This story is part of Earth911’s “Green Eight” series, where we showcase eight ways to green your life in various areas.
As many of our readers probably know, we here at Earth911 provide an article every week surrounding the concept of 8 Ways to Green Your (insert here). From your home to your car to school or work, we love to provide you with a variety of ways in which your daily actions can have a larger impact on the world around you.
Though we always seem to rustle up some out-of-the-ordinary suggestions, we do have those staples that we have come to rely on because, hey… they really do work! So in the spirit of retuning to one’s roots, we present you with a summary of the eight lifestyle choices that make up the foundation to being eco-friendly, environmentally aware and resource savvy.
Since these foundations were surrounded with a lot of other good ideas, we also included where the tip was originally published so you can dive in deeper to the subjects that really seem to hit home. Enjoy and explore!
This is the beginning of any eco-journey. Creating less waste and saving what you have should always be the first step. This section starts with a tip talking about understanding your waste from the beginning, and then follows up with an example of how to reduce your use of disposables.
1. Get Audited!
Don’t worry, we’re not talking about your taxes.
Think back to what you learned in seventh grade biology about the discovery process. The first step in the scientific method (trash is, after all, a very technical thing) is to ask questions about something you observe in your environment. Since you are reading this, you must already be aware of the fact that your trash is in need of a makeover, so we think it’s safe to move directly to step two: research.
Though this isn’t the most pleasant job, a trash audit is a necessary step to really getting a grasp on what you currently throw out, and more importantly, what you can save from the trashcan. The audit itself is simple, just follow these easy steps:
- Pick a time period – A week is a good place to start.
- Get everyone on board – If they live in your house and they make trash, they are involved, so catch ‘em up to speed.
- Throw stuff away – Go about your normal routine, and throw away what you usually do. It is important that you be honest with yourself and not try to be on your “best behavior.” Remember, you are trying to get an accurate measurement of your waste output.
- Weigh in – If you can, weigh your trash. Each time you take a trash bag out of the house, plop it on the scale. This way you can have a baseline for comparison (sort of like “before” and “after” photos when you’re starting a new workout program). Though you will visually be able to see your trash dwindle, the satisfaction of cold, hard facts is the icing on the cake.
- Put on some gloves – Check daily to see what you threw away that could have been recycled, composted, reused or avoided. This part is the “eeewwww” moment – we are talking about trash here. But, by doing it daily, it wont be as bad. Don’t be deterred by what you find. Remember your mission. You can do it.
- Get graphical – Make a list, chart, pie graph, power point…whatever you want. Just write down your findings, and use those findings to make a plan. What can you recycle that you are currently tossing in the trash? What can be composted? What can be reused and, in turn, what didn’t need to be there in the first place?
2. Reduce Food-Related Paper Use
- Oil-based food stains are the easiest way to make your paper not recyclable. That’s why recycling locations for paper towels or paper napkins are unavailable.
- The average American family uses 1.5 rolls of paper towels each week.
- Brown paper bags have more of an environmental footprint as plastic bags when considering manufacturing and disposal.
You’ll be lucky to find paper towels for less than 75 cents per roll. That means you’re paying at least $4.50 a month for disposable towels, so cutting your use to one roll a month would save $45 per year.
Paper bags are only about 2 cents per bag, but if you make two lunches every day, that’s $14.60 per year thrown into the trash after one use.
FYI: Several states and stores are already talking about a 5-cent charge for each disposable bag required to carry your purchases. We won’t crunch the numbers, since it probably doesn’t apply to you yet, but there’s another financial argument for reusable packaging.
Use reusable cloth towels for cleaning the house and your spills, and throw them in the laundry instead of the garbage (the cost to wash towels will be negligible if it’s done with the rest of your laundry). Check into lunchboxes or plastic containers to carry your lunch, which will be a one-time investment instead of constantly funding your disposable habit.
The next step in the waste hierarchy, the crafty art of reuse can help meet some of your needs while saving you money and resources. The first tip focuses on where to look for reusables, how to get inspired and ways to get the plans you need. We took our second tip from our 8 Ways to Reuse T-shirts article because it gives you a good foundation on how to get prepared for any project. Just sub-in the item you have to reuse and follow the same path.
3. Start In Your Own Backyard
The best place to begin your search for the necessary ingredients for your projects is at home. Take boxes down from the top of your closet, open up the ever-ominous “junk drawer” in your desk and take stock of the resources you have at hand. This year, you’re all about reuse, and reuse starts with, well, reusing what you already have. Plus, it saves you money and time by avoiding unnecessary trips to the store. Oh look! We found the glue gun.
The Internet is chock-full of projects for any level of DIYer. Sites like ReadyMade, Instructables and MAKE (this is a fun one if you’re a techie at heart) have hundreds of ideas, blueprints, sketches, photos and videos to jump start your projects.
Another plus to looking online is that you can save money and paper by reducing your need to go out and buy a book or guide. If you have a phone with an Internet browser, you can simply read your instructions there, eliminating your need to print anything for your task as well.
4. Get Prepared
If you’re a newbie, check out the following Web sites for some sewing 101. Get more info on how to make patterns, create basic stitches and get that old sewing machine up and running.
Besides the national events, daily projects and advice can be found at a gamut of sites including, Threadbanger and Sewing.org, where there are endless resources for the newbie or the seasoned veteran. So, have fun, dive in and get ready for some reuse.
Keep In Mind…
Some of the below suggestions are going to need shirts that are up to the challenge, so rips and holes might not be the best. For others, you’re just using small sections of the shirt or strips of the material so the more worn in the better.
