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5 Earth-Friendly Choices for Summer

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A few small, easy changes to your summer fun can make a big difference.

Summertime, and the living should be easy … but it’s not, thanks to all the choices I have to make to ensure that I’m being as environmentally responsible as possible!

It all started with the sunscreen. I used to slather my kids with traditional sunscreens until I started hearing about hormone disruptors and coral reefs being polluted by the stuff as it rinses off of swimmers. Same goes for bug spray — some of the stuff that truly works can be chock-full of toxic chemicals.

This year, though, I’ve done my research so that I can make smarter choices, both for my own family’s health and for the health of the environment. Take a look at my list, so you can make smarter changes too.

1. Sunscreen: Hands-down, the best place to go for safe sunscreen advice is the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which releases a sunscreen guide every year. What I’ve learned from them is to avoid ingredients such as Oxybenzone, which research has shown can interfere with hormones, Retinyl Palmitate, which can cause skin lesions or even tumors, and aerosol spray-on canisters (which can damage lungs). EWG usually gives the highest marks to mineral sunscreens made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which typically don’t contain harmful additives.

2. Insect Repellant: DEET is a common and effective ingredient, but according to Health Canada it should be used in concentrations of less than 30 percent, which studies show to be just as effective as higher doses, just for a little shorter amount of time. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is less cautious, claiming that DEET is safe to use at concentrations up to 99 percent. I prefer two alternative repellants to DEET: Picaridin (synthetic) and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (natural).

3. Summer Libations: Even one’s summer beverage of choice can get the green treatment. I started drinking from cans (instead of bottles) when I joined a local pool where glass is not allowed. And I’ve never looked back, especially since many recyclers are now refusing to accept glass. Aluminum is infinitely recyclable and easy to recycle curbside or at collection points. Many craft beer brewers are getting wise to the canned-beer trend, so there’s plenty to choose from. Winemakers are also jumping on the bandwagon. There’s even a cheap and delicious canned wine from Trader Joe’s!

4. Grilling Options: I love the ease of summer meals, especially when they involve a grill! A few years ago, we replaced our old charcoal grill with a fancy gas grill, and although I enjoyed the convenience, I wondered if it was worse for the environment — those giant cans of propane seem like just another source of greenhouse gases. I was relieved to hear I was wrong. It turns out that natural gas and propane are the more sustainable choice because charcoal production causes so much pollution.

5. Frozen Treats: Ice cream is practically one of my family’s food groups in the summer, but I recently learned that ice cream production has a pretty big environmental impact: from the palm oil that’s used to make ice cream creamy, to the milk that’s needed as its main ingredient (Milk, after all, is in the top-20 of highest carbon-footprint foods). It pains me to give up my favorite summer treat, but there are lots of delicious alternatives! I’m going to try my hand at making popsicles or sorbet with local fruit instead.

What greener choices are you going to make this summer? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

  • Fred C. 11 months ago
    Can I recycle the foil (?) pans from microwave pot pies??
  • June S. 1 year ago
    Probably not going to give up ice cream. I don't have too many vices, and that is one of them (chocolate and coffee are the others). I will not be switching to aluminum for soft drinks (I don't drink wine). I've read too many bad things about aluminum and try to avoid it whenever possible. I use only natural products on my skin, so I will avoid DEET and oxybenzone. I rarely grill out, so not using charcoal will not be a hardship on me at all.
    • Lucy L. 11 months ago
      June, try this:
      Overripe bananas work best: very sweet so no additional sweetener needed.
      You can get overripe bananas at a reduced price. Skins go into your compost!
      Do a web search for other flavors.
  • A B. 1 year ago
    I make amazing smoothies out of fruit from my CSA
  • Duane W. 1 year ago
    Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus insect repellent is available at Target Stores.
  • Samara M. 1 year ago
    Coconut ice cream is quite delicious. Any vegan ice cream has a low carbon footprint if you get it without palm oil.
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