Don’t call it sweater season yet. While it’s already September — and in the U.S., Americans are celebrating the end of summer with the Labor Day long weekend — there’s still time to stretch out the season with a few additions to your to-do list before we surrender to the cool, colorful months of autumn. From hosting a blowout in your backyard to seeking out the surf and sand for one last windy hurrah in the waves, here are some eco-friendly ideas to help end this summer in sustainable style.
1. Drop by a local farm or farmer’s market
Nothing says summer like spending a few hours picking your seasonal fruit and vegetables from a local farm. The benefits, like the produce, are plentiful. Selfishly, seasonal food tastes better — and is more nutritious than food eaten out of season. Moreover, buying local supports farms in your community. And if you have a question about what you’re consuming, there’s no mystery: the person who grew it is right there.
2. Take advantage of the great outdoors
Although it’s September, in many places, it still feels like the hottest time of the year. Considering this, you might be tempted to host your end-of-summer get-togethers inside and crank the air conditioning. Unfortunately, air conditioning produces harmful byproducts and demands significant amounts of electricity. Even with the most efficient model on the market, your carbon footprint is lower if you celebrate outside in the shade. If you must stay inside, keep your air conditioning running at a moderate temperature.
3. Switch up the menu at your backyard blowout
If you’re hosting one last summer shindig before you start to pack up the outdoor furniture, serve up a meal that highlights the side dishes. It’s no secret that what we eat and how we source our food impacts the planet. To do your part, consider eating more vegetables and less meat. This switch may help slow emissions because farming vegetables releases fewer greenhouse gases than livestock production.
4. Plan your parties with the planet in mind
If you are barbequing, skip the charcoal. Although many love the taste of food cooked over a charcoal grill, cooking with charcoal releases volatile organic compounds, trace metals, and particulates that contribute to air pollution. Alternatives include solar, electric, pellet grills, and gas. The latter may not seem like an eco-friendly option, but natural gas and propane both produce far fewer emissions than charcoal.
As for backyard decorations? Upcycle! Every new thing you buy has an environmental impact; raw materials and energy are consumed to produce and ship goods worldwide. Instead of buying new decorations and displays, consider upcycling what you already have. For example, you could use old hubcaps to support flower arrangements or turn an old throw into a makeshift tablecloth.
5. Clean up responsibly
As for partyware, disposables may make your life more convenient, but making paper or plastic cups, plates, and plastic utensils harms the environment. Companies cut down trees for paper products, or consume significant energy making plastic, then burn fuel shipping those disposable products worldwide. When you’re done with the spoon, it will probably end up in a landfill. So, reduce your party waste by using reusable cups, dishes, and utensils.
And don’t forget to use your dishwasher over hand washing. An eco-friendly dishwasher can save several gallons during a full cycle. And if there are cloth napkins and towels to clean, why not skip the liquid detergent to try our eco-friendly detergent strips? The planet will thank you.
6. Host a beach cleanup
If you’ve already spent time at the beach, why not return — this time, to help a little? Invite some friends for a beach cleanup. After all, plenty of people leave the beach in worse shape than they find it. A little work from you and your friends will make it cleaner for people and safer for the animals who call it home. Once you’re done, have a picnic and enjoy yourself. Just remember to bring swimwear produced from recycled materials — rather than virgin nylon and polyester — and slap on eco-friendly sunscreen, preferably approved by a group like the Environmental Working Group.
7. Walk, bike, or carpool
In the mood for one last summer road trip? Unfortunately, most forms of transportation contribute to greenhouse gases. Choose a destination closer to home to minimize your holiday footprint and consider carpooling. Sharing resources means you’ll consume fewer resources in total. Try to gather in groups to celebrate (which you probably don’t need much motivation to do). When traveling to other locations, such as a park or pool, consider carpooling to reduce fuel consumption — or better yet, bike, walk, or take public transportation to your destination instead of driving.
8. Choose natural bug repellents
They won’t be around for much longer, but it’s still the season of annoying pests. So, if you need to use bug repellent during your hike, camping trip, or barbecue party, go with citronella plants, oil, or candles rather than chemical sprays. For yourself, say “no” to DEET and opt for a natural mosquito repellent. You can make up cute spray bottle party favors filled with fantastic-smelling essential oil bug repellent for your guests.
9. Trek out to stargaze
Even with a backyard, you’re not getting the best view of the starry night sky. Light pollution from streetlights, homes, and businesses can dramatically reduce visibility and render all but the brightest stars invisible to the naked eye. So, pack up the car, gather your family and friends, and head outside the city limits. Once you’re away from the urban sprawl — and your eyes adapt to the darkness — you’ll see how many stars we live under. Of course, part of the fun of stargazing is spotting constellations, planets, and other out-of-this-world objects. Fortunately, you no longer need a giant telescope — or even an amateur astronomer — to identify them. Just check out one of the many stargazing apps available on your phone or tablet to help guide your cosmos tour.
10. Donate unused items as you prepare for fall
As much emphasis there is on spring cleaning, the end of any season is a good time to unload those unwanted clothes and items you never use. It’s both good physically — who doesn’t need more space? — and psychologically, since it signals a fresh start for the months ahead. So why not donate them to any number of charities that need them? And if this puts you in the mood to shop, skip buying new to instead seek out thrift items.