By: Alexandra Loop

Hi Everyone! Happy almost Earth Day. This year, Earth Day falls on Friday, April 22. At the Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA, we’ll be celebrating the day by giving out free reusable shopping bags to our members (while supplies last) on April 22 in exchange for recycling your clean, plastic shopping bags with us. In case you haven’t heard, starting May 4, there is a “plastic bag ban” in New Jersey and reusable bags will come in extra handy after this date.

Reusable shopping bags are just one easy way you can be environmentally-conscious in your daily activities. You may also find that being more eco-friendly can lead to financial savings as well. Below, I’ve listed a few tips you can practice to help the Earth, and possibly your wallet.

  1. Turn off your engine if you are parked somewhere for longer than a minute! With gas prices hovering near $4 a gallon, you can save money by putting your vehicle in park and turning off the engine instead of letting it idle. Idling for over 10 seconds actually uses more fuel than turning off your engine and starting it again. If Americans avoided idling for just three minutes every day of the year, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions reduced would be equivalent to removing 320,000 cars off the road for a year! If you are stopped for more than 60 seconds, turn off your engine to reduce pollution and gasoline consumption.

  2. Lessen your landscaping impact! Do you really need ALL of the leaves blown off of your property and into the road? Consider letting this fallen foliage stick around on the edges and fringes of your property. Leaves not only enrich the soil, but provide habitat for wonderful creatures such as the Luna moth caterpillar and swallowtail caterpillar, which you may recognize in their final stage of development as the iconic Luna moth and swallowtail butterfly. These creatures are not only exciting to see and enjoy in your own backyard – they also provide food for hungry birds. Did you know that it takes 6,000-9,000 caterpillars to raise a clutch of black capped chickadees? When lawns are frequently landscaped and the leaves removed, habitat for caterpillars and other insects is removed, which results in less food for hungry birds. Additionally, running a 50cc two-stroke leaf blower for just 30 minutes generates as much air pollution as driving a Ford pickup (F-150 Raptor) for 3,887 miles! If you must have an absolutely spotless lawn (which is really unrealistic if you think about it) consider getting some exercise and using a rake or an electric leaf blower instead. You’ll breathe easier and your neighbors will thank you for the drop in noise pollution.

  3. Keep your cat inside! Outdoor cats kill anywhere between 3 and 4 billion birds a year. Additionally, cats that go outside also require additional shots and are more prone to disease, parasites, and run-ins with harmful wildlife (such as foxes, hawks, raccoons and even coyotes) and cars. Strictly indoor cats have an average life expectancy of 13 to 17 years. In contrast, outdoor cats only live an average of 2 to 5 years. Save you and your kitty the trouble and trauma by keeping them indoors as much as possible!

  4. Reduce water usage in everyday chores and tasks. This includes brushing your teeth, showering instead of taking a bath, and using a dishwasher instead of washing dishes by hand. A water-saving showerhead may only use about 2 gallons of water a minute, whereas filling a bathtub could use up to 36 gallons. Running a faucet for five minutes while washing dishes can waste up to 10 gallons of water and uses as much energy as powering a 60-watt lightbulb for 18 hours. In a state that is #4 for highest water prices, that is money going down the drain! A few tips to reduce water waste and your bill include using a high efficiency dishwasher or heating water on the stove, then using that to wash dishes, instead of letting the water run while you wait for it to heat up. You can also just imagine that it is money pouring out of your faucet instead of clean, potable water that we take for granted.

  5. Reduce how much detergent you use in the washing machine. Detergents are highly concentrated, and you only need 2 teaspoons of liquid detergent or 2 tablespoons of powder detergent to effectively clean a load of laundry. Switching to liquid detergents instead of pods can save you money and reduce your consumption. Soiled clothes actually benefit from a longer wash time than from more detergent. Too much detergent can lead to crunchy towels, chalky marks on clothes, and a stinky buildup of soap scum in the washer.

While these are daily choices that will certainly make a difference in your own consumption and budget, one of the most impactful choices you can make is supporting candidates and legislation that protects the environment and phases out pollutants. Collective action, whether at the ballot box or in local environmental groups, has the potential to do a lot for your community and planet. If you would like to do more for the environment, consider joining your town’s Green Team or Environmental Commission, and advocate for sustainable initiatives that you would like to see implemented!

Alexandra Loop is a lifeguard at the Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA and the chair of the Scotch Plains Green Team. The Green Team is a group of Scotch Plains residents of all ages who are passionate about the environment and sustainability in our community. Fanwood and Westfield also have their own Green Teams and together, they work to implement sustainable initiatives in our towns. For Earth Day this year, the Scotch Plains Green Team will be running a cleanup around different town locations on Saturday April 23rd. They also will be handing out free native trees at the Scotch Plains Library to town residents!