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16 Simple, Green New Year’s Resolutions

16 Simple, Green New Year's Resolutions

This is a popular time to rethink old habits, so why not rethink some of those habits you have that aren’t so good for the environment? Today I’d like to present a list of reasonably simple things you can do to have less of an impact and live greener.

1. Buy less.

And when you have to buy, try to buy green. This can mean buying local, organic or fair trade when possible. It can also mean checking out resale shops and thrift stores. You might be amazed at the quality of things you can buy that aren’t new.

2. Reuse.

So much of what we buy can be reused. But even if you can’t come up with a use for it, someone else might. When it’s reasonable, remember to list items on Freecycle or give to thrift shops.

We reuse a lot here. Most gift bags used for holidays or birthdays are kept for the next one. They don’t look perfect, but they work.

Some of the burp cloths we used back when my kids were babies are still in use as an alternative to napkins or kleenex. Cloth is so much kinder to the nose when you have a miserable cold that I hate it when I need to use a disposable tissue instead.

3. Recycle.

Yes, the third part of the usual reduce, reuse, recycle routine.

Most areas have made recycling easier. You may or may not have to split your recyclables into separate bins for each type these days. Where I live, all recyclables go into one bin, making it as easy as throwing them in the trash.

Also, try to find reputable places to dispose of old electronics. When it comes time to get rid of that old computer, television or whatever it may be, do not throw it in the trash. Earth 911 has resources for recycling electronics. Sometimes schools and other local organizations will hold electronics recycling events as a fundraiser, giving you the chance to get rid of old electronics and do something good for that organization.

4. Switch to natural and/or nontoxic cleansers.

Method and Seventh Generation are two popular brands that you can often find locally.

You can also make your own cleansers. Baking soda and white vinegar work for an amazing range of cleaning needs.

5. Buy rechargeable batteries.

A good battery recharging system means you will go through fewer batteries and save money in the long run. Figure out how many batteries of each type you will need and get a system that can cope with your needs. Amazon.com and GreenBatteries.com each have a decent selection.

6. Warm your body, not your house when possible.

wear a sweaterRather than turning the thermostat up to 70 degrees F or more, remember what your parents used to say and put on a sweater. Maybe even some socks or slippers if you’ve been running around the house barefoot. You can keep the thermostat at a much lower temperature this way, saving on heating oil or electricity in the process.

If a day is sunny but cold, opening the blinds may help to heat your home. I do this only on the side of the house that gets direct sunlight in winter.

The reverse can be more challenging in summer. Keeping your thermostat to a higher temperature to avoid using the air conditioner is not easy for many people. It’s not too impossible for me since I work at home and don’t often go into air conditioned buildings. It takes just a couple weeks to get used to being warmer, along with figuring out how to block the worst of the heat.

If you don’t mind the look, folded cardboard boxes in windows really do help, as do sheets or blankets covering the windows. Anything that keeps the heat out means you’ll use the air conditioner less.

Don’t forget to check and replace filters regularly!

7. Wash your clothes in cold water.

Most of the time cold water cleans your laundry quite well. A warm wash rarely improves your results in any significant way. Modern washing machines and detergents can do a very good job of cleaning your clothes without heated water in most places.

8. Drink more water.

But don’t buy bottled water. Buy a nice reusable bottle either from a local store or through Amazon.com. I prefer stainless steel bottles for their durability and safety. You’ll save money as you do something good for yourself and the environment.

9. Use less water.

This is not in contradiction to #8. You should drink more water, but people tend to waste a lot of water. Take shorter showers and rethink how much you water your lawn. Deeper waterings are more effective than more frequent watering, for example. But you should also be looking at your overall landscaping and figuring out how to make it more suited to your local climate.

Whatever lawn you do keep, allow to grow taller. If it’s at least 2-1/2 inches tall it will need less watering and be more resistant to weeds.

10. Do full loads.

Don’t run half full washing machines or dishwashers. While the occasional smaller load may be necessary, most of the time you can wait a little and build up a full load.

But by the same token, think about how fast things really get dirty. Kids can be great for wearing an outfit for a half hour, then throwing them in the clothes hamper to be washed. Often, they aren’t really dirty, and could be put away rather than into the laundry.

