8 Ways to Reduce Your Impact Today

With a full-time job, an active social life, and perhaps a kid or a pup to raise, it can be tough to fit in a commitment to the environment — especially if it seems to require added cost or responsibility.

Take heart, though, because there are many ways to save money and reduce your impact on the planet. Once you’re up to speed with the basics like changing your incandescent light bulbs to low-energy LEDs and shopping with reusable bags, check out these equally easy ways to simplify your high-wattage life.

polystyrene take out box

Avoid take-out waste: Bring your own to-go containers. Image courtesy of dotpolka

1. Say ‘No’ to To-Go

Even if you’re constantly on the run, it’s possible to reduce the amount of waste you generate by packing your own mugs, water bottles, and reusable food containers. The majority of restaurant to-go containers are made from plastics that don’t recycle easily — and a plethora of reusable options are now available. Each paper cup and plastic fork costs money, and you can be sure this cost is passed onto consumers. As an incentive to reduce this cost, many retailers offer rebates for those who bring their own mugs and bags. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition lists companies that have made compostable and reusable to-go packaging. If you find a restaurant still using foam to-go packaging, suggest they visit the site and find a better alternative.

2. Water Well

Water is a precious resource, which is often a fact overlooked in developed countries where we can just turn on the tap and get clean, safe water. However, millions suffer from lack of clean water, and the available supply of potable water on the planet is dwindling. You can decrease your H2O consumption by following a few simple steps.

  • Flush and run sparingly: The average toilet uses between 1.6 and 5.5 gallons of water per flush. If you are already “letting it mellow,” save even more water by turning on the tap only when absolutely necessary — no need for the water to run when brushing your teeth or doing the dishes, for example.
  • Make sure it’s really dirty before washing: Clothing, dishes, and your body should undergo the wash and rinse cycle only when necessary. Use the same water glass all day, and wear those jeans more than once.

3. Hang It Out to Dry

After the fridge, the clothes dryer is the second largest consumer of home power. Most of us are not willing to give up cold milk and crisp veggies, but we can easily use the dryer less often, which can add up to a significant savings of energy and money.

As an added bonus, letting your clothes air dry extends their usable lives (it is much less taxing on the stitching and fabric), it gives you a good excuse to get outside in nice weather, and the end product smells better too! If you live in a place where drying clothes outside right now would mean wearing duds that are cold and wet, consider using indoor drying racks to accomplish the same energy-free job.

4. Lights, Camera, Out!

Many electronic devices — such as chargers for phones and cameras, televisions, and computers — continue to draw energy even when in the “off” position. To avoid this phantom power use, unplug such devices, or plug everything into a power strip that you can turn off when not in use. Encourage these same practices at your workplace. And no matter where you are, always turn off unnecessary lights.

5. Be a Wise Post-Consumer

In the digital age, we still rely on a steady stream of paper in our offices, kitchens, and bathrooms. Here are some easy suggestions for keeping more trees outside.

  • Print sparingly: When you do need to hold a document in your hand, be sure it has been printed and/or copied on both sides, and of course, be sure to recycle when done.
  • Buy the highest level of post-consumer, recycled paper: From toilet paper to notebooks, there is rarely a reason to use virgin paper. Look for the percentage on the packaging (such as products made with 100 percent recycled and/or 50 percent post-consumer materials), and also look for paper that is processed chlorine free (PCF).
  • Class it up with cloth: Reusable napkins are not just for fancy dinner parties. They can be washed and reused indefinitely. The same goes for old T-shirts or towels, which can be repurposed as rags and used instead of their paper counterparts.

6. Resist the Urge to Splurge

A lack of excess cash can serve as a great excuse to reduce your consumption. Here are a few suggestions to help you consume less.

  • Take a consumption vacation: Consider taking the day or week off from making any new purchases, with the exception of necessities such as health products and food. By doing this, you’re not only saving money, you’re also reducing the waste created throughout the life cycle of each new product, the packaging used, and the fuel consumed and produced in transporting products from original resources to manufacturer to consumer.
  • Buy nice, don’t buy twice: For necessities, make sure that you buy the highest quality, most energy efficient, eco-friendly model available within your budget. From appliances (Energy Star) to food (Local Harvest), there are low-impact alternatives for almost everything on the market. 
Public transportation

Do you have to drive, or can you take public transportation? Image courtesy of L.A. Urban Soul

7. Bid Your Car Adieu

We are a society that loves our cars, but there are many alternatives to a day spent solo in your gas-guzzling ride. Backing out of your car rut can also provide new opportunities to socialize and get some exercise.

  • Get on the bus: Many cities and towns have excellent public transportation systems that include buses, subways, and trains. You’ll be surprised at the new friends you make or the added reading time you find when not behind the wheel.
  • Carpool with friends or co-workers: There are several rideshare services available now that will help you make a match, including Hytch. Mark Cleveland recently talked with Earth911 about Hytch’s programs that help companies, cities, and nonprofits collaborate to reduce traffic.
  • Get on a bike or walk: While riding your bike or walking might take a little longer to reach your destination, the fresh air, lack of carbon emitted, and exercise more than make up for the extra minutes.
  • Phone it in: Explore telecommuting or teleconferencing options with your employer to significantly reduce your daily commute. If half of American office workers telecommuted just two days a week, it would save up to $500 billion a year.

8. Ban Planned Obsolescence

The more we view potential waste as building blocks for new products, the lower our overall impact will be. Granted, some products (“gum” comes to mind) are decidedly single-use items, but with a little creativity, many others can easily be creatively repurposed.

Feature image courtesy of Kevin Dooley

Editor’s note: Originally published on April 6, 2009, this article was updated in November 2018.


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