Five Things You Can Do On Earth Day To Save Natural Resources

earthEarth Day is upon us, and even if you’re not planning to celebrate our planet’s making it through another year (what global warming?), there are still some simple measures you can take to show your gratitude. Love your Mother, you know?

Whether you’re on the road or at home, the following are smart rules to implement every day of the year:

  • Do laundry at night, after peak electricity usage hours and only wash full loads.
  • Use a travel mug when you purchase your morning coffee and carry a reusble water bottle.
  • Stash reusable shopping bags in your car, purse or backpack and desk.
  • Turn the tap off while brushing your teeth, washing your face, doing dishes or shaving.
  • Switch to e-tickets, e-pay, and other paperless forms of commerce; add your name to no junk mail and catalog lists.

[Photo credit: Flickr user kevin dooley]

How to Save Water and Save Money

Top ten simple ways to lower your travel carbon footprint in 2011

carbon footprintIt’s almost a new decade, and the earth ain’t getting any younger, cooler, or less crowded. As travel enthusiasts (even if it’s via an armchair), there are plenty of small changes we can make that cumulatively have a significant positive impact upon the planet. When you consider the amount of fossil fuels required to fly or even take a weekend roadtrip, it makes even more sense to try and offset that footprint by traveling (and living) mindfully. Notice I don’t suggest actually giving up travel: I’m eco-conscious, not delusional.

Fortunately, the eco-travel industry is exploding (be sure to do your research, to make sure companies aren’t just using the term as a buzzword). If you’re a business traveler who doesn’t have a choice on where you go or stay, there are still a number of things you can do to minimize your footprint. And FYI, there’s a growing choice of eco-gear and luggage available for all types of travelers these days.

While it’s simply not realistic to devote every waking moment to living a greener, cleaner life (I confess I love my car, and I certainly can’t afford to buy green or organic products all of the time), doing the best you can does make a difference.

Below, my suggestions for painlessly lowering a travel carbon footprint, no treehugging required.

1. BYO water bottle
It takes over a million of barrels of oil to fulfill our lust for bottled water in the U.S. alone, and those empty bottles have to go somewhere (hint: a landfill). Buying bottled is also just a waste of money, unless there’s a legitimate reason to drink purified water. Get a BPA-free bottle, and carry it to work, on the road, and in the air. You can even go one further and bring your own filter or iodine tablets, so you don’t need to purchase water at all in areas where the supply is untreated.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Brave Heart]

carbon footprint2. Bring a reusable shopping sack/use Ziplocs
These amazingly convenient little guys convert into stuff sacks and are the size of a deck of cards. Many have clips so you can hook them on your belt loop or day pack. Try ChicoBags or Foldable Bags for fun, practical, affordable options.

Ziplocs have dozens of uses, but one of their big bonuses (especially if you buy the heavy-duty freezer ones; if you can find industrial-strength bio-bags, even better) is that you can repeatedly use them to store snacks and leftovers; just wash, turn inside out, and dry. Now you have a place to put those juicy blackberries you found while hiking, or stash that crottin from the farmers market.

3. Use refillable bottles for toiletries
Who doesn’t love saving money? Whole Foods and other stores of that ilk have bulk body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and soap (often biodegradable/paraben-free) so not only can you top off for under a dollar, but get an earth-friendly product, to boot.

4. Conserve electricity
This is as simple as turning off the light, heat, A/C, or ceiling fan when you leave (you’ll survive the slight increase or decrease in temperature upon your return, I promise). If you’re staying somewhere long-term, unplug devices or appliances when not in use, since they continue to draw energy.
carbon footprint
5. Walk, rent or borrow a bike, or take the bus
Think of it as getting some exercise so you can eat more of the local food. It’s also an eye-opening, and often enlightening experience to travel with locals, or explore a place by foot.

6. Pack collapsible flatware and utensils
I realize not everyone travels with a bowl and spoon when they’re not camping, but travel writers don’t earn the big bucks. I usually end up buying a bag of granola and picking up yogurt or individual cartons of soy milk (which don’t require refrigeration if unopened), so I can cut down on food costs when I’m traveling. I even reuse and carry compostable utensils I acquire from dining out, and stash them in my car and backpack. There are all different makes and materials for collapsible dinnerware; REI has a great selection. As long as I don’t turn into my mother and start slipping half-gnawed dinner rolls into my purse, I think my little habit is harmless.