Similarly, many people find it simple to use a towel more than once for drying off. How often you use a bath towel before washing can be a personal preference, but most say you should wash it after about three uses. Hand towels should be replaced every couple days, depending on how much they get used.

11. Stop using disposable dishes.

disposable dishesThese are easiest when you’re entertaining, but a lot of people use them fairly frequently just because they feel like it. Whenever possible, even when you have company, don’t use disposable dishes or plasticware.

This goes for lunchtime too. Many people bring or buy lunch at school or work. But if you bring leftovers from home in reusable containers you won’t be throwing out so many disposable containers. Reusable lunch bags are easily found locally or on Amazon. You can even avoid plastic in the containers by finding stainless steel or glass containers for your food.

12. Get off junk mail lists.

This one should be an absolute pleasure!

Junk mail is incredibly annoying. Credit card offers can be particularly annoying, as many worry about security risks with them. They’re easy to get rid of, however. You can opt out for five years or permanently through www.optoutprescreen.com. You can further decrease your junk mail by asking the DMA to take your name off mailing lists.

13. Go flexitarian.

That is, eat at least one vegetarian meal a week. Eating less meat can be good for you, and there are many delightful vegetarian recipes you can try. Even if you love your meat, this one should be possible.

Meatless Monday is the traditional day, of course. You can go meatless any day it’s convenient to you. If Monday is the wrong day for any reason, just pick another day.

There are tons of wonderful vegetarian recipes out there. Start searching and find some that include ingredients you know you like.

14. Have the kids help.

The younger kids learn to respect the environment, the more of a habit it can become. Don’t give them all the toys they want, just because they saw them on television. Think about how much they have and how much easier it is to appreciate what you have when there’s less of it.

15. Bring your own bag.

Reusable bags are available in many stores these days. These are a wonderful substitute for the plastic bags that are otherwise often a single use item. Reusable bags are required in California now.

You can buy much nicer reusable bags than what the stores sell if you like. These should last longer, and feel nicer to carry. They’re so useful that my aunt loves to give Envirosax as party favors for adults.

16. Don’t fall for green consumerism.

While buying green products is a good idea, it’s not green if you’re overdoing it. Think about what you really need before you shop. Buying lunch boxes and shopping bags makes sense because you’re going to be using fewer one-use items. Buying an entire new wardrobe of clothing so you can get it all organic or fair trade does not.

I’ll be posting in the next day or so on some of the more challenging things you can do to go greener. Nothing too hard, just things that might take a bit more commitment, without requiring a complete change of lifestyle.

Green Your Halloween with Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Green Your Halloween with Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Halloween is a fun holiday and one that has picked up quite a bit on the consumerism side. It can generate scary amounts of waste. And while it’s really fun seeing all the houses decorated and the kids dressed up in costumes, avoiding waste is still a worthwhile goal. You can green your Halloween if you remember to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Reduce

Just don’t buy so much stuff.

If you have Halloween decorations, use them of course! If you’re bored with yours, see about trading around with other family members or friends. You can make things look different without buying a lot of new things.

When you do buy new decorations, make sure they’re things that should last for years. Quality matters. If something is going to wear out after just one use, what’s the point?

Consider natural decorations. It’s also an excuse to not rake the lawn for a little, if you like. Hay bales, gourds, and pumpkins can be used as decorations beyond just a jack o lantern.

A dried gourd can be reused from year to year. My husband has some he carved up like you would a jack o lantern, and they look amazing. They will last for many years to come.

Think more carefully about how many treats you need for trick or treaters. How much overage do you really need anyhow? If you’re really into it, look into fair trade or organic candy.

You also don’t need to buy special buckets for trick or treating. Pillowcases have worked well in that area for many years. Any reusable shopping bags you have may also work well. They hold more candy too, which the kids will love.

If you’re having a Halloween party, send invitations by Evite, email or text message. Do your best to keep the waste of the party down to by using regular dishes where possible. Markers to label disposable cups will help people keep track of those if they’re necessary.

