We can all do our part to take care of our environment. This Earth Day, resolve to make one small change—or a dozen!—that will leave a smaller footprint on the planet. Here is a list of simple changes you can make that will add up to a big difference.
IN YOUR CAR:
We can agree that using less fuel is better for the environment, and your wallet. How can you save fuel? Drive slower, as your car’s fuel economy dramatically decreases when you drive faster than 50 mph. Can’t drive 55? Try using cruise control to maintain a reasonable speed.
Do all of your errands in one trip if possible. This is known as “trip chaining.” It will save you time, and reduce fuel usage.
Calculate Your Real Cost of Driving
Cost2drive calculates your real world gas costs and CO2 emissions. The number may surprise you and may encourage you to walk to the post office or corner store.
Park In the Shade
The hot sun causes gas to evaporate from your tank. Park in the shade whenever possible so that your car stays cool on warm days.
Put an End to Phantom Energy
You know that little light on your stereo that stays lit, even when your stereo is turned off? It is sucking power, like a vampire, all the time. When appliances are plugged in, but not in use, they continue to draw energy. Not only does this waste electricity (about 5–10% of your total usage), it can add up on your energy bill. Your entertainment center alone could be costing you $80 per year. Unplug appliances when not in use, or use smart power strips, which automatically shut down power to appliances in standby mode.
Shut Down Personal Computers At Night
There may be reasons to leave networked office computers on most of the time (ask your IT department before you turn yours off), but if your home computer’s primary purpose is to check email and Facebook, shut it off at night. Even in sleep mode, your computer draws energy (1–5 watts). One estimate projects that shutting your computer down when not in use could save $219 per year.
Wait A Little Longer To Replace Electronics
New, faster, but (mostly) shinier electronics are released all the time. Resist the temptation to keep up. Manufacturing new products leaves it’s own carbon footprint, so if you can hold out a little longer, do.
Donate or Recycle Used Electronics
When it is time to upgrade, dispose of your old electronics responsibly to ensure they don’t end up in a landfill. Machines that are still in working condition can be donated to local charities that refurbish them. The EPA provides information on how and where to donate or recycle electronics. Or, click here to find an eCycling program near you. Some items can even be recycled through the mail and computer equipment in any condition may be donated at Goodwill stores, where they will refurbish or recycle them.
What Else Can Be Recycled?
You’d be surprised at how much can be recycled. Thinkgreen.com is a good resource for learning what items are recyclable. Things you may not be recycling: batteries, wire hangers from the dry cleaner, light bulbs, phone books. Check with your city to see what is accepted in their recycling program.
Plant Low-Water Landscaping
Let the grass be greener somewhere else. Scientific American cites that sprinklers can use 265 gallons of water per hour. Reduce this by watering early in the morning, when plants can absorb more water before it evaporates, and water for shorter periods. Consider landscaping that requires less water or click here to find out what plants are native to where you live. They can thrive with little more than what nature provides!
Stop Receiving Paper Bills
Ask your banks, credit card companies, and utilities to stop sending you paper bills and statements. According to this study, if all U.S. households viewed and paid bills online, it would save 16.5 million trees each year, plus reduce fuel consumption and air pollution.
Stop Junk Mail and Phone Book Delivery
There is this thing called the Internet. Fun fact: You’re on it. All of the information in the yellow pages you need is here. Click here to opt-out of the yellow pages and contact Catalog Choice to end the glut of junk mail.
Insulate Your Home
Energy.gov has tons of information about ways to better insulate your home. From window shades to caulking to storm panels, there are a lot of improvements that can be made at every price level. You’ll use less energy for heating and cooling, how much is up to you.
Freecycle keeps perfectly usable items from winding up in landfills. It helps match lightly used items with new owners through local networks. You can join a Freecycle network in your area to post items you’d like to part with, and view listings of free items on offer from others. Offload your loveseat and gain a free set of dumbbells.
Grow a Vegetable Garden
Besides the pleasure of having fresh vegetables just outside your door, growing your own does a lot to benefit the environment. There is no fuel wasted transporting vegetables from South America to your supermarket. And, greenery helps cool down urban areas, so if you live in a city, like I do, every little bit of green helps.
Get a Home Energy Audit
Energy.gov says that you can save 5%–30% on your energy bill by making upgrades suggested in a home energy assessment(8). Find out how much energy you are wasting, and how much money you could be saving, with a home energy audit. The cost, generally $300–$500, might be worth the added savings. The Residential Energy Services Network directory can help you locate a certified energy auditor near you.
Take Your Coffee “Green”
Forego the multiple daily paper cups (which are not recyclable), heat sleeves, and plastic lids by bringing your own mug to work or the coffee shop–some stores offer a discount or free refills if you do! If you make your own, save that stir-stick from the landfill by adding sugar and creamer to your mug first, and then pouring in the coffee, which naturally mixes everything together (or use a real spoon!).
Clean Up Your Shower Act
The average family can use 2,900 fewer gallons of water each year by installing a low-flow showerhead. Because less water needs to be heated, they save energy as well. You can lower your water consumption further by taking shorter showers (get it all done in the span of one loudly crooned song!), or by showering with your partner.
Turn Off the Tap While Brushing Your Teeth
A faucet can use 2–3 gallons of water per minute. Just turn it off and turn it back on when it’s time to rinse.
Printing Is So Old-Fashioned
Ask yourself if you REALLY need to push that print button. If you must print something, try to use both sides of paper. If you want to archive an important document, instead of printing it out, use Evernote, a handy app that stores all your notes and documents. Share your concern for the environment with others by adding a “consider the environment before printing” to the signature of your emails.
Use Cotton Swabs Made from Paper
The plastic type pile up by the million in landfills. How many cotton swabs do you use each year, 365? 730? This is an easy change to make now.
Invest In Chopsticks
Tell your Chinese takeout place to hold the chopsticks. 20 million 20-year-old trees are felled each year to produce disposable wooden chopsticks. For a few bucks, you could have your very own set of reusable enamel or metal chopsticks. Pearl River offers a vast selection.
Show your cleverness by wrapping gifts in common household items: newspaper, maps, fabric, posters, kraft paper, grocery bags. Tie them with twine or butcher’s twine and decorate with markers and crayons. The rustic look is really chic right now.
Choose Matches Over Plastic Lighters
1.5 billions plastic butane lighters end up in landfills every year. Choose matches to light your candles instead. Cardboard matches are the most environmentally friendly because they are usually made from recycled paper. And, when setting the mood, make sure you’re candles aren’t spewing toxic pollutants into the atmosphere.
Buy Sustainably-Raised Meat
Animals raised in feedlots, especially cows, produce immense amounts of methane gas. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 18% of the world’s man-made greenhouse-gas emissions are attributed to livestock(11). A vegetarian diet leaves a lighter footprint, but if you choose to eat meat, find a reliable source for sustainably-raised, grass-fed meat. Try your local butcher or farmers market. The improvement in flavor is worth the effort.
Transfer Magazine Subscriptions to Your Tablet Device
If you can read it on a tablet device, why let those magazines pile up on your coffee table and nightstand?
Use ONE Paper Towel
This fantastic TedxTalk will forever change the way you dry your hands in a public bathroom. If each person used only one paper towel when drying their hands, 571,230,000 paper towels would be saved each year. Watch this, then shake and fold!
Need a more ideas? Check out this nifty infographic.
Have more tips? Share them in the comments!