In honor of Earth Day this Friday, I’m doing a little post about “going green.”
Although I write a bit about simple living and sustainability on this blog, I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t live “green” in the traditional sense.
I don’t have an electric vehicle. I don’t recycle plastic. I don’t have solar panels. And I don’t compost, either.
What? How can you even blog about sustainability, then?
Well, before I get anyone upset here, let me say this. While going with an electric car or recycling is wonderful, the jury is still out on whether these choices actually make a real dent in saving our planet. There are some valid questions on whether the systems surrounding these developments are just fundamentally broken, or are at minimum, in need of substantial improvement.
For example, electric vehicles have a way to go before it makes practical sense for people living in low-income or rural communities to access and use them regularly. And recycling, well, there are a lot of issues there.
But the no-brainer stuff that anyone can do, such as simply buying less?
Or not using my own private jet to go visit Grandma?
That makes good sense to me.
If you want some tips for going green that are simple, that you can just do by way of reflex, keep on reading.
Because sustaining our environment really should be easy.
1. Limit Buying New Clothes
Though this one has been on the list of every environmental advocate for awhile now, this could be a tough switch for those who really enjoy being trendy with fashion that changes every single season.
But it may be easier than you think. There are wonderful (online) consignment shops if you just look around, clothing swap groups, and even rentable wardrobes. But if you don’t want to do any of that, or just be trendy every once and awhile, you can just modify the clothes that you already have or update a thrift store find.
Examples: An old pair of jeans can be transformed into shorts, ripped, dyed or bedazzled (whatever you’re into). Sleeves can be shortened, removed, or modified; skirts lengthened or shortened. Handbags can have straps adjusted or replaced and embellishments added.
With a little bit of creativity, some sewing skills, or with the help of your neighborhood tailor (post-pandemic, these small businesses really need customers), you can make anything in your closet an on-trend piece.
2. Group All Your Weekly Errands in One Day at Off-Peak Hours
With gas prices on the rise, batching together trips is just plain economical. Grouping your grocery store runs and other shopping trips into a single day when traffic is low can reduce the wear and tear on your vehicle and reduce carbon emissions.
According to the Department of Energy, idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel and produces more emissions than stopping and starting your car. And constant stop-go traffic is worse than a steady cruise.
Doing your errands during off hours, such as in the very early morning or late evening when traffic is lighter, can save you time and reduce your carbon footprint.
If you work on weekdays and can’t manage errands on an off-schedule, don’t sweat it. Best time to go to the store? Really early mornings or really late on weekends. Give it a try if your sleep schedule will cooperate.
3. Relax on the Home Renovations and Decorating Trends
I mentioned in this post that America seems to be on a home decorating craze, and it hasn’t slowed down. Blame cable TV and Instagram for all of that keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ house envy.
Our obsession with home renovation is creating a lot of waste in landfills. I mean, A LOT.
If you find that your desire to redecorate and buy new home furnishings is way too tempting, try to stay away from the channels or apps that promote this “comparison” mentality, which only lures you into more purchasing.
Instead, brush up on your painting or sewing skills, learn to use a drill, and stick with changing only small details to freshen up your place, versus doing a complete overhaul. If you’re not sure if you have the creativity or skill for home improvement projects, there is an entire landscape of DIYers and “furniture flippers” from whom you can learn. Watch them and get inspired! All it takes, mostly, is a can of paint and an open mind.
4. Double Check Your Products – Do They Sell Refill Packs?
This one is a real pet peeve of mine, and I’m at a loss as to why companies don’t do more of this to reduce the burden of excess packaging.
When you’re purchasing a cleaning or beauty product, take the extra few seconds to see if the refill is available next to it on the shelf, and go ahead and grab the refill. This will help you to remember to look for it next time, as stores are always shifting around their inventory. It’s easy to speed past product refills as some stores don’t put them in the most obvious place. If you’re in a hurry, you may unintentionally miss it.
You’ll save a little extra money too, and keep one more spray bottle or jar out of the landfill.
5. Cut Down on “Single-Use” Anything
Single-use packaging is something I hope we start to work on worldwide as it has to be one of the biggest, most unnecessary contributors to the plastic waste problem.
