It's easy to get disillusioned with the world. Our environment has been in increasingly dire straits since the end of the twentieth century. Often it seems as though we as individuals are too small to make much of a difference.
While this is true in a way (after all, those with the largest carbon footprints and impact are large corporate entities), there are small things we can all do to lighten the load on Mother Nature. Here are twenty simple changes you can make to help the planet:
20. Trade Out Your Air Filter
This doesn't necessarily sound particularly environmental. Wouldn't it be better to not throw something away and just stick with the original air filter? This misconception ignores the fact that when dust particles get caught in the air filter, the filtration system uses more energy to filter it out. This increased energy requires increased electricity, which results in increased energy waste.
If you have no furry pets, it is generally recommended to change your air filter every three months. If you do have cats, dogs, or another animal companion that sheds, you should aim for every two months.
19. Watch Your Water
Clean water and indoor plumbing are two things that those in homes in developed countries tend to take for granted. We consider it a given. Of course water will be clean and plentiful.
Yet not only is clean water actually extremely rare to come by, it also takes a great deal of energy to make it safe for use. In California, for example, 1,000 kWh of energy is needed to make 300,00 gallons safe for use. So leaving the water running while you brush your teeth or wash the dishes not only wastes the water (a valuable resource in and of itself), but the energy that was used to clean that was used to make that water usable.
18. Make The Switch To LED
Like water, we often take for granted how much energy the average light bulb uses. Yet these tiny objects take a whopping 876 kWh of energy a year. And when you take into account that the average American household has at least forty five light bulbs at any given time, the amount of energy used (and potentially wasted) is disgustingly high.
LED lightbulbs tend to last longer (they can handle extreme temperatures) and use up to 75% less energy. This can help not only the planet, but homeowners—because they use less electricity, they can contribute to a lowered electric bill.
17. And Don't Forget to Unplug
Even when not in use, your lamp/TV/charger may still use up energy if you leave it plugged into the socket. This is immensely wasteful. It's bad enough that our much needed electronics use so much energy in the first place. The fact that they continue to do so even when not in use is concerning.
So give your electronics and the planet a break, and unplug them when you're not using them. Oh, and always remember to shut off your lights when you leave a room. It seems like common sense, but its easy to forget.
16. Take Advantage of the Warm Air And Give Your Dryer a Break
And in the spring and summer (and even early autumn, depending on where you are), why not let your dryer have a break? The average dryer uses 3.3 kWh. While that may not sound like a lot, if you live with a lot of other people (or simply own a lot of clothes), it can add up very quickly—for both the planet and your wallet.
So if you have the means, hang your clothes outside to dry in the sun. It's better for the planet and in some cases, better for your clothes. Certain fabrics have a tendency to shrink in the dryer—a problem that is eliminated when air dried.
15. Public Transit is Your Friend
If you live in a metropolitan area that has a good subway or bus system, take advantage of it. Buses and subways may seem like more of a drain on Mother Nature, with how large they are and how much energy they presumably use.
Yet they actually tend to be better for the planet. Think about it—buses and subways transport several people at a time. Cars usually hold at most six or seven people and tend to be individual rather than communal. Where a bus takes everyone, even ride sharing services and taxis are limited. The more cars on the road, the more gas polluting the atmosphere.
14. Invest in a Reusable Cup
For your morning Starbucks run, consider picking up a reusable cup. These cups not only help to cut down on the plastic used for straws (save the turtles!), but also the plastic cups themselves. After all, the straw is only one facet of plastic waste—the cup itself is also a problem.
Reusable cups can hold both cold and hot drinks. Furthermore, many coffee shops offer a discount to customers who bring their own cups. Starbucks, for example, will give you ten cents off for looking out for good ol' Gaia.
13. And Recycle the Ones that Aren't
If you have to use a plastic cup or bottle, do your best to recycle it. “Reduce, reuse, recycle” is a mantra that has been shoved down the throats of every American child for decades. Yet few Americans actually take part in this simple, eco-friendly activity. Only 34% of Americans recycle. This is a shame, because recycling is one of the simplest ways to reduce the amount of garbage in landfills. Furthermore, some places will fine you for improperly removing your waste.
12. Wash On Cold
Most people tend to wash their clothes on the warm cycle. It's just what they do—there's no real rhyme or reason behind it. Yet 90% of the energy that is required to wash clothing is used to warm up the water.
