Spring into Green
By Anna Kiss Mauser-Martinez
Spring is the perfect time to grow new, more healthful habits. Its a season of green things budding all around, with a frenzy of positive change in the air. What better motivation does one need to go green than this season of green beer, green grass, and all manner of flora and fauna freshly born?
My own progress into greener living began with the birth of my oldest son. Adding a whole new being into the world made me suddenly aware of what kind of planet I would one day be leaving in his care and what our combined impact really looked like. I had already adopted many earth-friendly habits from my family, but once I felt the tremendous responsibility of owing all my choices to someone else’s future, I became acutely aware of habits and decisions I’d previously overlooked. With the aid of books, magazines, and the fervor of online message boards, I started down the path of sustainability, one step at a time.
Living lightly is a long process where the goal is ever growing and ever changing. I’ve found that the key is to go easy on yourself, start slow, and allow new habits to become fully integrated into your routine before adding too much more to the pile. Consistency is a huge, necessary component of sustainability. To get you going, pick a thing or two from this list of Eco-tips to try out:
1) Unplug your cell phone/laptop/palm charger. The majority of the energy battery chargers consume over the course of their working lives is spent charging nothing. They still draw energy plugged in whether connected to your laptop or not. In fact, unplug all appliances when not in use or put several on a power strip to turn off the power all at once. You’ll save money and reduce your risk of electrical fire too.
2) Carry your own shopping bags. Whether reusing old bags or better yet, carrying cloth, refusing a plastic bag at the checkout counter will help cut down on the 100 billion plastic shopping bags Americans consume each year. If you think paper is any better, you’re wrong. Paper and plastic bags are near equal contenders in having harmful effects on the environment. There’s a wide variety of stylish cloth bags on the market now and some markets offer minor discounts for using your own.
3) Recycle. Enough energy is saved from recycling one aluminum can to run your television set for 3 hours. Buy recycled to complete the cycle.
4) Replace your light bulbs with energy efficient Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (widely available) or LED bulbs (available in specialty lighting shops or online). If every American home replaced just one light bulb with a CFL, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year. CFLs must be recycled rather than disposed of in landfills. A new program for recycling CFLs was introduced last summer by Cleveland-based TCP, Inc. and will provide drop-off locations nationwide.
5) Break the bottled water habit. 30 million bottles of water are consumed each day. Bottled water uses petroleum to create, store, and transport all those bottles, all of which further pollute the air and water. It also uses up to a gallon of water to rinse the plastic bottles clean of manufacturing dust before they can be used to store water for drinking. Bottled water has also not been proven to be any safer than tap and is often simply purified tap water anyway. By buying bottled water, you support industry over public health with every dollar. Instead, carry your own bottle and refill it with tap water.
6) Clean without harsh chemicals. You can clean almost anything in your home with baking soda, vinegar, and a little elbow grease. Baking soda serves as an abrasive for tough jobs like the tub and toilet, as well as an odor and oil remover for everything from your sofa to your hair. Vinegar kills germs, shines, and removes odors too. Most commercial cleaners not only use petroleum in the manufacture of their bottles and in transport, but also include a wide-variety of noxious petroleum-derived ingredients.
7) Shop smarter. At the grocery store, choose corn fresh from the stalk of your local grower rather than prepackaged in cellophane and Styrofoam – you’ll eat better, reduce what you throw away, and cut down on the number of miles it took to transport your meal. Focus on reducing the amount of packaging, transportation, and toxins in everything you buy.
8) Get some exercise! Walk or ride your bike whenever possible. Car pooling and public transportation are other ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
9) Turn down the heat. Lowering your thermostat just two degrees during winter saves 6 percent of heating-related CO2 emissions. Adding weatherproofing and sealing cracks are additional ways to help save on heating and cooling costs.
10) Green your yard. Avoid chemicals and synthetic fertilizers in your landscaping. Hire an organic lawn care company or search the internet for natural pest deterrents (yet another use for vinegar).
11) Instead of petrochemical laden fabric softener, add ¼ cup baking soda to your wash cycle.
12) Using old t-shirts as rags versus paper towels contributes to reduction of the 2.5 million paper towels used annually in the U.S.
13) Buy and use rechargeable batteries. On average, each person in the United States discards eight dry-cell batteries per year.
14) Remember Grandma’s old handkerchiefs? Replace your facial tissues with cotton handkerchiefs.
15) Diaper your baby in cloth. It’s easier than you think and saves you money. See http://www.diaperjungle.com/cloth-diaper-guide.html
16) Shop locally. Supporting local businesses invests in your community in more ways than one. You have far more sway over the stock in a local shop than you do in big box stores.
17) Eat local. Buying locally grown foods not only supports your community, but reduces carbon emissions involved in shipping foods around the world. Most food travels 1500 miles before you eat it.
18) Keep your tires properly inflated to increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.
19) Flush your toilet less. 6 gallons of clean water is used every time you flush. Throw tissues, insects, and other trash in the trashcan, not the toilet bowl. Additionally, you can allow liquids to sit and flush only solid waste.
20) Only wash full loads of laundry. Less water is wasted with full loads over small loads. Be sure not to overfill, as this counteracts the energy and water saved.
