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Becoming aware of how your actions affect the Earth is the first step towards living a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle. Doing small things is great at first, but I’ll admit, it’s hard to always be mindful in your daily life. Yesterday, for instance, I bought a plastic water bottle after a day of walking around the city in 90-degree weather, and I immediately felt guilty afterwards. Why didn’t I have a reusable bottle on hand?
Being mindful means thinking about the environmental consequences of your every move, and doing something to reduce your ecological footprint. Turning off all the lights before you leave the house, for example. Or going one step further and unplugging all of your electronics so they don’t suck up energy while not in use. Or recycling.
You’ve probably heard all of this a million times before, but there are still other ways to live green. Ahead, find six everyday habits you can ditch today to be kinder to Mother Earth.
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1. Using way too many paper towels.
To make one ton of paper towels, 17 trees are used and 20,000 gallons of water are polluted. And in the United States, we use more than 13 billion pounds of paper towels every year. That’s a pretty serious issue. Paper towels are a one-time use item that can easily be switched out for rags or sponges. You can find scraps of cloth at thrift stores, or even turn old clothing into rags. If you keep them in a bin in the kitchen, or wherever else you use paper towels, they can easily be thrown into the laundry and then reused again.
2. Getting new plastic bags every time you go to the store.
Remember when Katy Perry sang, “Do you ever feel / like a plastic bag / drifting through the wind / wanting to start again?” Sadly, most plastic bags will never get the chance to “start again,” since the majority of recycling facilities don’t process “softer items,” including used grocery bags, plastic wrap, and cling film. So instead of accepting a plastic bag at the grocery store, carry a reusable bag with you on your next Trader Joe’s run. They’re easy to pop in your purse and take out when needed. Presto!
3. Buying one-time use plastic water bottles.
I need to follow my own tip and remember to carry my reusable water bottle whenever I go out. Plastic water bottles are a big problem — there are 2 million tons of them filling up U.S. landfills. Plus, the cost to package water is astonishing: for every one liter of bottled water produced, three liters of water are used in the manufacturing process.
Using a reusable bottle is an easy way to cut plastic out of your life. And the market for cute, colorful, patterned water bottles is superb at the moment! It’s an investment that is definitely worth it if you use your water bottle every day to stay hydrated. You can also get a fun, foldable water bottle if reusable bottles are too bulky for you.
4. Buying that fourth pair of black jeans.
I’m definitely guilty of buying a piece of clothing that’s similar to something I already own. Maybe it was on sale, or was a cuter version, or maybe I just had a bad day and needed some retail therapy. If you’re into shopping and fashion like, it may be difficult to stop yourself from buying things you don’t need. But fast fashion is another reason our landfills are bursting at the seams (pun intended).
Before shopping, take a look at your closet and the things you no longer wear. See if you can refurbish them into something new. For example, old T-shirts from sport teams you used to be on can be turned into a fun, patchwork quilt-making project. Or add some tassels or pom-poms to the hem of an old shirt or pair of pants to give them new life. Those great flare pants that might not be in style anymore? Cut them into a pair of shorts for the summer. Maybe add a few patches to the pockets. Your closet will feel refreshed in no time.
5. Blasting your air conditioner all day and night.
Last month, The New York Times reported that air conditioners are a major factor spurring on climate change. As our summer months become hotter, we’ll depend more on air conditioners to stay cool — perpetuating the warming-planet problem.
My parents are big environmentalists, and I grew up in a household where we rarely used air conditioning. I remember sticking ice cubes in my blanket and putting my pillowcase in the freezer when I was younger. We generally relied on fans stationed around the house to keep us cool. Try one of those options on a hot night instead of blasting the AC.
If you don’t think you’re totally ready to give up that AC life, consider at least turning off the air when no one is home, and setting your thermostat to an indoor temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit when you are at home. Also, if you close the blinds on sunny days and turn off some of the lights, less heat will get trapped in your house and you won’t need to turn up the air.
6. Wasting allllll the water.
Overusing water is a terrible habit that many of us are guilty of. A typical household in the United States wastes more than 10,000 gallons of water a year. Meanwhile, California and other parts of the world are experiencing droughts and a shortage of water.
There are basic things you can do to lower your water usage:
- Make sure the dishwasher is full before you run it.
- Don’t leave the water running while brushing your teeth.
- Turn off the faucet when you’re soaping up your dishes.
- Take shorter showers. I play music when I’m in the shower and try to get out after two songs, which is about six to eight minutes. You can also use a timer to measure and decrease the length of your shower.
Another tip: When washing vegetables or fruits, you can have a bucket under the faucet that will catch the water, which you can then use for watering plants.
And, if you’re super ambitious, you can easily install water-saving devices on your plumbing fixtures at home. Replacing your water-wasting faucets with low-flow, high-efficiency installments can make it easy for you to save gallons of water; faucets that are labeled with the WaterSense label are certified by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce water flow by 30 percent or more.
While stopping climate change will take more than a few small lifestyle changes (hi, oil and gas industry), there are things we can do as individuals to be reduce our impact on this beautiful planet of ours.
Start this weekend!