The first thing you can do is commit to change. Pick one change and start there. Refuse plastic, start composting, drive less. There are hundreds of things you can do! Here are ways you can change your habits around food and here are 100 steps to a Plastic-Free life. I’ve also got a recommended list of books.

The next thing you can do is educate yourself, and then others! Many people have no idea about plastic pollution in our oceans. I doubt everyone knows how many species are now classified as endangered. Many believe recycling is enough but it isn’t. Some still believe global warming is a farce.

Once you’re aware of what’s going on, there’s no turning back. Your conscience will help guide you. Your knowledge will help you guide others.

Homeschool Lesson for Earth Day

There are so many ideas on the internet and on Pinterest especially for homeschool lessons on Earth Day, the environment and pollution, and endangered species. I wrote about a lesson on pollution and the environment that I did with my son a while back, but I also did special lessons about Earth Day when he was preschool age. Children will understand why we want to protect our world by learning simple things that explain what the Earth is, what the Earth looks like, and about all the animals, birds, ocean creatures, and humans that inhabit this great planet.

We did an easy puzzle of the Earth, coloring sheets of the planet, tracing activities, and counting games using the Earth as a theme. I found all of them as free printables on the internet from sources like teacherspayteachers.com and blogs like this that I found through Pinterest.

We made a paper mache globe based on a blog post from Housing a Forest. Here’s what ours looked like (my son was only 3 at the time):

My son painting our paper mache Earth.
My son painting our paper mache Earth. Photo by me.
The "completed" version of our paper mache Earth.
The “completed” version of our paper mache Earth. Photo by me.

We also read books about the environment and protecting our world, like the one below, which teaches that we need to take care of our Earth every day. You can find many other recommended books on my Children’s Book page.

Earth Day Every Day book cover

 

But even if you don’t have children, you can still help people understand when the topics come up in conversation. And those conversations will come up. Won’t you be excited to share your knowledge?

What else can you do?

So. Many. Things.

You can plant trees (maybe even hug them!), clean up litter (join the Litterati!), join an environmentally conscience community organization, refuse disposable products, grow a garden at home or in your community, take the bus or ride a bicycle to work, eat healthier foods that aren’t processed or sold in wasteful packaging, strive for zero waste, donate to back an educational project or school program, go minimalist, donate to help protect a species, etc. Just pick something that speaks to you and do it.

Love the Earth. Then help spread that love.

You can also subscribe to my blog to learn more with me as I continue my journey!