We bet you already have a reusable water bottle and are a pro with the reusable grocery bags, but what’s next? 2016 is off and running, so before you dive back into the same routines, think about a few things you could do this year to lower your impact on the planet.
To help you get started, we put together a list of green resolutions that you probably haven’t tried yet. Commit to a few (or all of them—go big or go biodome!) and make this your greenest year yet.
Bulk up your pantry and your wallet with self-serve, zero-waste dry goods. Photo courtesy of iStock/Janine Lamontagne.
Admit it. You’re not sure what to do with the bulk bins. Really, it’s not that scary—just grab a bag and fill it up with healthy foods like dried beans, oats, and granola. Better yet, bring your own reusable cloth bag. And when you’re ready for the next big step, BYOC (container) to refill everything from cooking oils and peanut butter to cleaning products and shampoo. You’ll need to learn what tare weight means, but trust me, once you start buying in bulk, you’ll never want to go back. You’ll be saving money and the planet at the same time. And eating good food. Good food is good.
Be a waste-free lunch superhero (not a plastic-wrapped lunch supervillain).
Did you know that each year, Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks, and spoons to circle the equator 300 times? Seriously, don’t be caught trashing the planet with your plastic forks, disposable baggies, and individually packaged foods. A small investment in reusable lunch supplies, like stainless steel containers, cloth snack bags, and a reusable bottle, will keep you out of the trash bin. Add in some bamboo eating utensils, a stainless steel straw, and a cloth napkin, and you’ll be the office eco star.
You’re not the only one that face palms when you leave the heat on during a night out. Mother Nature loves your programmable thermostat. Photo courtesy of iStock/BanksPhotos.
Get with the program.
Do you like to throw away money? Yeah, neither do we. Yet each season you go without a programmable thermostat, you are doing just that. Program your thermostat to go down, down, down when you’re away from home and after you go to bed. Then watch your heating and cooling savings go up, up, up. You’ll be plenty comfy during daytime hours (no extra sweaters needed) and the money you save could fund some extra fun for 2016 (Ziptrip, anyone?). Landlord won’t let you install one? Just keep an eye on the settings before you leave the house, and you’re halfway there.
Break up with toxic dryer sheets.
We know what you’re thinking: “I can’t live without my dryer sheets.” But did you know that the “fresh spring” fragrance in those sheets comes from top secret chemicals that could be harming your health? Not to mention the fabric softeners and other ingredients that can cause respiratory irritation. Plus the fact that they are single use and can’t be recycled. All bad. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution: wool dryer balls. Yep, natural sheep’s wool, shrunk into balls that bounce around in your dryer to reduce static and lessen drying time. Need fragrance? Add a bit of fresh lavender essential oil and you’ll be inhaling your laundry (safely) just like in the commercials.
Give old items one last dirty job.
Stop! Don’t throw away that dirty sponge! No, we haven’t been breathing too many toxic chemicals. We just want you to use that old thing for one last dirty job before you toss it. It’s the perfect tool for cleaning grime off the oven hood or those grease splatters around the stove top. An old t-shirt makes a great dusting cloth for pesky cobwebs. A wayward sock takes on a new role as a shoe polisher. Get the idea? Now go find some old sponges and t-shirts and get busy cleaning!
2016 is the year of the smart shopper. Pick organic for the Dirty Dozen and save on the rest. Photo courtesy of iStock/monkeybusinessimages. Buy organic (within budget).
There are plenty of reasons to buy organically grown food: organic farming practices are better for environmental health, human exposure to pesticides is greatly reduced, and studies show that organic produce may be more nutritious. But price can sometimes be a roadblock. We get that. That’s where the Environmental Working Group (EWG) comes in handy. The EWG’s Dirty Dozen Guide to Pesticides in Produce will help you figure out which fruits and vegetables to definitely buy organic, and the Clean 15 will indicate when conventional may be fine.
Take a sweet spin on landfill-bound plastic wrap with eco-friendly Bee’s Wrap. Photo courtesy of Bee’s Wrap.
Say sayonara to plastic wrap.
You grab that trusty roll of plastic wrap out of the drawer without thinking. You cover bowls, wrap cheese, package sandwiches. Then you unwrap and toss the waste in the trash. Repeat a million times a year. What if there was a reusable option that worked just as well, but without the waste? Enter bowl covers made from food-safe laminated cotton that stretch snugly around bowls, silicone lids that are safe for microwave use as well as the refrigerator, and beeswax (yes, beeswax) coated food wrap that seals better than plastic. All are washable and reusable, time and time again.
