Water. I use it and drink it every day. I just turn on my faucet and it comes out, I flush my toilet and it fills back up, I run my dishwasher and washing machine without even thinking about it. It's so easy to take it for granted, isn't it? In the past few years, our family has learned a lot and made the switch from common purchases like Cascade Dishwashing Liquid, Tide, and Clorox Toilet Bowl Cleaner to Method brand's Smarty Dish, 3x concentrated laundry detergent, and Lil'Bowl Blue. The Method products are non-toxic, biodegradable, and contain no phosphates. They also actually get my dishes, clothing and bathrooms clean, without draining or flushing harmful substances back into our water supply. Ecover also makes a dishwashing tab that really gets your dishes clean without the phosphates. The phosphates are actually illegal to USE in Chicago, even though they're all over the grocery shelves...hmmm.
(...and not to go on a total tangent/rant here, but in researching this post, I remembered that I am kind of appalled at these. I know cleaning your toilet is not the most fun job, but for goodness sake, do they have to make MORE crap to toss into our landfills - or maybe I should say our oceans? Try to think like your grandmother...buy one thing you can keep cleaning and re-using. This disposable mentality is getting us into real trouble, people!!)
We definitely need to pay attention to what we're flushing down the drain, because it does show up again later...it doesn't just go "away" and it cannot all be removed during the processing that water goes through. Same thing with the medications and prescriptions that you might be flushing after their expiration. Look for a drop off site for these since many communities have certain places or dates that you can drop them off to be properly disposed of. Chicago has this program now, which is pretty cool.
But this is not enough. I recently saw the Oprah show on Earth Day where she had an expert on (I think it was Jacques Causteau's son?) told us about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I had no idea, but this is a huge swirl of actual garbage that has collected in the Pacific. There is apparently at least one in every ocean, but this one, twice the size of TX and 90 ft deep in some places, is the largest. The worst part is that since we are all connected, this garbage is coming back to haunt us in many scary ways. One is in our food supply. The animals and fish that are affected by all this plastic are caught in fishermen's nets and end up on our plates, and in their flesh that we consume are high levels of plastic toxins like BPA and phthalates. These chemicals are cumulative...so if a small fish eats the plastic, and then is eaten by a larger fish (who is also eating the plastic) and so on, by the time the largest fish lands on our plate it can have high levels of of toxins that we happy consume over a candle-lit dinner. And little pieces of garbage is only the beginning. There are huge things like refrigerators, tires, microwaves, etc. out there too! How sad. How gross! And I won't even get into the sad stories about the fish, birds and turtles that die or are severely handicapped due to living in these great garbage swirls...
The effect is that we as consumers really need to start paying attention! If you aren't already, start to ask yourself if you want this ziptop bag, old toy, toothbrush, etc. to end up in the landfill or the ocean. Since the answer is likely to be "no, but what am I supposed to do with it then?" we need to face the fact that our choices in lifestyle and purchases may need adjusting. Buy in bulk when you can. Buy things that come in containers you can re-use, or re-fill (but not those toilet scrubbers!!). Bring your reusable bags to the store every time you shop. Make more things at home from scratch! That might eliminate several problems at once. Some may think me crazy, but I am seriously thinking about taking my dusty breadmaker off the shelf and baking my own sandwich bread. Then I won't have to fill my freezer with one of the only corn-syrup-free breads in the aisle I like when it's on sale, and I won't have to worry about all of the plastic bags they come in floating away in the ocean next year either. I know it's super hard to not make ANY garbage (though one of my friends somehow manages it!!) but with careful consideration and a little more effort, we can make much less "garbage" and severely reduce our footprint on this earth and its oceans. You can always start small...like buying a reusable container for your kid's sandwiches instead of a plastic bag. I actually use a plastic bread-shaped box right now, but I have my eye on these Snack Taxi's, available locally in Chicago at A Cooler Planet.
This past weekend, my husband, son and I met up with my sister and her family at the Brookfield Zoo for their Planet Earth celebration.
We and the kids had a lot of fun, and learned even more about water at one of the booths. I signed up and took the H2Oath (part of why I'm writing this post!) that has to do with preserving or increasing water quality, reducing water consumption, and how to advocate and get involved with water conservation. You can find lots of helpful links at the Chicagoland Zoological Society's site, and sign up to take the oath too! This is a great thing to teach your kids about as well, and they make it fun with a little water-drop character named Agua. And if you get a water bill, working as a family to conserve your water usage at home will actually save you money, too! Now who doesn't like that?