By: Rebecca Wenrich Wheeler
Becoming an eco-friendly household can be overwhelming when considering the magnitude of the
climate crisis. Instead of thinking about every possible lifestyle change, start small, and choose one or
two tasks and build from there. Yes, my family is now one with a composter, pollinator gardens, and
solar panels, but it’s not something we didn’t all at once. Whether your family is just beginning on this
journey or has incorporated some eco-friendly practices, reducing single-use plastic usage and
composting are inexpensive places to start.
Reducing single-use plastic
According to plasticocean.org 50% of all plastic produced is for single use. Individual families can make a
difference! First start by surveying your plastic usage and determine what can be cut. Start with one
item. For instance, you might ban plastic sandwich bags from lunchboxes and change to reusable
containers, ditch the plastic straws, or use refillable water bottles and coffee cups. You might also
commit to using reusable shopping bags, and if you do end up with plastic shopping bags, pledge to re-
To go a step further, you might try refillable soaps and cleaners in glass or aluminum containers. There
are many more options in the refillable soap market than just a few years ago. My personal favorite is
Blueland for hand soaps, laundry booster, and toilet cleaner. And the best part is over time you do save
money, because you are only buying the refill tablets and not paying for yet another disposable
container. I also use Grove Collaborative for dish detergent and laundry sheets, and I went back to old-
school powder dishwasher detergent in a cardboard box.
For those who love clothes, research clothing companies that use recycled plastics in their fabrics or
even shop consignment. Every little bit helps. Start small; ditch one plastic item, and then see how far
you go! Visit earthday.org for more tips on ending plastic pollution and even calculate your plastic
footprint to help you determine where to cut.
Let’s talk about home composting. So why compost in the first place? According to the USDA, food
waste is estimated at 30-40% of the food supply. And most of that waste goes into landfills. Every 100
pounds of food waste sends 8.3 pounds of methane into the atmosphere. Yes, composting does create
methane, but at much lower levels. Landfill emissions are about ½ methane and ½ CO2, and compost
gas emissions are mainly CO2.
About 50% of what goes into landfills can be composted, and that’s where families come in. We’ve been
home composting for almost five years. We purchased a 37-gallon tumbling composter from Target for
about $90. We keep a small stainless steel compost bin on our counter, and when it’s full, we transfer to
the large composter.
The first step is to cut down on food waste and leave as little as possible uneaten. But if you do have
waste, most of it can transfer to home composting: coffee grounds, egg shells, bread scraps, fruit and
vegetable scraps, tea bags, nut shells (make sure to crush for quicker decomposition), paper, cardboard
tubes, cardboard take-out containers. Even some yard waste like grass clippings, crushed leaves and
sawdust can be composted. You do want a balance of greens and browns in your bin. Check out the EPA
website for more home composting tips: https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home
Animal fats and proteins should not go into home compost, as it takes a lot more heat than a home
composter can provide to break it down. You’ll get rot before compost, plus animal products attract
pests. If you have access to a commercial compost service, like Compost Now, they can take animal
byproducts as well as the cups, utensils, and bags marked for commercial compost. Also never put pet
waste or unused medicine in compost. Check with your local health department for proper disposal of
I grew up on a peninsula, and water was a part of our town’s survival. Not only was it a source of beauty
and recreation it was also our livelihood. I remember being taught about pollution in elementary school
in the 1980s, and those lessons stuck with me. The natural world is infused in all my writing, and
sometimes not even intentionally! My pictures books: When Daddy Shows Me the Sky (released
November 2021) and When Mama Grows with Me (to be released Summer 2023), are about
astronomy, and gardening, respectfully. My novel YA Whispering Through Water is set in a
coastal Virginia town, and the book is filled with water and bird imagery. Whispering Through Water was
released January 4, 2023, and can be purchased wherever books are sold.
Spring is around the corner! If you are interested in watching the evolution of my pollinator gardens,
follow me on Instagram. Blooming will happen soon!