If you’re still trying to figure out the perfect New Year’s Resolution—obtainable and low-maintenance, but with serious impact—considering “greening” your life a little more. As someone who has embraced more environmentally-friendly lifestyles over the past seven or eight years, I’ve changed and tweaked various facets of my life. Here are some of the best tips I’ve learned over the years, and how you can implement them yourself!
ONLY BUY THE GROCERIES YOU NEED
It sounds simple, right? Well, it must be harder than it looks, because around 40% of the food in the United States is wasted. This can mean a lot of things: maybe it goes bad in your fridge, maybe it goes bad in the grocery store, maybe it’s tossed after rotting on your countertop. What’s important about this statistic is all this waste entered the food system as perfectly healthy, viable product and it was never consumed. All the resources that went into producing the food—water to grow it, processing costs, transportation costs to get it to the super market, etc.—are wasted when the product ends up in your trash.
There are some extreme (and downright admirable) ways to approach this problem in our country, but there is one very easy way to minimize this problem: only buy what you need. You can take up meal planning if you’re extra ambitious, but I’ve found the simplest method is shopping for groceries with a list. I do a quick scan in the fridge and pantry a day or two before I go shopping so I know what I have and what I need to buy. Once something makes it on my list, I know I’ll need to buy it. If it isn’t on the list, I don’t need it right now.
This method is especially helpful for produce, but it can help with pantry goods, too. It helps to know what pantry items you use a lot. For us, it’s salsa, beans, tortilla chips, pasta, rice, cereal, and quinoa. Since there are so few items in our pantry, I can remember them all very easily. Keeping a low inventory makes it easier to keep track of what we already have, so we don’t give in to impulse buys. (I should mention that minimizing food waste also works wonders for your wallet, too! Remember: an item isn’t “on sale” if you don’t need it; you’re not saving money if you buy something you don’t need.)
Minimizing food waste in your house can be great for your budget, your sanity, and the planet. Give it a shot!
GIVE UP BOTTLED WATER
I wish I could emphasize how monumental this change could be for the world. To produce the plastic bottles for America’s demand, over 17 million barrels of oil are used annually. That’s enough to power 1.3 million cars for an entire year! And because the US’s rate for recycling plastic is only 23%, there are around 38 billion plastic water bottles every year that are wasted: more than $1 billion worth in plastic. And more than half of Americans drink bottled water, even though the greater majority of us have access to safe water right in our faucets.
And yes, Americans consume more bottled water than milk or beer, averaging over 30 gallons of bottled water per person. Most people drink bottled water because they think it’s “safer”or “purer” than what comes out of the tap, but nearly 50% of the bottled water on the market comes directly from public water sources (hint: tap water).
Removing bottled water from your life can significantly wane the environmental and financial impacts that goes into bottling, transporting, and selling bottled water to people with access to the exact same product in their faucet. Invest in a few awesome reusable water bottles and keep them in various places (work, car, home, gym bag) so you always have an alternative to paying for overpriced tap water in a chemical-laden plastic bottle.
DON’T IDLE YOUR CAR
If you’re stopped for longer than 10 seconds (with the exception of being at a stoplight, of course), save yourself some fuel and the planet some harmful emissions by turning your car off. There are a bunch of excuses out there for idling, but none of them justify the significant environmental impact of running your car when you’re not going anywhere.
You don’t need to warm up your car for five minutes in the winter: the best way to warm your car when it’s cold outside is to gently drive it. By the same token, you don’t need to keep the car warm for someone if they’re taking a long time. It’s even better to turn your engine on and off than to leave it running. Stopping at the bank drive-thru, waiting for someone outside their house, taking a phone call, looking for directions…all of these take longer than 10 seconds, so your car should be turned off.
Just like the two points mentioned above, turning your car off instead of idling benefits you (saving money and trips to the gas station) and the environment (fewer greenhouse gas emissions).
USE REUSABLE GROCERY BAGS
Few things last for 1,000 years. But you know what does? A plastic grocery bag. These little devils are built to last—hence their popularity in super markets when customers are carrying out heavy purchases—and they’ll probably outlast everyone alive on the planet today. Considering the average American uses between 350-500 plastic bags per year (totaling 100 billion bags), there’s going to be plenty of them around.
Sure, sometimes the bags break apart and aren’t as much of an eyesore (NOT the same as truly decomposing). Those little pieces are ingested by animals. A whopping one million birds, 100,000 turtles, and countless other marine animals eat these little bits of plastic and die.
The simplest solution is to utilize reusable grocery bags instead of opting for paper or plastic. While reusable bags aren’t the best short-term solution and there are significant energy costs to produce them, opting for a lightweight bag made of recycled plastic helps offset some other concerns to make it a viable solution for most people.
My biggest struggle with reusable grocery bags is never having them in the right place at the right time. So, I’ve started keeping three bags in both of our cars and utilizing my backpack (which is essentially always with me) in a pinch. Keeping the bags in multiple places helps insure that I’ve got one nearby, even during an emergency ice cream grocery trip.
These four changes, though small, are mighty. You’ll save money—trust me!—and significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Do you any other simple “green” tips to share? Let me know in the comments!