Saving water is an important first step in conservation, but we can go further. For generations we’ve lived with the idea that “more is better.” Americans have spent billions of dollars on new clothes, toys, cars, furniture and other goods that sometimes can be better defined as luxuries rather than necessities. We consider it our right to buy things, regardless of whether or not we need them, and as a result our country consumes more every year.
Many of the products that Americans buy are produced in factories that can be harmful to the environment and to human health. Many of these products are made to be thrown away, so they pile up in landfills, wash into the ocean, or litter the landscape. In order to live more sustainably, we must reconsider our purchases and the use of disposable, low-quality goods that are made to go in the trash. Instead our focus should be on purchasing products that can be reused and, if need be, recycled.
Every day Americans throw out more than 350,000 cell phones and 130,000 computers, making electronic waste the fastest-growing part of the U.S. garbage stream.
The average single-family house built in 1950 was less than half the size of a house built today. Similarly, our electricity use has grown. We use an enormous amount of energy just to live in our world. The average American today uses about five times as much electricity as Americans did 50 years ago. This increased use is significant because it takes a significant amount of water to create energy. Water is used to cool steam electric power plants — fueled by coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power — and is required to generate hydropower. Water is also used in great quantities during fuel extraction, refining and production. So, when you waste energy you also, in effect, waste water.
Our food consumption and waste is even more shocking: On average, Americans today eat almost 600 more calories per day than we did in the 1970s and we waste an amazing 40 percent of our food supply. This equates to more than 20 pounds of food per person per month. All that wasted food means wasted water because it takes a lot of water to grow and process food. Water wasted in food now accounts for more than 25 percent of all freshwater consumption per year. It’s an ugly feedback loop because all that wasted food also wastes about 300 million barrels of oil per year and all that oil took water to be produced in the first place.
Every day we vote with our dollars by purchasing food, products and services that have a direct impact on our natural environment. Every item we buy came out of a system — buying that item is equivalent to voting for that system. It’s up to us to decide what makes the most sense for our lifestyle and needs. Saving water, energy and other resources can be as simple as flipping a switch and changing a light bulb, or as high-tech as installing roof-top solar panels or driving a hybrid car. Buying groceries from a local farmer’s market supports local farmers, encourages local and regional food systems to grow and improves the local economy through increased jobs and sales. It also helps bring people closer to their food, which discourages food waste, emphasizes the value of food and introduces people to diverse food options they might not have considered.
Conserving doesn’t have to mean sacrificing. New ‘green’ products show up on the market all the time and living more sustainably has never been easier. Just remember; every little thing we do has an impact and the more we conserve, the less impact we have on the world around us.