April 22, 2008 The Pump Handle 0Comment

by Lindsay Wheeler

Although today’s the official Earth Day, I’ve been reflecting more and more on my own lifestyle and the efficiency with which I live.  It started a few months ago, when I was watching the BBC series Planet Earth with my brother, and I found myself almost to the point of tears thinking about what we, as a human race, have done to the planet.  I grew up spending summers in the backcountry of Wyoming and I have always considered myself as a person who has loved the outdoors.  However, living in Washington, DC, I often find it easy to forget the fragility of the world around us when I feel sheltered by looming buildings.  With these reflections and to mark Earth Day, I have set three standards for myself in order to lessen my environmental impact.

#1: Walk everywhere.  Where I live in Washington, DC, this is not difficult.  I live a 30-minute walk to campus, so walking comes naturally.  There is a bus I could take and the Metro is nearby; neither are ideal, but both are plausible, relatively low-impact options. 

When I’m in a rush, I most often take a cab.  This makes me feel guilty.  I am setting a goal to only take a cab when I actually need it, for instance, if I am carrying an excessive number of bags or if it’s pouring rain.  To quantify my goal, I’ll aim for no more than one cab ride every two weeks. 

#2: Use cloth bags for groceries.   This requires some pre-planning, such as, anticipating when I intend to go to the supermarket.  Other than that, I find this goal to be relatively easy.  The only problem that occurs is if I decide to stop somewhere on the way home and I don’t have a cloth bag with me.  In this case, if the store is Trader Joes, for example, I request paper bags.  I’m able to re-use them in my apartment.  If I decide to stop at Safeway, it is only two blocks from home so I can easily detour first to my apartment to pick up my cloth bags.  

I know this seems like a small change to make, but half the battle is getting into a mindset to change my behavior.  Frankly, using new bags on each trip to the supermarket is ridiculous and wasteful.  

#3: Watch plastic bottle usage.  Everyday, I hear more and more about the dangers of plastic water bottles. (Read SKAPP cases study on bisphenol A.)  As much as I would like to completely eliminate plastic bottle usage, at this point in my life, I honestly cannot.  Personal hydration is one of the cornerstones of body care and my life gets to be so hectic that I need to be able to purchase a bottle of water on occasion without feeling tremendous guilt. 

In order to keep myself in check and minimize the use of water bottles, I will make an effort to make any water bottle that I buy last at least a week.   I know the first question that will come to mind, is why not use a nalgene or other plastic water bottle?  The problem is I have heard mixed reports about chemicals going into the water from such water bottles and they also tend to be large and difficult to carry around.  I have seen that there are new titanium water bottles available, and they are something I’m considering fitting into my lifestyle, even though their size and weight makes them less convenient. I will also make a point to talk to peers and coworkers about bottled water and the effect it has on the environment.  Hopefully, by limiting my own use as well as educating others, I will make an impact over time.

While I know none of these changes are earth shattering, I think that by forcing myself to keep to these basic standards, I will be able to slightly minimize my impact on the environment.  I do hope that these goals will continue to grow with me as I transition into my adult life. 

Might you be able to identify a few changes in your life to help sustain planet Earth?


Lindsay is finishing her final year at the GW School of Public Health and Health Services.  She plans to continue at GW to pursue a MD/MPH degree with a focus in health policy.  Lindsay currently works as a research associate at the Sabin Vaccine Institute with the Global Network, which is dedicated
to the control of neglected tropical diseases.


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