Sustainability can feel like a big, unwieldy issue. Where do we start? Can one person really make a difference? The short answer is yes. The things we do every day add up. Over the course of a year, over the course of ten years, the choices we make every day impact our world. Do we have to make big changes—expensive changes—to live more sustainably? Not necessarily, you might be surprised. Here are 10 things that you can do, starting today, to be more earth-friendly.
Think “less is more.”
Too often, we buy things that we don’t need. Being intentional about what we buy can help us not only to clear away clutter and stress, but also to create less waste. Try making a shopping list and sticking to it. The next time you’re about to buy something—be it a new phone or a new pair of shoes—ask yourself, “Do I need this? Do I need it now? If I didn’t buy this, what could I do with that money?”
Take shorter showers.
The average showerhead uses five gallons of water per minute. That means that by cutting just two minutes off of your shower, you can save 10 gallons of water at a time. (Not to mention, the savings on your water bill.) Try using an egg timer, or creating a shower playlist to help you stick to a set shower length.
Make your own household cleaners.
Homemade all-natural cleaning products are not only relatively easy and inexpensive to make, they’re also free of harmful chemicals. That’s good news for your family and the environment! Try making your own all-purpose cleaner using the recipe below. It’s suitable for most surfaces (except marble and granite), like countertops, backsplashes, tile, floors, etc. If you’re uncertain, test in an inconspicuous area first.
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup baking soda
1/2 gallon water
Bring your own shopping bags.
A plastic bag, used for a single shopping trip, can take anywhere from 15 to 1,000 years to biodegrade. The average reusable shopping bag, on the other hand, has the lifespan of as many as 700 plastic bags. Help to reduce toxic waste, lessen fossil fuel consumption and protect birds, turtles and marine life by bringing your own reusable shopping bags. Keep several on-hand in the trunk of your car so they’re always available.
Replace your light bulbs.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs use about 75% less energy than traditional bulbs, and can last up to 10 times as long. LED lights, which also use less than a quarter of the energy consumed by traditional bulbs, can last up to 25 times as long as traditional bulbs. Making the switch is an easy way to save serious energy—and money, too!
Look at labels.
Every time you make a purchase, you’re casting a vote. By being a conscious consumer, and paying attention to product labels, you can cast your vote for products that save energy, exclude harmful chemicals, come from sustainably-managed forests (such as FIORA® toilet paper—just look for the PEFC™ logo, or ensure safe and fair working conditions. Next time you’re at the store, check for ecolabels on the products you put in your cart.
Start a compost pile.
Food scraps, although biodegradable, don’t receive the oxygen needed to fully decompose when buried deep in a landfill. And so, organic matter sits, taking up space and generating methane gas. Composting takes most food scraps and yard trimmings out of the landfill equation, turning it into fresh, nutrient-rich soil instead. (Compost makes perfect garden soil—no chemical fertilizers needed!) Check with your city for resources and advice on getting started!
Sign up for paperless billing.
Not all paper comes from sustainably managed forests [link to 5.5 What it means to be PEFC™-certified]. Do your part to reduce unnecessary paper waste by putting a stop to junk mail (you might try a service like PaperKarma) and signing up for paperless billing. Some companies even offer a discount for paying bills online.
Bring your own bottle.
Every second, the U.S. consumes 1500 plastic water bottles, and of those, roughly 8 out of every 10 will end up in a landfill. That’s about 38 billion bottles every year in the U.S. alone. By choosing a reusable water bottle, you can do your part to keep plastic water bottles out of landfills. Not only does this help to save space, it also helps to keep toxic contaminants from leaching into our soil and waterways, and protects birds and marine life from getting caught in, poisoned by, or starved by plastic.
Devices that are plugged in are always drawing energy—even when they’re turned off. Think about your printer, your phone charger, your modem, your microwave . . . it all adds up! Save energy by unplugging devices that you aren’t using, or by plugging into a power strip that can easily be switched on and off.