Everyone agrees that being more eco-friendly is a great goal, but is anyone really doing anything about it? You may be put off by the thought of composting, separating recyclables into a variety of bins, or buying new appliances that are more energy-efficient. While these are all good for the environment, there are several other steps that you can take that don’t require a lot of effort or money.
Eat More Veggies, Less Meat
Along with the health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables, eating less meat can aid the environment. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 26 percent of the Earth’s ice-free land is used to raise livestock, while 33 percent of croplands are used to grow food for livestock. Every year, we lose more forest land needed to grow crops to feed an increasing amount of livestock. Add in the methane produced by large amounts of animals, and it’s easy to understand why meat-eaters are being encouraged to lower their intake.
Borrow, Don’t Buy
Instead of buying new, try borrowing books, music, and movies from libraries; most keep a variety of each on hand. Shop for clothes at thrift stores, which often receive unused, overstocked items in mint condition. Start a tool collective with neighbors, and you’ll all save money; instead of buying a ladder that you use twice a year, borrow it.
Learn About Appliances
We all love the convenience of appliances, and it’s unlikely anyone would go back to washing clothes by hand. Here are a few tips to make appliance use more energy efficient.
- Washing machines: Use cold water whenever possible. This simple change will save you up to 90 percent on energy costs incurred by this machine.
- Water heater: Set the temperature lower. Do you really need water set at 140 degrees? Drop it to 120; you won’t even notice the difference.
- Dishwasher: Wash only full loads and use the timer to delay washing until after midnight; you’ll save on peak energy costs and reduce the strain on your city’s peak energy use times.
- Clothes dryer: On nice days, hang your wash outside to line dry and soak up that sweet smell of fresh air; on rainy days, hang it inside.
- Oven: Find ways to use your energy-hogging oven less. Use a pressure cooker, microwave or toaster oven instead.
If you do find yourself in the market for new appliances, look for Energy Star appliances that are more efficient. Keep in mind that a front-loading washing machine uses less energy than a top-loading one.
Digital technology has helped cut down on the amount of paper we use, but it has by no means conquered it. According to the EPA, making paper from recycled paper requires less energy, about 60 percent of the amount used to make paper from wood pulp. Manufacture of one ton of computer or office paper from recycled paper saves 3,000-4,000 kilowatt hours. Recycling one ton of paper also saves 15-17 mature trees. This does require a little effort to separate papers from trash, but it’s an easy step requiring only one separate bin.
There are several simple ways to save water.
- Ban plastic bottles: Only 20 percent of plastic water bottles get recycled; the rest end up in the landfill. Use tap water and a reusable water bottle instead.
- Showering: Use a low-flow showerhead, which uses 25-60 less water. Use a bucket to capture unused water from the showerhead and use it to water plants.
- Turn the tap off: Be mindful of wasting water by leaving it running while you wash your face and brush your teeth.
Water is one of our most precious commodities. Capturing water otherwise lost through evaporation is the goal of the Cadiz Water Project in Southern California. This project aims to create a new, sustainable water source, one of several innovative worldwide conservation efforts.
Some of these tips you may have heard before, but they bear repeating, including this one that your parents tried to drum into you: Turn off lights when you leave a room. Opt for longer-lasting and energy-saving light bulbs, specifically compact fluorescent lights or CFLs. They use about one-fourth the energy of a regular bulb and last up to 10 times longer.
Another way to save is to unplug your electronics when not in use. Even if they’re not turned on and active, they are still using some energy, which can add up when you realize how many electrical products you leave plugged in around the house.
Most of these simple steps require little effort on your part; the hard part is changing your habits. Try to incorporate them one by one, so you don’t feel overwhelmed and give up. Remind yourself which habit you’re trying to learn, or break, by posting sticky-notes by the light switch, the faucet, or wherever appropriate and remove them once you’ve mastered the habit.