Unfortunately, humans have not been very good stewards of the Earth over the years. To protect the environment and preserve the planet for our children and future generations, we all need to take proactive steps toward cleaner living habits.
Whether it’s gas, food, clothing, cars, furniture, water, toys, electronics, knick-knacks or other goods, we are all consumers. The key is not to stop consuming, but to start being mindful of our consumption habits and how each purchase or action affects the ecosystem.
The good news is that it’s often not too difficult, expensive, or inconvenient to become more environmentally friendly. It can even be a fun challenge to implement among your family or coworkers. And though small changes at the individual level may seem trivial, just think how much cleaner the planet would be if everyone adopted even a few of the following behavior modifications.
1. Consume less.
Curbing consumption can have a huge impact on the environment. The three "R's"—reduce, reuse and recycle— get a lot of attention, but the planet could benefit from some focus on the most important and most underrepresented "R": refuse.
When you refuse, you say "no," which is not always easy. Freebies at events, cheap goods on clearance, the hot new children's toys or the latest gadgets that promise to make your life better—none of these are essential. And they almost always end up either in the trash or forgotten in the back of a closet. Next time you’re tempted to purchase or accept a non-essential item, think about whether it would truly improve your life. If not, it's ok to just say, "No, thanks!"
Another “R” that doesn’t get much attention but has important environmental implications is “rot.” As in, let your food and yard waste rot naturally in the soil instead of sending it to the landfill. In other words: compost.
Composting your food scraps and yard waste offers double rewards: it keeps an incredible amount of trash out of the waste stream, and it produces free, rich soil to use in your garden. Some cities now pick up organic waste alongside regular trash and recycling pick up. If your area doesn’t offer this service, no worries— you can set up a low-maintenance compost pile in your backyard.
3. Choose reusable over single-use.
Plastic grocery-type bags that get thrown out end up in landfills or in other parts of the environment. These can suffocate animals who get stuck in them or may mistake them for food. Also, it takes a while for the bags to decompose.
Whether you are shopping for food, clothes or books, use a reusable bag. This cuts down on litter and prevents animals from getting a hold of them. There are even some stores (such as Target) that offer discounts for using reusable bags.
4. Upcycle more.
Get creative with your useless or unwanted items by upcycling—basically, turning trash into treasure. Creating something new such as artwork, toys or jewelry is both satisfying and one of the best ways to protect the environment. Not only does it keep items out of the trash, it can prevent having to purchase new items, which require lots of resources to produce. Children love making things; so instead of heading to the craft store, check out your recycle bin first and let their imaginations soar!
5. Recycle properly.
If you can’t refuse it…and you can’t rot it…and you can’t reduce it…and you can’t upcycle or reuse it…then it’s time to turn to the final “R”—recycling. Educate yourself on what can and cannot be recycled in your bins at home. Throwing the wrong items in the recycle bin can result in an entire load being rejected, which means … back to the landfill.
You can also easily find out how to recycle special items such as electronics, batteries and appliances. Check with your local municipality for drop-off sites, and make an effort to get your items to the proper disposal sites.
6. Shop secondhand.
Did you know it takes over 700 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to make just one plain t-shirt?
Instead of heading to the mall to buy new clothes, consider looking first in a thrift store or vintage shop, or trading clothes with friends. You can breathe new life into your wardrobe without wasting the precious resources needed to produce new clothing.
Shopping secondhand also applies for many other categories of consumer goods: children’s games and toys, shoes, appliances, furniture, cars and more.
7. Buy local.
While we’re on the topic of shopping, it’s important to think about the path your stuff takes just to get to you. All that packaging, combined with the fuel needed for delivery, really takes a toll on the environment. Instead, check out your local farmers market for fresh, package-free food; try eating at a farm-to-table restaurant; and buy from local artists, clothing makers, and retailers before you click for that two-day shipping.
8. Use fewer chemicals.
Want to protect the environment? Use fewer harmful chemicals and you’ll be on the right track. It’s hard to be sure about the long-term negative effects chemicals can have, both on our bodies
and on the planet, so it’s best to avoid them if possible. Opt for chemical-free lawn and garden care; all-natural beauty and hygiene items; natural household cleaners; and organic food. The Earth will thank you!
9. Walk, bike or carpool.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.1 Any amount of that we can cut back on will help. For short trips, try walking or biking—you’ll also get a healthy dose of exercise in, without setting foot in a gym. If travelling on foot or two wheels isn’t feasible, try carpooling with a friend, neighbor or coworker to a mutual destination. And if all else fails and you need to drive your car, line up errands in the most efficient route to save time and miles driven.
10. Save Water.
Water is wasted more frequently than we can see. Turn off the faucet as you are brushing your teeth. Don’t turn your shower on until you’re ready to get in and wash your hair. Limit your water usage as you wash dishes. Changing old habits will be good for both the environment and your wallet!
11. Use your purchasing power for good.
The positive thing about being a consumer is that we have the power to choose where we spend our hard-earned dollars. Think of your money as your voice and your vote for a cleaner planet. Spend it wisely on goods, services and experiences that leave a smaller carbon footprint. Choose to do business with companies that support sustainability efforts, utilize renewable energy sources and walk the walk when it comes to protecting the environment.
Money talks—if enough people use their purchasing power for the good of the Earth, it will create a demand for sustainable practices. Businesses will either have to comply … or be left behind.
Use energy-efficient light bulbs instead of regular bulbs. They last longer, which will save you a bit of money (every little bit helps on a college budget, right?).
Make you turn off lights, the TV, and other appliances when you are not using them.
Lower your air conditioning or heat when it’s not necessary. This is especially true for between seasons. Open your windows in the early fall or layering your clothes in the early fall.
13. Only Buy What You Need.
Consumerism has everyone believing that we need to buy everything in the store.
You must have seen the panic every time a supermarket shuts for one bank holiday. People stock up as though they’re shutting for a month.
By only buying what you need, you reduce waste processing because you’re not generating as much waste.
14. Spread the Word.
It’s easy to get overly passionate with this one – remember that Great Thunberg video?
While a lot of what she was saying was true and it gained plenty of news coverage, there was some negative backlash.
Remember you aren’t perfect, so try to be positive, spread the good news if it’s available and encourage everyone to get involved.
Did You Know?
- By 2100, the global urban population will produce three times more waste than today
- 27,000 trees are cut down each day so we can have Toilet Paper.
- Aluminum can be recycled continuously, as in forever. Recycling 1 aluminum can save enough energy to run our TVs for at least 3 hours. 80 trillion aluminum cans are used by humans every year.
- American companies alone use enough Paper to encircle the Earth 3x! (It’s a good thing that businesses are moving towards going paperless)
- We can save 75,000 trees if we recycled the paper used on the daily run of the New York Times alone.
- When you throw plastic bags and other plastic materials in the ocean, it kills as many as 1 million sea creatures annually.
- A glass bottle made in our time will take more than 4,000 years to decompose.
- Only 1% of our planet’s water supply can be used. 97% is ocean water and 2% is frozen solid in the Arctic, for now.
- Our planet gains inhabitants numbering to 77 million people a year.
- An estimated 50,000 species inhabiting our tropical forests become extinct annually. That’s an average of 137 species a day.
- Rainforests are cut down at a rate of 100 acres per minute.
- The world’s oldest trees are more than 4,600 years old.
- Landfills are composed of 35% packaging materials.