What things to save the environment can you reasonably do without too much disruption to your life? Climate change is the biggest threat to the Earth. For us to reduce carbon emissions to the necessary levels, many standard practices will have to change.
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As my son frequently points out, the responsibility on reducing waste should land more squarely on the big guys (companies and corporations) than us little guys (consumers). But since it takes everyone working together to save the planet, I still like to strive towards sustainability.
Besides, you can do something about the big guys! One thing you can do is write to corporations and politicians. Ask them about their carbon footprint and sustainability goals and express the changes you’d like to see.
You can also vote with your dollars. Avoiding fast fashion and shopping from clothing retailers that are transparent about their policies, etc. Buy in reusable containers, stop buying water in plastic bottles. When I was growing up, we never thought about purchasing water in bottles, and we got by just fine! If everyone just stopped buying them, there would be no demand.
Educating yourself is one of the best things to save the environment that any of us can do.
Save the Planet by Making Small Changes
Scrolling through social media or even watching the news can give you a bit of eco-anxiety. All the talk about over-burdened landfills and whether or not you should recycle starts to weigh on you, doesn’t it?
Over the years, my children have often talked to me about how it makes them feel to see animals harmed by straws and other plastic pollution. My goal is to educate them on the subject, focusing on the action and reward rather than guilt trips that break their hearts. It’s a fine line.
Being in the “zero waste” space, I often need to take a break from social media as the images are sometimes more than I can handle. The fact is, our waste causes suffering to humans, animals, and the planet.
1 Stop Wasting (or using) Paper Towels
The production of paper towels uses trees, chemicals, fuel, water, and electricity. Beyond the materials used in making them, they also end up in landfills. Paper towels aren’t recyclable; a willing person cannot recycle even unused paper towels. The fibers are too short.
This topic may ruffle some feathers. Sorry.
The majority of Americans are obsessed with paper towels. Americans use more paper towels than all other countries combined. No other nation even comes close!
I first started to realize this when I stopped buying them myself. As a kid, my mom bought very few paper towels, we used kitchen rags, bathroom rags, and such. She worked hard to earn her money and didn’t have a dime to spare, so she sure wasn’t wasting it on something that would end up in the trash.
I could afford paper towels, but I noticed that people would use them up very quickly when I bought them. Often, I would find them barely used in the trash.
Often when a service worker would be at my house doing an odd job, they’d ask for a paper towel. I’d hand them a nice clean towel or an old rag, depending on the job they were doing. Along with that, I’d try to offer the reason I didn’t have paper towels, explaining how many gallons of water and virgin trees are used in making them. I’d be embarrassed and apologize.
Every single time this happened, I’d end up having the most interesting conversations about global warming and using less energy or how you can manage cleanups without paper towels.
Who knows what they thought or said about me after they left, but to my face, they were fascinated and interested. I want to hope that I planted a seed that might grow and spread and keep going.
I don’t want this article to get sidetracked on how to replace all the paper products with cloth, but I can write another article or make a video explaining how I do it. But one more point…
A Note About Deforestation and Paper Products
When the paper vs. water topic comes up, someone inevitably points out that it takes water to wash a reusable dish, tissue, cloth, etc. It’s the old water vs. paper debate, and it’s been around as long as climate change has been an issue.
While using too much water can be a problem, washing machines are more efficient than ever. Deforestation is still an issue. Forests soak up carbon dioxide; they give us oxygen to breathe. Our biodiversity depends on the enormous variety of insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, plants, and trees.
Some companies in the pulp and paper industry leave an unacceptably sizeable ecological footprint on the planet. Irresponsible harvesting from natural forests and pulp plantations on converted natural forests can threaten fragile ecosystems and species and cause soil erosion.
Eliminating the Single-Use Mindset
So, if at all possible, think about and ditch single-use paper (and plastic!) products. I know this is a lot to ask. I’m here to help if you need someone in your corner cheering for you. Ask questions or tell me what you think in the comments.
This includes plastic wrap. Wrap bread, tortillas, and sandwiches in beeswax wrap. When making homemade sourdough bread, I use beeswax wrap from Tru Earth to cover the dough while it is rising. It works perfectly and I love how cute it is.
2 Carry Reusables
Carry reusable with and skip single-use products such as water bottles, plastic cutlery, straws, plastic bags, napkins, and disposable plates when you are out and about. There are alternatives for all of these. I even carry reusable tissues in my bag. Some people think that’s gross, but it was commonplace before disposable paper products were everywhere.
Save and reuse some of your old jars and use them for storing leftovers and other items. Instead of single-use plastic bags to store opened rice, grains, or beans, use jars. Spaghetti and nut butter glass jars are my favorites.
You don’t have to buy a new set to carry reusables; you can always use what you have. If you prefer to have one designated set, we like this set of bamboo cutlery by TruEarth.
Keep reusable bags handy, where you’ll see them before you go to the supermarket! If you drive, keep them in your trunk and always put them back. Just eliminating plastic bags will have a significant impact on marine life.
3 Walk or Ride a Bike vs. Driving Everywhere
Transportation is now the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States.
Can you ride a bike or walk anywhere? If the gym, library, or school is within walking or biking distance, opt out of driving. The average vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.
