When most of us think of going green, we think of big picture ideas, like buying an electric car, riding a bike to work or adding solar panels to our homes. All these ideas cost a lot of money and require a long term commitment to the cause. Like all revolutions, modifying a few simple everyday activities can add up to a big change, when lot of people do them. Here are some easy tips, that we can all do, to go green and also save money.
Make notes with reusable methods such as a small blackboard or grease board in the kitchen or home office. The Magic Slate, a toy from the 1960s, is still available for about $5, usually adorned with cute animal borders. It uses a simple eco-friendly wax paper technology to allow you to write with a hard stylus and then lift the plastic layer up to erase it. The BoogieBoard is the modern high tech equivalent, using a simplified LCD screen that can’t display electronic signals but only impressions from a stylus. It costs $40 and takes more energy to produce than a Magic Slate.
For use when you are out and about, use recyclable paper or homemade scratch pads and a refillable mechanical pencil, instead of post-its and disposable pens. To make homemade scratch pads, check your home office waste basket for draft printouts and cut them up to use the blank backside for notepads. Use cut-up junk mail envelopes scratch pads, too. My mother’s grocery lists were always on the backs of junk mail envelopes. Mobile phones and tablets also have handy apps for quick notes. If you already own a smart phone or tablet, you might as well take advantage of that feature.
Food Waste -
Cook from scratch with fresh produce. You will save 20-50% on your food expenses if you were eating a lot of pre-packaged foods and take-out items. You create half the packaging garbage, which saves garbage bags and trips to the dumpster. You will spend about an extra hour a day in the kitchen, but you will be eating much healthier.
Water Usage -
Use cold water to wash your hands and rinse dishes instead of running the hot water until it is warm. This saves time, energy and water. Also, turning down the thermostat on the hot water tank reduces energy usage in a big way. The hot water left in the tank and pipes to the faucets uselessly radiates heat into the walls and utility closet. A few modern homes have quick-heating under-sink hot water tanks to help solve this problem. If the running tap water is too hot to comfortably hold your hand under, it’s set too high.
You may opt to wash clothes and dishes in only cold water. There are many cold water detergents and dishwasher soaps now available on the store shelves that work with this method.
Kitchen Cleanup -
Use a sponge and dish towel instead of paper towels for counter cleanup. We tend to use paper towels, because none of us like the smell of a sour sponge. Sponges can turn into prolific germ breeding grounds. Microwave that sponge every few days, while it is wet, for 20-30 seconds to kill the bacteria and smell. Use old dish rags or towels for floor cleanup messes - then add them into the laundry routine.
Sun tea is unique as a solar powered beverage, requiring no electricity to make. Compared to convenient bottled energy drinks, homemade tea has nothing to recycle except spent tea bags and only costs pennies instead of dollars per glass.
Consider drinking your beverages in the same glass all day, to save on dishwashing costs and energy use. Early Russian vending soda machines used the method of having a reusable glass instead of cans. It wasn’t very sanitary, since many different people re-used the glass, but they were ahead of their time with this eco-friendly idea.
Home Lighting -
Open the curtains and use more outside light, instead of leaving the lights on during the day. So many of us leave our curtains closed for privacy. Add planters with tall plants or a trellis in front of windows needing privacy or add translucent, decorative window covers that self-adhere to the windows.
Switch to CFL bulbs, if you haven’t already done so, in all your lighting fixtures. Compared to standard incandescent bulbs, they pay for themselves just in increased lifespan. The energy savings from CFL bulbs are hugh. Note that CFL bulbs need to be recycled properly, as they do contain small amounts of mercury.
The Mailbox -
Stop junk mail, especially the paper kind. Call 1-888-567-8688 or visit the optoutprescreen website to stop credit card offers. Use the 1-800 number on each mail order catalog to call and ask to be removed from thier mailing list. There are also websites that have directories of contact information for popular mail order catalogs.
Grocery Shopping -
Shop in bulk once every week or two to save gas and time. If you are shopping for 1-2 people, just buy the biggest practical size of an item at a discount store. Consider buying a 32 oz container of an item once every two weeks as opposed to buying two each of a 16 oz container over two shopping trips. Two smaller containers waste much more packaging than one large container and the larger size costs less per pound.
Make a shopping list so you don’t make return trips 2-3 times in a week. Multiple trips waste gas and you end up impulse buying on those quick trips as a reward for doing the errand.
Local Produce -
Buying produce at local stands has been the method used everywhere else in the world for thousands of years. Shop at your local farmers’ market. You get fresher, better produce, support your local farmers and save energy, because of the reduced cost of food transport. Fresher food means a healthier and tastier meal for you.
Book Reading -
If you still like to read real books, buy them used instead of new. Shop your local thrift stores and used bookstores for good deals. If you are having difficulty finding a specific book, Amazon has many used book suppliers to choose from. You still pay to have something shipped which wastes energy, but at least you gave a used book a second life. I try to pick Amazon resellers that are located nearby.
Many book titles are available as E-books and may be downloaded onto a PC, Kindle, iPad or mobile phone. The Kindle is the most energy efficient choice, but you will trade off using electricity versus conserving paper and the energy use by delivery trucks. E-books almost always cost less than new hardcover books, but much more than used books.
Paper Needs -
It goes without saying that you should use recycled toilet paper and envelopes. If you must use paper towels and tablet paper, buy recycled varieties. Toilet paper and paper towels aren’t getting recycled again, so this is their last trip through the remanufacturing process.
I have yet to see a good idea for an alternative to toilet paper. Wash rags were used to clean baby bottoms before towelettes were invented. The ancient Romans used sponges on sticks dipped in vinegar instead of toilet paper. The Japanese have water jets and air dryers in some of their toilets, as an alternative to toilet paper.
Bill Paying -
Switch to paperless bill paying. This saves on bill delivery costs and your expense of return envelopes and stamps. You can go directly to your phone, cable and power company websites and set up bill notifications by e-mail. At the end of the month you can pay your bills on their websites. There is no charge for this and you can pay either by credit card or direct withdrawal from your bank account. You can also use a bill-paying service from your bank, but there’s usually a fee for that.
The above ideas are only a few of many ways to do your part for the environment. Many of these methods seemingly revert to how we did things two generations ago. Tasks were more labor intensive and less convenient then, but definitely more eco-friendly and less expensive. Even adopting a few of these ideas is a step in the right direction.