So you’ve made some New Years resolutions this year. Good for you. You’re going to lose weight. You’re going to spend less time on Facebook (I’ll believe that when I see it). Maybe you’re going to finally go back to school, work on getting a promotion at work, save some money (I’ll also believe that when I see it). Maybe you’re just going to stop leaving your stubble in the sink, or the toothpaste cap off, or your socks on the floor (I bet those are resolutions my wife wishes I’d make). Perhaps you’re one of those supreme beings that actually has time to do volunteer work, and you’ve resolved to do more of that. My hat is off to you.
The year is still young. You could make a belated resolution to go greener. As in be more environmentally conscious. Don’t panic. Nobody is suggesting you chain yourself to an oil tanker, trespass on the grounds of a decidedly environmentally unclean factory and stop up their drainpipe, or go on a mission to a remote corner of the world to save an obscure but endangered animal (you’d be a brave soul if you did and I would be forever in awe of you…… well, maybe not forever). Nobody is suggesting you turn in your lawnmower in favor of a goat, your standard car in favor of a $50,000 hybrid, or move out of your house in favor of a solar heated yurt.
Nobody’s suggesting you make major, painful lifestyle changes. These suggestions are some mundane ways to make a smaller carbon footprint, and demonstrate you do care about the Earth. After all, for the foreseeable future, we only have one. NASA’s budget has been has been cut, and while the sending of a robot to Mars is cool, Mars looks pretty damn inhospitable and even more depressing. These suggestions are pretty painless, even for the biggest wusses among us, and have the added side benefit of saving you some money for the latent tightwad in all of us. Follow all of them, some of them, or one of them. They are not in any particular order of importance. So, without further ado:
- Only buy rechargeable batteries This is a no brainer. Our smartphones, tablets and computers are already rechargeable. But a lot of our appliances still use the standard old AA, CC, and DD batteries. What do you have to gain by buying the old disposable type? They die, you have to throw them away (and they end up in a landfill), you repeat the process and buy more. Why would you do that? Instead buy a good universal battery charger (charges different types of batteries), and replace your batteries with the rechargeables (some even come pre charged) when the standard ones die. Costs a little bit more, but after your second or third charge, it pays for itself. And you don’t have to worry about throwing the dead ones away.
- Go Paperless.
Toilet paper is overrated!……………………………….(just kidding)
Do you have a computer? Do you have Internet? Sure you do! If your answer is no, you’re lying, because you’re reading this! Don’t lie, you lying sack of shit! Do you still get a paper bank statement? Paper bills? Go online. If your banking institution or credit card has the option, do everything online. And if it doesn’t, send your next check on a clay tablet and tell them to drag their stone age carcass into the 21st century. Sometimes companies for whom you shop will send you paper catalogs. Go into your online account and opt out. You only have to do it once, usually by unchecking a box. And if you’re putting pictures of your inebriated self on Facebook, or putting personal, squirm-worthy posts up there, I don’t want to hear you whining about how your bank account might get hacked or your identity might get stolen. It wont. I will make an exception for an 89 year old shut-in who doesn’t do anything online. But for everybody else…….(And just for the record, my 92 year old grandmother has both a MacBook and an iPhone and uses both, so I don’t want to hear it!)
- If it’s feasible, consider using mass transit at least one day a week.
If you have commuter trains or buses in your town, consider using them. Your car stays where it is. You, however go to work without worrying about driving. You get to read, text, drink coffee on the train or bus. And if the tracks go by the highway, you can wave at the cars and say, ”Hey, suckers!” Plus your car is available for someone else in your household (like your wife, husband or reckless teenager…….. YEAH!). You might find that you like it so much, you’ll do it as your primary way to get to work, and if you are a two-car household, you might be able to become a one-car household, and really save some cash (but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here). You’ll definitely save some money, make the world a little greener, and hopefully make you a little stressed out. And if mass transit really is not possible or desirable for you, consider giving a buddy from work a lift. Or getting one from him or her. Nothing like a little mutual back scratching.
