Embracing eco-friendly living or reducing our carbon footprint can often feel like one more item on an already extensive checklist.
With so many causes, duties, and decisions clamoring for our attention, how can we make time to change our routines in ways that benefit the environment?
Often, economic factors are debated in the “going green” discussion. But people seem to forget that time is money! Because of this, I want to present you with ten wallet- and schedule-friendly ways you can help your planet.
This list is not exhaustive – again because of time. You don’t want to scroll through 50 tips and tricks, and I don’t want to write them. Instead, I’m presenting you with 10 detailed, researched ideas that can help you prioritize earth-friendly living.
1) Amazon Smile
These first two tips are about free donations.
“What?” you say, “But donations cost money? That’s the point.”
Not with Amazon Smile – or the myriad of other online shops that donate to causes every time you shop.
With Amazon Smile, as long as you’re shopping under smile.amazon.com instead of regular ol’ Amazon, 0.5% of each eligible purchase will go directly to a charity of your choice. You’re browsing the same items and prices, only now you’re helping a good cause!
Amazon supports hundreds of charities, and so if you choose, this can be one of the ways you donate to the environment. And while 0.5% may not seem like much, Amazon Smile has given $80,000,000 to charities as of February 2018. Since it costs you nothing, there’s really no reason NOT to use this feature!
Simply install the search engine and conduct business as usual.
Each time you search the internet, you’re bombarded with promoted content (what a fun way of saying “This is an ad!”). Where does that money go?
With Ecosia, 80% of their profits from ad revenue go to planting trees in countries around the world. Because they’re a private company, we do have to take their released financial statements at face value, as they aren’t subject to auditing the same way a public company is. However, a quick search around the internet shows that the plots on which they’re claiming to plant trees are thriving. So it’s worth a go!
I will say that Ecosia doesn’t currently have all the snazzy search functions Google possesses (think translate, word definitions, etc.), but it will redirect you to Google maps instead of pretending they have a better navigation program. For everyday searches and inquiries, Ecosia absolutely gets the job done. I’ve installed it on both my work and personal computer, and its interface is just as intuitive as other mainstream search engines.
3) Reusable Shopping bags
I’m sure you’ve seen and heard of these. My grandma was using them before they were cool. (Go grandma!)
I bring them up because when it comes to reusable shopping bags, material matters! A study done in the UK showed that each type of reusable bag has a threshold of use that must be met before that bag is better for the environment than its one-time use counterpart (Edwards). Accounting for secondary use of plastic grocery bags as trashcan liners, each reusable bag needs to be used the following number of times:
|Bag Type||No. of Uses|
I’ve heard people say they prefer cotton bags because they last longer. But do they last 12 or 34x as long as the two other bag types? I haven’t been shopping for myself long enough to know, but I’m skeptical. Something to keep in mind next time you’re purchasing reusable bags!
4) Consolidated Trash
I mentioned above people’s tendency to reuse grocery bags as liners for small trash cans. I know my mom did this growing up, and it’s what I do when I forget to bring my reusable bag to the store and get stuck with TJ Maxx’s plastic bags.
As such, an unintended consequence of bans on plastic bags is an uptick in sales of small trash can liners – which use more plastic than grocery bags! It’s estimated that in LA county, sale of small and medium liners went up 120% and 60% respectively (Rosalsky). 30% of the eliminated grocery store plastic was coming back to haunt us in garbage cans. So what can we do?
You don’t have to throw out those liners every time your trash fills up. Unless your trash is smelly or gross, you can simply dump the trash in your kitchen bin before taking it out, then leave the small liner for another use.
5) Washing dirty clothes
Hooray! Hating laundry helps the planet!
If you’re a normal person (am I making value judgements here? A little bit), you likely wear your jeans more than once before washing them. I probably wear mine more times than I should, but that’s beside the point.
The point IS that you can eliminate water waste by only washing clothes when they actually need it. The below chart offers up the recommended number of wears before washes for various articles of clothing.
|Clothing Type||No. of Wears|
|Office attire||3-6, depending|
|Jackets/outerwear||1 wash/season or less|
|Hats, scarves, gloves||4 washes/season|
|Sweaters||~3 (if worn as outer layer)|
|Silks and whites||1|
Again, this is a guideline. If your jeans get BBQ sauce on them, wash those suckers. And if your work shirt has pit stains because you were nervous about that big presentation, it needs a wash. Anything worn directly against the body will need more washes than outer layers, and it should go without saying that underwear and socks are single-wear items.
6) Donated clothing
You can also sell old clothes. But that takes work, and this is a low effort post only.
Goodwill is one of the most popular donation sites for used clothes, as it’s super easy to drop your bag and go. They’ll then sort through what they do or don’t need. If they aren’t able to sell an item in their stores, they often give it to a textile recycling facility (Strutner).
