You’ve seen it before.
“101 things you can do to be green in 2010” and, “10 ways to Green your life” and… many, many (many) others.
But you haven’t seen it from me!
Don’t worry though, I know that you can’t “green” your life in 10 steps. In fact, I love environmental things and talk/think about them all day long and I STILL don’t live a 100% “green” life … whatever that means.
So I’m just here to tell you a few tips I’ve learned along the way to just do what you can to help.
Before I begin, there are two lessons I’ve learned that you must always remember and that underscore this whole idea:
1. You can’t do it all. No one person is going to save the world or have zero impact. That is actually one thing I really like about environmentalists (or just people who care, if you don’t like that term), is that they must rely on others and believe in good intentions of all people.
In other words, since we can’t do it all by ourselves, we must rely on the progress of others to believe that any change can happen!
Anyway, what you can do is pick one area that you really advocate for and adhere to. I have become passionate about food issues, but others focus on transportation, corporate responsibility, building, renewable energy, fisheries, forests, the list is endless! There really is something for everyone out there!
2. Be willing to make the initial sacrifice. At first, some of these things might seem like a big deal, but I promise your life will often be better off for it in the end. Maybe you’ll save money, be more active, feel good about yourself, get your name out there, feel healthier, or have something to share with your grandchildren. Who knows, all I’m sayin’ is pick something new and give it a try.
Got an idea for me? Share it in the comments! I’d love to know how you “green” your life. (… Although that term grosses me out. I have to think of a new one.)
Anyway, here I go. Oh, also: don’t feel like you have to read the whole thing. Maybe pick your “area” and just read that.
Make your own cleaning products! One of my classmates got super into this last semester and found lots of recipes and tips online. We even got to make some cleaner right in class! I now use a bathroom/surface cleaner made of baking soda, liquid castile soap (which also comes in lovely scents) and water. Simple right?
Another one I know is for window cleaner: white vinegar, water, and newspaper instead of paper towel (It really works! I promise!)
-There are many recipes for lawn/pest care as well. (Google= ticket to success… in most cases. If you have questions, email me.)
Listen to your Dad: Turn off the lights! (just think about all the money you’ll save!) and also, sorry to be a broken record, but CFLs (read: 60% less energy for the environment and your bill)! And, while you’re at it, turn off everything: the TV, the stereo, space heater, etc. Here’s some more info.
Also, many energy companies have options these days where you can pay slightly more per month and get a percentage of your energy from renewable sources. Madison residents: check it out.
Hang dry your clothes when you can. College students, how can you turn this one down? Save those quarters!
Don’t leave the refrigerator door open (duh)… it takes energy to keep that temperature where it is!
Set your thermostat to be colder at night, and keep it a few degrees colder in general. Also, in the summer: forgo the Air Conditioning! Too hot? Eat some ice cream 🙂
Which brings me to:
Water, water, water! I try to be constantly aware of the water I use. I (and many readers) are lucky to live near the great lakes, BUT not all Americans can say this and more and more places are having water problems CRISIS!
Sorry, I’m starting to sound like a crazy person.
A. Educate yourself about the state of your watershed
B. be aware of the water you use! Simple things like: Taking shorter showers, turning off the faucet while brushing, not letting the shower run for 5 minutes to “warm up,” fixing drips, letting “yellow mellow” (if you know what I mean)… these things seem small, but make a big difference when you do it in your bathroom… then kitchen… then your friend does it… then her friend… that’s how change happens!
(Low-Flow shower heads and toilets are an awesome investment, too.) If you’re interested in water, I highly recommend Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to do About it By Robert Glennon.
C. Please PLEASE for the love of God, do NOT (ever) buy bottled water. Ever. Any. At all. They’re the biggest waste of money, resources, plastic, and landfill space I’ve ever heard of. Need convenience? Fill up a few bottles and leave them in the fridge so you have one ready for when you want to head out. Worried about the tap water? Buy a filter! Do it for me! Please?! Buy actually, chances are your tap water is just as good (or the same) as the water from the bottle.
Transportation: Ok, I’ll admit, this is my weakest category and you should probably not listen to me.
I either live on a college campus where I walk literally everywhere I go, OR I take advantage of the fact that my Stepdad is a Delta Airlines employee and I fly to a new destination every moment I can because these benefits expire in T-8 months (I’m sad just thinking about it), so I have that amount of time to see as much as the world for as cheap as I can.
That said, I know this travel has huge implications for CO2 emissions (and many other indirect effects of this) and I plan to take a drastic step back after this lucky period is over. (sigh)
Anyway, my plan for the future is to:
NOT buy a car (to try(?) to make up for all the horrible things I’ve done by flying so much), take public transportation, bike a lot, walk a lot, run a lot, and ride share and Community Car when necessary. When I do fly: pack light! Emissions are based on weight.
I’m sure I’ll blog about this a lot next year when I (hopefully) live in a city somewhere with public transportation. Exciting!
Oh, and I’ll always advocate for public transportation.
Here are the things I make a habit of. There is ALWAYS more to do though!
Waste: Here’s a big one.