The after-school pick-up line in America is an example. Riding the bus instead would reduce congestion around schools, consequently decreasing harmful exhaust emissions from additional cars. Although, there are also concerns about exposure to air pollution from bus emissions and the extended time a child needs to be in a vehicle to get from point A to point B.
Another area where contacting local government can be beneficial. In California, the Lower-Emission School Bus Program funds public school districts to replace old, diesel school buses with cleaner buses. Programs like these are a step in the right direction.
Bottom line: Carpool when possible or take public transport if you live in a place where it is available to reduce carbon emissions.
4 Reduce Food Waste
Providing food for the world and the amount wasted contributes about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s because wasted food ends up in landfills where it cannot decompose properly, producing methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.
One of the best things to save the environment is reducing food waste. Not only is it more eco-friendly, but it’s also more budget-friendly! Food production uses a lot of energy in every step of the process. In addition, it is one cause of wildlife extinction. Changing weather patterns threaten food production. Eventually, we will be forced to make changes.
Food waste is one of the reasons for rising food costs and part of the reason some people go hungry. Some estimate that a third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted. To understand how food waste contributes to hunger and how to stop wasting food, listen to this podcast episode with Manuel Bruscas, author of Real Tomatoes are Ugly.
Also, when it comes to food, buying local means less fossil fuel use. Find the local farmers market, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or shop from the local section at the supermarket.
You might also consider growing your own! Sprouts and tomatoes are two easy-to-grow foods that you can produce in even the smallest space.
For inevitable food waste, consider composting. To avoid sending those things to the landfill, we use a sub pod, a tumbler, and a foodcycler for things like banana peels and coffee grounds. Plus, compost is better for your garden than chemical fertilizers.
5 Choose renewable energy suppliers
Wasting energy is a threat to the environment because so much of our energy comes from fossil fuels. Renewable energy is generated from sources that are sustainable.
Tennessee ranks among the top one-third of the states in total energy consumption and near the middle of the states in per capita energy consumption. EIA.gov
Here in Knoxville,
Green Switch Match allows KUB electric customers to reduce their carbon footprint by purchasing renewable energy equivalent to each month’s energy usage for 1 cent per kilowatt-hour used. Participation in Green Switch Match can help reduce a customer’s carbon footprint by more than 8,000 lbs of CO2 emissions per year for the typical residential KUB customer.
But how much will that cost? You can calculate the cost on their website, but in general, here’s what they say,
KUB’s typical residential electric customer uses 1,000-kilowatt-hours each month, so the regular customer would pay approximately $10 each month to participate in Green Switch Match.
Research the community where you live to see what you can do to obtain renewable energy.
Take advantage of no-to-low cost energy-saving tips if you are on a budget or rent, such as adjusting thermostats and turning off lights when space is unoccupied, unplugging electronics when not in use, using ENERGY STAR LED lightbulbs, adjusting window shades to reduce heating and cooling requirements, and installing programmable thermostats. EPA
6 Know How to Recycle Properly
Here in the states, different communities recycle different things and in different ways. It’s important to know what can and can’t be recycled. Avoid wish-cycling – putting an item in with the recycling in hopes that it will be recycled when you’re not sure. Wish-cycling happens a lot.
Plastic bags are often recycled improperly. For example, where I live, plastic bags cannot go in with the plastic recycling in street-side containers or at county facilities. To recycle bags in our area, people take them back to the supermarket. Kroger, Publix, and other grocery stores have collection boxes for plastic bags.
Many people worry that recycling isn’t enough or that what they put in the bin doesn’t actually get recycled. I get that concern, which is why I try to buy things that have as little packaging as possible. Laundry detergent is a great example of this. Liquid detergent is mostly water. Tru Earth Laundry Detergent has a dramatically smaller eco-footprint than liquid and powder detergents. Its packaging uses no plastic jug, and its lightweight reduces transportation fuel consumption and global-warming carbon emissions by 94% compared to today’s leading-brand liquid and powder detergent.
7 Become an Eco-Minimalist and Consume Less
Buying fewer things means less waste, and less stuff gets discarded over time. Eco-minimalism isn’t just about decluttering and donating things that no longer spark joy. It is more about responsibly finding a new home for items you no longer want and sourcing the things you need sustainably.
An eco-minimalist has an environmentalist mindset and uses minimalism as a tool to reduce environmental impact. Rather than consumerism, the focus is on sustainability and reducing your carbon footprint. Is Eco-minimalism right for you?
Here are a Few More Things to Save the Environment
These things to save the environment are just a springboard for diving deeper into living sustainably and reducing waste. Here are a few more suggestions. I’d love it if you contributed some of your ideas in the comments below.
- Use air conditioning less, or adjust the thermostat by a few degrees.
- Check faucets for leaks and use less water by installing a showerhead with a pause switch. (Pause the water while you soap up, shave, etc., then turn it back on to rinse.)
- Look for energy-efficient models when replacing appliances.
- Buy unwrapped fruits and vegetables (wash them; hopefully, you were already going to wash them anyhow!)
- Consider second-hand clothing (it’s trending among the younger generations to shop second-hand using apps or even thrifting. Read more about how to give clothes a second life in this post about recycling clothes!)
- Use energy-efficient light bulbs instead of incandescent
- Grow indoor plants to reduce air pollution inside your home.
This article is presented in partnership with TruEarth, a company that is working constantly to improve sustainability.