Reuse

I said it before: reuse the decorations you already have. But if you really need new ones, think about making them. Some construction paper, glue, markers, paint, or other art supplies you may have around the house can combine well to make creative Halloween crafts to decorate your home inside and out.

You can also find Halloween costumes or parts to create your own at thrift stores or your own closets. A homemade costume will stand out far more than one of the many store bought ones. It’s a lot of fun planning costumes. My son has a steampunk costume he improves a little bit each year, for example. By keeping it to accessories he can attach to his clothes, he can use the dress shirt and pants for holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas as well.

Another option for costumes is to do a costume swap with friends. Arrange costumes by size and see who can get a new to them costume out of the deal. This can also work for kids’ dress up clothes throughout the year.

If you do buy one from the store, try to be sure that you either send it to the thrift store after or get one good enough that the kids can play dress up in it after Halloween. Why buy a costume to be worn only once?

Recycle

Start with your pumpkin. Roast the seeds and consider saving some if you want to grow your own pumpkin next year. Make sure its remains make it into the compost bin rather than the trash.

Halloween only creates so much recyclable trash, but keep your eyes open for possibilities. If you aren’t going to reuse those costumes, send them off to the thrift store and maybe someone else will.

If you made your own decorations with paper, make sure that any that aren’t in good enough condition to be reused next year hit the recycle bin.

Dead leaves can make for great Halloween decorations, then be composted as well.

What other ideas do you have for a green Halloween?

Need New Outdoor Gear? Patagonia Says Seek Out Used First

Talk about walking the walk. I just read an article about Patagonia, an outdoor merchandise retailer, strongly encouraging people to look into buying used gear before buying new from them. That’s a pretty amazing thing to hear from a company which won’t be profiting on said sales of used gear, but I like it.

This is a part of their Common Threads Initiative, and participants get special privileges to sell their used Patagonia gear on eBay’s Patagonia Common Threads Initiative site, which also appears to show up on Patagonia’s website in the used clothing and gear section.

The pledge is pretty simple:

Reduce
I pledge to buy only what I need.

Repair
I pledge to repair items when they are broken.

Reuse
I pledge to use what I have, sell what I don’t need, and buy used when I can.

Recycle
I pledge to keep my stuff out of landfills.

Reimagine
Together we will reimagine a planet where we take only what nature can replace.

Sounds to me like something that anyone trying to live an eco friendly lifestyle can agree to, even though it won’t always be easy. I believe most people will be challenged significantly by the Repair part, as well as the Recycle part, as even the best intentioned of us usually generate some trash that goes into the landfill.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out for Patagonia as a business. They’ve shown themselves to be quite active in environmental causes, but this step may impact their bottom line.

That said, I don’t know that it will be a big impact. There are still plenty of people who will be solely interested in Patagonia’s products as products, and not for the environmental philosophy. I expect there will continue to be plenty of people buying new from them.

5 Simple Environmentally Conscious Steps You Can Make Today

Being aware of the impact your lifestyle has on the environment isn’t always as difficult as it sounds when you first consider the problem. It’s not all about sacrificing comfort and going off to live in a cave. Matter of fact, it’s not at all about living in a cave. If you want to be more environmentally conscious, try these simple steps to get things moving.

1. Be more aware of the resources you’re using.

Just take a little time and think about what you’re using when you do things in your daily life. How much electricity and water do you use in a day? How much gas do you use? How much stuff do you buy?

Awareness may not sound like much, but it’s the first step in taking action to decrease your use of resources, especially the ones that aren’t renewable.

2. Find ways to cut back on the resources you use.

Once you’ve become more aware of the resources you use, you can also consider ways to cut back on what you use. Not only is this likely to be better for the environment, using fewer resources usually saves you money in the long run and often the short run.

It’s not all about getting off the grid or things like that. Such things are beyond what many can afford, although if you can make it, it’s not a bad choice. It’s about looking at what works for you, such as replacing light bulbs with more efficient bulbs, turning lights and electronics off when they’re not in use, carpooling or using public transportation, shopping less, taking shorter showers, things like that. Things that fit into your budget.

3. Reuse.

Reducing is the most important step, but after that comes the reuse of the resources you already have. This can be as simple as finding a new use for that glass jar the spaghetti sauce came in or using an empty gallon jug for watering plants in the garden. You could even make a reusable shopping bag out of an old pair of jeans.

