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January 18, 2014

Reducing Our Impact on The Planet: 9 Simple Ways to Tread a Little Lighter. ~ Susan McKellep

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

~ Lao-tzu

In a single day, there are dozens of opportunities for each of us to make simple choices that will reduce the negative impact we have on this beautiful, irreplaceable planet of ours. Most of the changes are so small you’ll hardly notice them, but the cumulative effect will have a big impact.

Here are nine simple ways to get started on your lighter walk. Pick a few of these baby steps to start with, work up to the ones that seem a little more daunting, and eventually add your own.

Besides saving money, you’ll help save the planet, and before you know it you’ll be all greened up and feelin’ so good about it you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner!

1. Wash laundry in cold water.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating water is the second highest home energy load after heating and cooling, and accounts for about 90% of the energy used to wash a load of clothes.

2. Air dry your clothes.

A proper clothesline outside is a wonderful thing, and I love the peaceful, meditative quality of hanging clothes on a line so much that I feel a little sorry for myself whenever I have to use a “real” dryer.

For apartment dwellers and inclement weather, there’s a wide variety of collapsible drying racks; a google search will turn up something for everyone. I use a folding wooden rack I picked up a thrift store for less than $5; I can dry a large load of clothes on it in a small space, and fold it up to stash under the bed when I’m done.

3. Air dry your dishes instead of using the heated drying cycle if you use an electric dishwasher.

4. Wash your hands in cold water.

I know, I know, you don’t want to do that, but if everyone in the U.S. alone would wash their hands in cold water, it would eliminate as much energy-related carbon emissions as the entire U.S. zinc or lead industries produce annually.

And as it turns out, cold water is just as good at killing germs as hot water, which would have to be literally boiling to kill more germs than washing with cold water does. Not only does washing your hands in cold water reduce carbon emissions, it eliminates all that water literally running right down the drain while you’re waiting for the water to get warm.

Which leads me to…

5. Turn the water off while you brush your teeth, wash your face, and shave; you’ll save as much as eight gallons of water every time you do. 

Clean, safe water is a resource many of us take for granted, but the truth is that fresh water is in short supply for much of the planet, including 36 states in the U.S, and that’s only going to get worse in the coming years as demand increases and supplies continue to drop. Add the fact that making the water we do have safe for use requires vast energy resources and creates pollution, and we’ve all got two very good reasons to turn the water off: conserving a necessary resource and reducing pollution.

6. Shop local. 

When we purchase products close to where they were created, fewer resources are used to get it to us, and less pollution is generated. Choose locally grown vegetables over those grown and shipped from thousands of miles away—Farmer’s Markets are an obvious option, but many supermarket chains offer locally grown produce as well.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is another popular way for consumers to obtain fresh, locally grown, seasonal vegetables directly from the farmer who grew it.

In addition to saving resources, we support people in our communities when we buy locally produced goods.

7. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bags). 

Speaking of shopping, opt for reusable bags to get your purchases home. Disposable plastic bags are clogging our landfills, polluting our oceans, and killing thousands of marine and land animals every year who eat the bags, thinking they’re food.

You can purchase your stock of reusable bags at the stores you frequent, or you can take it a step greener and buy the bags secondhand. Any sturdy cloth/canvas/plastic bag with long-ish handles can be used as a shopping bag, and many thrift stores usually have a plethora to choose from. Another option is to pick up bags as souvenirs on your travels.

Two of my favorite bags are from a grocery chain in Scotland; they cost me about $1 each, and remind me of my wonderful visits to that country every time I shop.

I also keep a small nylon bag in my purse for small purchases when I don’t take my whole supply of bags into the store. The bag folds into itself and is about the size of a lime when it’s folded up.

Two more tips for using reusable bags: 1) the minute you empty them, hang your bags on the front doorknob so you’ll remember to take them back to the car, and 2) toss them in a (cold water) wash every month or so to ensure they stay clean and safe for carrying food.

8. Shop secondhand. 

Of course it’s not just shopping bags you can buy secondhand; virtually anything and everything you need or want can be obtained at thrift stores, consignment shops, flea markets, and via craigslist. Shopping secondhand is a green practice in that you’re reusing something that’s already made—no additional resources are needed to manufacture and ship it (whatever it is).

9. Recycle. 

Find out about the recycling programs in your neighborhood, and use them. You can go all out, with sorting bins in your kitchen or on your back porch for paper/glass/metal/plastic, or you can just keep a separate bag/bin/box next to your kitchen trash can, drop all your recyclables in it, and sort them when you take them to the curb each week.

Once you get into the recycling groove, take the next step and start choosing products with less packaging, buying in bulk, reusing your own containers, etc.

So there we have it: nine simple steps we can all take to make our walk a little greener.

Happy trails to you!

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Bryonie Wise

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Susan McKellep