With the beginning of the new year, it's time to reflect on our habits and make resolutions for the upcoming year. Some want to lose weight, or simply eat better for a healthier and more eco-friendly lifestyle. If you are aiming to lead a more sustainable life, there are many small steps you could take.
Energy, water, petroleum, … our daily lives are sapping life out of Earth's seemingly endless pool of resources. In order to preserve our planet, we have to be careful with its valuable resources. By taking a few simple steps, we can greatly reduce our footprint on our planet and environment, and thereby help preserve it for many generations to come. Let’s start with what we can do in order to save energy in our everyday lives.
When buying new appliances and electronics, make sure that they are energy-efficient, with the best ranking possible. Remember that it’s an investment that will pay off in lower electricity, gas and/or water bills! For example, a front-loader washing machine uses less water than a top-loader, so get wise before shopping.
Also, think about your specific needs: a toaster oven is more energy efficient than a conventional oven for cooking a single portion. A kettle uses less energy to bring water to a boil than a pot on the stove. So buy and use the right appliances for what you want to do.
UNPLUG APPLIANCES NOT IN USE
When not using them, make sure you unplug your appliances to avoid “vampire power”, which describes the electricity those items use in stand-by mode. A multiple socket outlet with a switch is your easiest option to control several appliances, such as all gadgets connected to your TV, at the same time. Turn off your lights when you are not in a room, and all lights when you leave the house.
On this topic, you should also make sure you have the right lights installed: Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) and Light Emitting Diodes (LED) are much more energy-efficient than conventional light bulbs, and have a longer life as well! So next time you bust a bulb, replace them with an energy-efficient solution.
USE ENERGY IN AN ECO-FRIENDLY WAY
When washing your clothes, try to wash as much as possible on cold, and only wash on hot if really necessary. Avoid using a drier altogether; use a drying rack or clothesline instead. When using a washing machine or dishwasher, make sure not to wash half loads. It’s also handy to use the “delay” option on your washing machine or dishwasher. With this handy trick, you can use the off-peak energy hours and save yourself some cash.
When cooking, a pressure cooker can come in really handy for boiling potatoes or making stew. The cooking times are greatly reduced, and you can save a lot of energy. In everyday life, you might want to learn to cook with residual heat: switch off your oven at least 5 minutes before your dish or cake is fully baked. And just the same, when boiling pasta you can switch off your stove after 5 minutes and leave the pasta to finish cooking in the hot water.
Another resource we need to try and preserve is water. While water is not a finite resource such as petroleum, it is still important to try and save as much water as possible. Saving water will help reduce your hydro bill. Also, chemicals in the water pose a threat to the environment, and are difficult and energy-consuming to remove so that we can have safe and healthy tap water. Therefore, we need to make sure we don’t waste water, and try to limit our use of chemicals as much as possible, for example by buying and using all-natural personal care and home care products, such as cleaning products. Especially if you are connected to a septic tank!
Here are some easy ideas how we can save water every day: Avoid taking baths - a single bathtub full of water is the same as several showers, so opt for showers instead. Try and take shorter showers as well, to avoid unnecessary waste of water. Use a low-flow shower head to further reduce the water flow, or make sure you don’t turn the water all the way on. Don’t run your water for minutes before a shower waiting for it to get hot. Instead, have a jar ready and catch the cold water. You can use it for watering your plants, or for washing your produce. When brushing your teeth or washing your face, turn off the water while you scrub instead of running the tap the whole time.
When doing the dishes, don’t run the water the whole time. It’s better instead to fill the sink or a tub with water and some natural dish soap, wash all your dishes, then rinse them quickly of suds. This way, you can reduce your use of water immensely! Also, If you see that your faucets are leaking, fix them immediately! This will save you a pretty penny, and help the planet as well.
When we’re talking about waste, we can’t forget the biggest culprit: our garbage. In order to live more eco-friendly, it’s important that we try to avoid as much garbage as possible, and that we dispose of our trash the right way. The three R’s can help you with this.
The first thing is to try and avoid garbage as much as possible. We live in a culture where garbage is regularly collected by our communities, so we tend to have much more of it than strictly necessary. For our planet, it would be best if we didn’t have any garbage at all, because it takes resources and energy to dispose of it. Therefore, let’s start trying to avoid having so much to throw away.
One of the easiest things to get rid of is paper. Unsubscribe from all the catalogues and junk mail you don’t need. Don’t buy paper books anymore; instead invest into an e-book reader and buy your books electronically. Not only will you save a lot of space in your house and money in the long run, you will also help your planet. Read your newspapers, magazines and other publications online. Print and write as little as possible. For example, instead of sending Christmas cards, you could send e-cards! Instead of writing shopping lists and other notes on paper, use your smartphone. Opt for paperless bills whenever you can, and pay your bills electronically. Use microfiber cloths instead of paper towels for cleaning, and cloth napkins instead of paper ones. You can wash and reuse microfiber cloths for years!
