Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Beginner's Guide to Going Green, Part 1: 15 Easy Ways to Save the Planet

Welcome to "A Beginner's Guide to Going Green," a 2-part blog series about living more sustainably, no matter where you live or what your budget is!

BEFORE I START, A CAVEAT: So, a lot of people disagree that our planet is in crisis. I'm not really interested in debating that here. I've done a lot of research and have come to my conclusions based on careful studying of the issues and prayerful thought. If you're not interested in changing your lifestyle or disagree with those who want to change theirs, I invite you to read something in another corner of the internet. I'm continually researching global warming and environmentalism, and I invite you to do that research on your own as well.

Okay, now that's out of the way.

Look, something you can pin to Pinterest! If you're into that sort of thing.

So let's say you want to live greener. You want to live more sustainably. You want to exercise better stewardship over the earth. But then you start to think about all the changes you would need to make and get totally overwhelmed.

Don't worry. That's common.

The thing is that we're so used to our high standard of living that we assume our lives will have to change DRASTICALLY in order to save the earth. But those drastic changes don't have to happen all at once, and even if you only make one or two small, non-drastic changes, that helps!

My husband and I have been slowly trying to make our lives more sustainable and earth-friendly over the last year or so, and it's a journey that will continue for a few years yet. Each of these changes in our lifestyle are minor, but over time, they can make a big difference. Many of these changes aren't necessarily COMPLETELY sustainable, just a lot MORE sustainable. You gotta start somewhere. And a lot of these tips will save you money as well!

I'd recommend doing these things one month at a time if you're feeling overwhelmed. You don't have to make all these changes at once. You can say, "For the month of April, we'll implement idea #2." Then the next month, add idea #6. Etc.

IDEA #1 - Phase out the use of plastic bags.
Plastic is made with fossil fuels, and it takes decades for a plastic bag to biodegrade. We actually don't know how long it takes them to biodegrade because the first ones ever used are still in landfills. Invest in some canvas bags for groceries. A lot of grocery stores sell them for around $1 apiece, and offer small discounts when you use them. It's harder to phase out plastic bags when it comes to taking out the trash, but consider using a bag multiple times (just empty it into the bin) or investing in recycled or biodegradable bags.

IDEA #2 - Phase out the use of disposable plastic water bottles.
Not only will this save you TONS of money, you're keeping more plastic out of the landfills! The making of plastic products releases a lot of greenhouse gases as well. Why pay $1.89 for something you can get for almost free? Invest in an at-home water filter (either for the faucet or a pitcher for the fridge) and buy a more permanent water bottle.

IDEA #3 - Cut back on red meat
The farming, slaughtering, packaging and distribution of beef is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas release in the United States. By choosing a salad or fries or chicken nuggets instead of that burger, you're lowering demand for beef. As demand lowers, less will be produced. AAAAnd you'll be healthier! You can also consider cutting meat out altogether.

IDEA #4 - Unplug things when you're not using them
Many appliances use electricity even when they're not turned on, so unplugging them will save some electricity (and some money on your power bill). Electricity is commonly generated by burning fossil fuels, so you're lowering carbon emissions by using less electricity.

IDEA #5 - Turn off lights
Open curtains to let natural light in whenever you can. At night, only use lights in the room you're in. This will save you even more electricity.

IDEA #6 - Recycle
If your area has a recycling program, start using it! If you're not sure where to put your recycling bins in your house, remember that unlike regular garbage, plastic and paper doesn't smell, so you can put recycling bins on your front porch, in a coat closet, or anywhere else. You can also use two smaller garbage cans instead of one big one. (There's some debate about the value of recycling...the process of recycling releases some greenhouse gases and other chemicals. But from my research, buying new things is even WORSE.)

IDEA #7 - Buy things second-hand
The production of "new things" is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. They have to be built using machines that use electricity (burning fossil fuels), then transported (using fossil fuels). Consider shopping at thrift stores, swap meets, and on craigslist for things you need. Re-using things keeps them out of landfills, and it keeps the demand for "new things" low. Try organizing a swap meet in your neighborhood for appliances and clothing.

IDEA #8 - Eat locally and seasonally
When food has to be transported long distances--especially fruits and vegetables--they have to be picked earlier, treated with chemicals, and then trucked thousands of miles using fossil fuels. Consider buying fruits and vegetables at a local Farmer's Market, and cutting back on fresh fruits and vegetables in the winter. If you really want to get domestic, you could can and preserve fresh fruits and vegetables in the summer to enjoy them all year long.

IDEA #9 - Eat organically
The jury's still out on exactly HOW good eating organically really is for the earth, since organic food often has to travel long distances, using fossil fuels. BUT organic farmers grow their food without the use of pesticides, which is really good for the earth. Pesticides are not only pretty bad for people, but they kill a lot of bugs that the local ecosystem needs. A healthy earth depends on biodiversity, and eating organically helps preserve that biodiversity.

IDEA #10 - Walk, bike, carpool, or use public transportation
This is especially easier when the weather gets nice, but it is possible year-round in many areas. Cutting back on personal car-driving cuts back on the emissions going into the atmosphere.

IDEA #11 - Buy energy-efficient appliances/vehicles
If you're, like, a real grown up who has to buy appliances and stuff, and if you need new ones, consider purchasing some that are energy-efficient. It will use less electricity, saving you money and reducing the use of fossil fuels. If you're buying a new car, research which vehicles have the lowest emissions, or purchase a hybrid or electric vehicle.

IDEA #12 - Use old jars instead of tupperware/plastic wrap/ziploc bags to store food. 
A glass peanut butter jar does just as well storing food as a plastic tupperware container does. You're re-using something, so you're keeping the production of "new stuff" low, and you're avoiding plastic, and you're saving money!

IDEA #13 - Replace lightbulbs in your home with CFLs.
"CFL" stands for "compact fluorescent lamp." CFLs do the same job as regular lightbulbs, but they use way less energy and last lots longer. Be careful when you're throwing them away, though...they do contain small amounts of mercury, so they need to be taken to a recycling facility or the local trash company.

IDEA #14 - Compost or start a wormery
I'm still doing my own research on this, but food scraps, yard waste, and some paper products can be biodegraded on your own property, then reused as fertilizer. If you have a backyard, you can start a compost pile. If you're in an apartment, you can start a "wormery," an indoor compost box with a few worms to speed up the process and keep things from getting smelly. Check if your local library has a book on composting or building a wormery.

IDEA #15 - Organize a co-op or neighborhood garden
A co-op is a great way to save a little money and take your food sources into your own hands. The basic idea is that you get together with a few other families and share the cost, labor, and benefits of a garden or raising chickens or cows. If you live out in the country, this may be a little easier. But apartment dwellers can also ask the property manager if an area can be set aside for a garden. You can even go to your local city council and ask if there's a patch of ground that can be used. Take turns weeding and watering, and when the time is right, share in the harvest.

Happy green living! 

Tune in next time for Part 2: Big Ideas to Keep In Mind. I'll list a few of the basic concepts behind green living that can help you make more sustainable consumer decisions.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

I never would have thought that red meat actually contributes to greenhouse gas. I'll have to remember that on my next trip to the local burger joint. Or better yet , I'll fix myself a nice salad instead.