Living greener can seem very daunting. As a big picture, it can look like a major shift, but in small pieces, it’s not so hard. Little steps typically seem more manageable
1. Recycle. As much as you can.
Not nearly enough Americans are doing this – currently the recycling rate is 34%, which equates to throwing out $11.4 billion of reusable materials annually! Generally plastics, metals, glass, paper, and cardboard are all easily recyclable; and recycled materials require less energy and emit fewer greenhouse emissions (by a LOT) to remake into new products. Look into your local recycling programs and if there isn’t one, think about taking action to start one. To find recycling locations near you, check out Earth911 (here) or Recycle Nation (here). $11.4 billion is an insane amount of money to throw away!
2. Use reusable bags at the grocery store.
Where I live, this is becoming a much more popular trend but I think it is still worth adding here. According to a 2007 NY Times article, an estimated 100 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used annually, and each bag can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. [source]. This definitely falls into the category of affecting the world long after we’re gone! There are so many options for reusable bags – from one you can pick up at the store, to canvas bags, to DIY options. Some of my favorites are this one (DIY), this one (DIY), this one (DIY-ish), this one (Etsy), and this one (Etsy).
3. Bring a reusable drinking container with you everywhere.
Hydrating is very important. Water is critical for survival, however grabbing a disposable water bottle when you’re out and about (doing errands, at work, at the movies, etc.) creates a significant amount of waste. The production of water bottles is also very damaging to the environment. According to the Pacific Institute, they estimated that in 2006:
- Producing the bottles for American consumption required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation
- Bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide
- It took 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water
Additionally, according to a 2009 article on Tree Hugger:
- Out of the 50 billion bottles of water being bought each year, 80% end up in a landfill, even though recycling programs exist.
- Bottled water costs 1,000 times more than tap water. Drinking 2 Litres of tap water a day only costs 50 cents per year.
- Even in its smallest form, plastic will never biodegrade.
I tried to find some current statistics but couldn’t find any. I think it’d be safe to say that these numbers have only increased since 2006. One HUGE thing you can do is to bring your own water bottle. I have a couple I keep in rotation and bring them with me everywhere. I bring them to work, to run errands, when I go hiking or biking, at the gym, on road trips, traveling, and so on. I use them not only for water, but for smoothies and other beverages. Some of my favorites are Lifefactory (here – especially love for smoothies), Contigo (here – I have the Madison water bottle, and a few of the West Loop mugs), and Swell (here).
I am not a coffee drinker, but I know some places (like Starbucks – see here) allow customers to bring in their own reusable containers for their beverages, rather than getting a disposable one. If you regularly frequent a coffee shop, deli, bodega, or other such establishment (or even restaurants), ask them if you can bring your own container instead of getting a disposable one every day (or however often you go). It can add up to be a huge difference, and your morning coffee can be in a much cuter container! 😉
4. Reuse as much as you can.
I’m sure you have all heard the saying “waste not, want not”. That’s basically the gist of reusing! There are so many things that we throw out that can have a perfectly acceptable and helpful second life. One of my favorite things to reuse is glass jars (from tomato sauce, salsa, etc.) as food storage containers or even decorations. They’re great for holding leftovers – no need to worry about the dangers of microwaving plastic, AND I’ve found that glass doesn’t hold smells (looking at you onions!) or stain like plastic does. I also collected glass salsa jars for a while and then filled them up partially with sand and put a little votive candle in them, and have them scattered around my back porch. They’re super cute and create such a great ambiance when hanging out there in the summer. Glass containers also can make really nice and unique vases or planters.
Other common thing to reuse include:
- Newspaper. Newspaper is great for washing windows since it doesn’t leave any lint behind. It can also be used to protect things when packaging them or in craft projects like paper mache or to make baskets.
- Gift bags! Who doesn’t reuse these? They are the gift the keeps giving. Not only does it mean you don’t have to buy wrapping stuff, but it prevents all this pretty packaging from ending up in a landfill.
- Plastic bags. If you forget your reusable bags, or wind up buying more stuff than what fits in your reusable bags, and wind up accumulating plastic bags, either reuse them or recycle them! I have a very little trash can in my kitchen under the sink, so I use plastic grocery bags as my trash bags. I also use them for trash bags in my bathrooms.
5. Plan ahead.
Are you planning on doing errands, going shopping, visiting friends, going to the gym, etc.? Think about what you want to do and combine trips. It is usually more efficient – and uses less fuel – to get everything done at once. I also find that if I break up my trips, I lose motivation to actually do everything, and if I stop home first then forget it! I keep my shopping list on my phone so I don’t need to stop home before going to the store, and since I pass it on my way home, I just run in along the way. There are also stores or errands I run that are closer to things other than my house (for example, Trader Joe’s is about 10 minutes from my office, and 25 minutes from my house) so I try to plan my errands based on other places I already am going to be. It streamlines how I get things done, I feel like it saves time, AND it uses less gas.
There are a million other small changes that we can make to live more sustainably, but these are five little ones that are easy to slip into your everyday life. What things do you do in your everyday life already? What’s your favorite little “green” life hack?