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Our environment is in dire shape, and we seem to be running out of everything while trash and pollution seem to never stop increasing. But trying to live a little greener can seem quite daunting. Beyond recycling, what more can you do? Where do you start?
Here is a list of 40 basic entry points to a sustainable lifestyle that will not only go easy on the planet, but will go easy on your wallet, too. And who couldn’t use more money, right?
Sustainability starts at home, in your household and in your neighborhood. To save money by going green a little at a time, I suggest picking two or three things to do off the following list that seem easy to start right away—and start doing them this week.
Then next month, after you’ve had some time to integrate your new habits, pick two or three more, and then a month after that a couple more, until you’ve implemented as many of the 40 as you can. This will not only give you steady progress and steady savings, but it will take any overwhelm out of the whole process!
Going Green In Your Home
1. Install sink water aerators. These are cheap and easy to install and they greatly reduce the flow of water out of your sink, saving you money and water use. Learn more about saving water at home. »
2. Install low-flow shower heads. A low flow showerhead can significantly reduce the water coming out of your shower head without reducing water pressure. Some of them are quite fancy! Learn more about saving water at home. »
3. Put a brick in your toilet tank. Make your old toilet into a low flow toilet by putting a brick (wrapped in a waterproof plastic bag) or a recycled plastic bottle full of sand into your tank. This will displace and reduce the amount of water wasted on every flush. When you’re ready for a new toilet, install a low-flow, dual flush model. Learn more about saving water at home. »
4. Line dry your clothes. Dryers don’t even come with an “Energy Star” rating—that’s how bad they are in terms of energy consumption. Line or rack drying your clothes saves a ton of energy and therefore prevents air and water pollution from power plants. Learn more about saving on laundry. »
5. Wait till you have a full load of laundry to wash. This saves both water and energy on washing your clothes.
6. Wash your clothes in cold water. Clothes get just as clean, but without the energy spent on heating the water.
7. Replace your light bulbs with LED lights. A small upfront investment in LEDs can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars (and a lot of energy) over the lifespan of these bulbs—which can be as long as 10 years! Buy them on sale and replace them slowly. Learn more about energy efficient lighting. »
8. Install a programmable thermostat. This handy little device allows you to program your heat or AC to come on right before you get home, and turn down while you are gone or asleep. This can save a ton of money on your utility bills, saving energy and reducing pollution.
9. Replace the weatherstripping on your doors and windows. Stop the cold air from getting in and the heat from escaping during the upcoming winter. Learn more about weatherstripping. »
10. Insulate your hot water heater and your water pipes. Pipe insulation and water heater blankets help your water heater to work less to heat your water, saving you money on electricity.
11. Keep your fridge coils clean. Do you clean the back/underside of your fridge? All that dust might make it work harder than it needs to to run efficiently.
12. Run your dishwasher only when it is full. By waiting till it’s full, you make the best use of the water and energy needed to wash your dishes.
13. Make your own cleaning solutions. Most store bought cleaners are full of nasty chemicals you really don’t want polluting your home. But there are tons of great cleaning formulas you can make at home that work just as well, and cost just pennies to make! Get some DIY cleaner recipes. »
14. Use washable rags instead of paper towels. Use old rags or kitchen towels to clean up messes around the house. This not only saves you a few dollars, but also saves trees and keeps paper out of the landfill.
15. Put all your major electronics on power strips. Even when they are “off”, TVs, electronic equipment, cable boxes, WIFI routers, and computers continue to draw electricity all day. Put them all on a power strip and shut them totally off at night or when you leave the house to reduce energy use and save money. Learn more about vampire power drains in your home. »
16. Shut off your computer and monitor when you are done using them. Unless your company backs up your computers at night on a network, there is no need to leave it on. If there is a nightly backup, then just turn off the monitor. Turn your home computer completely off when you’re done using it.
17. Unplug your cellphone when it is done charging. Once that light turns green, you are just wasting electricity keeping it plugged in.
18. Use rechargeable batteries. Over time, invest in a full set of rechargeable batteries for all of your gadgets, remotes and smoke detectors in the house. Recharging batteries keeps dead ones out of the landfill and saves you money in the long run. Buy them on sale and stock up over time. These are my favorite rechargeables.
19. Stop junk mail from coming to your mailbox. Junk mail is not just annoying, it uses up tons of trees and gasoline every day. Plus all those ads create a major temptation to spend money on things you don’t really need. There are lots of services to help you reduce the junk mail. Check them out. »
20. Use both sides of computer paper. Once you print something and no longer need it, flip it over and print again on the other side.
