The days are longer, temperatures are warmer, and schedules are more relaxed. But even if your summer routine is a departure from what it is the rest of the year, it’s still important to practice green habits.
And in some cases it might even be easier — I tend to eat more locally when my neighborhood farmer’s market is in full swing. I’m also more likely to ride my bike to places in the summer when the weather is nice, and I have more time to get to my destination.
Here’s a summer edition of ways you can reduce waste, minimize your energy footprint, and lead a less toxic lifestyle throughout the warm-weather months.
1. Eat with the season
The most delicious way to be sustainable is to eat whatever fruits and vegetables are in season at the moment, especially if you buy those that are grown in your region. Local produce hasn’t been transported thousands of miles to your dinner plate, burning energy and polluting the air. Even regular supermarkets usually have a decent assortment of locally produced items, check the stickers or the signs to look for veggies that have been grown near you.
2. Grow your own herbs
I’ve given up on a full garden; the time it took to maintain wasn’t worth the few tomatoes I managed to harvest before the critters raided them. But the one thing that I — and anyone, for that matter — can grow in the summer is an assortment of herbs. You can find potted herbs at your local garden center or sometimes even in the produce department of the supermarket. I keep mine in pots on my front steps and water them regularly using the waste-water remaining in my family’s water glasses, travel bottles, and pet dishes. It’s so refreshing not to have to spend money on those wasteful little plastic containers at the store!
3. Dry laundry on the line
Take a cue from your grandmother while reducing your energy usage and dry your clothes on a clothesline on a sunny day. Running the dryer accounts for about 4 percent of a household’s energy use, and air-drying could also prolong the life of your garments by minimizing the wear caused by a dryer. I keep a drying rack on my porch to air-dry wet swimsuits and towels after a trip to the pool, rather than using the dryer.
4. Run a fan
In the days before central air conditioning, many people used an inexpensive box fan to cool off. On cooler summer days, you can turn off your HVAC system and do the same. Fans cost only pennies to run, in comparison with air conditioners, which are estimated to use about 6 percent of all the energy used in the United States. Some HVAC experts even suggest running a fan in tandem with your air conditioner, which enables you to turn the thermostat up a few degrees so the A/C is working less. Also make sure to adjust your thermostat upward while no one’s at home so you’re not cooling an empty house, and follow other habits to minimize your use of this energy-hogging appliance.
5. Double up on reusable bags
You’ve probably got a pretty sizeable collection of reusable bags for trips to the supermarket, but in the summer there are plenty of ways you can put these bags to other uses too. Use rinse-able vinyl bags to tote toys to the beach or pool. Pack a picnic or car snack in the insulated totes, and organize camping equipment or road-trip needs in various sized bags. In fact, there are plenty of other uses for these bags when you find your collection getting out of control, as I sometimes do!
6. Find a growler shop
Buying your favorite summer craft beer in cans is a better choice from an environmental standpoint, since aluminum is lighter to transport and less expensive to recycle than glass. But BPA-lined cans may be a concern. Even better than aluminum cans is finding a local growler shop and using their reusable bottles. If you prefer, there are insulated metal growlers that are great for camping, boating, or for around the pool. Either way, growlers are as sustainable as the reusable milk bottles of old. If you prefer wine, check to see if your area has a wine store that sells wine in growler form as well!
7. Stock up on safer sunscreen
I usually panic at the beginning of summer, weighing effective sunscreens against coral reef-killing and potentially carcinogenic toxins. But thankfully there are now plenty of affordable options that don’t contain oxybenzone and octinoxate — two common hormone disruptors found in some sunscreens. In the sunscreen aisle, I always have the Environmental Working Group’s indispensible sunscreen guide, which is updated every year, on my phone’s web browser to make sure I’m making the safest decisions for my family and for the environment.
8. Ditch the car
With my kids out of school and very few obligations, I don’t feel like I’m in the rat race of school, sports, and meetings. But even those who are still working might feel like they’ve got more time since the days are longer and the weekends might be less scheduled. I like to take advantage of this more relaxed routine on pleasant days and walk or bike to restaurants or events, or to run errands. The rest of the year, I can easily talk myself out of it, thinking I don’t have time, or the weather isn’t nice enough, but when I have the time and the weather is right, it really makes for an enjoyable way to get around. Take advantage of the opportunity to exercise and to keep your car off the street!
Summer is a good change to take a break from plenty of routines, but it’s also an opportunity to establish new routines and habits when it comes to living more sustainably.