Still not sure you can do it? Check out this quick tutorial from Threadbanger for a simple T-shirt redesign that takes about 15 minutes. It stars Megan Nicolay, author, self-proclaimed “obsessive DIYer” and creator of Generation-T.com. This is a perfect example of how quick and easy some of these projects can be.
After you’ve cut back and reused till the cows came home, the next step is one of our favorites here at Earth911: recycling. The act of recycling has become second nature for a lot of us over the years and even if you do it every day, there is usually always a little room for improvement. Our first tip focuses mainly on not just participating in the act of recycling, but perfecting it. Then we take one step further be helping you create your own recycling facility in your backyard…you can even hire worms as workers!
5. Know the Rules
The U.S. EPA estimates that 75 percent of our waste is recyclable. This is great news, especially since the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) states that 87 percent of the U.S. population, or 268 million people, have access to curbside or drop-off recycling programs. This means that many materials can be recycled and programs are, for the most part, accessible.
So what’s the holdup? For many people, it is knowing exactly what goes in the recycling bin and what to do with stuff that doesn’t. Here’s a checklist:
- Check with your local government to get a list of what materials you can and cannot put in your curbside bin.
- For everything that can’t be put in your curbside bin, check Earth911’s recycling database for drop-off locations near you. This includes items such as paint, batteries, CFLs and pesticides.
- Use mail-back and store drop-off programs. This option is great for electronics and automotive waste. Most auto parts stores and mechanics will take used motor oil and old tires, especially if they do the work for you. As far as electronics are concerned, many products such as cell phones can be mailed to manufactures or traded in for money. Drop-off programs, such as Best Buy’s and the EPA’s eCycling Progam, are making electronic recycling more accessible for consumers across the nation.
- Trade-in programs can often be an option when you are purchasing new items from that same company. Computers are a great example of this. In fact, by planning ahead while purchasing your computer, you can build the cost of proper disposal right in from the get-go, saving you money and time in the long run.
6. Everyone Can Compost
According to the U.S. EPA, each American throws away an average of 1.3 pounds of food scraps daily. In addition to this, yard trimmings and food waste, combined, make up 24 percent of our nation’s municipal solid waste stream. If even half of this can be diverted and recycled through composting, our daily trash levels could start to decrease.
Compost adds nutrient content to the soil as well as keeping moisture in the soil so you water less. It also binds to soil contaminants to keep them from spreading.
Whether you are in an urban environment or composting with worms, this home recycling option comes in many forms and can be easier than you may think. From your kitchen, to your backyard, to a worm bin, composting can make a huge dent in your waste and produce a rich product you can use to help maintain your yard, give to friends or even sell at the local farmer’s market.
Last but not least, we’ve added the concept of changing the way you even think about products and their disposal. Most importantly, many of these decisions begin before you get the product home. Use the following tips to focus on how your stuff is packaged, and more importantly, how it’s made!
7. Pre-cycle When You Shop
Nearly everything you buy at the grocery store will come in some sort of container. The key to pre-cycling is finding products in containers that are easy to recycle or can be reused. The simple act of thinking more about packaging and buying accordingly can help to curb your waste output before you even purchase.
8. But the Label Said Eco!
Any time a trend or lifestyle gets popular, a lot of people try to get on the bandwagon. The good news is a lot of great ideas and products get created. The bad news, a lot of bad ones are too! This wouldn’t be a big deal if consumers could easily tell the difference. Unfortunately lots of marketing can go into making sure you can’t.
According to the Natural Products Association, which represents more than 10,000 natural product companies and retailers, Americans spent $7.5 billion in 2006 on personal care products that claimed to be all-natural but often were not.
Thankfully there are some major regulations in place for some of the products we rely on. Organic, for example, is a statement that is regulated by state and federal agencies.
According to Cathy Greene with the Economic Research Service/USDA , “Private organizations, mostly nonprofits, began developing certification standards in the early 1970’s as a way to support organic farming and thwart fraud.” For these reasons, most people feel confident in purchasing products labeled organic.
This same consumer confidence can be found in other green products with the help of labeling. Below are a few of the ones to watch for:
- ENERGY STAR – This blue and white symbol can be found on products that have qualified as more energy efficient. To earn the ENERGY STAR, products must meet strict energy criteria that have been set in place by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the U.S. Department of Energy. These products include refrigerators, dish washers and light bulbs.
- Forest Stewardship Council – The FSC has developed “a set of Principles and Criteria for forest management that are applicable to all FSC-certified forests throughout the world.” These 10 principles and 50 plus criteria address multiple areas of forest management including indigenous rights, multiple benefits and environmental impacts. This tree-shaped logo can be found on products ranging from paper and printers to pulp mills.
- Good Housekeeping Green Seal – This label bares a strong resemblance to its famous counterpart with the distinction of it’s color (green). The Green Good Housekeeping Seal will debut later this year, after the Good Housekeeping Research Institute and a consultancy firm complete development of product evaluation criteria. To be eligible for the green seal, a product must meet the criteria for the original seal of approval, as well as meet standards related to product composition, manufacturing and packaging.
- GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality – These planet-toting logos can be found on building materials that are manufactured to help “improve indoor air.” The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) is a nonprofit organization that oversees the certification programs for building materials and indoor products. These logos let a consumer know that the products are regularly tested to meet chemical and particle emissions acceptable under IAQ pollutant guidelines and standards.
- Scientific Certification Systems – This independent company gives certification of environmental, sustainability, food quality and food purity claims for products across the globe. Their extensive network covers consumer goods such as produce, fisheries, forestry, eco-products and floral.
Raquel Fagan is Executive Editor of Earth911.com.