Science

5 Environmentally-conscious habits you can adopt right now

It might not seem like these make a difference, but every little bit counts when it comes to helping the Earth.

Despite what some prominent politicians might say, climate change IS real and it IS a real problem. With the polar ice caps literally melting, every little thing we can do to help the environment will help. People sometimes have a defeatist attitude when it comes to change. It’s difficult looking at the world and thinking, “yes, I can change that.” It’s much easier to look at a big problem and say, “that’s out of my pay grade. I’ll never be able to enact change in that aspect of life. I’m just one person – what can I do?” And that’s the exact opposite of how you have to live.

We can change the world. And with regards to the environment and climate change, we have to if we want future generations to enjoy the planet that we have exploited.

Becoming more environmentally conscious isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Obviously you can go to the extreme and try to live Zero Waste. But for most people, that isn’t a feasible option. It works really well for people like Lauren Singer, who is a face for the Zero Waste movement and the CEO of The Simply Co, a simplified laundry detergent. But not everyone can adhere to a single-mason-jar-of-trash kind of lifestyle.

So how do we make the change to be more environmentally conscious in our own lives without completely changing our lives? Quite easily, actually. We just start small. Here are five different tips that you can use to make the switch to helping the environment every day. Remember – we can all affect change. And if we all do a little, it becomes a lot.

1. Refuse Straws (Where You Can)

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I know this sounds really small. But I did say we’d be starting small. Plastic straws literally take thousands of years to biodegrade. And, you can’t recycle them. That straw you have in your Starbucks, or in your soda, or in your cocktail at the bar? That straw will be on the planet long after we’ve destroyed it.

Obviously I’m not telling you never use another straw ever again in your life. But where you can, like at restaurants where they serve you drinks in a glass, drink from the glass instead of using the straw. It’s a simple change.

If you want to go the extra mile, buy a couple reusable stainless-steel straws. They are an investment in never needing another straw again. You can buy them online between $8-16. Here is a pack of six for $15 from Sur la Table. With stainless-steel straws, you keep one in your bag for when you go out and then when the need arises for a straw, here you are with your own environment-saving option!

2. Bring Your Own (Grocery) Bags

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This one is also simple. With more and more cities putting a tax onto plastic grocery bags, it only makes sense to bring your own. Plastic bags are also a leading cause in the deaths of marine life, because they are clogging the oceans and strangling or choking different marine animals. And if you’ve ever gone to the grocery store, they always end up giving you around three times the amount of bags you actually need when they double-bag your items.

And it isn’t just for groceries. A lot of clothing stores or any place that sells items will give you the items in a plastic bag. Even if you’re buying gum (true story – I stopped at a pharmacy and bought a pack of gum and they asked if I wanted a bag), they’ll offer.

So avoid that all together and bring your own bags. I personally am a fan of the tote bag, but I also own a cooler bag for when I buy frozen foods or things like produce that need to be kept cool. I’ve had my bags for years, and they definitely work for me.

Another way you can bring your own bags while doing another environmentally-conscious thing and re-purposing something old is turning old and unused t-shirts into produce or grocery bags. All you need is an old t-shirt and some scissors and you can a cool new bag to grab food with. Here is a tutorial on how to make one.  Use them the next time you go shopping!

3. Avoid Recycling Mistakes

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Recycling really is a huge step forward. I know it seems like it is self-explanatory, but it really is good for the environment. But, we have to be smart about how – and what – we recycle. Sometimes we might be doing more harm than good in some cases.

The top mistakes to avoid include recycling paper coated with plastic, not realizing which kinds of plastics can and can’t be recycled, and not removing all of the food from the containers we are recycling.

With the plastic coated paper, think about items like a paper Starbucks cup. I have definitely been guilty of recycling those cups in the past. But the plastic coating makes them unable to be recycled. Unfortunately, they go right into the trash. But the iced drinks cups can be recycled! Or can they?

They can. The cups are made of plastic #5, which is easily recyclable. But other plastics aren’t. For instance, many plastic drink containers are recyclable, but the caps are not. Readily recyclable plastics are numbers 1, 2, 5, and 6, whereas 3, 4, and 7 are not recyclable. So check your container next time. Not all plastics are made equal.

The last big mistake that a lot of people make is not doing a thorough rinse of their containers before they put them into the bin. Really make sure that all the food is off, because if you send recyclables to the plant that have food on them, they might not get recycled. Or if they are recycled, they might lower the quality of the recycled material, which might be trashed, and then your effort would be a waste! Also, if you want to find different recycling centers near you, search on earth911.com, and they can show you where to recycle everything from electronics to automotive parts.

4. Be Cognizant of Electricity

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How many electronic items do you have plugged in right now? How many are you using actively? Could you unplug something?

The answer is probably yes. In the past, when you turned off an appliance, it was actually off and drawing no more power. But today, even if something is off or in sleep mode, if it is plugged in, the odds are it is still drawing almost the same amount of power that it would be if it were on. This doesn’t hold true for everything – unplugging appliances like a dishwasher, washing machine, refrigerator doesn’t make much of a difference because they use about the same amount of energy regardless. But unplugging something like your computer can save you some money every year by not having it constantly drawing power.

Another electrical idea that you should be aware of is turning off the light when you leave a room. Leaving the lights on costs you a lot of money, and constantly running something like that contributes greatly to the carbon dioxide emissions. In the United States, 37 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions comes from electricity production. So remember – turn your lights off and unplug your chargers!

5. VOTE

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The best and easiest way to help the environment is to elect officials who care about the environment. Find politicians who care about climate change and support them in their endeavors. It doesn’t necessarily have to be their main focus as a politician. But knowing that they care and will vote to help heal the world and vote for better initiatives will do worlds of good.