My Life Embrace Your Inner Environmentalist by Elizabeth Bayardi Perhaps you have heard the saying, “leave a place better than you found it.” While this phrase is often attributed to many secular sources, the truth of it applies to Christianity and is echoed in many teachings of the Church. As Catholics, we have a special mission to care for creation. In Genesis 2:15, we hear that man was put “in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” (NAB). Catholic Social Teaching — guidelines set forth by the Church on how to live a just and holy life amidst the challenges of today’s society — explicitly calls us to care for creation. Furthermore, Pope Francis authored an encyclical, Laudato Si, on the environment. Most striking from this writing is the idea that all human beings, whether believers or not, “agreed today that the Earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone” (Laudato Si, 93). Pope Francis goes on to call for a change in our habits in order to preserve the environment we have been blessed with and called to protect. Following in his footsteps, here are some ideas for how you can reduce your ecological footprint, leaving this beautiful Earth we are privileged to inhabit better than you found it. 1. Invest in a Reusable Water Bottle We have all seen the commercials with the plastic water bottles circling the globe while a monotone voice-over describes the detrimental impact they have on the planet. This may not be the most inspiring call to be environmentally friendly, but the truth is that disposable water bottles are harmful to the environment, even if you recycle them. Instead, buy a water bottle that you can reuse and be sure to take it with you everywhere you go. There are a variety of sizes and colors available, so you will be able to find one that fits your personality and lifestyle. 2. Carpool or Use Alternative Modes of Transportation Finding a carpool for school is a great way to help the environment, and some schools even special parking spots for carpools. If you live close enough, consider walking, biking, or rollerblading a few times per week. If you are out exploring on the weekends, try using these alternative modes of transportation, making them a part of the adventure. 3. Opt for Steel Straws Starbucks is giving up plastic straws, so why not you? Purchase a few steel straws that you can bring with you and add to those drinks that surely taste better through a straw. 4. Stock Up on Reusable Grocery Bags An easy way to help the environment is by ditching the plastic bags at the grocery store and using reusable ones instead. They come in a variety of sizes and patterns, so you can choose ones that work best for your shopping needs. Some grocery stores even offer a discount if you bring your own, which is one more reason to make this a part of your routine. If you are worried you will forget to bring them with you, keep them in your car. 5. Take Shorter Showers There is nothing quite like a cold shower on a hot day or a hot shower on a cold day, and while it is tempting to savor this glorious moment, it can lead to a great deal of water waste. To keep your showers to a more reasonable length, create a playlist with a couple of songs. When the final song is over, it is your cue to end the shower. 6. Buy Local There is something about farm-fresh food that is just better. Find a local farm that is open to the public or purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from a farmers market. Most cities have farmers markets on the weekends — use it as an opportunity to explore your hometown and support local farmers. 7. Plant a Garden While you may have tried (and failed at) gardening when you were younger, consider giving it another go. Start small — plant a few herbs that can add some spice to your meals. Once you’ve got that down, experiment with different fruits and vegetables. If you don’t have an outdoor space you can use, look into one of the many indoor gardening options. 8. Purchase Sustainably Made Clothing This tip may be a bit more difficult, as the majority of clothing is not sustainably made. Do some research on the brands you wear most and see if they are environmentally friendly. If it turns out they do not use sustainable materials or practices, consider supporting a company that does. Another option is to advocate that school T-shirts and other clothing be ethically sourced and manufactured. 9. Embrace Meatless Monday This is not a call to abandon meat forever (I love a good burger as much as the next person), but designating one day each week as vegetarian is a great way to reduce your ecological footprint. During Lent, we are called to abstain from meat on Fridays, but the Church encourages us to embrace this practice beyond the Lenten season. Consider using this faith-based approach to a meatless day as your inspiration to adopt this practice in your daily life. 10. Transition to Online Reading It is easier now more than ever to read non-printed materials. From ebooks to online magazines and newspapers, it seems that most reading can be done without cracking open an actual book. The next time you want to buy a book, magazine, newspaper, or other printed material, grab the online version instead. You may even save some money going this route as the online version tends to be less expensive than the printed copy. If you are not quite ready to give up your beloved hardcover books, borrow from the library or purchase from a secondhand book store. 11. Donate Old Clothes At the end of each season, go through your closet and donate clothes you did not wear and ones that no longer fit. Expand this practice to more than just clothes, donating old books, electronics, games, and toys as well. 12. Learn to Love Leftovers Developed countries are notorious for food waste. To combat this privileged habit, make good use of leftovers. Take them for lunch the next day or repurpose them into completely new meals. Do your best to eat the food you have before it expires, and if you are going to be unable to eat it all before a nice layer of mold develops, prep it to go in the freezer and use it at a later date. 13. Recycle If you do not have a recycling bin at your house, get one. Research the guidelines for what can and cannot be recycled, and post this information somewhere everyone can see. If your school does not have an established recycling program, consider developing one. Educate your fellow classmates on the importance of recycling and how to do it properly. 14. Contact Your Local Representatives Do not underestimate the power of your voice. Lawmakers create policies that affect the environment in which we live, so express your support of legislation that promotes the care of creation or dissatisfaction with legislation that harms creation. Making phone calls, writing letters, scheduling in-person visits, and peacefully protesting are great ways to use your voice to protect the environment we are called to care for.