Looking For Ways To Help The Environment? This Book Has 500 Places To Start

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"Simple Acts to Save Our Planet," by Michelle Neff. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
"Simple Acts to Save Our Planet," by Michelle Neff. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Emptying your dryer lint with every use, avoiding leather car seats, keeping your phone on low-power mode — all are ways to help protect the environment, according to Michelle Neff, author of "Simple Acts to Save Our Planet." The book is filled with hundreds of simple — and some not-so-simple — actions that can reduce waste, bolster animal and insect populations and lower energy consumption.

And while Neff (@michellevegan) concedes most people won't take all the steps included in the book, she tells Here & Now's Robin Young that choosing even a few of the suggestions, and understanding why they make a difference, is a great start.

  • Scroll down to read an excerpt from "Simple Acts to Save Our Planet"

6 Ways You Can Be Friendlier To The Environment

1. Consider alternatives to single-use plastic straws

"Straws are such a huge problem," Neff says. "You use it for maybe an hour when you're in the restaurant, and then what happens to it, unfortunately, it goes in the trash, and they're too small to be recycled. They end up in our landfills and then our oceans, and our marine life is unfortunately ingesting them.

"So by opting for a stainless steel or a glass straw, you can easily prevent that problem and not have to use a plastic straw."

2. Clear out dryer lint with each load of laundry

If you find yourself forgetting to swipe your lint screen clean, you're potentially creating more than just a fire hazard.

"What's happening is when [lint] gets clogged up in the dryer, it's actually making the dryer work harder," Neff says. "So you're using more energy to dry your clothes."

3. Use sea salt instead of table salt

When comparing how the two salt types are produced, sea salt offers a more eco-friendly alternative, Neff says.

"Sea salt, it's produced through the evaporation of ocean water, and it usually involves very little processing," Neff says. "But on the flip side, table salt, it's mined from underground salt deposits, and it's usually more heavily processed."

4. Unplug appliances when they're not in use

"Even if you're not using it, it's still sourcing energy, so you could lower your electricity bill and help the environment at the same time."

5. Avoid foods containing palm oil

Palm oil is the world's most popular vegetable oil, Neff says, and is found in foods and snacks like ice cream, candy and chips. But the oil comes "at a cost to our forests."

"The palm oil industry contributes to deforestation," she says. "Unfortunately, that's leaving animals without a home. Orangutan populations have decreased by 50 percent in just the last 10 years due to habitat loss. So when you're out grocery shopping, just opt for palm oil-free."

6. Build a bat house (yes, a bat house)

"I think that unfortunately, bats have a really bad reputation of being these scary little creatures," Neff says. "But they're really fascinating, and they're very helpful to our ecosystems. Bats have the ability to pollinate. They control pests and they spread seeds.

"So one brown bat — I think this is amazing — they can consume about 600 mosquitoes and other unwanted insects in just an hour. So for me, during the summertime, I do not like mosquitoes, so that's where bats come in handy. So if you want to attract them to your yard, you can easily put up a bat house."

Book Excerpt: 'Simple Acts To Save Our Planet'

by Michelle Neff

Humans have a unique ability to alter our natural environment, and by making simple changes to the things you do every day, you can protect the planet now and make a real difference for the future. What’s more, your commitment to sustainability may inspire others to take action as well! Remember, little acts really do add up to big change.

Buy in bulk. Not only will buying items such as spices, beans, grains, dried fruits, and canned vegetables in bulk help cut down on the amount of waste produced, but you’ll also save money and will eat healthier. Also, bulk items usually aren’t loaded with preservatives to keep them fresh.

Skip red meat once a week. Meat production is placing a massive strain on the environment since it requires approximately 1,800 gallons of water to produce just 1 pound of meat. That’s a whole lot of water! Knowing how resource intensive the animal agriculture industry is, you can make a huge difference by opting for a yummy veggie burger one night (or hey, maybe even multiple nights!) a week.

Compost. Not only is compost an awesome (and free!) fertilizer that nourishes plants and enriches soil, but it also reduces the amount of waste going to landfills. You can start a compost pile in a corner of your yard or opt for a compost container. Then all you have to do is collect items to compost, such as fruits, vegetables, and coffee grounds!

Donate seeds to a community garden project. Community gardens are designated areas where people plant and maintain vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. Community gardens are essential for bringing fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables to food deserts and other areas that otherwise wouldn’t have access to whole foods. Donate seeds (or volunteer your time!) to these crucial initiatives.

Return containers for fruits and vegetables to the farmers’ market. If you buy items like berries or tomatoes in little plastic containers when you go to the farmers’ market, remember to return the containers the next time you go. This way, they will be reused and not end up as trash. Or better yet, bring your own containers!

Can your own foods. Maybe you have too many tomatoes from this year’s harvest and don’t know what to do with them all. Preserve this year’s crop by canning! Canning is a process in which you place fresh fruits and vegetables in jars and then heat the jars to a certain temperature to destroy microorganisms that can cause food to spoil. Canned foods also make great gifts, and you’ll be cutting back on packaging waste!

Go vegan or vegetarian. Raising animals for food is taking an enormous toll on our planet's resources. The global livestock system accounts for a staggering 23 percent of global freshwater consumption and 45 percent of total land use. If that wasn’t enough, the animal agriculture industry is one of the largest drivers of deforestation and is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector. Simply swapping foods you love with plant-based alternatives is a great way to cut your carbon footprint in half!

Use aluminum cans instead of steel. Aluminum is one of the easiest metals for consumers to recycle. Generally, cans (such as soup cans and canned fruits and vegetables) are marked as aluminum, and steel is usually heavier.

Ferment foods. Not only will fermenting your food to make sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, and other items help preserve the food, but fermented foods have long been touted for their health benefits. Fermenting vegetables will increase their nutritional value, benefit your digestive tract, and promote good oral and dental health. And no food goes to waste!

Make your own vegetable broth. Save your cooking leftovers and make a broth out of the vegetable scraps by sautéing the scraps and then simmering them with water, herbs, and spices!

Start a seed exchange. Save seeds from organic fruits and vegetables bought at the farmers’ market and create your own seed exchange among fellow gardeners (a fun hobby to pick up). You’ll save money since you won’t have to buy seeds, and you’ll help maintain organic foods that aren’t made using GMOs.

Dry your foods. Many food items, such as fruits, vegetables, and herbs, can be dried, meaning the water is removed from the food as a way to preserve it. Drying your own food is a great way to take a stand against industrial agriculture by sourcing and preparing your own food right at home!

Pickle your vegetables. The process of pickling vegetables has been around for thousands of years and is used by many cultures. Learn how to preserve your crops by pickling them and you won’t have to buy prepackaged vegetables at the store!

When shopping, look for products with minimal to zero packaging, like fresh fruits and vegetables. Since many types of junk food come in heavy packaging, you’ll more than likely eat healthier too!

Excerpted from Simple Acts to Save Our Planet: 500 Ways to Make a Difference by Michelle Neff Copyright © 2018 Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

This article was originally published on May 07, 2018.

This segment aired on May 7, 2018.



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