“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” Though the origins of this quote are unknown, its significance is paramount—especially as we celebrate Earth Day.
It is a time to recognize and appreciate the beauty of our natural world and all it has given to sustain humanity—but it is also a time to reflect on the indubitable impacts we have on the future of the planet.
NAU has the opportunity to set an example of what a sustainable community can look like by being mindful participants in the fight for climate action.
Here are some ways you can have a more positive impact on Earth:
Some of us might be “wishful” recyclers—throwing items into recycle bins that we assume are recyclable, when in actuality, putting that particular item (looking at you, Styrofoam) in the recycling bin can contaminate the entire load, sending tons of actually recyclable material to landfills.
That pizza box with all the oil seeping through the bottom? Contaminated. Laundry detergent bottles with just a little bit of soap at the bottom? Also contaminated.
Recycling rules are constantly changing due to changes in technology and cost, making it important to stay up to date with the recycling rules in your area.
For example, in Flagstaff you can recycle clean metal cans and pans, flattened paper and cardboard and clean plastic jugs and bottles, but you can’t recycle glass or plastic bags (even if they say ‘recyclable’ or have the chasing arrow symbol) in the generic recycling bin. Confusing, right?
Check out the Flagstaff recycling guide for more information. There is even a quiz to see how much you know about Flagstaff’s recycling rules –your results might surprise you.
I am not telling you to go vegan forever (though NAU Communications’ Carly Banks has some excellent vegan recipes), but even just one meatless meal a week can make a difference. For example, EarthDay.org says eating one less burger a week over the course of a year would be the equivalent of taking your car off the road for 320 miles!
There also are health benefits to focusing on a meatless meal once a week because it encourages more consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. For more plant-based meals, check out the crowd-sourced cookbook from Green NAU.
Use a menstrual cup
A sustainable alternative to pads and tampons, menstrual cups also are more cost-effective. In a lifetime, people who menstruate will spend about $18,000 on sanitary products—roughly $20 a month. A menstrual cup can cost between $25 and $40 and can last for up to 10 years with proper care.
NAU Health Promotion has a limited number of free menstrual cups available to students until they run out. Stop by Health Promotion in the Health and Learning Center to pick one up!
Use reusable containers
You should be using a reusable water bottle (and if you aren’t, what are you even doing?!), but there are other sustainable ways to reduce single-use plastics, like using reusable cups for coffee/smoothies/soda and your own silverware and reusable containers for takeout and potlucks.
NAU Campus Dining and the Green Fund partnered to offer Lumberjacks the opportunity to purchase a reusable food container for a one-time buy-in fee of $5. Students can use these containers are campus dining locations across campus and return the container to one of the stations to be cleaned and get a token to use for their next meal. Best part? No dirty dishes!
Repurposing single-use to be multi-use
Yogurt containers are great options for storing food, as is your curry takeout bowl. And, instead of buying designated poop bags, plastic grocery bags can be used to pick up after your dog. Avoiding single-use plastic is near– impossible, so reusing them when possible is a great way to expand the lifetime of the product. This is also true of other single-use products that may be made with a different material. Just because it isn’t plastic, doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with an environmental cost.
Options for reusing:
- Gift bags
- Takeout containers
- Paper bags
- Glass jars
- Bread bags
- Plastic zippered bags
- Plastic cutlery
Become an energy mentor or sustainable ambassador
Through training from Green NAU, you can become a leader for sustainability on campus, teaching others how to adopt new practices that reduce NAU’s environmental impact.
Becoming a sustainable ambassador is open to all students in any major. The only requirement is a passion for tackling these issues and interest in learning.
Energy mentors can be faculty or staff who want to support NAU’s culture of sustainability by pledging to adopt and encourage key energy-saving behaviors.
Do you walk into a room and turn on the light and then leave the room without turning off the light? Be honest.
Lighting makes up about 10 percent of the total electricity consumed in the U.S. By making a conscious effort to turn off lights when not in use, you can save on your electric bill and reduce your energy consumption.
TVs, computer monitors, printers, fans and chargers can all suck energy while they are not in use—unplugging stops these energy vampires from continuing to leech energy.
Travel like a local
Sure, cars are convenient, but in a town like Flagstaff, opting to ride the bus, walk or bike to campus once a week is an easy way to reduce your emissions and, in some cases, get in a good workout during your commute. There is nothing like the wind in your hair as you pedal your way to work to make you feel energized and ready to take on your day.
If you are committed to your car, try carpooling. Chances are high that a member of the NAU community lives in your neighborhood. Make new friends, split the cost of gas (which I know we could all get behind right now) and revel in the fact that you took at least one other car off the road.
Fight food waste
NAU’s Food Recovery Network is working with Campus Dining to deliver unused food to local organizations to minimize waste on campus. They are looking for volunteers to drive food from campus to partner organizations through the summer as they continue to increase their efforts. Shifts are from 2:30-3:15 p.m. Monday through Friday, with new shifts opening regularly. Even one shift a month would make a difference. Register to volunteer online.
Lastly, and most importantly, don’t litter. It is a slap in the face to not only your community but to Mother Nature herself. You have pockets for a reason. Put your garbage there until you can find an acceptable receptacle.
See someone else’s garbage flying through the wind? It is totally OK (and encouraged!) to mumble some grievances to yourself and then pick it up and take it to a more appropriate resting place.
If you are celebrating this weekend by getting out on the trails, remember the Leave No Trace principles and leave our forests better than the way you found them.
Bonus: Have responsible fires or don’t have them at all
Fire season is upon us, and it is important to keep fire safety top of mind. The best way to be fire safe is to not have a fire. If you feel it is essential to your camping experience, be aware of any fire restrictions and red flag warnings in the area. If warnings exist, don’t have a fire. An alternative to your classic campfire experience can be stargazing—the perfect way to soak in our beautiful dark skies. Portable inexpensive telescopes or even star finder apps can be a great source of entertainment, and you won’t have a campfire obscuring your view!
If there are no restrictions in place and you choose to have a fire, make sure you have a shovel and at least six gallons of water available to properly put out your fire. Get familiar with the right way to put out a campfire.
More than that, be sure to properly dispose of cigarettes and don’t let chains drag from your car.
McKenzie McLoughlin | NAU Communications
(928) 523-4789 | McKenzie.McLoughlin@nau.edu