How Green Iowa Made Me Greener
Updated: Dec 3, 2018
By Madeline Rastall
Before beginning my term with Green Iowa AmeriCorps (GIA), I considered myself an environmentally conscious person. I use canvas shopping bags (when I remembered to take them into the store with me), I bring my own water bottle instead of using plastic throw-away bottles, and always remember to turn lights off when I’m not in a room. And I honestly thought I was doing as much as I could. That is, until I joined GIA and met some other green-minded people who showed me just how much more I could do for mother earth.
Bar Soap: Like most people, I always bought hand soap in the bottle with a pump, and body wash, shampoo and conditioner in plastic bottles. It’s readily available at stores, and with the large selection of scents and brands, I never considered another option. It’s not like I go through these bottles often, so they can’t be contributing to that much plastic waste, right? After talking to my co-workers about the bar soap they use, I discovered there really are decent options out there, you might just have to look a little harder. After reading my teammate, Kate’s, blog post about bar shampoo I was inspired to try it out and cut back on plastic as much as possible. Especially considering every piece of plastic that was ever made is still on this Earth! So, I am slowly making the change. Just like Kate mentioned in her blog, I need to use up the bottles I already have. However, I have purchased bar face wash and hand soap, and plan on making a trip to LUSH to check out their bar shampoo and conditioner!
Eat Less Meat: Never in my life have I ever even come close to considering becoming a vegetarian. My whole life I have been an athlete, and was always told that I needed more protein. Being my obedient self, I made sure to incorporate some form of meat at almost every meal. If I wanted to swim faster, I needed to build muscle with meat, right? Not necessarily. Again, after talking with a few co-workers about their vegetarian diets, it started to become more appealing. Then, as I was prepping for our Eco-Trivia event, I was doing some research for trivia questions. Through this research I learned producing one pound of beef requires 1,800 gallons of water! I was astonished. This was enough for me to make a big cut. I am not a vegetarian, nor do I have plans to be. What I did change about my diet is my intake of red meat. 99% of the time, I do not eat red meat. Red meat includes all mammals, which use the greatest amount of water to produce. I still eat chicken, turkey and seafood, but in smaller quantities than I used to. I try to go “meatless” a couple times a week, and have found alternate sources of protein such black beans, chia seeds, and nut butters. I should note that 1% of the time I do eat red meat- if the red meat is locally sourced and raised with sustainable practices, I will make exceptions. I mean, I’m a Wisconsin girl, what’s a tailgate at Lambeau without brats? Check out this video to see how a “Meatless Monday” can impact the environment for the better.
Clothing Swaps: Until my AmeriCorps term started, I had never been to a clothing swap. Being a part of Green Iowa has connected me with like-minded people, and I can now say I’ve been to 3 clothing swaps in the past year. And I have to say, I’ve found some good stuff thrifting at the swaps. Usually they are at no, or little cost and are a great way to keep old clothes out of landfills and minimize the supply chain of clothes. Seek out a clothing swap in your area, or organize one yourself! Check out this Ted-Ed videoto see how much of an impact cotton clothes have on our planet.
Single-Use Waste: Produce bags. Straws. Shopping bags. Water bottles. Make-up wipes. Laundry detergent. Dryer sheets. These are all products I have said good-bye to since my AmeriCorps term began. I use my own produce bags purchased from Amazon, refuse the plastic straw, or use my aluminum one, always bring my own canvas bags into the store with me, make sure I have my own water bottle with me, use coconut oil as a make-up remover, and DIY laundry detergent and dryer sheets. And guess what? It’s cheap and easy! Single-use plastic is going by the wayside. I challenge you to give up at least one single-use plastic item. You could refuse the straw, or bring your own eating utensils to work with you for lunch.
Heating and Cooling: Green Iowa’s main mission is energy efficiency. All winter my team sealed up air leakage in homes, and taught homeowners how to cut costs on their energy bills. While educating our homeowners, I have to say, I educated myself just as much or even more. Air leakage can cost homes anywhere from $20 to $200 extra per year on their energy bills! Lowering your thermostat in the winter by just 3 degrees can save you 10% on your energy bill. Not only will a little extra change be in your pocket, but you’re helping the environment too. Win-win! In addition to this, I will make sure every winter to do some simple weatherization hacks in my apartment to ensure the cold winter air stays outside. Some of these things include sticking foam tape around the perimeter of a window, using outlet insulators or outlet plug covers, and installing window kits on the windows that are causing me the most problems.
Now that I’m concluding my GIA term, I have made a habit of bringing my own shopping bags into stores, consciously look for products with little to no plastic packaging, and am about to set up a small-scale compost for my apartment. I like the challenge of figuring out as many ways as possible to help the environment. So, thank you Green Iowa for increasing my awareness of energy efficiency- a little bit can go a long way. And an even bigger thank you to my team- Kate, Cassie, Evan and Dylan. All of whom had some form of impact on my environmental knowledge and actions. Because of you all and AmeriCorps, I will forever strive to be the best sustainability steward I can be.
Now it’s your turn- what lifestyle change can you make to reduce your footprint?