Happy 2016! If you've ever made a new year's resolution to lower your impact on the environment, but didn't know where to start, this is the place! Get ready for the first ten steps to a newer, greener you!
Reduce household energy use.
Energy conservation is itself a source of energy. Here are several simple ways to reduce your household energy use:
Turn off appliances and lights that you’re not using.
Install energy-efficient appliances.
Use a programmable thermostat that lowers or raises the temperature when you’re not home.
Set your thermostat lower than usual in the winter and bundle up.
Open windows to allow a breeze instead of turning on the air conditioning.
Hang clothes to dry instead of using the dryer (you can do this inside during the winter, and as a bonus you will add some much-needed humidity to your home!).
Use an electric device rather than a stove-top kettle to boil water.
Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs).
Eat and Drink locally.
Chances are, there are farms and restaurants near you with home-grown vegetables and hand-made craft beer...by switching from commercial products to local goods you not only do your taste-buds and health a favor, but you help save the planet! Commercial supermarkets are stocked with stuff from all over the world, and these products consume huge amounts of fossil fuel energy to get from those global locations to your corner supermarket. Eat and drink locally!
Dispose with disposables.
Previous generations didn’t dream of single-use razors, forks, cups, bags, and food storage containers, but these days, you can find a plastic version of almost any object and then throw that object away after you use it.
Many of the environmental health issues today stem from toxins released into the environment by trash. Even trash that’s properly disposed of, such as that in a landfill, requires careful monitoring to ensure that dangerous chemicals don’t enter the surrounding environment.
When you make a purchase, consider the item’s life expectancy: How long can the item be used? Will it have more than one use? When you’re done with it, will it end up in the trash? Start investing in reusable products for the items you most often throw away.
Try growing your own food. Simply plant a few seeds in a corner of your yard or in a container on your porch or windowsill. You don’t need acres; a few square feet on a patio, along the driveway, or in a window box can provide enough space to grow edible herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
Recycle as much as possible! If your neighborhood or apartment complex doesn’t offer recycling pickup, either find a drop-off location or request the curbside service. Buying products labeled post-consumer lets companies know that recycling is the way to go!
For other items, such as CFLs, batteries, cellphones, and electronics, find an appropriate recycler. Be sure to ask electronics recyclers where these materials go for recycling and avoid companies that ship electronic waste overseas for unregulated “recycling” and salvage operations. Goodwill Industries International is one place that accepts electronics for responsible recycling.
Resell and donate items.
Items that you no longer need can get an extended life through resale and donation. By extending the life of any product, you help reduce dependence on disposable or cheaply made single-use products that end up in landfills.
Try reselling clothing and children’s things through a secondhand or consignment retailer or consider donating them to a nonprofit resale organization (such as Goodwill) or charity organization (such as the American Cancer Society) that will redistribute them to those in need.
Drink from the tap.
Dependence on bottled water has added more than a million tons of plastic to the waste stream every year. One reason people rely on bottled water is because they believe it’s safer and better tasting than tap water. But most municipal water supplies in the U.S. provide safe, clean, fresh water (and many bottled waters are just bottled from city water supplies anyway).
If you don’t like the flavor of your tap water, consider the one-time investment in a filtration system. If you like the convenience of bottled water, purchase refillable bottles and keep one in your fridge, one in your car, and one at the office. Encourage your employer to install filters and offer glasses or reusable bottles at work, too.
An easy way to live more sustainably is to conserve household water use. Consider installing water-efficient toilets or dual-flush toilets that let you choose whether to use a full flush (for solid waste) or half-flush (for liquid waste). Newer clothes washers can automatically sense the smallest level of water needed for each load.
Smaller changes, such as switching to water-saving shower heads and adding aerators to your sink faucets, are also effective ways to significantly reduce household water use.
To conserve water outdoors, use landscaping adapted to your local environment. When buying plants, look for drought-tolerant species and varieties and be sure to plant them in proper soil and sun conditions to reduce their need for excess watering. Set up sprinkler systems so they don’t water the sidewalk, the driveway, and other paved, impermeable surfaces.
Rely less on your car.
Using fossil fuels to support one person in each car on the road is clearly no longer sustainable. Investigate mass transit options in your town or city, such as a bus system, a light rail train system, or carpool and vanpool services for commuters. When traveling close to home, walk or ride your bike.
If you have the space, save all your food scraps and create a compost bin. In no time at all, you'll have amazing fertilizer for your garden, ready to grow a whole new batch of delicious vegetables!
Thanks for reading! Refer to this list often, take things slow, and before you know it you'll be living a healthier, happier, and more sustainable life.