10 Environmentally-friendly activities to check off this summer


image source: Unsplash

image source: Unsplash

By Isabelle Shi

The surreal fever dream of the past year has uprooted countless aspects of life—from reading peacefully on public library couches to cheering for sports teams in stadiums with thousands of people. The environment has also suffered in the past year; COVID-19 spurred more use of disposable foodware, mail-order packaging waste, and more time than ever spent on electronic screens, not to mention the unstoppable march of climate change. It’s not too late to do your part. If you find yourself with some downtime before schedules resume semi-normalcy this fall, here are some easy, inexpensive, and fulfilling sustainable practices to add to your checklist before summer slips away!

1. reusable items (unsplash).jpg

  1. Bring reusable utensils, containers, and water bottles with you. Whether you are trudging along steep slopes in the mountains, hiking in the woods, or merely unfurling a blanket in the park for a summer picnic, one way to minimize waste is to pack reusable items. Replacing your plastic water bottles with stainless steel containers or your Ziploc bags with silicone food storage bags remarkably reduces the plastic pollution that washes up in oceans, rivers, and parks.

  2. Replace plastic trash bags with reusable or compostable ones. The carbon footprint trash bags leave on the environment often goes unnoticed. In a 2014 estimate, the U.S. throws out roughly 100 billion plastic bags annually, generating approximately 3.3 million tons of trash, of which only one to two percent are recycled. Plastic production and incineration could be responsible for over 56 gigatons of carbon emission between now and 2050. While plastic trash bags turn into microplastics after stewing in the landfill, compostable bags eventually degrade into organic material, helping reduce microplastic pollution.

  3. Take it easy on the air conditioning. I get it, summer temperatures are spiking. The A/C, however, is not something to abuse. Opening windows and turning on the fan is low-tech but effective. If you do need to crank the A/C, avoid the high-demand hours of 4-9 pm. Electric bills are pricier at that time due to Time-of-Use rates, so try running the A/C only in off-peak hours.

  4. Hang laundry outside to dry. Despite this time-travel back to the 1800s, air drying is a sustainable alternative to machine-drying—especially during the summer. There are more than 88 million dryers in the US, each emitting more than a ton of carbon dioxide per year. Both the environment and energy bills will benefit from line-drying laundry, and clothes will last longer due to less wear and tear from the heat of the dryer. 

  5. Unplug. While camping or hiking—or even taking an evening stroll in the neighborhood—leave electronic gadgets behind or tucked away in a pocket or a bag. Look at the tree branches twirling in the breeze, listen to the whispers of the leaves. Connection to nature more likely compels us to protect it.

  6. Plant your own garden. From flower shrubs to succulents to fruit trees, grow some greenery at a community garden or in your own backyard. Not only does gardening cause the surrounding environment to bloom—quite literally—but it also is a great way to get some exercise and bury any stress—figuratively.

  7. Get riding. The murmur of the wind; the whirl of neighborhoods passing by; the warmth of sun rays on my skin—all reasons why I bike to visit friends or the local library rather than asking my mom to drive me. Biking generates neither greenhouse gas emissions nor air pollutants with a bonus of providing fantastic exercise.

  8. Visit your local farmer’s market. My mom and I go every Sunday and return to stock our refrigerator with bags of freshly grown and organic produce, including blueberries, tomatoes, and (my personal least favorite) broccoli. Every Sunday dinner, we marvel at the fresh taste of our morning haul.

  9. Go thrifting. As a teenager who cares deeply about both fashion and the environment, I have learned that the quality, price, and sustainability of apparel are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I highly recommend paying a visit to your local thrift store—and even sorting through your closet before your visit to donate old and unwanted items. Manufacturing, producing, packaging, and distribution of new clothing requires tremendous amounts of energy; shopping secondhand substantially reduces waste and energy consumption.

  10. Volunteer in your community. I find it extremely gratifying to help the community and the environment through volunteering. Hosting a neighborhood or beach cleanup, pruning a garden, planting trees—if there is anything The Lorax taught us, it’s the importance of speaking up for the trees and our environment.

As we start redefining the new “normal,” we need to take the environment into consideration more than ever. What sustainable actions would you add to this bucket list? 

Isabelle Shi is a rising 11th grader at The Nueva School in San Mateo. Aside from her passion for the environment, Isabelle loves both the visual and performing arts and writing articles for her school newspaper.


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