Sunday afternoon, I loaded up the boys and the dog and we drove to Stillhouse Hollow Lake to explore a bit.
We were in need of change of scenery on a beautiful day. It was lovely there as we started down the far end of the beach, away from the swimmers and sunbathers. Besides encountering extremely sticky, dark mud (Murphy looked like he was wearing black knee-socks after a few minutes), we also saw a lot of litter. It was a bit depressing to see such carelessness in this otherwise pretty area.
Since today is Earth Day, I would like to touch on a few ways we average citizens can make a difference. Hearing the constant drumbeat of doom and gloom about climate change and all the damage to our once-pristine planet, it can be difficult to feel like any one of us is able to make the slightest difference. But I truly believe that small changes — accumulated over time — will have an impact. Here is my modest list of things we all can do:
1. Litter is one of the most obvious ways we show disregard for our surroundings. Sadly, I see a lot of it on my daily walks on Fort Hood. I’ve started bringing a bag along to collect the trash and often just take the bag home to dispose of it or recycle the bottles and cans I frequently pick up.
2. Speaking of recycling, if you do not currently do this on a regular basis, please consider starting. It is not time consuming or difficult, but it can have a tremendous impact. Here on post, we are lucky to have a vigorous recycling program that is super easy — no separation of materials required. Living in Germany tends to ingrain one with the importance of recycling since it is mandatory there. When we returned to the United States after three years in Deutschland, and I saw folks casually tossing glass bottles and newspaper into their garbage, it was all I could do not to pick through their trash and retrieve the recyclables (I did this at my mother-in-law’s house).
3. Start a compost pile. My neighbor just began one and is tossing all the family’s food scraps into the pile, which will eventually break down. Then she will use the stuff to fertilize her vegetable garden. Eggshells and coffee grounds are particularly potent. Yes, she is one of those people who can look at something and it’ll grow, but composting is not complicated — it simply requires a different mindset.
4. Ride your bike and walk whenever possible. This is a tough one here in Central Texas, where so much is spread over vast distances and unlike Austin, there are not many bike paths. However, if you can avoid using your car for short trips say, to drop your kid off at school or to the shoppette, why not? It’s an easy way to sneak in some exercise and is much better for the environment.
5. Take cloth bags to the commissary or grocery store. I keep a bunch of these in the trunk of my car and it’s become pretty much second-nature, though there are times I’ve forgotten to bring them. If you must use the store’s bags, choose paper over plastic, because paper biodegrades. If a scary statistic helps motivate you, according to the nonprofit Worldwatch Institutute, Americans recycle a scanty 0.6 percent of the 100 billion plastic bags we take home from stores every year; the rest end up in landfills or as litter. And it takes many years for them to decompose.
6. Turn off the water while you brush your teeth (I am constantly nagging my kids to do this) and try to take shorter, cooler showers. In Texas, using less hot water isn’t such a sacrifice since the weather is usually quite warm.
7. Only run your washer if it’s a full load — same goes for your dishwasher. Doing half-loads uses excess electricity, water and laundry detergent.
8. Try to eat foods that are locally grown, if possible. Many of the produce and other things we eat come from other states and even different countries. Thus, they are often shipped hundreds of miles and may not be so fresh by the time they reach our plates.
9. Finally, plant a tree. Trees not only beautify our surroundings but remove carbon dioxide from the air, replacing it with oxygen. Plus they create shade and just make us feel good.
Happy Earth Day.
Gail Dillon, an Army spouse, journalist and Air Force veteran, lives at Fort Hood with her husband, two sons and a Goldendoodle.