I am first and foremost a cheapskate. I also hate to waste anything. Lucky for me, these two traits often go hand in hand with reducing my impact on the environment. Whether you are trying to save cash or the Earth, the best thing you can do is include these priorities in every decision you make. Whether you are buying a major appliance, or adjusting the thermostat, make a conscious effort to align these decisions with the impact that you want to have. Here are ten things that I have done to reduce my carbon footprint.
Buy Quality Used, not Cheap New
Before thrift stores were trendy, people went there for one reason – to save money. Garage sales, second-hand stores, Craigslist.org , Freecycle.org and Freesharing.org are all excellent sources for finding quality used goods for cheap or even free. I make use of these resources whenever possible, especially if I have something to get rid of. When I tore down my back deck, I gave away a lot of the decking as firewood and sold the lattice that had surrounded it. It made a lot more sense than hauling it to the dump.
Less power used and longer lasting: two qualities that make switching to CFLs a thrifty, green decision. Rather than switching out every lightbulb in your house right now, I recommend switching out your larger wattage bulbs (over 100W) immediately, then switching out the rest as your old bulbs burn out. This removes the largest energy draining bulbs immediately, while keeping the bulk of your old incandescent bulbs from hitting the waste stream before they have to.
Plant a Garden
The great thing about planting a garden is that so many options are available to you. Assess your household eating habits to decide what fruits, vegetables or herbs you use the most, and research different varieties to find one that works well for your growing constraints. Just growing a few lettuce plants could greatly offset the carbon emissions required to cultivate and transport the store-bought lettuce you would be buying.
A compost bin can be simply a gallon bucket kept under your sink, or it can be a roughly built pallet bin out by your garden. Most likely the amount of composting you do should be in proportion to the size of your garden. Vermicular composting works well for small operations, such as the gallon bucket example. I built my bins using pallets for walls and wire and nails to hold them together. By using two bins, I can leave one bin alone to compost while I add grass clippings, dead leaves, peelings, coffee grounds from work, newspaper, apple cores and lots of other compostables to the other.
Use Pallets for Projects and Firewood
Speaking of pallets, these wooden shipping structures can be used for much more than compost bins. I use used pallets for firewood, as a platform to stack my firewood on, and as walls for my compost bins. Other uses for pallets include woodworking projects, fences, and even building small structures. Though the use of wooden pallets in shipping is slowly being replaced by plastic, increasing the lifespan of the wood in pallets decreases their carbon footprint.
Energy Efficient Appliances
When I moved into my house, there were no kitchen appliances. When I went to buy new ones, I found that the energy credits combined with the long-term energy savings made buying energy-efficient appliances a very sensible choice.
Renewable Energy for Your Home
Most utility companies have a renewable energy option you can subscribe to. Usually for a slightly higher rate, your power is guaranteed to be generated from 100% renewable energy. This is one of the few environmentally-friendly things I do that actually costs more, but it is also one of the best things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. For Pacific Power , the program is called Blue Sky, and customers can reduce their carbon footprint for as little as $1.95 per month.
Use Salvaged Materials
I love making use of things that have been tossed aside, or finding new uses for old materials. One project I am working on now is a walkway from my new back patio to my shop. This walkway is a mix of leftover patio pavers, large slabs of stone I found in my backyard when I moved in, as well as pier blocks and chimney bricks from an old house I helped demolish. The variety of materials gives my walkway a unique aesthetic, while using salvaged materials, rather than buying new, reduces my carbon footprint.
No shocker here – keeping resources in use rather than dumping them reduces your carbon footprint. Personally, I’m kind of a recycling Nazi. I sometimes dig in the trash to fish out recyclables that were thrown out. I cringe when I see cardboard in a trash can. Although recycling isn’t really a hot topic in green conversations these days, it cannot be forgotten. There are many things around your home that can be recycled. You can even recycle old cell phones!
Maintain Your Vehicle
Energy in your car is just like energy in your home – the more you use, the larger your carbon footprint. By maintaining your fluid levels and tire pressure, and changing your oil regularly, the gas mileage and longevity of your vehicle will improve. This is not something I do as well as I should, but it’s another commonsense, wallet-friendly way to reduce your carbon footprint.
Put away those labor saving devices
Don’t get me wrong – if you’re baking 12 dozen holiday cookies, go ahead and use that Kitchenaid mixer, unless you enjoy spending two days in the kitchen. But if you’re only throwing together a quick stir fry or baking a batch of brownies, forgo the food processor or electric mixer in favor of a chef’s knife or a big spoon. You can also downgrade to a push mower if you have a small yard, or reserve the vacuum for a monthly deep clean and use a broom and dustpan for weekly maintenance. Not only will you burn a few extra calories, you won’t be burning up unnecessary energy.
Don’t waste energy on drying
Why waste money and electricity on something that clothes are naturally going to do on their own? Replacing your dryer with a clothesline or drying rack, even for only some of your laundry, can significantly reduce your energy consumption and your utility bill. Aside from the benefits for the environment and your wallet, your clothes will appreciate line drying as well. The high heat and tumbling action of a dryer can set stains and wear out your clothes, reducing their useful life.
There are probably many types of clothing or linens that you already use more than once before washing. Bath towels, night gowns, and sweaters can go a few rounds before needing laundering. The less contact an item has had with your body, and the cleaner the environment in which it was worn (hint: gym clothes don’t count) the greater the likelihood you can wear it again. Limit frequent washing to items like socks, undergarments, and clothes that are visibly soiled. If you can get an extra wear out of that dress or a couple more nights out of your sheets, not only will you save water, electricity, and detergent, but you’ll also save yourself time and trouble by making laundry day less frequent.
Use it up
This is a common habit among those who lived through the Depression that’s equally relevant today. That empty conditioner bottle isn’t as empty as you might think. Add a little water to dilute it, shake it up, and I guarantee you’ll get at least two more uses out of it. This applies to lotions, liquid soaps, detergents, or generally any water-based household cleaner or cosmetic. Save some money, reduce your consumption, and send fewer bottles off for recycling.
You might not have the time or desire to switch to cloth diapers and linen napkins, but there are probably a lot of disposable items in your home you can replace. Swap out the disposable duster for an old t-shirt or mate-less sock. Dishrags and scrub brushes work just as well as sponges and can be reused indefinitely. Cloth towels can replace paper towels for most uses.
Heat or cool your home in zones
You may be familiar with this if you’ve ever lived in an old house with doors in strange places, like the kitchen. Back when heating a home was a little more labor intensive than turning on the furnace, less frequently used rooms were closed off to contain the heat in the main living areas. You can do the same by closing the vents in spare bedrooms, or running window units in one room at a time. Heating and cooling comprise a huge portion of your energy usage; luckily they’re also two of the easiest areas in which to reduce consumption.