Those clothes are then either resold into the US or international used clothing market, cut into rags, or processed for soft fiber filling used in furniture, insulation, etc. The worst of the worst goes to land fills
Dress for Success is another awesome option. They accept “nearly new, contemporary, ready to wear, seasonal career appropriate women’s attire” (Dress). That said, if you’ve worn a shirt to the point of exhaustion, or it’s clearly a fashion relic of 2002, they won’t accept it. But if you have timeless items that you’ve emotionally or stylistically outgrown, Dress for Success will use your donated clothing to help women in low income households find clothing that helps make financial independence viable.
I’ve actually written a more extensive review of several clothing donation centers. Check it out here!
7) library cards
Disclaimer: This only works if you like to read
Disclaimer 2.0: If you already use a Kindle, this is kinda moot.
That said, if you love reading, borrowing your books is a great way to reduce your consumption. Yes, Amazon makes it east to impulse buy a book for a couple of bucks, but how long will it take you to read all those impulse purchases? (And do we really want to become the United States of Amazon?? A post for another time)
Think of a library card as a way to constantly recycle your used books. You borrow, read, and pass on the book to the next person eager to devour the illustrious text. Wow, what a legacy. Look at you go.
8) reusable water bottles
Various studies estimate that between 35 and 50 MILLION plastic bottles are thrown away by American consumers each year (Pristine Planet), and the worldwide consumption of plastic bottles is around 1,000,000 per minute (Laville). Much of that number comes from bottled water.
Our culture is pushing healthy living (hooray!), and this means lots of people drinking lots of water. There are so many viable options for reusable bottles! And for the cost of a few 24-pack of Dasani, you can buy one. The bottle pays for itself within a month.
And if you’re worried about the taste or safety of your tap water, Brita filters are the eco-friendly alternative to bottled water. Brita also allows you to recycle your old Brita filters, bottles, and pitchers – so they’re extra eco-friendly!
9) Coffee thermoses
Fun fact! Your favorite coffee chains will fill your thermos with coffee in leu of giving you a single-use cup! In fact, Starbucks has even made it a company goal to constantly increase the number of beverages served in personal thermoses.
Not only will you be reducing waste, but you’ll also have your coffee in a thermal container. Hooray for steady beverage temperatures.
This works for both cold and hot coffees, though for hot coffees in particular, a ceramic to-go cup is perfect for reheating later if you’re a slower coffee consumer (I personally down the coffee within 30 minutes of receiving. Because I’m addicted, and coffee is wow)
10 ) Reusable cutlery
If you find yourself ordering to-go food, whether it’s a salad from Tender Greens or a baked potato and chili from Wendy’s, you’re consuming plastic ware whether you use it or not. (Burgers are also grand, but they don’t require plastic ware and are thus not part of this particular argument)
If you’re taking the food home or back to the office, then telling them you don’t need plastic ware is the first step in reducing this waste.
But what happens if you’re eating the food in the car? Or taking it somewhere silverware isn’t readily available? You create your own stash. If you do receive plastic ware, you can wash those babies and reuse them until they die. Otherwise, you can totally keep regular silverware in your car! It’s the same size, and so it’s absolutely just as much “to go” as plastic ware is.
As I mentioned before, this list is by no means exhaustive. Our focus was on low-effort, easily introduced changes to routine. Shifting little things in your routine will help you internalize the idea of eco-friendly living. It helps your mind accept environmentalism as a priority, making it easier to take more steps as you chug ahead in this crazy little dance we call life.
If any of these ideas jumped out at you, or if you already use them and have additional tips and tricks to share, please feel free to share in the comments below! Down to Earth’s entire goal is to make going green feel manageable and easy – and that begins with supportive communities!
Follow my on Twitter: @Blog_D2Earth @AbbyHarrison33
“Donation Guidelines.” Dress for Success. http://3xokx41zp3859n32sf9l2o17-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/DONATION-GUIDELINES-2019.pdf
Edwards, Chris and Fry, Jonna. “Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags: A Review of the Bags Available in 2006.” Environment Agency. Bristol. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/291023/scho0711buan-e-e.pdf
“How Many Plastic Water Bottles Are Thrown Away Every Day?” Pristine Planet, pristineplanet.com/eco-info/How-many-plastic-water-bottles-are-thrown-away-every-day.asp.
Laville, Sandra, and Matthew Taylor. “A Million Bottles a Minute: World’s Plastic Binge ‘as Dangerous as Climate Change’.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 28 June 2017, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/28/a-million-a-minute-worlds-plastic-bottle-binge-as-dangerous-as-climate-change.
Rosalsky, Gregg, and Stacey Vanek Smith. “Why Banning Plastic Grocery Bags Could Be A Bad Move.” https://www.npr.org/2019/05/23/726035361/why-banning-plastic-grocery-bags-could-be-a-bad-move
Strutner, Suzy. “Here’s What Goodwill Actually Does With Your Donated Clothes.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 12 Apr. 2019, http://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-does-goodwill-do-with-your-clothes_n_57e06b96e4b0071a6e092352.