50 ways to help the environment

June 14, 2012 § 15 Comments

Because I work in high-tech, some people assume I’m a use-all-the-energy-you-want-conservative.  I frankly consider myself middle of the road, and have conservative and liberal friends.  My conservative friends call me a tree-hugger, and some of my liberal friends laugh at me when I say I’m fiscally-conservative.

The fact is that politics have become so partisan these days, it’s hard to be responsible and green without offending someone…so, Dave and I just do what’s right for us (and we try not to worry too much about making people mad).  We live as green as we can, make our best effort not to be wasteful, give back more than we take, and think about our purchases (for the most part, even though antique Porsche sportscars do tempt a certain someone).

So, I’ve been thinking about all the things we can do to make a difference.  Some of these things are really big, and some are fairly small.  Some of these things you might not be able to do, for one reason or another.  The important thing is that you do as many of them as you can.

  1. Buy used, when you can.  When you buy a used book, household furniture, or other items, instead of buying it new, you’re saving it from a landfill, and also reducing wastes associated with manufacturing.
  2. Switch to e-books.  You can read them on your smartphone, laptop, or e-reader.
  3. Use the library.  Why buy, when you can use your community’s local library?
  4. Ask your bank, energy providers, and other entities to bill you electronically.
  5. Use your bank’s electronic bill-paying service to reduce paper waste.
  6. Stop thinking of soda as something you need to drink every day.  Coca Cola was invented as a medicine…why not use it as such?  Keep a few Cokes around for when you have a headache or stomachache, and otherwise stay away from the stuff.
  7. Compost.  Make a bin outside where you can compost your kitchen waste, mail (yes, you can compost your junk mail), catalogs, phonebooks, coffee grounds, and lawn clippings.  If you live in the city, you may be part of a community that accepts compost (check with your community to see).
  8. Recycle what you can.  This means taking cans, glass, plastic, and paper to the recycling station in your community.  If you’re fortunate enough to have a curbside pickup service, what are you waiting for?
  9. Dress classically.  This means buying non-trendy clothing that may cost more but sticks around style-wise for a lot longer.  Think Katherine Hepburn and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, with their cashmere twinsets, Hermes scarves, leather ballet flats, pearl necklaces, and trench coats.  These things never go out of style.  Dress classically, and you’ll forget about having to throw out-of-style items into the trash.  And no, I’m not suggesting that you dress like some sad little 1980’s person, wearing yucky old polyester jackets and pleated pants.  I recently wore my aunt’s 1940’s green brocade cocktail dress to a party, and received endless compliments.  That cocktail dress is still current because it is classically designed.
  10. Give to Goodwill and other thrift stores.  Give unwanted clothing, furniture, and household items to charity.  Not only do you get to keep the tax deduction, but you’re preventing your things from ending up in some landfill.
  11. Stop eating pre-packaged foods.  Sure, they’re easy, but you can do so much better on your own…really you can.  You do not need to buy pre-made frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for your kids.  Save your money, and save some landfill from all of the packaging.
  12. Stop using fabric softener.  Half a cup of vinegar in every load works just as well, and there are no chemicals.
  13. Refrain from using products that use dyes and fragrances.
  14. Stop or limit the use of products that contain phosphates.
  15. Grow vegetable plants at home.  Whether it’s 1-2 plants on your balcony or an entire garden in your backyard, either way, you’re living greener than you would be if you were buying everything from the grocery store.
  16. Plant herbs in small pots on your inside windowsill.
  17. Buy local.  Buying locally-produced meats and vegetables saves on shipping costs.
  18. If your car is very old (and gets horrible gas mileage), consider taking it out of the system entirely and bringing it to the junkyard.
  19. Work from home.  Even one to two days per week (or month) saves on energy costs.
  20. Carpool.
  21. Take the bus or ride your bicycle to the office.
  22. When you buy a new car, consider low emission diesel cars, which are getting low (or better) mileage than the hybrids, without having to worry about batteries.
  23. Plan your errands such that you waste a minimal amount of energy.
  24. Install programmable thermostats and eco vent fans.
  25. Make your own bread.
  26. Eat at restaurants less often.
  27. Eat at least one meat-free meal per week.
  28. Join a co-op, where you can collaborate with others to purchase items in bulk (where economical), either from a farmer’s market or from a bulk distributer.
  29. Start a neighborhood co-op.
  30. Consider a gray water/blackwater system if you are building a new home (if allowed by your community).
  31. Use a water reclaiming system to water your lawn (i.e a rain barrel).  Some communities do not allow this, so please carefully consider before installation.
  32. If you must use candles, consider soy-based candles, which are less toxic.
  33. Make your own dog treats.  Why spend $5 – $15 at the store when you can make your own?
  34. When replacing your HVAC system in your home, consider spending more money to get a more efficient system, if you can afford it.  The pay-off may take awhile, but in the long-run, you may come out ahead.
  35. Install 1-2 solar panels on your roof.
  36. Buy dishware at thrift stores.  If you stick with all white or a neutral color scheme, then your purchases will all work.  Dave and I have some very nice antique Fostoria crystal that we’ve purchased in this manner, and no one (until now) knows that we bought it for a few cents for each piece).
  37. Turn off your air conditioning if you’re not at home.  If you live in a colder climate, then turn down the thermostat when you leave.
  38. Don’t smoke.
  39. Bring your own bags to the grocery store.
  40. Cancel your gym membership, and just walk or ride your bicycle a few times a week.  You’ll still get plenty of exercise.
  41. Brew your own coffee (Starbucks is great, but you don’t need to go there every day).
  42. If you have a Keurig coffee-maker, use the home-brew cannister to make your own K-cup.
  43. When building a new home, consider spray polyurethane foam (SPF).  It seals and insulates.
  44. Consider the impact of switching to compact fluorescents (which produce mercury waste), against incandescents, which produce heat waste.
  45. Rotate your tires every 7,500 – 10,000 miles.  Check your tire pressure once per month.
  46. Cook extra food so you’ll have leftovers for lunch the next day.
  47. If you’re going to use the oven, cook several things at once to optimize energy.
  48. Filter your own water, and put it into portable containers.
  49. Consider the packaging sizes when purchasing bottled drinks.  Do you really need individual-sized packages?
  50. Buy boxed wine.  It uses less packaging, tastes fine, and lasts longer opened in the refrigerator.
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§ 15 Responses to 50 ways to help the environment

