There are some basic things that you can do everyday if you aren’t doing them already to help reduce your impact.
I think by this day and age, we all know about recycling, but it’s a lot more than just paper or plastics. Check with your local town or county to determine exactly what things they will take into their facilities. Every town is different, and some will accept more than you think. You can also recycle things like cans or scrap metals and get paid by the weight of what you bring in.
Try to cut down on the things that you print out everyday to reduce the need to later recycle paper. Regularly remove your name and those in your household from the ‘junk mail’ lists to reduce the amount of paper coming in that is unnecessary waste (check DMAchoice.org). You can also try to re-use the waste-paper that has been printed out of necessity, but now you are done with it by making into scrap paper to jot down notes while on the phone. Re-use old newspaper as gift-wrap (you can add drawings over the top of the newsprint to make it more festive), or if you have a wood burning fireplace, save some of the newspaper to help get the fireplace going in the colder months, and take it with you on camping trips during the summer months.
Lastly, try to reduce the amount of receipts you are getting. A lot of retailers are now offering to email receipts. Set up an account that you use specifically to get coupons and receipts through and that way you can save what you need and filter out the rest without the added paper waste.
Another major topic of conversation right now, especially out in California, is water conservation. Start with the little things you do daily. One of the easiest things you can do is start a timer on your phone and see just how much time you are taking cleaning yourself up daily. Don’t rush it the first time, take your time and make an effort to shower however you normally would to get an accurate gauge on how much time you are really spending. Do this for about a week to average out your daily shower time and then see if you can cut that down. Every little bit counts. Most states have regulations as to how much water flow a shower head can put out — most are around 2.5 gallons per minute, so you can do the math, if you shave a minute off of your shower time you are saving 2.5 gallons of water that day. You can also look into trading in your standard shower heads for a ‘low flow’ option. These come in several options but are typically around 2 gpm which during a 10 minute shower will save 5 gallons of water. These small amounts add up over time and do have a positive impact on the overall reduction of water usage. most of these shower heads have technology built into them that offer the feeling of just as much water as you are used to as well, without actually using as much.
To give you an idea, if one person swapped out their shower head to a low-flow options and showered for 10 minutes a day everyday, they would conserve an extra 1,825 gallons of water in a year. Now just imagine how much that number would multiply if more people were switching over to these low flow options and reducing the amount of time spent in the shower. Secondarily, you can look for a shower head or hand-shower attachment that offers a pause button that you can use to pause the flow of water while you are lathering up. Another small change that can make a big difference over time.
In addition to the shower, there are plenty of ‘low-flow’ options available these days. Look at the gpm indicated for lavatory faucets and kitchen faucets as well as the gallons per flush (gpf). For toilet gpf, most states require a maximum gpf of 1.6, however the technology is there for 1.28gpf and 1gpf to flush well and work effectively. If you are nervous about cutting the flush rate so drastically, consider a dual flushing system that uses less water most of the time with the option of flushing at a higher rate when necessary. Again, these small changes are easy to implement and add up faster than you might think.
There are a lot of other discussions out there about how to not waste water as much as well, and I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on anything you are currently doing or have heard of doing. One that I heard recently was a suggestion to use the ‘warm-up water’ from heating your shower up to do something else in the house that you can do with water straight from the tap, such as boiling it for pasta. You can place a bucket under your tub spout to capture the water while you are waiting for it to heat up before getting in, and then take that water and use it later. It would be great for watering your garden and many other things as well, and it is a lot less sophisticated and less expensive than adding a gray-water usage system to your home.
Consider stocking up on things like good quality travel mugs and glass storage containers for leftovers and beverages so that you can save those paper cups. Get a mug that will work for both hot and cold beverages, and when you forget the mug at home and you still want to make a pit stop for a drink, put your paper or plastic cups into the recycle bin instead of the garbage when you can (Starbucks beverage cups are recyclable). The same goes for water bottles. Growing up in the PNW I didn’t drink a lot of purchased bottles of water, we had reusable water bottles that we filled before we left the house each day and re-filled as needed. Here in New Jersey especially, I’ve noticed there is a high amount of disposable water bottle usage. Take the time to put in a good filtration system into your kitchen or whole home if you feel it is necessary in your area, and invest in some re-usable water bottles.
I’m sure there are a lot more daily things one can do to reduce their foot print on this planet, so what are you doing that I didn’t already mention? Are you implementing any or all of the above? As I mentioned yesterday, don’t beat yourself up if you need to make a big effort to push yourself to better conservation efforts, none of us are perfect, so make an effort, take baby steps, and do what you can do. Every little bit helps!