Living in Costa Rica, I feel we are naturally living much closer to the earth. We live our days based on the season and the weather. When the hard rains come in September and October, we run our errands in the mornings and nap or read in the afternoons. While we can get fresh produce year-round, there are times certain things like tomatoes and watermelon are larger and more plentiful. We are learning from our Tico neighbors about the medicinal value of plants and herbs. And we are more aware of the subtle changes around us, like the flowering of certain plants, the appearance of certain insects, and the nesting cycles of various birds and turtles.
As Earth Day approaches this year (April 22, 2012), I’ve been reflecting on our daily habits and how they impact the environment. All in all, I’m pleased. My motivation in some actions, I must confess, wasn’t so much to save the earth as it was to duplicate some of what we were able to buy in the U.S. or to save money. But let’s give credit where credit’s due…in the long run, we are leaving a smaller “footprint” than we did when living in the States.
So here is some of what we’ve been doing, not so much to pat our own backs as to give you some ideas of what you might be able to do, wherever you live.
- Eat more food grown locally and in season. For us, that means shopping more at farmers markets and buying fewer products that are imported. We also try to eat some vegetarian meals and stay away from fast food.
- Buying less packaged products and cooking more “from scratch.” On a regular basis, I:
- Make fresh yogurt from local milk
- Cook dry beans instead of buying canned
- Bake all of our bread
- Make natural peanut butter and sesame tahini
- Prepare fresh chicken broth instead of buying packaged (which is hard to find here anyway, and expensive when you do find it)
Save energy. Here are some things we do:
- We chose to live in an area where we don’t need heat or air-conditioning
- Use energy-saver light bulbs
- Turn off lights we don’t need (actually Paul is much better at this than I am)
- Wash dishes by hand – our only dishwasher is Paul!
- Wash laundry in cold water (okay, this is one of those things we have no choice about, but it does save energy)
- We try to take the bus, especially when going into San Jose, instead of driving our car
- Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle. We tried to do this in the States and continue here in Costa Rica:
- We recycle clean paper, plastic, cans, glass, and even Tetra-Paks at our local recycling center. In San Ramon, the recycling center is run by the women’s cooperative, COFERENE (Colectivo Femenino Rescatando Nuestra Ecologia) which educates the community about the importance of recycling, collects and sells recyclable materials to companies which use them, and brings a source of income to the women who work there.
- We just purchased BPA-free water bottles to fill and take with us to the beach instead of buying bottled water
- Use rechargeable batteries
- Rinse and reuse plastic bags as long as they are serviceable
- Compost coffee grinds and produce trimmings
- In the dry season, we are conscious of how much water we use and limit things like watering plants and washing the car
When people think of Costa Rica, often they think of a country that is “green,” both in terms of its rainforests as well as ecologically. In fact, Costa Rica is much like the United States was in the 1950s. Its people are gradually becoming more aware of the importance of being good stewards of the incredible resources with which they have been entrusted. But it is still a developing country. Farmers still burn their fields in the dry season to prepare them for new planting, and to battle the tropical insects, most still use insecticides. People still throw trash along the roadside and in streams.
But this is changing. School children are learning the importance of preserving their environment and they are taking those lessons home to their families. Recycling centers and collection points are found in more and more locations. Communities are planting trees to reforest the land. I am proud to say that San Ramon is leading the way by trying to become the first “carbon neutral” canton (county) in the country. As a matter of fact, our Community Action Alliance has been working closely with the San Ramon Chamber of Commerce and Earth University on this initiative.
We can all do something and it all counts. If you would like some additional ideas for this Earth Day and beyond, visit the “Billion Acts of Green” project at http://act.earthday.org/ and make a pledge to do something, big or small. My pledge to is buy organic produce whenever possible, and to keep doing what we’re already doing. Just imagine the difference that a billion acts of green can make in our world!