21) Line-dry your clothing whenever you can. In the summer, use a clothesline. In cooler months, use an indoor drying rack.
22) Use your public library. Why own when you can borrow for free? You’ll reduce the amount of paper used, the emissions lost, and save some money.
23) Hold a clothing swap with friends. Trade your tired look for a brand new one!
24) Bank online. You can get e-bills and electronic bank statements to reduce the monthly paper-flow.
25) Avoid printing things out. If you need directions, jot them out on an old receipt or envelope. You can also reuse paper thatâ€™s only been printed on one side.
26) Buy less! Instead of emotional shopping, when you’re feeling down treat yourself to a mug of tea in bed or read a book or take a nap. Slow down!
27) Decrease the amount of water you waste by making sure that your dishwasher is full before you run it.
28) Turn off the lights whenever you leave an empty room.
29) Put on a sweater. Save some body heat.
30) Buy recycled. You can purchase recycled aluminum foil, toothbrushes, printer paper, and ink cartridges.
31) Carry a mug. When you go to a retail coffee shop, bring a reusable mug or use one of their ceramic mugs and treat yourself to a relaxed cup of (fair trade organic) coffee indoors instead of on the run.
31) Pack your lunch. Fast food wastes paper and fuel in addition to supplying the worst food for your health and the planet’s.
32) Reuse your produce bags, or buy cloth ones. Or skip ‘em altogether.
33) Buy a blanket for your water heater. A water heater blanket is relatively inexpensive and can reduce your home’s carbon emissions by almost 4Â½ percent.
34) Change the air filters in your heating and cooling systems regularly to reduce as much as 2 percent off of your CO2 output each year.
35) Use cloth menstrual pads or a reusable menstrual cup – available online or at some specialty shops. Help reduce the estimated 12 billion sanitary pads and 7 billion tampons that are dumped into the North American environment each year.
36) Compost your food scraps and yard waste. Composting can be as simple as creating a pile in the corner of your yard for dried leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen leftovers (no meat or dairy). Just use a pitchfork or shovel to turn the pile occasionally to ensure proper decomposition. In time, you’ll rot the richest most bountiful soil for your flowerbeds and vegetable garden.
37) Grow things. Vegetable gardens provide the freshest, most nutritious food, work muscles, and enrich the soul. Growing flowers provides you and those you love with fresh-cut happiness all summer long (without the nasty chemicals that come with the store-bought kind), and keeping houseplants helps to purify the air inside your home. Some of my favorite houseplants include aloe for burns and fresh herbs for cooking.
38) Buy in bulk. Much of what ends up in landfills is just filler used to transport things. Reducing the packaging you inadvertently buy adds up quickly. Bulk items are usually more prevalent at health food stores or ethnic markets. I have purchased shampoo, laundry soap, spices, teas, grains, nuts, honey, and peanut butter in bulk, to name just a few items.
39) Cook from scratch. Prepared and processed foods usually have terrible health consequences for both your body and the planet. They often have added synthetic chemicals, dyes, and preservatives and almost always have much more packaging than buying the source product. Cook in bulk on weekends or with friends or family to save time or share meals with others: you’ll stretch a dollar, gain social connection, and share the workload.
40) Buy used or borrow. So many of the things we buy we don’t really need or only need temporarily. Why not borrow a tool rather than owning your own? Thrift and consignment stores are turning away donations daily — so much of what was once used can be easily used again.
41) Go outside. Walking, running, and playing reconnects us with the natural world and leaves our televisions and computers off for a few hours.
42) Save empty jars for reuse. Glass jars and plastic tubs are great for storing bulk items like grains or flour. Empty spice jars can be reused by buying spices in bulk (available at health food stores, ethnic markets, or online) and refilling them. You can take the jars directly to the store and measure the tare weight before filling.
43) Get creative to transform things. Before you put something in the garbage or recycling, take a good look at it and decide if there might be some use yet left in it. Children always love boxes as they make excellent castles, trains, and treasure chests, so take inspiration from them. Imagine the possibilities of mesh nets that once held oranges: bird feeders, chainmail, or a container to hold plastic bags pinned to the inside of a cabinet door.
44) Install low-flow showerheads and aerators in your sinks. This slows the speed of the water, greatly decreasing the amount lost down the drain.
45) Lessen the amount of water in your toilet tank. If your toilet is older, it’s likely the tank is much larger than is necessary for flushing. You can adjust the chain bulb to reduce the water level, or add a plastic tub filled with sand or a brick to the interior of the tank to displace more water.
46) Turn off the tap. You can save up to 8 gallons of water daily by turning the tap off while brushing teeth, shaving, washing dishes, or washing hands.
47) Use a tub to wash dishes in. Scraping dishes, followed by a soak in a tub of water and a quick scrub before rinsing all together, uses far less water than a running faucet.
48) Use a spray nozzle on your hose to stop the water flow as you move from job to job.
49) Seal cracks in your home with caulk or silicone. All the tiny cracks in walls and around sills add up to the equivalent of having a window open year round, letting out heating and cooling.
50) Set your water heater at 120º Fahrenheit. Each 10 degree reduction in the water temperature setting cuts the heater’s energy consumption by 3-5 percent.