As humans, it is our responsibility to take care of the Earth we live on.
There are people who reject this responsibility and are actively damaging the environment, while others simply don’t care.
Most of us though, want to help but don’t know where to start.
If you aren’t vegan or biking to work, you might feel like “What’s the point?” when it comes to helping the planet. Not so fast.
There are dozens of simple green habits you can start doing right now to help reduce greenhouse emissions and protect the environment for future generations.
Here’s how to start.
1. Buy more eco-friendly clothes and take better care of the clothes you already have.
Purchasing durable clothes that are made using environmentally friendly processes reduces your environmental impact.
Did you know the average American throws away more than 80 pounds of clothing every year?
Making the decision to donate, recycle, or re-purpose clothing is a good starting point. Many textiles can be recycled but most end up in landfills.
Just like with other recyclable goods, sometimes the supply outpaces the demand. Many companies are only able to resell a fraction of the clothes that are donated.
And while the price is cheap, the environmental cost of producing and discarding clothes is very steep. That cute shirt made from nylon, polyester, or acrylic is more than likely made from petroleum, which will remain in a landfill for many centuries while it slowly decomposes.
The Organic Consumer Association recommends buying jeans made in the USA and purchasing fair trade, organic cotton clothing.
To keep the clothes you already have out of landfills for longer, there are simple things you can start doing right away.
The next time you get a stain or a tear in a favorite piece of clothing, drop that credit card and pick up the needle and thread.
Support vintage or second-hand stores and organize clothing swaps with friends.
For clothes that are on their deathbed, re-purpose them into cleaning rags or find cool craft projects online.
Paying attention to manufacturers’ instructions for care of garments, limiting how often you wash clothes, washing in cold water, and hanging clothes to dry are all proven ways to extend the life of your clothes and reduce your environmental impact as well.
2. Ditch The Plastic Habit
Think about the big picture before using plastic and choose better options when you can.
We are literally drowning in plastic. According to National Geographic, there is so much plastic in the world’s oceans right now that 5 grocery bags full of the stuff could sit on every single foot of coastline in the world.
What’s even more sobering is that the vast majority of plastic that is used just once will go on to sit in a landfill for at least 450 years, with some experts stating plastic will never break down.
Plastic use has exploded over the past 20 years but it’s not too late to start making some changes.
Ask your server to “hold the straw” next time when you go out to eat. Bring your own bags whenever you shop. Choose fresh fruits and veggies that are free from plastic packaging.
Instead of buying bottled water invest in a home filtration system. When you’re on the go, opt for a glass water bottle with a water filter.
While recycling is a good idea if you don’t already, recycling a little bit of plastic is better than recycling a lot of plastic.
Just like with clothing, we are discarding so many plastics that most of them will end up in landfills. They can’t all be re-used.
Think critically before you reach for that next plastic item and get in the habit of using glass or just saying no when you can.
3. Keep more money in your pocket and more stuff out of landfills
One of the biggest eco-friendly habits to consider is reducing the amount of stuff you buy. A lot of the problems plaguing the environment today can be traced back to overconsumption.
The problem is that the planet cannot keep up with the demands placed on it when all of us decide to acquire more stuff.
Whether it’s the newest iPhone, car, or living room set to fill the bigger house, the cost of these choices goes beyond price.
The first step to being a more responsible consumer is to become more aware.
First and foremost, do you truly need what you are about to purchase?
Asking yourself this simple question can stop impulse shopping in its tracks and may save you some money.
When you are preparing to make big purchases, do a little research.
Find brands that sell quality products that will last longer so you won’t have to replace them as quickly. If possible, try to buy items made from recycled materials that are locally made.
Another option is to buy things second hand or to borrow if it’s something you’ll only need to use a few times.
Be honest with yourself.
Do you really need that snowblower if every neighbor on your block has one? Get to know your neighbors and flex those sharing muscles.
When it’s time to get rid of something ask yourself if someone you know could use it before you throw it away. Sell it or donate it.
4. Minimize food waste
Stop wasting food, save money, and help the planet.
Imagine going to the grocery store and throwing away half of your groceries before you get to the car.
Most of us would be horrified if we saw someone so blatantly throwing away perfectly good food.
Unfortunately, it happens every single day.
In the United States alone, about 40% of food ends up in the trash. Wasting food is also quite the budget buster, with some estimates suggesting that the average family of four is throwing away $1600 per year.
Keep more of that money in your pocket and less of that food in landfills by following some simple strategies.
Always shop with a plan. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate plan. Simply think about what food you have at home already and make a grocery list based on the meals you’ll be eating before heading to the store.
When you get to the store, only buy what you need. Even if the larger items are on sale think realistically about how soon your household can finish what you buy.
Instead of letting 5 pounds of potatoes rot on your counter, opt for a few potatoes at a time.
Get in the habit of using your most perishable foods first and freezing the foods you won’t be using for a while.
Take it another step and think about backyard composting. Fruit and vegetable peels, overripe produce, egg shells, coffee grounds, and newsprint junk mail can be up-cycled into a rich soil amendment full of beneficial microorganisms for the soil.
If you don’t have the space or patience for backyard composting, consider vermicomposting, which uses worms. And no, the worms won’t escape if you keep a bin in the garage, basement, or even in a corner of the kitchen. There are great online resources for building and running a worm bin.
By planning ahead with your food purchases and re-purposing food scraps, you can make a significant impact on cutting your household’s food waste and save more money.
Author: Samantha Thoms, MPH, RDN