  • viveka says:

    *smile … you should have the nobel prize for this .. leaving for mum now – but I will come back to this – does it count that I wash my zip plastic bags *smile

  • I’m astonished to read that you might not be allowed a rain barrel – an unthinkable prohibition in the UK… we have five!

    • Libby says:

      We have a well, and we also collect water in several water collection devices on our property. For us, it is legal, but there are some communities in the United States where you do not own the water that falls on your property, and it is illegal to “harvest” it. It makes no sense to me.

  • viveka says:

    This is a fantastic post, Libby … have read through the list. Only good advice and this with no softener I like, but will not the washing smell vinegar???? We have laws about recycling … and we have to separate everything and put in separate bins – even at McDonalds you have to separate your waste and it has been like that for about 25 years now. Some waste they heat up pedestrian streets in the winter with … all cans, glass bottles and plastic bottles the manufacture has to take back by law, so there is big machines at supermarkets where you put them in and then you get a receipt that you can pay your shopping against, a fantastic system. I think you are doing a brilliant job and that photo of that pond is stunning. So envy.

    • Libby says:

      Dave and I separate everything at home and at work. Many people do, but it’s not a universal thing…I’d like to see more recycling, since it is such an easy thing to do. Your wash will not smell of vinegar if you use it in your laundry. We’ve also noticed that it causes the clothes not to “shed.” There is much less lint in the lint collection device on the dryer.

      • viveka says:

        Thanks for that tip will try it .. I never dry my clothes in a dryer – they always hanged to dry.
        Libby, it needs laws to change manufactures packing methods – in Sweden you have to pay for your shopping bags at the supermarket (have done for over 20 years now) and they have be made of degradable material – some of the big supermarkets in UK do the same now, because people where using fare too many bags. Tesco they gave you green points on your club card if you brought your own bags with you, brilliant idea. Otherwise UK don’t know much about recycling even if they have started in small scale. The Winter Olympics in Norway 1994 everything was degradable – even the plates, they were made of potato starch and was eatable. But there needs to be laws.

      • Libby says:

        What a good idea to give customers points on their cards when they bring their own bags! I’m going to suggest that to my market.

      • viveka says:

        Yes, do .. Tesco is one of the biggest supermarkets in the world. All the way into China.

      • Libby says:

        We don’t have them here, but I’m pretty sure I’ve shopped in Tesco on my travels.

      • viveka says:

        They are massive and I think they have some shops in US. Wish we had them in Sweden.

  • df says:

    A pretty fine list, though I’m especially keen on the low-emissions diesel recommendation, as you know, and would love to hear more about make-your-own-dog-treats as we’re taking the plunge and getting a dog. The only one I don’t agree with is e-books. Technology is so transient and the waste it produces freaks me out. Books will still be here and available to read even if we run out of everything required to make yet more laptops, mobile devices, kindles, etc. (and as we know technology is built to expire quickly). We buy a lot of books second hand and use our library a lot, but I also buy new books from our wonderful local bookshop as I love them being part of our economy and want to support them. I love the internet and what it can do for me, but don’t think I’ll ever read a book electronically. Your suggestion to cook several things at once is a good challenge, one that I need to get better at – nice one!

    • Libby says:

      I just came out of a library board meeting for my community, and I actually have to agree you with regard to e-Books, for several reasons. They’re certainly good for voracious readers (like me) who go through hundreds (thousands?) of books a year. However, they also alienate millions of readers who cannot afford them. More on this later, because I think that e-books are good and bad at the same time, depending upon how you approach the subject. PS…glad to hear you’re getting a dog!! We posted a dog treats recipe to the blog that our dogs love. I’ll write more on this subject later, but please, please, please blog about your dog-decision-making process…what sort of dog do you think you’ll be getting?

  • df says:

    I’ll be very keen to hear more on your thoughts about e-readers and books; great discussion! We’re taking the plunge with a black lab and I’ve just posted a brief intro piece on the blog with some basics about him, and will definitely be sharing more! It’s wonderful to know that we have you in our cheering section and that I can count on your for valuable information.

    • Libby says:

      I just went to read about Reggie the lab, and he sounds like a terrific dog. Labs are Dave’s favorites. I love all dogs, and have had labs in the past. They’re smart and wonderful.

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