- Get a smaller garbage can. I mean it.
Americans make way too much garbage. That’s a fact. We’ve gotten into this habit, largely because space here in the US isn’t at a premium (not like, say, Tokyo). Still no excuse. We make too much garbage. Case in point: When people from other countries have been in American homes, one of the things they often comment on is the size of the garbage cans. People expand to fill their space. Garbage is no exception. If you have a smaller garbage can, you’ll have to empty it more, which is a pain in the butt. But you won’t have to do that if you…
- Make less garbage.
“Well, how do I do that?” you ask. Well, if you followed suggestion #1 & #2: used rechargeable batteries and went paperless, you wouldn’t be throwing out old catalogues, credit card statements and batteries. Moreover, a lot of what we buy in the store is wastefully packaged. How often have you had to peel, tear, saw, and dig through all this packaging and then ask yourself if the payoff was worth it? To have all that packaging go into your massive trash can? Was there an alternative? A product just as good, but less packaging, and by extension, less to throw away? Make the decision to pay attention, not only to the product, but how it’s packaged. Ask yourself if the packaging is worth the product inside, and give yourself some extra lovin’ if you can…..
- Recycle it. And don’t be lax about it.
When I was a kid, in the 80s, when the TVs were made of stone, when they were still painting on cave walls, hunting mammoths, and saying “Yabba dabba do,” if you wanted to recycle, you had to gather up all your newspapers, cans and bottles (like a month’s worth), and drive to a recycling center outside of town. Needless to say, not too many people did it, because it was a big pain in the ass. People just tossed everything in that big huge, Dumpster-sized garbage can I mentioned a couple of bullet points back. We know better now and it’s easy. Just about all municipalities have a recycling program. Get used to separating the paper, cans and bottles as per the parameters of the program. And actually do it. Yeah, I saw you toss that jar of rotten apple sauce in the trash because you were too grossed out to wash it and recycle it. Suck it up and recycle. You can even get multi compartment garbage cans for recycling. Cool. But you have to do it.
- Whenever possible, use durable flatware and china, rather than disposable.
Many workplace cafeterias offer both, but, unfortunately many people have been conditioned to mindlessly reach for the paper plate, and the plasticware. I’ve seen it happen. If the durable stuff is available and you’ll be eating your meal right there, use it. It’s there for you! You’re special enough to use it! BAM. Less garbage! Elegant & easy!
- For the love of everything that his holy, stop paying for water! Seriously, stop! You know better!
Remember back in the olden days when people used to (gasp) drink out of water fountains? Scandalous! And remember way back when bottled water was some kind of status symbol, with those green 8 oz bottles of Perrier, or the little bottles of water from some other spring in France. Conspicuous consumption at its best! Well, that status evaporated the minute you saw people waddling around on dollar store flip-flops, slurping water out of supersized plastic bottles. And unless your brain is stuck somewhere in the far reaches of Uranus, you know by now that the water in that plastic bottle you just paid over a dollar for is no better than the water in the water fountain. And sometimes it’s worse! How about that store brand bottled water. Do you seriously believe there is an artesian well out behind Shot Rite? A lot of that bottled water is simply bottled tap water, bottled in an area with less stringent requirements than your city. And do you know how much of the garbage floating around our oceans and sitting in landfills are old water bottles? A lot. A scary lot, because we’ve only been on this asinine bottled water kick for about fifteen years. What you’re really paying for is the bottle, and the ability to carry around your own water supply. Nothing wrong with that. So invest in a reusable water bottle. They come in all sizes, shapes colors, materials. However, people have gotten used to simply tossing that empty water bottle when they’re done with it in the nearest garbage can, or worse, on the street (you dirty litterbug!) where it likely ends up NOT decomposing in a landfill somewhere. And even if it does get recycled, it’s better not to make the garbage in the first place. Water in disposable bottles is convenient, but it is lazy, wasteful and we all know it. Do better. And if your tap water really tastes bad, get a water filter, with a tap mount or in a pitcher, which you can use to fill your reusable water bottle. But if you’re so lazy you can’t even do that, there really isn’t much hope for you. Head for the nearest, highest bridge and jump.
