Any time is a good time for new beginnings, but January is the special time for New Year’s resolutions. At whatever time of year we make resolutions (promises to ourselves), we know the key to success: regular practice of the same action until it becomes a habit. As a reader of this blog, you want to live a greener lifestyle. While this post does have some specific tips for green living, my main objective is to present some general thoughts that you can apply no matter how much or how little you have lived a green life so far.
Cut your energy use
Can there even be a general list of green living tips that does not include cutting your energy use? The trouble is that much of the standard advice does not work for everyone.
Large cities like New York or Chicago offer excellent public transportation. Smaller cities offer spottier service. Towns in rural areas hardly offer it at all.
Renters can’t benefit from all the advice aimed at home owners. Even home owners can’t use all it if they live in a high-rise condo building.
But everyone can do something, and everyone who is already doing something can find more.
In your car
I know full well that walking and taking public transportation are not options for everyone. I live within walking distance of several stores, but there are no sidewalks along the busy streets I would need to take to get there. I have no desire to take my life in my hands to pick up an armload of groceries!
There is a nearby bus line that would require a walk on one of the less scary busy streets, but it doesn’t run very often and only goes past a very few of the places I ever go.
Still, I say, use your car less. For example, you can
- Avoid drive-throughs.
- Keep your car and tires in good condition in order to get the best mileage.
- Don’t keep heavy items in the trunk that you don’t need.
- Combine errands as much as possible and plan your route to avoid backtracking, long stop lights, peak traffic times, etc. as much as possible.
In your house
Here’s at least one green living tip even renters can do: Have you started using CFL lightbulbs yet? Yes, they’re aggravating, but they’re much better than they were just a few years ago. Plus they use so much less electricity and have to be replaced so much less often that you’ll save money.
Do you have a programable thermostat? Do you have proper weatherstripping on doors and windows? Does your house have enough of the right kind of insulation? These little things can also add up to using less energy and saving money in the process.
If you have already done all the obvious, simple things, consider getting a solar powered attic fan, a tankless water heater, or other upgrades that will help you lower your energy usage even more.
They’ll pay for themselves before long. If you can shell out several grand for a whole-house solar system, do it.
The life of solar panels is something like 25 years, and if you can pay off the loan in 10 years, that’s 15 years of totally free electricity. I have already written about why solar power is up to us; I just came across another very good article that details five reasons to install residential solar panels.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
Among general green living tips, this one may be the most important of all. Consider the environmental impact of everything you buy, including obtaining the raw materials, transportation, packaging, and disposal. Do you really need it?
Prefer products that use the least packaging, that have the least plastic, require the least transportation, and that are made at least partly with recycled materials.
Avoid plastic as much as possible, and especially beverages that come in plastic. If you need to carry water with you, get a stainless steel water bottle.
Recycling rates for plastic bottles in this country are pathetic, and if plastic is not recycled, it becomes an environmental menace.
Take your own cloth bags into stores with you. That way, when a clerk asks if you want paper or plastic, you can say, “Neither.”
Until restaurants go back to reasonable portion sizes, take your own reusable containers in order to avoid taking home an unrecyclable plastic container you have to throw out right away.
I haven’t noticed any alternative to buying plastic containers, but at least you’ll wash them and reuse them. Just don’t microwave the leftovers in them. You don’t really want to ingest chemicals from the plastic with your food, do you?
When you’re finished with something, can you repurpose it for something else? Can you donate it to the Salvation Army or other charity? Sell it? Simply tossing it in the trash should be your last resort. After all, landfills are a dwindling resource, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to find suitable places for new ones.
Recycle as much as you can. If your community has a curbside recycling program, participate fully. And go beyond it. Despite your best efforts, you will collect plastic bags for the foreseeable future (i.e. for bread, bulk foods, etc.). You can’t put them out at the curb in most places, but you can take them to grocery stores.
Likewise, you can’t put old batteries, obsolete or broken electronics, extra paint, or other hazardous materials out at the curb for recycling. And you certainly should never put anything of the kind in the trash.
My parents’ town won’t even accept any kind of glass for curbside recycling! But surely every community has some kind of drop-off center that accepts what you can’t leave at the curb. Accumulate all that at your home until you have a carload to take there.
Watch what you eat
Many people resolve to lose weight January after January. Going on a “diet” never works for long. If you want to lose weight, think instead in terms of changing the way you eat. Here’s where green living tips really get personal. Did you know that eating differently can also be part of going green at home?
The “green revolution” of half a century ago vastly increased agricultural productivity using petroleum-based fertilizers, irrigation, and feeding cattle corn in feed lots. These new techniques and materials seemed to promise a greater abundance of nutritious food than was possible the old-fashioned methods. (I think those discredited, obsolete methods meant the same as organic farming does now.)
The downside has only fairly recently started to become apparent. For one thing, beef production now requires about 16 pounds of corn to produce one pound of edible meat! And think of all the water and fertilizer that goes into growing the corn! Oh, and corn causes more flatulence in cattle, causing them to produce more methane than grass-fed cattle.)
If you eat more corn yourself and less beef, you cut down on your fat intake and raise your fiber intake. If you build your eating habits around fruits, vegetables, and grains, and use a little meat for flavoring, you don’t have to become a vegetarian to help both your waistline and the environment. And you certainly won’t eat 16 pounds of vegetables for every pounds of beef (or even 3 pounds for every pound of poultry) you don’t eat!
Educate yourself about important environmental concerns
Going green means different things to different people. You might care especially about air and water pollution, renewable energy, organic food, climate change, waste reduction, or any number of other issues. So find your own, personal green living tips. Whatever your passion, make it a point to learn more about it.
I hope you find my blog informative. You probably have other web sites that you explore regularly. Printed books, magazines, and journals, however, still hold a lot of information not available for free on the Internet. While you’re here, you can visit either Amazon or Book Closeouts to find books.
You should also visit your local library. Besides having more print resources than you can afford to buy, the library subscribes to expensive databases that will help you identify exactly the right articles in all those magazines and journals.
Don’t keep all that knowledge to yourself. As you learn about the green issues that affect your own community, you will certainly come across various organizations dealing with whatever you are most passionate about. You will notice what your local and state governments are doing to help or hinder your cause. Join a group and influence your leaders.