As the new year begins, each one of us creates resolutions to become a better person than we were the past year. For some of us, that is going to the gym or trying a new hobby. This year, try challenging yourself by taking on a green resolution!
The Earth is constantly changing with its resources being depleted and entire species disappearing forever. Each one of us needs to take back a step an evaluate our relationship with the planet we live on. Are we contributing to the solution or to the problem? Everyone is at different levels of environmental sustainability in their household, but it is never too late to make a start. Here are six, simple ideas of how to be a little more environmentally-conscious this year:
1. Use A Reusable Water Bottle
On an average global level, humans buy one million disposable plastic water bottles in one minute, or what can also be viewed as twenty thousand bottles in one second. Of all of those bottles we consume, about 1 out of every 10 disposable water bottles are recycled. Where does the other 90% end up? Landfills, the ocean--and your food! According to researchers at Ghent University in Belgium, one-third of fish caught in the UK reportedly had micro-plastics in "edible tissues of commercial fish." In addition to plastics in seafood, harmful resins and toxins from your plastic bottles (such as BPA) can dissolve into foods and liquids stored in plastic containers.
By using a reusable bottle rather than a disposable one, you can help reduce plastics in our oceans, as well as save money on marked-up prices. In the US, the annual cost of filling a reusable water bottle from the tap is $0.49; the same quantity in disposable water bottles is $1400. Reusable bottles can be found anywhere from your local grocery store to the internet.
2. Less Paper Towels
13 billion pounds of paper towels are used each year, which is about 45 pounds per person. The major problem is it is difficult to effectively recycle paper towels, categorizing them as a pure waste products. Although these are handy for wiping up spills and cleaning your counters, using cloth alternatives are just as easy. A few cotton cloths and some fabric napkins can curb your paper towel use for good, if not eliminate it altogether.
3. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bags)
Reusable shopping bags is another way to prevent plastic from entering our oceans. Each year 5 trillion plastic bags are consumed -- which is over 700 for every person on the planet. With plastic bags even less are recycled, around 1%. From there, around 10% end up in our oceans. These plastics are ingested by seabirds, turtles, seals, sea lions, whales, and fish which builds up in the food chain. As a result, this can lead microplastics featuring on our dinner tables as well.
Bringing your own reusable bags to the store with you is one way to help counter the epidemic. Grocery stores let you bring any bag to place your groceries in: anywhere from canvas bags to old school backpacks. The main problem I face is forgetting to bring them with me into the store. So what do you do once you have those single-use grocery bags? Since the average time a plastic grocery bag is used is twelve minutes, the obvious solution is to give them new life! Save those grocery sacks to be used as bubble wrap, trash can liners, covering muddy shoes, or other craft projects.
4. End Phantom Power
Standby power (also known as vampire power or phantom power) refers to electrical power being consumed by appliances and electronics while the devices are switched off. This idle power takes form in televisions, DVD players, game systems, stereos, iPads, ereaders -- you get the idea. For example, when your phone charger is plugged in it consumes 0.26 watts of energy. While connected to your fully charged phone, it eats 2.24 watts. Once you add up all the various appliances in your house, it makes sense how phantom power can add an extra 10% to your monthly energy bill.
The United States Department of Energy suggests four different tactics when encountering energy vampires. First, unplug devices you don't switch on often, or can take the time to plug in before use. This won't be your wireless router or cable box, but you could unplug your TV or game system. Second, plug appliances into power strips. Similar to a light switch, you can more easily toggle outlets on and off with less effort than unplugging everything. Third, curb idle time. Shut down the computer for the night, or power down the console rather than leaving it on pause for long periods of time. Lastly, make smart upgrades. When choosing new appliances, look for ENERGY STAR devices. These have a low standby consumption rate than the average device.
5. Cook From Scratch
From farm to factory to grocery store to pantry to the table, the entire process for any processed, packaged food to reach your plate contains a torrent of wasted energy, water, oils, petroleum, and trees. From there it is only worse -- most processed foods contain very little nutritional value and are over-sweetened and flavor enhanced in order to be considered edible. By cooking from scratch, you are allowing yourself to become more aware of where your food comes from and what you put into your body. Support locally grown produce by shopping at your local market. Try being a part-time vegetarian to reduce your carbon footprint further by increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables.
6. Travel Green
All petroleum-based transportation affect the environment during the entire process: production, consumption, and destruction. Prior to that, automotive production leaves a giant footprint with manufactured materials like steel, rubber, glass, plastics, paints, and batteries. The majority of a car's environmental impact is during consumption, about 80 to 90%. Everyone is aware of how cars and trucks are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions (30% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the US), and there are no strangers to the rising price in fuel as energy demands increase.
It takes a major change of lifestyle these days to commit to forego a car completely, but small choices can make big impacts. Don't idle your engine if waiting longer than 30 seconds, which saves gas and keeps emission out of the air. If possible, use public transportation systems or consider carpooling to work. For shorter trips around town, ride your bike or walk. Ride your bike for trips shorter than 2 miles can cut your carbon footprint, save money on gasoline and car maintenance, and increase your fitness level.
By implementing any one or combination of these resolutions, you'll be a part of the environmental solution that keeps our planet green and healthy.