- Reuse your bags.
For shopping, get a few good durable fabric bags. And remember to take them with you when you go shopping, every time. You’ll forget a few times. That’s ok. It’s inevitable that you’ll end up with some plastic bags around the house. Use them to line smaller wastebaskets (bathroom, bedroom) Use them for cat litter disposal. Use them for whenever you need a bag, for those items that absolutely must be terminally thrown out. And while shopping, you’ll find that your fabric bags do a better job, are more durable and easier to carry. And you don’t get overrun with plastic shopping bags. Win win.
- Stop buying junk.
Think before you buy. Think about where the item you’re considering will be in four years. Think about those cheap toys from the dollar store or discount store (yeah the ones made on the other side of the world by someone making a fraction of minimum wage to make some crap trinket for YOU that’s going to break in a month. Feel guilty? Good. You should.) Will it be an old, broken faded piece of plastic sitting in a landfill? If so, you can do better. If you must buy something that’s not going to decompose any time in your life, or those of your children, at least do it thoughtfully. Refer to #5. We see this kind of thing a lot at Christmas. Those plastic light-up lawn ornaments. Santas, candles, snowmen. If you really, really want them, fine. I’m not going to tell you what to do. Just think about where they’re going to ultimately end up. And how they were made. And ask yourself, “Am I better for this? Are my kids better for this? Is the world better for this?” My guess is no.
- Send e cards.
“Oh, but they’re tacky,” you say. Who says? The people trying to sell you paper cards? The financially strapped US Postal service? How did we somehow get the idea that the sincerity of our greeting was commensurate with the involvement with those two entities? E cards are great. They get there immediately. Your greeting is whatever it is. The recipient doesn’t have to throw something away. You’ve saved 47 cents. I love getting e cards, because I don’t have to deal with the guilt of recycling someone’s greeting to me when it comes time to houseclean. I can keep it in digital form forever, where it takes up no physical space! I realize this is a tough sell for many, and if you can’t bring yourself to do this just yet, that’s ok. These are just suggestions. But do not kid yourself into thinking that somebody is going to keep everyone of the cards you sent them forever and ever. Actually, that’s kind of creepy, anyway. And don’t feel guilty about recycling the cards you received after an appropriate period of time. I won’t feel bad if I find out you threw away the Wayne’s World themed birthday card I sent you in 1993. Promise…… I wont.
- Use your aps, Luke, use your aps.
If you have a smart phone, there are thousands of applications you can use to negate the need for printing out paper, driving wasteful routes, and making dumb environmental decisions. Many of them are free. You don’t have to print out boarding passes anymore. You don’t have to write notes on paper anymore. You don’t have to print out maps. You can find the most direct route from point A to point B by driving, walking or using mass transit. These are all green because they don’t waste resources. You bought the smartphone. Use the damn thing for good. Otherwise it’s just a piece of plastic, destined for the landfill.
- Finally, and most importantly, remember, green things are only green if they actually are green.
What does this triple tautology mean? I’ll tell you: Let’s say you bought a solar charger. Now lets say it doesn’t work. No matter how you try, you can’t get it to work. The store won’t take it back. Where is it going to end up? You guessed it! The landfill. Another piece of plastic besmirching the planet. It was as though your good faith decision went and took a leak on your leg. Don’t feel bad… it happens sometimes.Buy thoughtfully. Not everything that claims to be green actually is. A lot of hucksters getting on the green bandwagon are going to try to claim that their latest piece of crap is green. The only thing green about them is the green they manage to get from you. They type that folds. Do your homework. Remember, a lot of things are green simply because they use less material. Be foresightful in what you buy. The dividends that foresight pays are handsome, not only in the peace of mind of knowing you are contributing to a cleaner, better earth, but also the financial savings and the simplicity it gives to allow you to focus on what’s really important.