5 Minor Changes That Can Lower Your Ecological Footprint
Preserving our environment so that our children and our children’s children can enjoy it for many years to come is something that nearly everyone can agree on. Unfortunately, sometimes barriers like time and money keep people from doing their part to help protect our planet.
Trying to reduce your ecological footprint on the world we live in does not have to be a major struggle or an inconvenience. Here are some easy-to-implement things that you can do in your everyday life to reduce your footprint on the environment.
One: Always Opt for the Least Amount of Packaging
Boxes inside of boxes, plastic bags for a single item—all of these things really add up. It is estimated that over 500 billion plastic bags are used each year across the globe. Not only are plastic bags dangerous to plant and animal life when littered, they are extremely difficult to recycle and most find their way into a landfill where they stay for 300 years before degrading.
The first best thing you can do in a grocery line, is pass on plastic bags in the checkout line. Here are some more tips for reducing the amount of packaging you use:
- Buy larger sizes of items that you use frequently so that you reduce your shopping trips plus the amount of trash created.
- Bring with you one or more reusable bags every time you do a grocery run. Keep some in your car in case you make any unexpected trips.
- Politely decline the bag for a single or even two or three small items. Toss them in your purse if you carry one large enough.
- Only buy products in recycled containers, and look for labeling that indicates that the company is using the least amount of packaging.
- Unless you have some serious health concerns, do not buy pre-peeled fruits such as oranges. The packaging used for these products is wasteful.
- Buy used items when you can. Not only are they far less expensive in most cases, but that also saves the additional packaging that would have gone into a new one.
Two: Reduce Water Whenever and Wherever Possible
One of the biggest harms that humans do to the planet comes in the form of water consumption. From overwatering our lawns to bathing to washing dishes, clothing, and more, the average household uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water per person, per day.
The act that accounts for the most water usage is flushing the toilet, with bathing coming in second. Here are some ways to reduce water usage:
- Install low flow showerheads, and monitor the length of your showers and baths. It is very easy to waste time in there, but if you are more mindful of timing while you are in there, it could make a big difference in water waste.
- Install low flow toilets that use far less water per flush than the average models. You can also use a weighted water bottle to raise the water level in the toilet tank for a low cost way to reduce the amount of water being flushed away.
- It might be shocking, but studies show that using a dishwasher uses less water than washing by hand. It saves your skin and your time as well.
- Consider whether you really need a daily shower. Skip when you can.
Three: Saving Electricity
The cost of electricity is also a major household expense and one that can be kept in check with some simple adjustments. Here are some of those:
- Turn off lights in rooms that are not in use.
- Install motion sensors on outdoor lights instead of just leaving them on all night.
- Use solar-powered walkway lights.
- Use the power of the sun on temperate days—hanging laundry saves energy (even gas dryers use some electricity) and is better for your clothing as well. Note: Lightly sweaty but not soiled clothing can be hung on a line in the sunlight and will be fresh once again without having to be washed or dried.
- Consider upgrading older appliances to more energy effective models. The savings will often offset the purchase price or at least come close.
Four: Squashing the Trash
In some communities, you pay a fixed rate for trash service. For others, you pay for a certain number of bags and then pay additional fees for things like extra bags or for larger items. Reducing the amount of trash that you generate could save money plus reduces the amount that must be hauled off to landfills. Here are some simple ideas you may not have thought of to help with this:
- Recycle whatever you can—bottles, cans, and cardboard and paper materials can all be recycled. Most communities provide containers for curbside recycling. Other communities may have a bin or recycling center placed in a central location.
- If you have a lot of cans, you may be able to sell them. Check the per pound price before you decide to do this, however, because the cost may not be worth the time and effort.
- Buy a water filter—either one that mounts to your faucet or stores in your fridge—instead of relying on single use water bottles. If you must use these water bottles, make sure that you are recycling them once they are empty.
- Have your name removed from all mailing lists, and be selective of the catalogs that you request. If possible, shop online and request that all correspondence be electronic only.
- Go paperless for your bank statements.
- Pass on magazines that you subscribe to by taking them to your doctor’s office so that others can read them. Skip subscriptions completely, and read your favorite magazines at the local library for free. Many magazines are also switching over to online versions, which can be enjoyed without worrying about creating more trash.
- Flatten out anything that cannot be recycled. Stuff smaller items into larger items so that you can fit more into each trash bag you use.
Five: Feed the Planet
Food waste is a huge source of environmental harm. People often throw out perfectly good food because expiration labels are incorrect or unclear, they don’t feel like saving leftovers, or they don’t take the time to explore the power of composting. Here are ways to help do your part one small bite at a time:
- Do not always adhere strictly to expiration labels. Some date estimates are extremely conservative and there are other ways to check if your food is still good. For example, a simple sniff test can indicate whether or not milk has gone bad since the odor of sour milk is strong. People often confuse a “sell by” label with an expiration date, when it typically means “best by” which can mean that food will not taste as good after this date but will not harm those who eat it. Food manufacturers may be overhauling expiration label language very soon.
- Set up a bin in the kitchen for food scraps, including peels and rinds, eggshells, coffee grounds, and small bits of unfinished food. Use these scraps to set up a compost heap in your yard. Even if you do not plan on gardening, composting is great for the lawn and can even be shared with your neighbors.
- Box up all leftover foods at restaurants—even the bits that you do not intend to eat. This can go into your compost pile as well.
- Other things that can go into a compost pile include yard trimmings (unless treated with pesticides), dryer lint, organic coffee filters, newspaper, and pet bedding (not cedar shavings).
- Do not put grease or oil in your compost pile as it can harm the bacteria needed to break materials down.
Being conscious of the impact your actions have on this planet is a big part of reducing your ecological footprint. Start by taking any number of these small steps to do your part to preserve this great world we all share.
Image credit: johnhain
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