The truth is that most of us would love to be “greener” on a daily basis if we knew exactly how to do it. The old “paper or plastic” question we used to get at the grocery store has become far more complicated and it can be difficult to know what choices are truly better for our planet. A good example of this is the actual answer to paper vs. plastic, which is NEITHER as both cost the planet in terms of resources, landfills, and energy use. A better choice is to buy or make reusable grocery or market totes, like these here.
But reusable market totes aren’t the only answer to a greener life. Below are some tips and suggestions that anyone can do on a daily basis that contribute to the well-being of our planet as well as ourselves. The best part about living greener is that one small step combines with the small steps of others to make a huge impact for the better.
USE IT UP, WEAR IT OUT, DO WITHOUT
This 1930s and 1940s saying was the equivalent of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and it was a wise mantra to live by. The more we consume (buy) the more of our natural resources are turned toward providing us with the things which we consume. Yet many of us find ourselves without the time or ability to stop buying the things we need on a daily basis. Fortunately, just changing what you buy, where you buy it, how often you buy it, or how often you use it can make a difference!
1. Buy REUSABLE - when you buy things like pens, paper, or other items that we think of as disposable, choose to buy those that can be refilled, are made of recycled materials, or can be used multiple times. Better yet, replace items like disposable napkins with fabric napkins you can make or buy yourself. They wash with the family laundry and can be made economically from salvaged fabric or remnants easily and quickly. If sewing is not your gift, you can find adorable ones here.
And while you are at it, ditch all the bottled water and buy a reusable water bottle (and a filter for your faucet like Brita or Pur if you’re worried about water quality). Single use bottled water bottles land in the trash heap at the rate of 845 a second!*
2. Think LOCAL – When buying food, changing the location of where you buy, and the type of item, can have a big impact. Look for locally grown vegetables and fruits at farmers’ markets in your area. These are generally smaller farms, grown without many of the pesticides and chemicals of food we buy in grocery stores, and have a much smaller ecological impact because we don’t have to use so much energy transporting, storing, and preserving the produce. It is also good for your community because it supports your local economy.
Etsy makes it easy to buy locally made handmade items through their Shop Local feature. Just type in your location and you can find local artists in your area.
3. Make a change in your HOME – The items in our homes such as cleaning supplies, laundry detergents, even light bulbs are a great place to begin changing your habits to create a greener life. There are many more choices on the market now for consumers looking for greener products. A good laundry detergent to try is Seventh Generation Laundry Detergents (I buy mine at Target) which are vegetable based, nontoxic, biodegradable, and work fantastically well.
There are also tried and true simple cleaning formulas you can make yourself from everyday items like vinegar and water, baking soda, lemons, even Hydrogen Peroxide, which works like bleach without the danger and also deodorizes.
Using cold water to wash your clothes saves 85% of the money and energy used to wash a load of clothes*. Use the sensor option on the dryer so it shuts itself off when the clothes are dry, or skip the dryer and hang clothes to dry on a rack or a line.
Change just the THREE most-often used light bulbs in your house to energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs saves 300 pounds of carbon dioxide a year*. These bulbs also last much longer, saving you money.
Since 1/6th of all the energy produced in the US is used for air conditioning, just turning your thermostat up two degrees can make a difference! Using fans, opening windows for ventilation, as well as keeping ducts clean and filters replaced all help lessen the stress on the environment, as well as reducing costs. The same is true in winter, when lowering your thermostat just two degrees has a similar impact. If you made the adjustments both winter and summer, you would save 2000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year*.
4. Think about PERSONAL CARE – This is an area that has true potential for a horror movie. One in every 100 personal care items on the market contains known or probable carcinogens. The industrial chemicals that are part of the basic ingredients include pesticides, reproductive toxins, surfactants, degreasers, and endocrine disruptors. What’s more, with the exception of color additives, the FDA does not review or regulate personal care items, even for children, before they go to market. The importance of this piece of information becomes obvious as soon as you start counting up the number of products you use every morning while getting ready for work or your day.
To begin changing, CUT BACK on the products you use or how often you use them. As you USE UP products, switch to an organic or all natural soap, cleanser, shampoo, or toothpaste. Organic mineral makeup, which doesn’t have talcs and chemicals, is an awesome way to help your skin, your budget (mineral products last much longer and require you to use less) and the environment. Etsy is an amazing resource for finding all natural soaps, cleansers, shampoo, toothpaste, and make up.
5. COMMIT your closet to buying less and reusing more- shopping thrifts, vintage, swapping clothes that don’t fit with a friend, or simply having less clothes to begin with are also important ways to help the environment. When you do buy, avoiding trendy, one-season only clothes is a good idea, especially if you invest instead in quality clothes that will last. Look for organic cottons, wool, and sustainable fibers like hemp and bamboo, as well as recycled fibers that use less energy than creating virgin fibers. One of the best ideas? Repairing and taking care of the clothes you do have. Just doing that alone cuts down on landfill volume!
You can find some great deals on clothing on Etsy. You can buy new handmade or vintage clothing of all kinds!
These are just some of the tons of ideas out there for those looking to go green! Three very good books, which served as the sources for the facts included in this article are:
*Ready, Set, Green - Eight Weeks to Modern Eco-Living From the Experts at treehugger.com, by Graham Hill and Meaghan O’Neill.
Going Green, A Wise Consumer’s Guide to a Shrinking Planet by Sally Kneidel, PH.d and Sadie Kneidel
The Salvage Studio by Amy Duncan, Beth Evans-Ramos, and Lisa Hilderbrand
Online resources and jumping off spots for more information include www.treehugger.com and www.webecoist.com, both of which are jammed full of ideas for greener living!
Information is only useful if we use it, so here’s the challenge for all of us -
What one thing will we change today to help ourselves and our planet?
- Kristen of FirebirdHouse.etsy.com