Sustainability tips to help celebrate Earth Day year-round

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In celebration of Earth Week, the staff and interns at Penn State’s Sustainability Institute (SI) are sharing their favorite sustainability tips with the larger Penn State community. The suggestions below are simple ways that everyone can incorporate sustainability principles into their lives and become better stewards of our planet’s resources.

Leading up to Earth Day, short videos explaining these tips were featured on the SI’s Instagram page throughout the week. A full compilation of the videos can be viewed under the “Earth Week Tips” highlight reel. Here is some of the SI team’s advice:

— Be nurtured by nature! Bella Briseno, SI’s employee engagement intern, advises people to go outside and enjoy the sun and the nature around them. Open the blinds and let the sun in to reduce the need for electric-powered lighting and heater use in your house or go outside for a walk in the morning and let the sun wake you up instead of a cup of coffee.

There is an abundance of research that illustrates the cognitive and behavioral benefits that exposure to fresh air and sunlight has on our bodies. Take care of your good health and well-being by soaking up some vitamin D, which has been shown to improve your mood and leave you feeling ready to take on the day. The sun is a great natural resource that can be harnessed in a variety of ways, not just with solar power, but by allowing it to lift our spirits as well.

— Eat plant-based! Halina Dingo, SI’s communications writing intern, encourages people to eat more plant-based meals. Making the full switch to becoming a vegetarian can be daunting, and, for some people, not feasible. However, even just swapping out a couple of meat-based meals a week for something plant-based can make a huge difference in your overall carbon emissions.

There are some delicious vegetarian recipes out there, and you can even use those meals as a time to experiment with different cuisines. Indian food has some of the tastiest vegetarian recipes, and Middle Eastern restaurants often have delicious vegan options as well. Whether you swap out some of your meat staples for plant protein, such as making lentil bolognese instead of beef bolognese, or simply choosing a tasty looking vegetarian meal at a restaurant, these little choices add up over time to help reduce your carbon footprint. Make sure to check out SI’s social media to see some of the SI staff’s favorite plant-based recipes.

— Love your leftovers! Ilona Ballreich, program manager for the Sustainable Communities Collaborative at SI, shared her tip on using up all your leftovers and scraps. Make sure to find creative ways to use up your leftovers so they don’t go to waste. Not only does this save you money, but it saves on food waste as well.

If you’re bored with your leftovers, think of how you can possibly transform them into another meal. Could they become a soup or Buddha bowl? Could that leftover pasta be turned into a pasta salad or that unused spaghetti sauce be used to top a meatball sub? Scraps in your kitchen also can be used in many ways. Just looking up “how to use kitchen scraps” online will bring up hundreds of ideas.

— Get involved in local politics! Peter Buck, academic programs manager at SI, reminds the Penn State community that your voice and your vote matter. Keep up on local elections, talk to your elected officials, and make educated votes.

Oftentimes, candidates for local offices will hold forums, events or canvass around your community. Attending some of these events so you can learn about the candidate and their policies is one of the best ways to make sure your vote is informed. These local elections matter just as much as federal elections. You can promote change right in your community by engaging with local politics and learning about the sustainability policies and initiatives that each candidate brings to the table.

If you’re not sure where to start, first make sure you’re registered to vote. Then find your local election office, where you can learn more about getting ready for your next local election. Find state election information here, and local elections office information here.

— Do your laundry sustainability! Michele Halsell, deputy director at SI, shares her tips on sustainable laundry swaps. Doing laundry is a process that often uses between 14-20 gallons of water and 250-400 watts of energy per load. By making some small swaps, you can help reduce the carbon footprint of this chore.

Try making the switch to laundry sheets instead of using detergent pods or liquid. These come in a small cardboard container that can be recycled instead of a big, bulky plastic container that is harder to recycle and oftentimes contributes to plastic waste.

Additionally, save some energy by drying your clothes on a clothesline, another way to harness the sun’s energy for good!

— Travel by bike! Krista Bailey, SI’s sustainable campus strategist, advises people to get outside and travel by bike. Not only is it good for the planet, but also for your wallet and your health. Promote good health and well-being by getting up, going outside, and moving around. Take care of your finances by saving money on fuel and taking advantage of free parking.

For resources on bike routes across campus and Center County, as well as information on bike repair stations, registration and parking, visit Penn State Transportation Service’s biking page.

— Reduce fuel use! Lydia Vandenbergh, associate director of employee engagement and education at SI, reminds people to do whatever they can to reduce fuel use. Whether that be by walking or biking, reducing your fuel use can help you to save money and reduce emissions.

So, take your foot off the gas whenever possible, drive a little slower, or forgo your daily ride in favor of walking to support the environment and your wallet.

— Compost! Sierra Keller, SI’s communications director, reminds people to compost whenever they can. Penn State has a number of composting bins across campus and in the dining halls to help students reduce their waste and choose to compost.

For information on what can be composted, check out Penn State’s recycling and composting page here. It also is possible to start your own composting at home, even if you’re an apartment dweller! State College Borough offers curbside compost collection, and small compost bins or patio vermiculture kits are surprisingly easy to start yourself or purchase inexpensively. Here is an article from Penn State Extension explaining how to start composting in your own home and using it for home gardens.

— Eat Local! Meghan Hoskins, SI’s director of operations, advises people to eat locally and support their local farmer’s market or community supported agriculture (CSA).

Supporting these food outlets not only provides healthy seasonal eating to fuel your body but also shortens the supply chain between producer and consumer, saving on gas and lowering the cost of production and distribution. The State College region is home to a plethora of different farmer’s markets and CSAs, including the Student Farm, where a variety of membership options provide fresh produce between the months of May and November.

Even incorporating just a few of these sustainability tips into your daily life can help you keep the Earth Day celebrations going year-round. Choose which tips and strategies you can fit into your lifestyle and start making small steps to become a more sustainable citizen. Happy Earth Day from SI!

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