The point to reusing things is to remember that just because something has served its original purpose doesn’t mean it’s garbage already. Think about other ways you could reuse things before you throw them out or even send them for recycling.

Consider buying some products specifically because they can be reused, rather than buying single use products over and over again. Water bottles are a great example of this. Drinking water is a great, healthy habit, but buying bottled water is not. Not only are the bottles wasteful, bottled water is less regulated than your tap water in most places, and may not be as good for you as you think. Get a water filter if you really need filtered water, and carry a reusable water bottle with you. A good quality one will save you money over the cost of buying bottled water.

Also consider a good quality reusable shopping bag. This won’t save you money if you aren’t charged for paper or plastic bags by the store, but just think about how fast bags add up in your home. That’s a lot of waste you can prevent.

4. Recycle.

Reducing and reusing your use of resources is important, but we all have to use some resources. There’s no way around that as long as we’re alive. What you need to consider is how to allow resources to be reused when possible.

Recycling is much easier now in many communities than it was even a few years ago. Large recycling bins are more common now, and you often no longer even need to sort your recyclables to have them picked up. Pay attention to what can be recycled in your community, as not every one has the same rules.

If recycling isn’t easy in your community, find out what it takes to get the job done. If you have to drive to a recycling facility, decide how often it’s worth it to you, and how you can store recyclable materials until that time.

Particularly important is to pay attention to how you dispose of electronic waste and hazardous waste such as old paint, certain types of batteries and so forth. It cannot just be disposed of in the trash. Many communities have particular places or particular days where they will allow you to bring in electronic waste such as old computers, televisions and so forth, or for the disposal of hazardous wastes. Some of these can be recycled in this way, while others need more careful disposal.

5. Get outside.

You won’t completely appreciate the environment if you don’t get out into it. Go for a hike, head out to the beach, even walk around your own neighborhood. Get out and enjoy yourself outdoors.

This is especially important to do as a family when you have kids. If you’re trying to be more environmentally conscious, then you’re probably trying to teach them the same, and how are they going to understand what they’re protecting if they don’t see enough of it?

Have You Added the 4th R to Your Thinking?

Anyone concerned about the environment knows the 3 Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But there’s a 4th R, and it goes in front of the rest.  It’s related to Reducing, but may be a stronger reminder that you should be cutting back on what you buy.

It’s Refuse.

Refuse that plastic bag to carry your purchases. Refuse single use containers. Refuse unnecessary packaging whenever possible.

This isn’t easy to do in some ways. Packaging isn’t something you have much control over in some ways. Dodging that plastic bag when you shop by bringing your own reusable bags is easy, drinking water from a reusable bottle is easy once you build the habit, but actual product packaging you have only a little control over.

Even if you just do the easy things, you’re making a difference. Millions of water bottles are thrown out every year by Americans. Use your reusable bottle and help others to see how much fun it is to have your own bottle. It’s not all that inconvenient, after all, and the savings versus buying single serve, single use bottles comes quickly.

Pack your reusable bags in your trunk or someplace else where you’ll actually remember to bring them every time you go shopping, not just at the grocery store, but anywhere you shop.

The most challenging part is refusing to buy things that are overpackaged. It’s the area you have the least control over.

Some things you can buy online with less packaging, such as those products available with Amazon’s Frustration-Free Packaging. The selection is limited, but better than when it started. You can also seek out products locally that aren’t as heavily packaged, but you still face the challenge of getting something that isn’t heavily packaged.

When you’re stuck with packaging, think about what can be done to reuse it before you send it for recycling. Anything biodegradable can go in the compost pile. Some packaging materials can be used in crafts or to store other things you already own.

You can also avoid excess packaging by buying in bulk when possible. Buy concentrates and refills when they’re available. This is a habit that can save you money as well as reduce waste.

In general, we need to think when we shop. It’s not just what we buy, it’s how we buy it. Think about what you really need, consider the packaging, consider how you’re going to bring it home and try to make the best decision for your situation. You can make a difference by showing that you care how things are packaged and using less single use packaging whenever possible.