25 Eco-Friendly Changes You Can Make Today
You don’t need to be told to turn the lights off, but what else can you do to reduce your carbon footprint and become more eco-friendly today? Sometimes changing a small bad habit is all it takes to make a positive change for the environment. Other changes require a little more work, but the effort is worth it both for your wallet and the planet. Check out our big list of easy eco-friendly changes you can make right now.
1. Wash Clothes in Cold Water
Much of the energy used to wash clothing is spent on heating the water. Doing the laundry in cold water is effective for all but the most heavily soiled clothing, helps to prevent shrinking, and won’t wear your clothes out as quickly. Another great way to save energy — hang dry your clothes! (See also: Tips for Air-Drying Clothes)
2. Open or Close the Blinds
In the winter, harness the sun’s energy by opening the curtains during the day and letting the sun warm your house. In the summer, close the blinds while you’re away to keep the house cool.
The amount of paper and cardboard that goes into our landfills is disgusting. A lot of product packaging (cardboard boxes, aluminum cans, glass and plastic bottles) can be recycled, so the next time you find yourself dumping that cookie box in the trash, think again. If in doubt, check with your local recycling program to see what can and cannot be recycled.
4. Don’t Leave the Water Running
Hopefully (since you’re reading this), you’re not one of those people who leaves the water running when you’re brushing your teeth. Also, don’t wash a pile of dishes under constantly running water. Fill the sink instead, and then rinse the dishes in a fresh sink of water.
5. Use Natural Cleaners
Use vinegar, baking soda, and other natural cleaning solutions instead of conventional cleaners. Alternatively, buy an eco-friendly brand of cleaner or detergent (such as Clorox GreenWorks, Seventh Generation, Method, or Mrs. Meyers).
6. Turn Down and Insulate Your Water Heater
If your water heater isn’t adequately insulated (it feels warm to the touch), you can save energy by insulating it to prevent heat loss. Insulating jackets or blankets are cheap to buy, and if you have an electric water heater, you can install it yourself. Read more about it at EnergySavers.Gov. While you’re at it, turn down the thermostat to 120⁰F on your water heater to prevent water from being heated until scalding hot (it’s safer too).
7. Start Composting
Start a compost bin with kitchen scraps, old newspaper, and other organic materials. Use this fertile compost in your garden instead of commercial fertilizer.
8. Buy Pre-Owned Stuff
Shop on Craigslist, on eBay, and at local consignment and thrift stores for furniture, housewares, and clothing. Buy used books instead of new ones.
9. Buy Local Produce
Reduce your carbon footprint by buying seasonal fruits and vegetables from local farms. Even if you shop at a big grocery store, produce should be labeled with its place of origin. Buying locally reduces emissions from fuel used to transport food to you and supports local farmers.
10. Buy Music Online
Instead of buying CDs, buy digital files of the newest music. It's cheap and easy, and you reduce the amount of material used to produce a physical CD as well as the gas required to drive to the music store.
11. Carpool to Work or School
Save money and the environment at the same time by carpooling to work or school. As an added bonus, you’ll get to use the carpool lane. Even better, bike or walk to work if possible.
12. Unplug Electronic Devices
Computers and other electronic devices continue to use energy even when they’re turned off. Unplug them when you’re not using them to save energy. Try using a power strip for your home electronics that you can switch off when not in use.
13. Reuse Scrap Paper
Whether you’re taking notes for a class or letting your toddler go nuts with the crayons, never recycle a piece of office paper until it has been used on both sides.
14. Go Paper-Free
Cancel your newspaper subscription and subscribe to the online version instead. Send Evites instead of paper invitations. Use email instead of the fax machine.
15. Get a Reusable Water Bottle
Get a stainless-steel or BPA-free reusable water bottle instead of keeping a case of bottled water around.
16. Install a Water-Saving Showerhead
Today’s low-flow showerheads have come a long way, and many of them have excellent water pressure, meaning you don’t have to sacrifice comfort for the environment.
17. Eat Sustainable Seafood
Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s guides to sustainable seafood. Some popular types of fish, such as Chilean sea bass, imported mahi-mahi, farmed salmon, red snapper, and certain types of tuna, are being overfished or are caught/farmed in ways that are harmful to the environment. They even have a sustainable guide to sushi!
18. Use a Reusable Shopping Bag
Plastic grocery bags are recyclable, but usually you have to bring them to special collection points (check if your local grocery store has one). Avoid the waste and the hassle by getting yourself a reusable shopping bag, which will be sturdier and more stylish anyway. Be sure to wash your bag periodically to prevent bacteria buildup.
19. Change the Lightbulbs
Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) use a quarter of the wattage of regular bulbs and last way longer. These days, they come in a range of colors (from warm yellow to cool white) and don’t flicker like they used to. Be sure to recycle them properly when they burn out though — CFLs contain mercury and shouldn’t be dumped in a landfill.
20. Switch to Cloth Diapers
If you’ve got a little one, you might want to consider trying cloth diapers. Think of the mountain of disposable diapers your child has produced by the time he/she is a toddler! Today’s cloth diapers, such as the gDiaper, are designed to be user-friendly, and with modern high-efficiency washing machines, don’t take a lot of water and energy to wash. If it’s easier, try a combination of cloth and disposable diapers as your needs allow.
21. Be Green When Traveling
Many hotels have figured out that being more environmentally conscious can save them money. Follow hotel guidelines for reducing water use by reusing your towels and sheets instead of having them changed every day. Choose to support hotels and tours that minimize their carbon footprint. Airplane travel is very polluting; if possible, minimize plane travel and pack light to reduce fuel consumption.
22. Drive Smart
Do your best to save energy and reduce emissions when driving. Don’t idle your car (a pet peeve of mine!). Make sure tires are properly inflated and aligned, and maintain your car (worn out spark plugs, clogged air filters, and other problems can lower gas mileage). Avoid driving aggressively with sudden stops and speeding, both of which also lower gas mileage.
23. Plug Leaks in Your Home
Caulking windows and weather-stripping doors is cheap and easy enough to do yourself. Preventing leaks in your home can save you money and reduce energy consumption.
24. Turn Down (or Up) the Thermostat
Having grown up in Canada, I’ve noticed that often I’ve come in from the freezing cold outside into a steamy hot house. I have to immediately peel off layers of sweaty clothing. Why not just wear a sweater inside the house, and turn the heat down a degree or two? If you live in a hot climate, try the opposite.
25. Sell or Donate Used Stuff
Instead of dumping old clothes and other reusable stuff in the trash, sell it at a yard sale or donate it to the local Goodwill. Someone else will benefit from your unwanted possessions.
Do you have any other tips for greening your lifestyle? Share with us in the comments!