7. Shorten your showers/turn off taps while brushing teeth and shaving
Water shortage is a life-and-death issue in much of the developing world. At home, practicing water conservation is also important, even if you don’t live in a drought-stricken region. But when you’re traveling? It’s not just courteous, but critical.

8. Pick it up!
Your trash, as well as trash you find during hikes or other outings. At the beach (or lake or river), collect discarded bottles, plastic bags, and other flotsam that can kill or injure aquatic life or pollute delicate marine ecosystems (which ultimately affects human health). I always make a point of doing a beach clean-up during my sunset stroll when I’m on a coastal trip. I keep a couple of trash bags stashed in my car and backpack. If you can afford it, get
composcarbon footprinttable bags, which can now be found at just about any decent-size grocery store, but be aware most are pretty flimsy.

This beach clean-up behavior has garnered me baffled looks and even finger-pointing and snickers in Southeast Asia and Latin America, and of course these items aren’t going to get recycled. But if getting them off the ground and out of sight can temporarily tidy up and preserve the natural beauty of a place, I feel like I’ve done something positive for the planet and the local people.

9. Learn what not to purchase
Ivory, sea turtle products, rhinoceros horn, tiger penis, endangered animal pelts or pets, certain species of plants: just say no. The same goes for shady tour operators. Do a bit of research and talk to fellow travelers to get feedback on what trips or companies to avoid.

I’ve been seduced by slick promotional materials and operators in the past. This would explain how I’ve variously ended up at a squalid Burmese refugee camp (not a “Thai Hilltribe village”) full of downtrodden people who most definitely did not want a bunch of gawking backpackers in their faces; ridden some horses that were little more than walking skeletons; floated on a raft made from endangered wood; seen my tripmates buy drugs off of our guide, and literally had to make a run for it after a clueless guide had us set up camp in a flash flood zone. I realize I’m deviating a bit from the eco-theme here, but my point is, be careful.

For more information on what animal and plant products to avoid overseas, click here.

10. Give back
If I’m headed to a developing nation, especially if I’m doing a trek or other outdoor trip with guides, I pack old clothes and shoes, and donate them when it’s over. Sometimes operators will ask clients for donations if they have anything they’d like to part with. This isn’t greedy, tacky, or sketchy; when you consider what the average Quechua porter on the Inca Trail makes in a year, you can see why your gift of a pair of child’s mittens is important. Bonus: Packing light and donating articles reduces the weight of your luggage, which burns less fossil fuels on the drive or flight home.

I do still feel uncomfortable making unsolicited donations, but one of my favorite travel memories is from a culinary tour I took in Morocco a few years ago. On our final morning, a couple of us collected a bag of clothes, shoes, and toiletries to donate to the poverty-stricken community we’d passed each day on the way back to our accommodation. After seeking out an old woman who was clearly the village matriarch, we used sign language to explain our motive. With a huge, toothless grin, she began passing out items to the crowd that had suddenly gathered around her. They thanked us profusely, and we went on our way.

That afternoon, on our way to the airport, I spied an ancient, wizened Berber man scuffing down the dusty road. He was clad in skull cap and jellaba, and a pair of size 11 running shoes that had belonged to a 5’11 woman in our group. He kept pausing to hold up one foot, then the other, staring at them with wonderment. I have very mixed feelings about spreading Western culture when I travel to developing nations, but if those Air Nikes found a second life and enabled an old man to walk more comfortably, then so be it. And you know, he looked pretty damn fly.

[Photo credits: bags, Flickr user foldablebags.com; bike, Flickr user Pörrö; sign, Flickr user Beau B]

Take action: Clean water saves lives in Haiti

Since the tragic events of the Haiti earthquake, the country and its supporters from around the world have worked tirelessly to rebuild, revive and rejuvenate. From building orphanages and schools, to offering medical supplies and household items, Haiti is moving full-speed ahead to reclaim the vibrancy it once had. But it takes more than four walls and power drills to rebuild a country.

Clean water is the key to saving 3 million lives a year but due to costs of filtration, clean water is a luxury Haiti can’t afford. According to Partners in Health, diseases spread by unsafe water cause 3 million deaths a year. Young children are the most likely to suffer and die from these diseases, but with increased water projects changes can be made.

