Earth Day 2012 was greeted by a vastly different public attitude than when it first debuted 42 years ago. Now, chemical pollutants in our environment have been linked to deadly diseases like cancer, fish populations have diminished (and are among the most concentrated source of pollutants in meat), and nearly all drinking water now contains some level of chemical waste.
It’s not just factories and farms polluting the environment; your home likely contains an arsenal of deadly weapons of its own, including household cleaners, paints, oils, pesticides, and batteries. As the saying goes, “it starts at home.” Here are some ways you can avoid contaminating your world:
1. Shop Smarter
(purchase products that don’t contain hazardous ingredients):
Of course, the first line of defense against runaway chemicals is not to use them in the first place. You would be surprised at the number of supplies under your kitchen sink that are toxic to the environment both inside and outside your home.
Identifying them can be tricky, as household products aren’t required to disclose their ingredients. The best indicator is the label; if it warns of DANGER or POISON, it’s toxic. Instead, choose cleaners that are labeled as non-toxic, or create your own cleaners using safe, powerful ingredients like vinegar and baking soda.
2. Dispose of Hazardous Wastes in Collection or Exchanges
If reading #1 has you ready to dump all household chemicals down the drain or in some secluded part of your yard, think twice. You could damage your septic system and contaminate septic centers (as well as the environment).
For pesticides, paints, motor oil, batteries, and toxic household cleaners, a trip to a hazardous waste facility is your safest bet. These centers are equipped with drum storage and other containers specialized in keeping waste out of the environment. Some facilities even have exchange areas that allow materials like leftover paint to be re-used, thus eliminating the need for more materials to be produced.
3. Buy Chemicals in the Smallest Amount Possible
If you can’t avoid purchasing a hazardous chemical, don’t fall for the “buy more, save more” marketing. The price-per-ounce may be lower with higher amounts, but it comes at the cost of storing a toxic substance in your home. For the sake of your family and the ecosystem, don’t buy any more than you need just to save a buck.
4. Care for Your Lawn…Naturally
One of the biggest offenders for household chemical pollution is lawn/garden care. The lawn care industry has done a great job of convincing consumers that bright green, weed-free yards and juicy red garden tomatoes are only possible with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, but that’s not true.
A small amount of research will turn up a multitude of natural tried-and-true methods to controlling pests and weeds that won’t hurt the ecosystem. Attacking weeds with vinegar (and a little hand-pulling) can eliminate the pesky plants without the negative effects of pesticides, while insect-repelling plants can keep the pests at bay in your garden.
5. Pest-Proof your House
If pest-controlling chemicals are cause for concern outside of your your house, then imagine the ill effects of using toxic substances inside the home. We’re all guilty of dousing a single spider with a full can of bug spray (or maybe that’s just me), but the same ingredients that harm the bugs can also harm humans and the environment.
The best way to keep pests like insects and rodents under control is to keep them out. Remove food sources by keeping the floor and surfaces in your kitchen/eating areas clean. Conduct a thorough walk-through to determine any cracks that need caulking or filling to limit access. If an infestation has already occurred, opt for trap methods over poison.