A new year makes for fresh starts. For some, that means a renewed focus on finances, nutrition, or exercise. But self-improvement can also include making more environmentally friendly decisions in our daily lives. Whether cutting back on single-use plastic products, avoiding fast fashion, or taking public transportation, there are endless ways to reduce our impact and positively change the world. Here are a few ideas.
Plan your meals
Up to 40 percent of food – or on average, 400 pounds of food per person – goes uneaten every year in the United States, according to a report from Natural Resource Defence Council. This food loss and waste accounts for up to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. But formulating a weekly meal plan before shopping can help you reduce waste when you inevitably don’t get to those salad greens again. Figuring out creative uses for repurposing leftovers into lunch is another way to cut back on what you throw away.
Fast fashion may seem budget-friendly, but the environment pays a high price. The fashion industry produces over 100 billion garments a year, and 87% of these will end up in a landfill, with only 1% recycled. Instead, buy fewer better quality items, and you’ll reduce the amount of waste produced. Since fashion is cyclical, rather than purchasing exclusively new items, sift through your local consignment or thrift shop to stay in style. When you shop for new clothing, patronize durable, environmentally-friendly brands (Fair Harbor, for instance), and you’ll help keep the environment cleaner.
Use Less Plastic
There are 430 million tons of plastic produced every year, two-thirds of which are short-lived products that soon become waste, according to the Turning off the Tap report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Packaging is one primary culprit. Whenever possible, opt for plastic-free packaging for mainstays like milk, beverages, hygiene products, and laundry detergent. Buying grocery items in bulk rather than single-serve packages and bringing your own reusable silverware, bags, and beverage containers are other ways to cut back on single-use plastic.
Lower Your Heat Use
Simple adjustments, like insulating your drafty windows and water pipes, updating your water heater, and turning down your thermostat, can make a big difference in your heating bills and the energy you consume. If you’re a renter, using less hot water is an easy way to consume less power. As a bonus, washing your clothes in cold water helps fabrics last longer, and taking cooler showers is better for your skin.
Compost Your Scraps
Before you trash those eggshells, teabags, or vegetable trimmings, consider composting your organic waste. You’ll be surprised how much space you’ll save in your trash headed for a landfill. But there are other benefits. According to the Natural Resource Defence Council, recycling food and other organic waste into compost has many environmental benefits, such as “improving soil health, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, recycling nutrients, and mitigating the impact of droughts.” Many cities provide convenient compost drop-off locations even if you don’t have a backyard.
A recent study from the World Travel & Tourism Council found that an estimated 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions are created through air travel, driving, and other forms of transportation. Since planes and cars are the least efficient modes of transportation, think about vacationing closer to home or traveling by train to the destination. Once you arrive, try taking the bus, traveling by train, or cycling around town instead of renting a car. If you do rent a car, opt for an electric, hybrid, or smaller model.
Choose the Right Lights
Old-fashioned light bulbs might be cheaper in the short term, but they’ll cost you more in the long run. The US Department of Energy finds that an estimated 90 of the electricity used by incandescent light bulbs is turned into heat, which wastes energy. LEDs use up to 90% less energy and last up to 25 times longer than traditional bulbs— reducing your energy bill and your carbon footprint.