Water projects save lives, and while they do cost money, it’s an investment that pays back. The World Health Organization estimates that every $1 invested in water and sanitation yields between $3 and $34 in reduced medical costs and increased productivity, depending on the region. In Haiti, a
bout one-third of all Haitian children die before they reach the age of five, with 60 percent of all these deaths directly related to malnutrition and diarrheal disease. The lack of clean water is not only an environmental problem, but a matter of life and death.

In joint collaboration with Blog Action Day and the issue of water around the world, Gadling bloggers are talking about travel and water and ways to make the most out of both. As for me? I’m taking on the issue of water projects in torn countries like Haiti. While it would take many years and endless dollars to improve health in impoverished countries, companies like Partners in Health, for example, are working to make clean water available so they can improve lives immediately.

What can you do? Few people know that more than 1.1 billion people around the world don’t have access to clean water – check out Blog Action Day 2010 and learn how you can help with the conservation of water around the world.

Top five ways to conserve water when you travel

It’s not always easy to be eco-conscious when you travel, especially when it comes to conserving natural resources like water. Over one billion people don’t have access to clean water, says thewaterproject.org, a non-profit that works to bring relief to global communities suffering from this issue (to donate, click here). Yet, the often-necessary evil of purchasing bottled water in developing nations has made for an environmental nightmare, as anyone who’s ever seen entire beaches littered with discarded plastic containers can attest.

As travelers, we’re fortunate to have the money and resources to obtain clean water, but there are things we can do on the road to conserve this precious resource, as well as minimize the amount of plastic we use. Even better, most of the below tips are just as easily put into action at home. For more ideas on indoor and outdoor water conservation, click here.

1. Turn off sink when brushing your teeth, and washing dishes, your face, or shaving (legs, too, ladies, if you’re in a place with abysmal water pressure). Also be sure to fully turn off taps. Leaking faucet? Unless you carry spare washers with you, it may be tough to resolve this one, depending upon where you are, what type of place you’re staying in, and language barriers. Use your judgement on whether or not it’s worth alerting staff or your host.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Stacy Lynn Baum]2. Turn off the shower while you’re soaping up, shampooing, or shaving/shorten your shower.

3. If your water has been festering in a plastic bottle on a hot bus all day and you can’t bring yourself to drink it, don’t just pour it onto the ground or down the drain. Find a smart place to empty it: a tree, a vegetable garden, give it to a thirsty animal.

4. Pack lightweight, quick-drying, dark-colored clothing that can be washed in the sink, eliminating the need for washing machines. Allow them to soak for awhile (bring a flat sink-stopper with you, or stuff a piece of clothing in the drain, in a pinch). Drain, wring out, and refill sink with clean water, rather than using running water to wash and rinse.

5. If you need to hit a laundromat (even if you’re dropping it off), wait until you’ve got a full load, if possible. If you’re DIY, select the appropriate machine setting to ensure the right water level, and wash your clothes on cold–it will get them just as clean, and conserves energy.

It can be tough to postpone laundering when you’re backpacking, especially in hot, humid climates. I usually sink-wash to get by until the entire contents of my pack are ready for a trip to the laundromat. Yes, it’s kind of gross, but if you can’t handle slightly funky threads, you probably shouldn’t be a backpacker.

Tip: Bring your own water bottle (or reuse a plastic bottle several times). Not only does this save money, but you’re sparing the earth. thewaterproject.org, reports that it takes 1.5 million barrels of oil to meet the demand for U.S. bottled water production, alone. Plastic bottles take thousands of years to degrade, clogging landfills, or releasing toxic fumes if incinerated.

If you’re traveling in a country or region where it’s not safe to drink tap water, and you’ll be staying put for a couple of days, or you need to stock up (for a long bus trip, say), buy a gallon jug(s) and refill your own bottle as needed, rather than purchasing multiple units of smaller bottles. Be sure to pack some purifying tablets to keep it clean (they’re not a bad thing to use in suspect areas, anyway, since bottled water can be contaminated). If you need to purify your own water, there are pros and cons to the various types of filtration systems. An outdoor store like REI is a good place to ask for feedback and advice, as well as purchase BPA-free water bottles

Sigg makes excellent, eco-friendly water bottles from lined aluminum. They’re practically indestructable (mine has seen four continents and a lot of abuse since I got it four years ago, and it’s still in top shape), come in various sizes, have cool designs, and the caps are replaceable/have interchangeable styles.

[Photo credits: shower, Flickr user privatenobby; bottles, Flickr use procsilas]