My ecology TA told me a story last semester about when he traveled to Peru and how they deal with garbage there.
Upon arrival, he was told to dig a hole. This would be the space for his waste over the next several weeks. Imagine the embarrassment if he’d filled up his hole and needed a new one after only a couple weeks when the villagers went months with their same hole?
How fast would you fill your hole? Would there be ANY space to dig new holes near your home left?
For one week I tracked all my waste. I saved it, and put it in a single garbage can, and what I found was pretty sad. Even though I was very conscious of what I consumed that week, it still added up… my hole would have filled – quickly. Sometimes I accept things without feeling bad (paper coffee cups, newspapers, etc) that I know can be recycled… but don’t always recycle them.
Since this experiment, waste has been near and dear to me. Because a. it’s a preventable prolem and b. if we all did it, we could dramatically alter the way manufacturers sell/package their procucts. (In fact, I’m doing a really interesting research project this semester about incentivizing consuming less! More on this to come!)
Anyway, here are my tips and tricks:
Always carry: coffee mug, silverware, jump drive (to prevent you from having to print things).
If you plan to go out: bring a take home container!
At home: use hand towels instead of paper towel, real dishes/napkins instead of paper, etc.
Oh, and recycle.
And compost! (Much of the time, this allows you to cut cost in garbage collection, and save on expensive soil when it comes time to plant flowers/veggies in the spring!)
This is getting really long. So just one more:
My favorite! (I’ve talked about this a lot before… you can find more by clicking on the “slow food” tab on the left column). But here are some things in list form (some old, some new):
- Read the ingredient labels! Buy foods with “real food” ingredients. Ask yourself why the hell is there high fructose corn syrup in your bagels, tomato sauce, coke, etc?! Avoid corn-based additives.
- Don’t buy things that are fortified or enriched (like flour) because you don’t know what their enriched with. If you want more nutrients, eat vegetables. It’s simple!
- Buy meat locally. If you can’t afford/don’t have time, then just try to cut down on meat intake in general(my recent article about this is here, if you want to read more). Just learn a little about it, and then set a goal. The meat industry is a disgusting, inhumane, antibiotic and hormone abusing zoo that’s doing horrible things for our environment, health, economy, and farming communities (I wish I were exaggerating, but I’m not). I choose to call myself an “Eco-Conscious Omnivore,” meaning that I’ll eat meat if I know where it came from, how it lived, and how it was killed. As the documentary Food Inc. says, your purchase is your vote, and I do not want to vote for the status quo of our meat-eating habits.
- On fish: We eat a lot of rare, tropical, fancy fish that aren’t meant to be consumed globally in the amounts they are. It’s not too tough to research certain fishies that are currently threatened or unsustainable in your area or particular restaurant.
This isn’t a matter of food miles, chemicals or being super-duper green. It’s a matter of extinct or not! Here’s a good site. A pretty good option no matter where you go: Catfish (come on, fried fish tastes like fried fish, catfish or not.) Also: pacific cod and halibut (emphasis on the Pacific), Atlantic Mahi-Mahi (yum!), Alaskan wild Salmon, and wild walleye.
- The most local of all: grow your own salad! No tomato tastes better than one with a little dirt still on it!
- Be willing to spend more on food. TIME magazine has a good article on this. But basically, some of the joys of food have been removed in our dieting, fast-paced, processed lifestyles. While veggies, farm-raised meats and local, seasonal fruits may cost more and be more difficult to track down, I think the moral (and flavor) satisfaction is worth it, especially when cooked from home! Challenge yourself by eating in for a whole week or trying new recipes – every time I’ve done so, it’s been enjoyable. Creating your own fun is fun and satisfying, even if it doesn’t turn out perfectly.
- Eat seasonally. The miles food travels to make exotic fruits or summer-only veggies available all year round is unbelievable! I recommend researching what is seasonal when in your region, buy it from local farms, and then freeze, can, preserve, or dry it to enjoy throughout the year. There is an iPhone ap (called Locavore) and many websites which I recommend for this! This one is really tough, but just being aware can at least make it so when faced with two options, you can make the best one without necessarily having to make a big sacrifice and not eating at all.
- Eat real foods! Butter, though it contains more fat, is loads healthier than margarine. Just because something has less calories doesn’t mean it’s better for you. Assess whether you want to simply eat something in moderation or question the chemicals and transfats you’re putting in your body.
- Aspertame is evil. I hate to be a pessimist, but this stuff is trouble. You can read more about it here, here, here, and here, (to start) but basically, it was approved deceptively and is a textbook example of a political decision that was made with a pocketbook in mind and right or wrong OUT of mind. Sadly, you’ll find it in many otherwise healthy foods (sugar free gum, low fat yogurt, …anything sweet and low fat…)
- Shredded wheat cereal has no additives. Just a fun fact.
Alright. I think I should call it quits from there.
I hope a few things are apparent when reading this post:
1. That I don’t mean to preach, but merely share tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years.
2. There are many ways to help out and you’re not expected to be perfect. Just try to make small changes, and then share!
Ok I hope this helps, and let me know what I’ve missed!