The world is like a pond: You skip a rock across the face of the water and ripples form, spreading out and across the surface, often much wider than you'd expect. Every action has some form of consequence. A plastic bottle tossed in the trash can eventually end up in the ocean, riding the currents to one of the ocean's gyres, where it becomes a small piece of a large garbage patch that stretches for miles. The islands of trash in which this plastic bottle now resides pose a serious hazard to marine life; animals often mistake the floating plastic debris for food. They try to consume the indigestible product, and it frequently chokes them or forms a blockage in their digestive tract, killing the animal. Yes, the consequential ripples spread far, but the ripples of positive actions are the same way.
Habits that positively impact the environment start in the home. To begin your quest to be a greener diver, evaluate your current habits at home and pinpoint areas where some simple steps can reduce your environmental impact.
Reduce your plastic consumption. Replace plastic grocery bags with cloth ones or skip the bag entirely; when you buy only a handful of items at the store, tell the clerk you're happy to carry your purchase. Substitute plastic water bottles with reusable steel or aluminum alternatives to help reduce your plastic waste. When possible, recycle and opt for products without the plastic wrap. If you are transporting or storing food, swap the plastic sandwich and freezer bags for reusable containers.
Be a responsible consumer. Look at where your products come from, and support businesses that harvest or manufacture goods using sustainable methods. Avoid purchasing products that render harmful impacts on the environment, such as products made of coral or turtle shells, and abstain from buying foods like shark fin soup, which are procured through detrimental practices.
Be a locavore. Consuming locally grown seasonal foods is a great way to reduce your carbon impact and support your community.
Most meals travel over a thousand miles to your table. Consider it in terms of how much fuel goes into commuting your daily diet from each farm, ranch or dairy to your table. Multiply that number by the amount of meals you eat each day and by the number of days in just one year. You probably have a pretty astronomical number in front of you. A very simple way to reduce fossil fuel consumption and emissions is to reduce the number of miles your food travels. Local farmers' markets, community supported agriculture programs (CSA) and food cooperatives are great options to help work towards a more "locavore" lifestyle. You can also start your own garden for your fruits and vegetables – no gas is required to transport food from this mini "farm" to your table.
Don't waste your food. In addition to wasting money on food you did not eat, food that ends up landfills decomposes and forms two greenhouse gases: methane and carbon dioxide. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, methane gas is 23 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, meaning it is an extremely effective greenhouse gas. In a study published by Kevin D. Hall of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, he says "We found that U.S. per capita food waste has progressively increased by approximately 50 percent since 1974 reaching more than 1,400 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day or 150 trillion kcal per year. Food waste now accounts for more than one quarter of the total freshwater consumption and approximately 300 million barrels of oil per year," ("The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact," PLoS ONE). You can help limit the amount of food ending up in landfills by taking some simple steps to reduce your waste:
•Plan out meals and create detailed lists when you go shopping so you buy only what you need.
•Be portion conscious. Don't make so much that you will not be able to consume the leftovers before the food turns.
•Eat your leftovers. You can reinvent them in new dishes. For instance, take leftover stir fry rice and turn it in to fried rice; use leftover veggies in a soup or stew. If you go out to eat, bring home any leftovers and eat them.
•Give food the benefit of the doubt: If you can cut away a browning edge, don't toss the whole head of lettuce.
•Compost what you do not eat.
Eat sustainably. Divers appreciate the value of a diverse population of marine life inhabiting reefs and other underwater environments. Mature divers often attest to the decline of diverse species as they have observed populations dwindle at dive sites throughout the world. Overfishing poses a substantial threat to sustaining biodiversity in the world's waters. As a consumer, you can make conscientious decisions with your food purchases. Many organizations furnish watch lists so you can see which marine life are considered unsustainably harvested and can take steps to avoid supporting the practice. Here are some resources to help you get started, and yes, for you smart phone enthusiasts, there is an app for that.
Guy Harvey Foundation: Responsible Seafood Guide
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood WATCH
NOAA's Fish Watch—U.S. Seafood Facts
Reduce, reuse and recycle. Reuse and recycle items such as paper, cardboard, bottles, cans and electronics whenever possible. In addition, opt for a reusable item rather than a single-use product to reduce unnecessary waste. When you need to dispose of items, particularly batteries, old electronics, paint and oil, make sure they are disposed of properly so they don't end up in the watershed.
One option to help reduce your waste is to compost your organic trash. Food products, grass clippings, wood chips and so much more can be composted. From there, microorganisms break down your waste so it can reused as nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden. With little to no management, you can reduce the amount of trash you are putting by the curb each week. Learn how to let the microorganisms do the heavy lifting: read the EPA's composting tips and guidelines. You can also reduce your daily dinner and housekeeping waste by opting for cloth napkins and cleaning rags rather than paper napkins and towels.
Another great way to reduce waste and product manufacturing is to buy used items. Stores like Goodwill, sites like Craigslist or listservs like Freecycle are great ways to find used products. Need a couch or refrigerator? Before you head to your nearest department store, see if you can find a pre-owned product. By purchasing an item for reuse, you help to reduce the amount of new products produced and the amount of waste ending up in landfills. Likewise, before you toss something out, see if you can repair it, if someone else wants it or donate it; try to use items to their full extent.
Unplug and turn off. Many appliances, chargers and electronics continue to draw power even when they are turned off or not in use; increased usage of electricity requires more fossil fuels to be burned to supply it.
Prevent "phantom electricity" by using power strips for your electronics. It is an easy way to make sure devices are really off; simply click off the strip and everything is turned off. In addition, unplug appliances like toasters and blenders when not in use as they, too, will continue to draw energy even as they sit idle. So unplug and turn off; it will help your electric bill and reduce the demand for electricity.
When it comes time to replace your used incandescent light bulbs, consider switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). According to Energy Star, switching to CFLs can save a consumer over $40 in energy savings, because it uses about a quarter of the energy required to run an incandescent bulb and its lifetime is approximately 10 times longer. Moreover, CFLs produce significantly less heat than incandescent light bulbs, which is another way it cuts energy costs and can reduce the amount of fossil fuels burned to provide the required electricity.
Conserve water. There are lots of simple ways to reduce your water usage. Evaluate your daily routine and try to incorporate some of following tips:
•Take shorter showers.
•Pour only what you'll drink.
•Turn off water faucets and fix leaky ones.
•Install water-efficient flushing systems or put a brick in your toilet.
•Utilize gray water systems to water your lawn and let your grass grow longer so it requires less frequent watering. In addition, water your lawn in the evening; it increases your water efficiency by reducing the amount of water evaporated in the process.
•Wash your car less frequently. If you do wash it, take it to a commercial facility where waste water treatment systems are in place, in order to prevent runoff from ending up in storm drains where it can affect marine life.
•Run the dishwasher and washing machine only when you have a full load.
Next up in our green diver series: "Sustainable Exploration."
Part one "How Low Can You Go?"