What does sustainability mean? Sustainability is generally defined as the ability "to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (United Nations Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future, 1987) Or in other words, reduce waste and pollution by using materials as efficiently and effectively as possible. What we do locally has impacts on people and the environment in all parts of the world. Did you know that the United States consumes approximately 25% of the world's resources with only 5% of the world's population?
What does this mean to you and me and what can we do about it? To live sustainably, we should all reduce our waste of materials and energy, thereby reducing our impact on the environment. We can all participate and we all must participate. The old mantra of “reduce, reuse, and recycle” has never been more applicable.
One thing many of us do is participate in the Township recycling program. We separate our recyclable materials from our waste stream. This is a relatively new habit for many of us but for nearly 40 years there has been a recycling program in Lower Merion which currently recycles approximately 51% of the total residential waste stream.
But there is more we can do. We can ask the manufacturers of the products we use to make packaging more environmentally friendly so that there is zero waste for the consumer. Aside from the huge environmental benefits of the zero waste concept is saving money. Savings from reduced packaging materials, reduced fuel and shipping costs, and reduced trash disposal fees.
What can we do as average citizens? Here is a list of things that we can all do. Most of these actions cost little or nothing and all have a positive return both financially and environmentally.
- Shop locally. Save gas and ride your bike or walk. Buy local products at a farmers market and from our local merchants.
- Change light bulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescent or LED (light emitting diode). While compact fluorescent bulbs do cost a little more than the traditional incandescent bulbs, the energy savings will pay for the purchase very quickly.
- Reduce bottled water consumption and drink water from the tap. Tap water is very safe and very inexpensive. If you don’t care for the tap water taste, consider a faucet filter and a re-usable water bottle. You’ll also reduce the impact that plastic bottles have on the environment.
- Unplug those energy vampires. The electronic gadget plugs that stay in the wall outlet after you’re done charging or when an appliance is turned off. They still use electricity as long as they’re plugged into the outlet.
- Install water saving fixtures and fix those leaks. The kitchen sink and shower heads are good places to start with fixtures. By reducing water usage, you’ll save on both the water bill and the sanitary sewer bill.
- Use a rain barrel. A 55 gallon barrel installed at your roof gutter downspouts can capture lots of water which can be used to water your flowers, vegetables and lawn. Once the barrel is in place, the water is free and helps to reduce your sanitary sewer bill. There is a local program that helps educate people about rain barrels and will give you one to keep and use.
- Install a programmable thermostat. Every degree decrease is roughly a 1% decrease in energy usage and cost.
- Use a re-usable shopping bag and ask your grocery checkout person for the “bag discount”. Re-usable bags are everywhere these days and will pay for themselves quickly.
- Junk mail. If you want to reduce the catalogs and other excess paper in your mailbox, contact the catalog manufacturers and the direct marketing association.