Earth Day is here again. Most of us would like to treat the Earth a little better, but sometimes it can feel daunting or even expensive to do. Store shelves are lined with products claiming to be environmentally friendly, and it seems like “going green” has just become another marketing ploy.
Don’t give up just yet. It turns out, some of the most impactful ways to be more environmentally friendly don’t require any new purchases. Being a warrior for the planet might be in your cards just yet. Here, we have hand-picked 13 of the cheapest, simplest ways to help Mother Earth.
Bring Your Own Bags
This is a no-brainer. Take your reusable bags to the grocery store or whenever you go shopping anywhere. It’s good for your wallet, too: Some retailers, such as CVS, now pay you for every disposable bag you don’t take.
No more piles of paper receipts and bills, instead opt for digital e-bills and have your receipts emailed to you. Ask to be removed from junk mail databases. You’ll save a ton of trees and also save some change on stamps and envelopes. If you’re a big online shopper, try to order in one purchase to cut down on the number of boxes you receive.
Put on a Sweater
Save energy and a little money by turning down your thermostat while we transition to spring weather. The Alliance to Save Energy even claims a one-degree thermostat reduction can save 3 percent on your heating bill. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather wear a cute sweater and spend the extra money on a manicure.
Donate or Sell, Don’t Toss
Rather than tossing unwanted clothes and household items, donate them to your local thrift store or sell them online. We prefer The Salvation Army over Goodwill because about 50% of the Salvation Army’s income goes directly to public support versus Goodwill’s 17% (this is per the Charity Navigator site). There are endless seller-friendly sites and apps today like Poshmark, The Real Real, and Tradesy. When you reduce, recycle, and reuse, you reap the tax benefits too!
This is the other side of the coin. According to the World Resources Institute, consumers are purchasing 60 percent more clothing than they were in 2000 and keeping pieces for half as long—referred to as fast fashion! Buy second-hand without sacrificing style through top-of-the-line consignment sites and stores like The Real Real and Vestiaire Collective. Some of the bigger cities also have high end brick and mortar thrift stores you can browse. Doing this will divert waste away from landfills, extend the products life (hello vintage!), and save you some extra cash. A true triple threat.
Use Less Water
Turn off the water while brushing your teeth and teach your kids to do the same. Leaving the tap running for just two minutes of brushing can waste up to five gallons of water a day.
Whenever you wash just a few clothes at a time rather than waiting for a full load to accumulate, you’re wasting water, power, and money. Combining half-loads, choosing short cycles, only washing truly dirty clothing and using cold or warm rather than hot water racks up savings and saves gallons of water.
Run a full dishwasher whenever possible — it uses half or less of the water and energy of washing the same dishes by hand. And don’t waste water by rinsing before loading (today’s machines are designed to power off the mess).
Support Local Farmers
Typical grocery store produce travels nearly 1,500 miles before it ends up on your plate. All this traveling burns fossil fuels and results in carbon emissions (pollution). Buying from local farmers means you’re not only getting the freshest food possible, you’re saving energy.
Opt for Organic and Fair Trade
A USDA Certified Organic label means it was grown using sustainable standards. And of course we all know the health benefits of eating organic foods over conventional nowadays. Go one step further and choose “Fair Trade” when possible, which means that product came from a farm that has been certified to provide fair wages and safe working conditions (forced child labor is prohibited). Fair Trade Certified also ensures that farmers obey internationally monitored environmental standards.
Replace Your Lightbulbs
Here’s a bright idea: Swap your light bulbs from incandescent to LEDs and help curb energy consumption and waste accumulation. An incandescent bulb may last around 1000 hours, while an equivalent LED bulb may last around 25,000 hours. The EPA estimates that you will save approximately $200 for every five bulbs you replace, all while using up to 75 percent less energy. Not to mention, how many fewer bulbs will end up in the landfills?
Stop Wasting Food
This may not be as obvious, but in reducing food waste we reduce methane emissions from landfills and lower our overall carbon footprint. Potential pollution is involved in every step of the process, including the growing, manufacturing, transporting, and selling of the food — plus when it’s eventually taken to the landfill, which are themselves disastrous for the environment. According to the EPA, roughly 95% of the food we throw away — 38 million tons in 2014 — ends up in either landfills or combustion facilities.
This is another one that’s pretty easy to address. For instance, before buying more food, use what’s already in your refrigerator. Really think about how often you’ll be eating out vs. cooking and shop accordingly. With fruits and vegetables, it helps to store them in proactive ways, like freezing or canning. Also, as a lot of fruits ripen, they give off natural gases that make the fruits around them spoil faster, so it helps to store bananas, apples, and tomatoes separately.
Finally, if you have food you’re not going to use, donate it to a food bank or food pantry. It puts the food to use and helps those in your community who are less fortunate.
Say good bye to plastic utensils and straws, paper cups, plastic bags, and mountains of plastic water bottles. Start by bringing your own BPA-free aluminum water bottle instead of buying bottled water. Carry reusable utensils and metal straws with you. Plastic pollution in our oceans and landfills is a devastating environmental issue causing harm to people, ocean life and the planet as a whole.
A little more pricey but so valuable in the long run – install a reverse osmosis water purifier under your kitchen sink. These systems filter out the worst impurities such as arsenic, nitrates, sodium, copper and lead, some organic chemicals, and the municipal additive fluoride. The one thing skeptics of reverse osmosis point to as a disadvantage is that reverse osmosis systems filter out minerals. In reality, you should be getting most of the minerals your body needs from the food you eat. But if you are concerned, you can always add back in liquid trace minerals to your filtered water.
Certain chemicals commonly found in conventional cleaning products present known or suspected problems for the people using them and the environment once washed down the drain. There is little regulation of cleaning chemicals, and there are virtually no labeling requirements to let people know what they are exposing themselves and the planet to.
You don’t really need any chemicals to clean your house. These chemicals may make cleaning a little easier, but they don’t make cleaning any better. To clean your house, all you really need is some baking soda and vinegar. For ideas on how to clean using these, check out this article:
Vote With Your Dollars
And lastly, you have choices every day to buy sustainable over fast-fashion, glass over plastic, organic over toxic, etc. Every “vote” makes a difference. Ultimately, if consumers stopped buying a particular harmful or unsustainable product, there would be no demand for it, so the manufacturer would just stop making it. Use your voting power!
Happy Earth Day!