Try your hand at DIY body care.
Think you’re not crafty? If you knew what was in most conventional body care products, you might be inclined to start whipping up your own, regardless of your proclivity. Here’s what’s hiding in those bottles: parabens, phthalates, and other ingredients you can’t pronounce. Most DIY recipes call for only a few natural ingredients. Many are already in your kitchen cupboard (sugar, oils), and others like beeswax, shea butter, and essential oils are readily available at natural food stores or online. Reuse bottles you already have, save money, and get crafty!
Get a home energy audit.
Find out how to make your home more energy efficient by getting a home energy audit. What’s involved? A professional home energy auditor does fancy tests using blower doors and infrared cameras to find leaky windows and missing insulation. Implementing the recommendations can lower your utility bills considerably and make your home more comfortable. Check with your local utility provider—they may offer free or discounted energy audits to customers. The best part? The savings will last well beyond 2016.
Ditch disposable razors.
Disposable razors are a lose-lose situation. Most are made from cheap plastic and are intended to be thrown into a landfill as soon as their short life is over. This year, make the commitment to switch to a durable, reusable razor. Better yet, choose a razor handle made from 100% recycled plastic. The good kind (made from #5 plastic) is recyclable at the end of its life, too. It’s an easy switch.
What about reusable bags…for your reusable bags? Layer up to get the most out of green shopping. Photo courtesy of iStock/Susan Chiang.
BYO produce bags.
You’re probably already bringing reusable bags to the grocery store. Are you ready to graduate to the produce section? Instead of using wasteful plastic bags for your produce purchases, bring your own drawstring mesh or breathable cotton bags. Produce bags are washable, reusable, inexpensive, and easy to carry. Bonus: The drawstring eliminates the need for a twist-tie.
Recycle more and more.
Plastic, glass, paper. You’ve probably got that down cold. But there’s a lot more to recycle than what’s picked up by your local municipality. Check local resources or Earth911 for info on where to recycle toxic stuff that really needs to stay out of the landfill—like electronics, medicine, broken holiday lights and other light bulbs, batteries, and more. It may take a bit of extra effort on your part but you’ll gain earth karma for doing it—promise.
Two resolutions in one: Eat healthier and support local farmers with Community Supported Agriculture. Photo courtesy of iStock/viki2win.
Buy a veggie share.
You love to cook. You’re committed to buying local, seasonal food. This might be the year to get yourself a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. When you buy a CSA share, you are investing in a farmer, giving them early funding to help with cash flow. Your payment is a surprise box of freshly grown vegetables that typically comes once a week. Plus, the fun of figuring out what to do with garlic scapes or rutabagas. Can’t use a whole share? Share with a friend or neighbor.
Try paperless towels.
Standard paper towels are there for you once, but then they’re gone forever. Cloth towels will stay with you for the long haul. Do a search on Etsy for some pretty cool reusable options, including towels that snap together on a roll, just like the real thing. Isn’t it time you and that roll of paper towels got a divorce?
Keep the eco vibes flowing with a water-efficient shower head. Photo courtesy of iStock/BanksPhotos. Go with the (low) flow.
Not about to cut your shower short in the name of water conservation? Let your shower head do the work for you! Low-flow showerheads magically mix air into the water stream so you use less water without being deprived of water pressure. Even renters can make this easy switch, with shower heads readily found at hardware and big box stores. If you’re ready to go further, switch out to low-flow faucets or a dual-flush toilet that can flush with two different levels of water.
One. Two. Three. Jump! Off the consumer bandwagon, that is. We’re trained to think we need so much stuff when in fact we need very little of it. Before you run out to the mall or put that item into your virtual shopping cart, think twice. Maybe you can buy it used. Maybe you can borrow it (you love the sharing economy, after all). Maybe you don’t even need it at all. One of the easiest ways to cut down your environmental footprint is to simply buy less. We’re calling it now: 2016 is the Year of the Minimalist.
About the author: Micaela inspires people to live a green and healthy life through her blog, Mindful Momma. From DIY projects to healthy recipes to eco-friendly tips, she aims to make it easy (and fun) to be sustainable. She is the author of Practically Green: Your Guide to Ecofriendly Decision-Making and you can find her on Twitter (@MindfulMomma).