by Cassie Hepler
People assume that going green is more work than living a wasteful lifestyle, but in reality, with just a little effort you can save some money while helping to save precious Earth resources. And although some of us may complain that corporate emissions count for most pollution, what we do as individuals matters. If we lead the way, others will follow by example. Imagine if everyone followed a green living path? We could – and can – effectively change the world for the better.
- Join a Buy Nothing Group
These groups have the community vibe we’ve all been searching for and allow items that are just lying around your house to go to good use in someone else’s. Simply go on Facebook and type “buy nothing” plus your city in the search bar, click on the group for your area, and ask to join. My group is located in North Phoenix and let me tell you, these wonderfully green people have been a lifesaver! I can post things I am not using, and they’ll be picked up within an hour… no bags sitting in my trunk for months waiting to go to Goodwill and no need to worry about them piling up in the city dump.
- Using Grocery Bags as Trash Bags
We’ve all been there… you’re standing at the grocery checkout counter kicking yourself, realizing that you left your reusable bags at home or in the car. You end up with plastic bags because you don’t want to hold up the line. So now what to do with them? Reuse them as trash bags for small trash cans, cleaning the cat litter, or take them on your walks with your pups to dispose of their waste.
- Switch Out Your Sponges
The green and yellow sponges that a lot of us grew up with are not biodegradable. They’re actually made of PVC – a form of plastic – which means it can take a hundred years or more for them to decompose. What’s more, they also shed little plastic microfibers into our water systems. There are tons of reusable and recyclable options that are often more sanitary than sponges, but if you’ve got a sponge habit that you just can’t kick, look for the brown ones which are typically biodegradable. This super simple swap can go a long way to reduce plastic waste in our landfills.
- Purchase Recycled Toiletries
Just because something is recycled doesn’t mean it’s dirty. In fact, many personal care companies that use recycled materials also use natural ingredients in items like toilet paper, tissues, tampons, and pads, making it easier to avoid “forever chemicals” that are linked to cancer, developmental conditions, and hormone disruption. It makes sense that you want only the cleanest, most organic, and natural products anywhere near your delicate areas.
- Borrow Tools If You Don’t Need Them Regularly
We are all guilty of this – buying and hoarding tools and equipment we think we may need in the future, or purchasing something for a one-time-only job. Oftentimes, after some of our tools sit in sheds or hot garages, we pull them out years later only to discover that they don’t work anymore. For those once-in-a-blue-moon jobs, try saving money and cutting back on major landfill waste by borrowing a tool from a neighbor, or try renting from stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, or your local independently-owned hardware store.
- Join a Seed Farm
Gardening is making a comeback! Because more Americans are finding it harder to eat “clean” due to lack of availability or cost effectiveness, many are choosing to grow their own food straight from the earth. The Phoenix Public Library has seeds available for free based on seasonality, while the Arizona Seed Trade Association (arizonaseedtrade.org) is a great resource to learn more about what works well in the desert climate.
- Compost Food Scraps
Instead of throwing your left-over food in the garbage or down the garbage disposal, composting is a fabulous alternative to eliminate waste. With an easy-to-remember formula of saving scraps that don’t contain meat, bones, or dairy products, you can use compost as a precious fertilizer. And if you don’t use it all yourself, you can always gift it to your closest farming neighbor.
- Plant a Tree
Trees Matter AZ (treesmatter.org) is a non-profit that aims to cover Phoenix in an oasis of trees. If you’re located within certain city limits, you can contact them to get a free desert-adapted shade tree to plant on your property! Planting more drought efficient plants and trees brings the temperature down in urban areas, which then lowers energy usage and decreases our environmental footprint. Trees offer many other critical functions such as pollution and dust reduction, carbon sequestration, and habitats for birds and insects.
- Recycle at Work
Does your office only have trash cans with nary a blue bin in sight? Look into hiring an office recycling collection service or get together with your coworkers to create and manage one on your own. Create a schedule to take turns taking home collected scrap paper, plastic bottles, and aluminum cans to deposit into your own recycling can at your residence.
- Choose an Eco-Friendly Car
According to the EPA, the average passenger vehicle produces about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Purchasing a fuel-efficient vehicle not only saves you money on gas but also reduces air pollution and your carbon footprint. If a fuel-efficient car is important to you, check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s online calculator to estimate the annual fuel cost of your current vehicle or one you might have your eye on.
- Reduce Your Energy Consumption
Still using incandescent light bulbs? Switch to LEDs to use 75% less energy and enjoy bulb life that lasts up to 25 times longer. Lower your carbon footprint further by unplugging electronics when not in use and shutting off lights and fans when you’re not in the room. Most notably, invest in a programmable thermostat to save energy and up to 1% in energy costs for each degree you reduce the temperature in winter or raise the temperature in summer (over an eight-hour period).
- Reduce Plastic Waste
Every time you drink plastic bottled water, you’re consuming tiny micro plastics that take time to be flushed out of your system. Not only are these bottles bad for your health, they can take up to 450 years to degrade in a landfill. Pick up a food-grade stainless steel reusable water bottle for years of fresh water enjoyment free of harmful plastic residues.
Zip top disposable plastic bags, plastic utensils and plates are also a supreme hazard to the environment, taking potentially hundreds of years to break down. Invest in reusable silicone zip top bags to store food items safely in your freezer or fridge or to pack your child’s lunch in for school. If you must purchase plastic utensils, wash them for reuse, as well.
- Turn off the Water
By using less water, we not only save money – we save energy, as well. There are a multitude of ways that we can make easy changes that add up to big savings every day. Make sure to turn off the water when you’re not using it at the bathroom sink while brushing your teeth and at the kitchen sink when doing dishes. Better yet, invest in an energy efficient dishwasher to minimize water usage even further. Shorter showers, employing low-flow toilets and water fixtures, and investing in desert landscaping are all additional ways that we can save this most precious resource.
- DIY Cleaning & Laundry Products
With many ingredients in household cleaning products coming under scrutiny, the internet has exploded with hundreds of homemade recipes you can use to clean everything from your kitchen counters to your toilets and even your laundry. The added use of clean essential oils can also make your home smell great without the health concerns associated with artificial fragrances. Add to that the benefits of using refillable glass spray bottles and containers, and you’re not just taking care of your body and your health, but the environment, too.
- Skip the Clothes Dryer
Instead of running your dryer in the middle of a hot summer day, try using a clothesline. If you don’t want your clothes in the direct sun, consider securing a retractable one on your covered patio or invest in a clothes rack that folds up to air dry your clothes wherever space allows at any time of the year. Not only will this extend the life of your clothes, it will also save energy and reduce your costs, as well.
We can all do our part to make this world a better place. It all starts with being just a little more mindful not just for Earth Day, but all year round.