Going Green Outside
21. Compost your food scraps. Composting can be done even if you live in an apartment and can save a ton of waste from going to the landfill. The newer ones don’t even smell, and worm bins are even more efficient! Here’s a list of 100 things you can compost. »
22. Start an organic garden. If you’re new to gardening, start with something easy like lettuce or tomatoes and work up to more. Here’s my favorite book for gardening beginners.
23. Plant some native trees in your yard. By spending some money on trees, you not only shade your house so you can use less AC, but you also help to absorb CO2 in the air. You’ll increase your property value over time, too. Here’s how to plant a tree properly.
24. Install a rain barrel to collect rainwater from your downspouts. The water you save can then be used to water all your outdoor plants. If you live in a rainy area, consider getting several barrels and connecting them together because one rainstorm can yield hundreds of gallons in some regions. Here are some great rain barrel options.
25. Keep a low maintenance lawn. Do you have a small yard? Why not try a push lawnmower and save on gas and pollution? Better yet, replace that lawn with a vegetable garden or a xeriscape.
26. Install outdoor solar lights. Instead of lighting the path to your door using electricity, install some solar path lights that charge during the day and light up all night. You can even get a solar-powered motion detecting light for security!
27. Reduce your commute. Whenever possible, use public transportation, carpooling or even bicycling to get to work or run errands. When you can, stack your errands and run errands for friends and neighbors so you can reduce the number of individual car trips. This will save you gas and wear and tear on your car, plus help improve air quality in your town. Learn more about reducing your transportation footprint. »
28. Rotate your car tires and keep them filled. Keeping your tires inflated to the right PSI and rotated regularly saves fuel.
29. Avoid idling your car. Unless you are sitting in traffic, it actually uses more gas to idle your vehicle for a mere 30 seconds than it does to turn it off and restart it. On top of that, the huge amount of smog created by idling vehicles is a major contributor to hot, hazy summers and diseases like childhood asthma. Learn more about why idling is so bad. »
Going Green When Shopping
30. Try a spend fast. Just for a month, restrict your spending to only those things you absolutely need to survive, like rent, utilities, medicines, basic food, gas or bus fare, etc. Ask yourself before you buy anything, “Do I need this to survive?” and if the answer is No, then don’t buy it. Things you will avoid buying for 30 days include movie tickets, junk food, fancy coffee drinks, clothing, music, haircuts, etc. Doing this just for a month will help you become much more mindful of your spending habits and help you save a ton of money. Learn more about spend fasting. »
31. Buy second-hand. These days you can buy almost anything—furniture, clothing, electronics—used and in good shape. This reduces your consumer footprint and saves one more thing from going to a landfill!
32. Start or join a buying club. Buying clubs enable you to get bulk quantities of the things you usually purchase—but at a discounted or even wholesale rate. Costco and Sam’s Club are examples of buying clubs, but you can start a smaller one with friends and family members to save money on things you might not find at Costco, like pasture-raised chicken or cloth diapers. If you are unable to start or join a buying club, buy in bulk whenever you can. Learn more about how to start a buying club. »
33. Quit buying bottled water! Bottled water is usually no better than your typical tap water–it just costs more, contains plastic toxins from the bottles and leaves a trail of waste everywhere. Get a faucet water filter and a reusable water bottle to save money and help the environment. Learn how to choose a good water filter. »
34. Buy recycled paper products. The good brands of toilet paper, computer paper and other paper products work just as well as virgin paper, but save tons of chlorine pollution from the bleaching process, and conserve millions of trees and gallons of water.
35. Cook from scratch whenever possible. The more food you make from simple basic, minimally-packaged ingredients like vegetables, grains, meats, eggs and spices, the more you will save on groceries and the less impact you will have on the environment. On top of it all, you’ll be a lot healthier, too! Bonus points for eating in season and buying locally-grown food.
36. Read your favorite newspaper or magazine online. Almost all magazines and newspapers have digital versions now, and many of them are free. Reading them online saves tons of trees and the energy and fuel expended on creating, delivering and recycling paper versions.
37. Get a library card. Reduce your consumer footprint and save resources by checking out books and magazines from the library!
38. When buying big items, spend more to buy things that will last. Buying a coffee maker that will last 5-10 years is a better use of your money than buying a cheap one that will break in a year. Doing this keeps things out of landfills for longer and saves you money and headache.
39. Use online banking. Online banking saves you time, stamps, gas, and reduces the amount of mail coming to your house. A lot of banks are offering incentives to go online, too. Don’t be afraid: it’s much easier for a thief to grab your bank statements out of your mailbox than it is for them to access your accounts online.
40. Join a credit union. Large banks invest your money in fossil fuels, coal, industrial farming and other environmental and social nasties you don’t want to support. In contrast, credit unions must invest your money right in your local community. They also save you a ton on fees, and often have the best interest rates around, because they have to serve depositors—not shareholders. Learn more about credit unions. »