Earth Day 2k12: 5 Things You Can Do To Decrease Your Impact

In honor of Earth Day this Sunday, I thought it would be good to give five simple suggestions on how to live a wee bit greener life. These suggestions really aren’t difficult, you’ve probably heard them a million times already, but humor me and hear them again. Decreasing your impact on the planet doesn’t necessarily require you to spend heaps of money or to put up a wind farm in your back yard; it’s about breaking old bad habits, and creating new ones that are a little easier on our wallets and less stressful on our planet.

#1. Unplug. If it doesn’t need to be plugged in, unplug it. Even if you shut down your menagerie of electronics, chances are they’re still drawing power just by being plugged in. Huffington Post provided an article in HowStuffWorks to explain that standby power consumption could account for 5-10% of your total electric consumption. Combined with everyone else’s standby power consumption, this equates to about 1% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions.

Granted, it’s a little frustrating when you’re first getting started to realize your toast is not in fact toasting because the toaster’s been unplugged since last Tuesday, but after a few mishaps you’ll remember (hopefully) to check first, then unplug when you’re done.

If things do need to be plugged in, consider changing power saving settings or sleep settings, or go big and invest in a smart strip which shuts off power to electronics in standby mode.

#2. Turn Off. Growing up, I wasn’t a fan of the dark. If my parents left me home alone they would return to find every light on in the house. Now that I live on my own, I’ve become a bit neurotic about turning off lights–I find myself residing half the time in semi-darkness with only one CFL light bulb burning in the corner. As this probably isn’t most people’s style, just be conscious of the fact there isn’t a little elf that lives in your room that needs the light on after you walk out.

If you’re at work, school, what have you, make sure you’re heater or air conditioner isn’t running full speed ahead while no one is home.

#3. Reusables. I’ve used some form of a reusable bottle since high school. When I started working, I got in the habit of making my tea or coffee at home and bringing it in a mug. I do cheat on Fridays when I reward my hard work for the week with a triple soy latte from the coffee shop down the street, but now that I think of it, they probably wouldn’t be opposed to putting my caffeine addiction in my mug.

In an effort to save money, I bring lunch from home, but after a few months I was going through a foolish amount of plastic ziplock baggies! I decided to cut the baggies out of my lunch life and got an Eco Lunchbox. This little bento style box fits my sandwich, and a good couple of snacks for the day.

Reusable Trifecta

My Reusable Trifecta

Some cities in California have recently instituted plastic bag bans, but if yours hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon, invest all .99 cents most reusable bags cost and bring them when you go to the store. If you’re like me and realize halfway to the store you have no canvass bags, stash some in the trunk of your car.

Plastic is a huge source of waste in the U.S. It comprises of 12% of our waste, 27 million tons of which ended up in landfills in 2005, according to Time.

#4. Buy Local. Buy Organic. Food travels extraordinary distances to get to your table. Not only does this mean you’re probably not getting the highest quality or freshest produce, but it has serious implications for the climate in terms of energy consumption and emissions released.

According to a Health Facts article by the NRDC, imports of fruits, nuts, and vegetables in 2005 released more than 70,000 tons of carbon dioxide, that amount is equivalent to 12,000 cars on the road.

Buying local helps your local economy. Buying organic means no pesticides or fertilizers tainting your food, bringing better quality produce to your table. Bring your recently acquired reusable bag to your local farmers market this weekend!

#5. Turn Off the Tap. If you leave the water on when you’re brushing your teeth, and you brush your teeth twice a day, you’ve just wasted 24 gallons of water. Everyone likes a long, hot shower after a rough day (myself included). Most shower heads use 2.5 gallons of water per minute. If you usually shower for 20 minutes, you’ve lost 50 gallons of water, not to mention the energy it takes to heat that water. Try cutting your showers down by 5-10 minutes a day.

Personally, I know I waste the most water when I’m doing dishes–I’ve developed the bad habit of leaving the faucet running while I scrub my Eco lunchbox clean. I’m contemplating putting a post-it on the wall behind the sink reminding me to turn of the tap when I’m scrubbing. If you do your dishes in a dishwasher, make sure you’re running full loads.

These suggestions are kind of no-brainers. Like I said, it’s about breaking out of our wasteful mindsets and creating new, contentious habits that we practice in our daily lives to help lower our impact.

Happy Earth Day to all!