Not only are single-use products more costly, in an inflationary environment, you may not actually know that you’re getting a bit ripped off unless you inspect a little closer. If you suspect your products have gradually shrunk in size over the past year or two, they probably have.
If you like the convenience of having serving sizes measured out, invest in a kitchen scale and measure these items out into washable portable containers or even biodegradable paper bags.
6. Let Your Cleaning Products Have Dual Uses
I remember a time when I was young and naïve and thought I needed a separate cleaning product for just about everything. Call me really susceptible to daytime TV advertising.
Well, separate cleaning products are the biggest myth ever.
I’ll prove it to you.
Dish soap can actually double as a excellent bathtub cleaner since some of the elements in soap scum tend to be oil-based–dish soap can lift this right up. Vinegar-water is a good mirror, window, and general surface cleaner (except for more delicate granite and stone).
Diluted bleach can double as a mildew killer for both showers and toilets. Baking soda is good for anything that requires gentle abrasion or odor killing. Diluted ammonia, which is less than two dollars for a huge bottle, can work on major grease or grime jobs all over the house and will last you an eternity.
You get the idea, but a cabinet full of 20 different products will only add up to more landfill waste and cost. Five products vs 10-20 is a pretty good deal, I would say.
Fun tip: If you hate the smell of vinegar for cleaning (like I do), here’s a recipe for vinegar-water cleaner that completely does not smell like pickles! Don’t worry, the essential oils do not cause streaking on surfaces, but do not go overboard and use more than the recipe calls for.
Vinegar-Water Cleaner with Essential Oil:
12 oz vinegar
12 oz water
*50 drops of sweet orange, spearmint, or lemon oil
*For essential oils that come with a dropper, measure out 2.5 droppers’ full
Mix all ingredients into a 28-ounce spray bottle, and voila!
7. Keep Stuff Longer, Learn Minor Repairs, and Support the Right-to-Repair Movement
Another way you can be a planet champion is to simply keep stuff longer. Electronics, appliances, and housewares are thrown out in astounding numbers because of our obsession with “new and shiny” (see point number 3).
Although you can find repair professionals with online searches, the best resources for repairing just about anything are on YouTube. If you’re still intimidated by doing a repair yourself, it doesn’t hurt to try to search locally for repair shops or hobbyists to find out if your item is repairable.
I come from a long line of family members who keep stuff forever. Some of the older well-cared-for “vintage” items that we still have are an absolute pleasure to use. This includes a fan I have from the 1980s and some of my grandmother’s original Pyrex dishes from the 1960s!
You will have to pry these from out of my cold, dead hands.
Admittedly, repairing has become much harder, as our appliances are actually built NOT to last, and companies are restricting access to replacement parts. The EU is slightly ahead of the U.S. with its Right-to-Repair laws, but the movement is gaining traction in the U.S.
Keep an eye out for Right-to-Repair legislation in your state and contact your local state representative to show support.
8. Support Non-profits and Businesses Promoting Green Solutions
Believe it or not, there are a number of small, private companies and businesses that are trying to develop solutions to our world’s environmental problems.
You don’t have to invest in these companies directly, but if you find them on social media, follow them and give them a little shout-out, buy a T-shirt, whatever. If it’s a non-profit, make a donation. It is meaningful.
Green businesses and startups tend to have a bit of an uphill battle, as sometimes economies-of-scale haven’t been built in yet, potential customers are afraid of new technologies, or many still may have regulatory hurdles to jump through.
So, give them some love when you can.
9. Do Minimal or No-Gift Holidays, Especially for Adults
What do you buy the person who has everything?
Well, how about nothing?
As for adults, generally I think we do not need more “stuff” after a certain age. Experiences and memories matter; not an unusable item that ultimately ends up thrown away, stored for 20 years in a basement, that then becomes something else to be rid of when you die.
This concept may take awhile to catch on, but lobby your family to try a no-gift option for the holiday season. For young children, I know this is trickier, but you could propose, at least to extended family, that your children not receive a physical gift from them, but perhaps cash or tickets to a local event instead.
Well, that’s all, folks! Easy, right?
Do you have big plans for Earth Day? I hope you get a chance to get outside and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us! It’s up to us all to take care of it!