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3 Earth-Friendly Swaps for Summer

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beautiful reef

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Easy ways to be eco-friendly while having fun this season.

Earth Day is over, but summer is just starting to heat up. It’s so liberating to get outside and enjoy all that Mother Nature offers, from long hikes in the woods and mountains, to swimming in beautiful beaches and lakes, and exploring desert trails. But we have to take care of Mother Nature, too, just as she cares for us. For this week’s Healthy Habits, let’s look at three ways we can be nicer to the planet, all summer long.

Healthier Mosquito Control

The issue: You may have seen the recent New York Times piece about how the number of people in the U.S. getting diseases transmitted by mosquitoes has more than tripled in recent years. Avoiding getting Zika, West Nile or dengue is sure motivation to avoid bites.  

Old habit: Repellents with DEET pesticide are very effective and have been used by the public since 1957. However, according to the National Pesticide Information Center, the EPA says DEET is “not classifiable as a human carcinogen” because there is not enough evidence to say it does or does not cause cancer. Hmm. Also, because 30 percent of the population uses DEET, it is found trickling down into the environment, especially in water, where waste water moves into other bodies of water.

Earth-friendly swap: Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE). Note, this is different from lemon eucalyptus essential oil. OLE tested well in Consumer Reports tests of insect repellents, especially at concentrations of 30 percent and higher. Other options: crush a lemon balm leaf in your hand and rub it over the skin. Turn a large fan on in areas such as a porch, to blow the skeeters away. Try taking vitamin B1 (thiamin) supplements; some people find that taking it helps deter bites, so it may be an individual body chemistry thing. Lastly, if you’re zoned to keep fowl such as ducks, chickens and turkey, put your feathered friends to work; they enjoy snacking on mosquitoes, ticks and flies, which keeps the population down in your yard.

Safer Straws

The issue: A video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its nose went viral, and the poor animal became the poster turtle for how our oceans are awash in plastics hazardous to marine life. At least 100 million sea animals die each year due to plastic. Turtles are one of the marine animals particularly affected by the stuff; one study found that up to 15 percent of young turtles had eaten so much plastic that their digestive systems were completely blocked.

Old habit: Using a straw with every delicious milk shake and ice-cold bevvie, all summer long.

Earth-friendly Swap: Take inspiration from the city of Malibu, which has just banned plastic straws, stir-sticks and utensils. Some restaurants there will be using paper straws, while others are investigating straws made from pasta. Another option for home use: reusable glass straws that can go in the dishwasher. Strawesome makes a turtle-themed straw that supports the Sea Turtle Conservancy. Or you can always just skip using a straw entirely and go old school with, you know, the glass.  

Reef-Friendly Sunscreen

The issue: More and more, we’re realizing that chemicals in sunscreen wash off of humans, causing pollution that leads to coral bleaching.  

Old habit: Using sunscreens with oxybenzone, octocrylene, 4MBC, butylparaben or octinoxate as ingredients.

Earth-friendly swap: Protect your skin with zinc oxide, titanium oxide or a rash guard instead. Resorts are getting the message, which is key as 90 percent of snorklers congregate on 10 percent of the world’s reefs in popular areas. Outrigger has a global conservation program that plants and protects coral and encourages guests to wear reef-safe sunscreen. Aqua-Aston, which hosts 5 million guests a year in Hawaii, is collaborating with zinc-based brands All Good, Little Hands Hawaii, Stream2Sea, Raw Elements, and Kokua Sun Care, to educate guests and provide samples. “Little choices make for big changes,” the resort’s representative explained to the local TV station. In fact, Hawaii has passed a law that, if the Governor signs it, will ban the sale of chemical sunscreen there starting in 2021.

It’s true, little choices do add up, especially when there are millions of us doing it. When you’re out in nature this summer having fun, see what little swaps you can make to ensure Mama Earth is having as much of a good time as you are.


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  


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