Another material we should aim to reduce as much as possible is plastic. Many plastics could be recycled, but improper separations from trash and plastics as well as dumping in the nature means that most plastic ends up not being recycled after all. Plastic in the environment is dangerous, responsible for killing animals and plants, polluting the oceans and disintegrating into tiny particles which are being absorbed into our food chains, so far with unknown consequences. And even if properly disposed of, plastic takes many years to decompose because of its composition of large molecules. Therefore, we should reduce our use of the material, and it can be a lot simpler than you think.
Use alternatives to plastic. Buy and carry around canvas bags for your grocery shopping, and opt for “no bags” when possible. Buy loose fruit and vegetable instead of pre-packed plastic bags from the supermarkets. Buy bulk with the help of reusable containers. In fact, invest in reusable everything: bags, food containers, water bottles, bowls, plates, cutlery made of glass, aluminium or stainless steel. So when you are getting takeaway, use your own food storage container and bring your own cutlery, and avoid the typical styrofoam container and plastic fork and knife. And if you are throwing a party, use normal plates and glasses and wash them, instead of producing bags and bags of paper plates and plastic cups. Stay away from designated single-use items, such as razors, and from unnecessary plastic such as floss with handles or plastic toothbrushes. Look for more environmentally friendly alternatives.
ALTERNATIVES TO BUYING
Another great way of avoiding the built-up of garbage is by only buying what you truly need. For many items, there are great alternatives. For example, you can rent books and movies from the library or other organizations. You can also buy or rent them online, through Netflix or the likes. You can also borrow a lot of other items, such as lawnmowers, tools and many more. What used to be simply good practices amongst neighbours is now turning into a trend. Websites and apps to connect owners and users are flourishing, and it’s a great alternative for anyone not needing a power drill on a daily basis to simply borrow one when necessary. And finally, if you do own tools and other appliances and they break down, have them fixed instead of replacing them, if possible. This way, you will avoid a lot of unnecessary garbage.
A lot of what we throw away could actually still be used, so another way of avoiding garbage is to reuse what we have. A great way of reusing your kitchen trash is by starting and cultivating a compost pile. Egg shells, fruit and vegetable peel and stalks can all be composted, and the compost can then be used for your plants in the house or in the garden. If you don’t have the space or time to cultivate your own compost, see if one of your neighbours might be interested in your compostable scraps. Many communities also offer to collect compostables.
Another great way of reusing what you have is by hosting and visiting yard sales or flea markets. Some people might pay money for what you consider to be useless! You can also swap clothes and other items with people, giving both sides a new wardrobe without the need to buy new clothes. Once again, websites and apps are great at facilitating that. Your old clothes and other items can also be donated, if they are still in good condition. If your old clothes are hole-y in a non-fashionable way, turn old sheets and shirts into rags for cleaning. Your old toothbrush is great for scrubbing the grout in your bathroom and kitchen! And if you do have plastic bags from shopping trips, you can use them as trash bags for the bathroom bin, for example. Make sure that when you throw something away, it’s because it’s absolutely necessary!
Unless you are absolutely amazing at this, you will always have some garbage. And that is perfectly okay, as long as you dispose of it correctly. Make sure you know about the garbage and recyclables collection in your community, and what goes in which container. If your local community is not offering a collection, find a place where you can dispose of your garbage correctly. Make certain that you separate it right. Paper, cans, bottles, glass, plastic, electronics, … each has to recycled on its own, which is why there are separate containers.
Recycling is absolutely useful, making sure that our planet’s resources are kept in circulation. This way we don’t have to get ever and ever more petroleum, aluminium ore and more. But a big part of this also that you have to make sure when buying, that you are buying recycled. Recycled paper, toilet paper and kitchen towels work just as well as the ones not recycled. Recycled aluminium foil, recycled plastic bottles, … A company which truly cares about the environment will offer a recycled option, and if you do too, you will be able to choose it.
DRIVE THE CHANGE
We all know that public transport is better for the environment than driving a car, but sometimes it can't be avoided. If you find that you absolutely have to drive, make sure and do it right: Combine multiple errands into one trip and thereby save yourself gas and time. Carpool with friends or colleagues, for example on your way to work, to save cost and even more greenhouse gasses. Make sure your car is in perfect condition: check the tire pressure and ensure that they are properly inflated for your purpose. Too little air pressure will increase your fuel consumption, while too much pressure increases your risk for accidents. Empty your car and trunk of all the junk you might usually keep in there, to keep the weight down. Also remove the roof and bike racks to decrease the aerodynamic resistance. Make sure your engine is running smoothly and with enough oil and coolant. It might help to use a proven fuel additive to further reduce your fuel consumption. When driving, keep your speed to the limit and brake and accelerate gently; driving with a consistent speed is better for the consumption and your nerves! If you drive stick, change to the highest gear as soon as possible, and step off the gas for downhill cruising.
There are many things we can do to make our daily lives easier on the environment and thereby live better and more environmentally friendly. Never forget that you don’t have to do all at once. Every little step you take will further preserve our natural resources, and help protect the planet. The important thing is that these steps will become ingrained in our everyday lives. Only this way will we be able to make sure the planet’s resources will last for another few generations. So use the new year to get rid of some bad habits!
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