Earth Day (April 22) reminds many of us to live a little more gently on the planet. We’ve got tips for reducing, reusing, and recycling water, toilet paper, and other resources for folks with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis.
Those of us who live with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) might know a thing or two about waste. Usually, it’s of the bodily kind.
But like almost everyone on this planet, we may also produce substantial environmental waste. With a disease like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, we tend to use certain materials and resources — sometimes a lot of them — to manage it effectively.
We can all find creative ways to find greener alternatives and cut back on our carbon footprint. If you’re environmentally conscious and hoping to “go green,” it only takes a few steps to make a difference. Here are six ways people with IBD can use Earth’s resources more gently.
Many of us have had some memorable bathroom experiences — some of which require more TP than we’d like to admit.
You may already have a preferred TP brand, but if you’re looking to lessen your environmental impact, consider switching to eco-friendly TP. Options include TP made from recycled paper or easily replenished bamboo. In addition to saving trees, some “green” TP manufacturers, like Who Gives A Crap, use carbon-neutral shipping and donate a percentage of their profits to improve sanitation in developing regions.
Looking for a way to reduce your water usage? Installing a low flush toilet is a great option. Since 1992, U.S. government standards have required that new toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush. More recent technology allows consumers to choose toilets that use even less — up to 20% less, in fact. And replacing older inefficient toilets with low flush toilets will cut down that number even more — by up to 60%. That’s up to 13,000 gallons per home a year!
For those of us with IBD — who might be making more trips to the bathroom than people without it — installing an updated, low flush toilet can be an excellent way to conserve water.
Some of us manage our IBD with at-home infusions, ostomy bags, and other medical equipment. If you manage your Crohn’s or colitis in one of these ways, consider donating materials that you no longer use rather than trashing them or having them sit unused in your home.
For example, after I switched from at-home infusions to receiving them in the hospital, I donated my unused syringes, as well as alcohol swabs and an IV pole, to my local Crohn’s organization. If you’ve had your ostomy bag removed, consider donating unexpired and unused materials, such as pouches, support belts, or adhesive wraps and sprays. Not all hospitals accept unused or unexpired equipment, so be sure to look up local organizations to find the right home for your resources.
If you’re no longer taking certain medications and have unused pills, you can take steps to dispose of them properly.
In most instances, avoid flushing medication down the toilet! Pharmaceuticals can pollute water, contaminating lakes and rivers. This not only harms aquatic wildlife but also means that chemicals can end up in our drinking water.
Instead, many communities operate drug take-back programs that allow people to either drop off unused meds at a permanent site (often inside pharmacies or hospitals) or at other locations during temporary events. These periodic events are often hosted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA’s next National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is April 22, which happens to be on Earth Day.
Even if you’ve used all the medication in a bottle, you can still discard the bottle in an Earth-friendly way. When your bottle is empty, you may be able to simply peel off the label and recycle the bottle, depending on your local recycling program.
Some humanitarian and religious organizations also repurpose bottles. Do note that most drug take-back sites will also accept medication bottles. If you’re no longer taking a certain drug and have extra pills, you can dispose of your medication and its canister at the same time.
And here’s a life hack: I’ve repurposed empty prescription bottles for traveling! They make excellent shampoo and condition containers, as well as holders for bobby pins and hair ties. Just be sure to clean them thoroughly first.
Those of us with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis may have a limited diet or even a list of foods that don’t agree with our digestive systems. When we find restaurants or meals that are prepared perfectly for our needs, it can be tempting to consume them more regularly. But ordering in tends to use substantial resources, like plastic and paper, for everything from utensils to containers. And there are also the carbon emissions that delivery workers may produce in getting the food to you.
Cooking at home can cut back on resource use and help ensure that you’re eating foods that you know you can healthily consume. That way, you know you’re cooking with ingredients that won’t bother your stomach. And for my fellow lazy chefs out there, you can find some pretty delicious — and IBD-friendly — meals in the freezer case, too.
Hydration is important for anyone, but those of us with IBD need to be extra cautious in making sure we consume enough water throughout the day. Crohn’s and colitis can cause dehydration, leading to constipation and headaches. Keep water handy to ensure you’re at your healthiest.
Rather than purchasing a soda at a gas station or grabbing a bottle of water in the checkout line, consider carrying a water bottle with you at all times so you can cut back on your single-bottle usage.
We can’t control IBD. We can’t control when we receive diagnoses or experience flares. And we can’t always control our bodies — their fatigue, bowel movements, or medication reactions. But we can control how we effectively and efficiently manage our IBD. And that can include taking simple, eco-friendly steps to make a difference for our environments, each other, and our planet.
Medically reviewed on April 17, 2023
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