Here’s how to do your part for the environment (with hardly any effort).
1 of 7Monica Buck
Set a programmable thermostat. It will automatically adjust the heat or the air-conditioning to match your daily patterns. You won’t waste energy while your home is empty, and you won’t have to remember to turn the thermostat up or down. Want to do better? Turn it down two degrees in the winter and up two degrees in the summer and you’ll keep nearly 880 pounds of carbon dioxide from warming the earth.
Don’t wash it. Standard washing machines use 40 gallons of water per load. If your clothes don’t stink, don’t wash them―and save a load a week. If American households were more judicious about laundry, each year they would save enough water to fill more than 7 million swimming pools. When you do wash, put full loads (saving 3,400 gallons of water a year) in cold water.
Free lint bunnies. The average U.S. household spends up to $135 a year in energy costs drying clothes. A dirty lint filter can use 30 percent more energy to get the job done.
2 of 7Ngoc Minh Ngo
In the Home Office
Plug in a laptop, not a desktop. In the market for a new computer? A laptop uses about half the energy of its desktop counterpart. Choose a model with the federal government’s Energy Star rating and use 70 percent less energy than a noncertified model.
Curtail junk mail. It takes some legwork, but in the end, you’ll save trees, water, and emissions, too. If everyone in the United States reduced the junk mail he receives every week, 100 million trees would be spared each year. Go to optoutprescreen.com to stop receiving pre-approved credit card offers and sign up on catalogchoice.org to reduce the amount of unsolicited catalogs sent to you.
Buy green power from your utility. In many states, you can opt to purchase renewable energy from your local power company for a few extra dollars a month. Visit the Green Power Network’s U.S. map at eere.energy.gov/greenpower to get started. Then rest easy knowing the light you read by comes from your wind- or methane-powered lamp.
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In the Bathroom
Turn off the tap. The average faucet releases about three gallons of water a minute, so shut it off while you brush your teeth or shave.
Use a water-filter pitcher. Bottled water isn’t necessarily cleaner or better for you than tap water. Get a Brita water-filter pitcher (bedbathandbeyond.com) or an in-sink faucet filter. Take advantage of what you already pay for and save the environmental cost of transporting bottled water to the grocer’s shelf.
Install a better showerhead. If you have a wrench, you can preserve the diminishing fresh-water supply and reduce expensive water-heating costs. Install faucet aerators and high-efficiency showerheads and in a year’s time you’ll save between 1,000 and 8,000 gallons of water. Bonus: The added air makes the pressure feel greater, too.
4 of 7Hector Sanchez
In the Kitchen
Skip red meat once a week. Meat production―especially in mass-produced beef―is extremely resource-intensive. It can take seven or more pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef, and livestock consumes 70 percent of America’s grain. Eat less of it and choose pasture-fed, sustainably raised beef whenever you can. If you alone gave it up once every seven days, you would save the 840 gallons of fresh water it takes to produce a single serving.
Clean up your dishwasher. Switch to a dishwashing powder that’s biodegradable and plant-based (try Ecover Ecological or Trader Joe’s powders). These cleansers cut through grime, but they do it without the bleach and phosphates that threaten river and marine life and leave chemical residue on your dishes.
Choose the right appliance for the job. Electric kettles use less energy than stovetop ones. A toaster oven uses up to half the energy of a conventional electric oven. An electric slow cooker makes soups and stews using less wattage than a stove. It truly pays to pick the right appliance.
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At the Recycling Center
Donate old cell phones. About 130 million mobile phones are retired every year, resulting in more than 65,000 tons of waste―including potentially hazardous materials, such as lead and mercury. Recycle yours with Call2Recycle.org (log on to find a drop-off location near you) or programs like collectivegood.com (a clearinghouse for nonprofit phone-recycling efforts) to benefit groups such as the American Red Cross.
Recycle wisely. The good news: Americans already recycle about a third of their trash (double what was recycled in 1990). The not-so-good news: We need to do more and save more energy (see Reducing, Reusing, Recycling 101). To learn which items you can leave out for curbside pickup, and how to dispose of those you can’t, log on to earth911.org for contact info for local recyclers of more than 250 materials―from cooking oil to hazardous waste (including batteries).
Reuse everything. Change your mind-set and think twice before throwing anything out. Resealable plastic bags that held carrots today can hold crayons tomorrow. Coffee-cup cardboard sleeves from this morning’s brew can be tucked in a purse pocket to be used again at 4 p.m. Mom might just like that cashmere sweater you’re sick of wearing. And Fido doesn’t know the difference between a new chew toy and the one you make yourself out of old dish towels.
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On the Road
Carry a water bottle with you. Buy a reusable bottle that fits your lifestyle (and your purse) and skip buying a new one at every lunchtime stop. Need a reason? Americans use 3.3 million plastic bottles every hour but recycle only one in five.
Don’t idle. Pausing somewhere? Shut down your engine: Idling for any length of time burns more gas than it takes to restart the car.
Give your car―and driving habits―a tune-up. Speeding, fast accelerations, and hard braking waste gas. Maintaining your car saves it. Tune up your car according to your owner’s-manual schedule (usually every 30,000 miles) and raise your car’s fuel efficiency anywhere from 4 to 40 percent. Bonus: You’ll increase your fuel efficiency and save on gas. Go to greendrivingusa.com for an estimate of how much.
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At the Store
Buy a package of recycled napkins. If every American household purchased one package of 100 percent recycled napkins, we would save 1 million trees. While you’re at it, buy recycled paper towels and tissues, too. Seventh Generation and Whole Foods’ 365 label use nearly all post-consumer recycled paper.
Purchase organic-cotton tees. Cotton is the second-most chemically sprayed crop in America (corn is first). Each traditional tee requires a third of a pound of synthetic fertilizers. Pull on an organic T-shirt and feel as if the earth is giving you a little hug.
Choose biodegradable cat litter. Most cat litter is made from bentonite clay, which is mined and never breaks down. Americans dump 2 million tons of this into landfills every year, so it’s worth rethinking what you buy. Try the biodegradable, flushable brand Scientific (sold at petecology.com), which can be delivered to your door.
Think local food. Your last meal may have traveled 1,500 miles to get to your table. Find food near you. Green markets, farm stands, and conscientious supermarkets all offer locally grown produce. Buy it and you’ll conserve fuel, reduce pollution, and enjoy fresher food.
Bring your own bags to the market. Sounds obvious, right? Well, in an average year, U.S. households use about 100 billion plastic bags, 99 percent of which are never recycled. Stash some canvas bags in your car or buy a pair of Acme Workhorse 1500 bags (reusablebags.com).
Choose the right fish. Craving salmon? Go wild. And to prevent overfishing, heed the advice in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s regional Seafood Watch pocket guides. Download one at mbayaq.org.
And finally…slash the packaging. Shop wisely: Choose concentrates, skip the tampons with plastic applicators, let your vegetables roll around the cart (no more plastic bags for every cucumber), and download your music.