Shrinking Your Environmental Footprint: Things Anyone Can Do
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If you’re concerned about climate change, you might wonder what you can do to mitigate the problem. After all, you’re only one person — how much do your efforts make a difference?
Quite a bit. Imagine the difference if everyone took the ten steps below. You can’t control other people’s behavior, but you can take action.
What can you do today for a greener earth tomorrow? Here are ten tips that anyone can do for shrinking your environmental footprint.
This action may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how few take this simple step. While the numbers are moving in the right direction — 32% of Americans up from 1960’s 7% — that still means roughly two-thirds of the population tosses their aluminum cans and plastic products in the garbage to eventually end up in landfills.
Talk to your waste management company. Many services now include recycling, but you may need to order a separate bin and pay a nominal monthly fee — generally less than $10. If not, seek your community sorting center. Many recycling purists consider this to be your best option for ensuring your used items see new life. Most recycling gets shipped abroad for processing, and many nations have recently gotten more strict with what they will accept, requiring scrap materials to be rinsed and sorted.
Even recycling uses some energy. Therefore, you can shrink your environmental footprint even further when you repurpose what you no longer need.
For example, old clothes easily transform into cleaning rags, doing the planet a double bonus. You also reduce your paper towel use by switching to cloth. Empty cans can become pencil holders and egg cartons can become seedling starting cups or handy spare button organizers. If you have an empty 2-liter bottle, you can use it to stop flying pests at your next picnic the non-toxic way.
3. Adjust Your Thermostat
Your home’s heating and air conditioning use the most energy — and require the largest contribution of fossil fuels. Unless you’re using solar, adjusting your thermostat by just one degree can considerably shrink your environmental footprint.
You can also save money. The Department of Energy estimates that you save 1% for each degree of thermostat adjustment over eight hours. Adjusting it by seven to ten degrees over eight hours can save you 10% on your annual energy bill. Why not invest in a programmable thermostat that changes the temperature automatically while you’re at work?
4. Change Your Lightbulbs
You don’t have to throw out every light bulb in your apartment. However, when one expires, please replace it with an energy-efficient LED. Doing so will save you money — these models use 75% less energy than similar incandescents. They also last up to 25 times longer, and fewer trips to the store equates to less emissions.
LEDS also bring fun to your home. You can set a mood by selecting a color. Some even change hues, letting you go from an energetic yellow when you want to work to a relaxing lavender at night.
5. Carry a Bag
Plastic bags are an environmental catastrophe. These objects litter highways and often end up in the ocean if they aren’t consigned to landfills.
Please bring a cloth bag with you when you shop. It offers many more advantages than shrinking your environmental footprint. It also fits more items and won’t break, spilling your eggs all over your patio before you fry a single scramble.
6. Keep a Straw in It
Ah, the great plastic lie. Did you think it was okay to accept that straw if you later planned to recycle it? Think again. Not all plastic is recyclable, and many facilities only accept #1 and #2, leaving many others — like straws — to the landfill.
Fortunately, you can find plenty of reusable straws. There are metal versions that fold and fit in your purse or even dangle on your keychain. Other silicon straws fit perfectly into large drinks and keep germs at bay.
7. Mind the Packaging
Pay attention to the packaging when you go to the store. Many items come wrapped in layers of unnecessary plastic, most of which can’t be recycled and end up in landfills.
When buying produce and other bulk items, use a reusable bag instead of the disposable numbers provided by the store. As a bonus, thin mesh produce bags hang over your spigot, letting you rinse your apples and radishes without losing any down the drain.
8. Walk or Bike
Every time you turn the key or push the button to start your car, you produce emissions. The less carbon in the atmosphere, the better.
You can shrink your environmental footprint by walking or biking as much as possible. As a bonus, you’ll burn calories and tone muscle. If you don’t like getting sweaty, consider investing in an electric bike with pedal assist. You barely exert yourself even on the toughest hills, but you still burn calories.
9. Shop Farmer’s Markets
Buying fresh, organic produce helps protect the soil from chemical fertilizers. However, those labeled such can cost a mint at your local grocery. However, you can find serious bargains by purchasing your fruits and vegetables at your nearest farmer’s market. You also save a bundle on emissions, as most of these products come from nearby farms, not somewhere across the country.
Do you want to save even more, well, green, while going greener? Visit at the end of the day. Many vendors would rather sell their fresh goods at a discount rather than take them home to rot before the next market day.
10. Plant a Tree
Trees absorb carbon from the air and release life-giving oxygen. They’re nature’s scrub brushes, and the world needs more of them to meet its goals of halting rising temperatures.
You can contribute by planting a tree on your property. If you’re not a homeowner, you can still get involved. Your contribution of as little as a dollar can help to plant a tree in a deforested region of the world.
Shrinking Your Environmental Footprint
Stopping climate change requires a joint effort between big industry, governments and individuals. The actions you take make a difference.
Follow the ten tips above for shrinking your environmental footprint. Anyone can take these actions, so get started on going greener today.
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About the author
Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.