There's really no effect on how clean your clothes will get based on the temperature of the water. So wash your duds in cold water. It may even be quicker, too, since your washing machine won't have to warm the water up.
11. Hang on to Your Old Couch
In this age of “Keeping Up with the Joneses”, it is tempting to throw away things that are no longer in mint condition. We want whatever sofa or table Chip and Joanna Gaines or the Property Brothers have, and the minute our own sofas or tables have rips or wobbly legs, its tempting to toss them out on their ears.
Yet ten million tons of furniture are sent to landfills every year. If your kitchen table has a wobbly leg or the couch in your living room has a tear in the seam, consider fixing it before you throw it away. Not only will this help the planet, it will also help your wallet.
10. Or Buy Someone Else's
If your couch really is beyond repair, consider buying one secondhand. Many thrift stores and vintage shops carry furniture in addition to clothing. Secondhand furniture can add a unique touch to your living space. Why would you get that super expensive, super boring sofa that everyone else has, which requires energy and resources to make, when you can save a unique velvet couch from being sent to a land fill?
9. Learn to Sew
A lot of times, we tend to get rid of clothing that may not be totally unsalvageable. It still fits perfectly well. But perhaps its a bit faded, or it has a rip in a sleeve or an awkward spot on the leg. But unless the clothing article has been completely devoured by moths, it still has some potential to be saved.
Like furniture, too often do we send perfectly good clothes out to pasture. 21 billion pounds of textile waste is sent to land fills every year. Learning to sew helps curb some of that waste. And furthermore, it increases your bang for your buck. Why not make that pair of jeans last longer than they would otherwise?
8. Pre-Loved Clothes Work, Too
But like furniture, there are plenty of options for secondhand clothing. Your local Goodwill has many interesting and unique pieces just waiting to find a new home. And, it's usually cheaper than going to a fast-fashion retailer.
And it's becoming trendy! Vintage inspired fashions, such as old school Levi 501 jeans and 80s and 90s tops, are back in a big way. Skipping out on Urban Outfitters and getting a genuine vintage piece from a thrift shop or vintage store can help curb some of the waste created by fast production of clothing. Furthermore, those vintage clothes will probably last you longer than shabbily made new ones.
7. If You're Gonna Buy New, Know Where it Came From
If wearing someone else's clothing freaks you out, there are sustainable brands that you can turn to. Brands like Everlane and Reformation produce ethically sourced clothes that are made with less energy and more eco-friendly fabrics. Regrettably, these brands tend to be extremely expensive. However, you can still watch what fabrics your clothes are made from. Avoid polyester and other artificial fabrics and blends—they tend to be plastic based, which means they don't break down.
6. Or Go on a No-Buy
Really, though, the best thing for the planet is to use the things you have. Instead of constantly purchasing new clothes or shoes or makeup if you wear it, use the ones you already own. Sure, fashions may change. But they tend to be cyclical. Furthermore, classics like basic tees, jeans, and sneakers, never go out of style.
5. Start Composting
Composting is one way to cut down on food waste. Adding food to a composting bin is a great way to cut down on food waste. When the food decomposes, the nutrients are added into the soil. This increases its richness. Richer soil is better for plants, reducing their risk for disease. It also can help to eliminate the need for chemical plant fertilizers.
4. Watch Your Food
Food waste is one of the biggest forms of waste in the country. Its easy to purchase things in the grocery store and then promptly forget about them, leaving them to spoil and be thrown away. As simple as it is, making sure you eat your fruits and vegetables before they expire and only purchasing as much as you need are easy ways to cut down on your impact.
3. Build a Down Spout Planter
Down spout planter boxes are an eco-friendly and fun way to reduce water waste. Starting with a base layer of gravel to allow for drainage, you top the planter with soil and then plant perennial plants. These plants grow every spring.
In addition to preventing water waste, down spout planters can also prevent flooding.
Despite the numerous personal choices one may make, others may not make those choices. There are always going to be people who litter. This is a particular issue on the sides of highways and on beaches. So, volunteering to help clean up your local beach or freeway is a great way to combat this issue.
Furthermore, volunteering to educate others on ways they can help the planet can be just as helpful as taking action yourself.
Of course, all these small things are nothing in the face of ineffective legislature. The impact of the average citizen is nothing in comparison to that of large corporations. And if the government refuses to regulate them, they will continue to destroy our planet.
This is where taking civic action comes in. Vote for politicians who make environmentalism a priority. Go to protests and demand action. You have to hold your governments accountable.