Ok, so Ian sent me a note asking for some tips on green living, and more specifically on the aspects beyond what’s normally talked about. For a brief overview, the standard “green” stuff includes recycling, driving less, changing lightbulbs, turning out the lights when you’re not using them, and probably some other stuff.
This is probably the first of many potential to-do lists, so it won’t be comprehensive by any means, but I hope it will be of some help. I apologize for the style, I don’t intend to be preach-y – a lot of this is stuff I’m working on myself.
First, I want to talk about recycling. Recycling is good, but it DOES cost energy, which currently means greenhouse gasses. How do you get around that? Well, it’s not easy. The big thing is to not generate stuff that needs to be recycled, but we don’t want to be just throwing stuff out either – waste is bad.
The first thing is a general climate friendly habit. When EVER you buy something ask yourself these questions:
- DO I NEED IT? Chances are you don’t. Seriously. If you live in this country, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve already got a lot of stuff – more than you need. If you’re not sure, then WAIT a couple days before buying it. Really think about it because –
- Where does it come from? If you haven’t seen The Story Of Stuff, it’s worth a watch. Everything comes from somewhere. Is it made out of plastic? If so, it probably originated somewhere under the Arabian Peninsula, or the Gulf of Mexico, or Nigeria, and then it was refined, and moulded, and so on. If it’s metal, it was mined, smelted, and shaped – you get the idea. EVERYTHING has an energy input, so try to minimize that. One way to do that is to ask:
- How long will this last? A good kitchen knife will last you a lifetime if you take care of it. It will also probably cost more up front, but remember – it’ll last. A good piece of furniture is the same. Actually, EVERYTHING is the same. Buy as if it’s the last thing of its kind you’ll ever buy in your life. Even if you’re buying used stuff, which is great, buy stuff that will LAST.
- On that note, could you get it used? If you can, do it.
- Are you SURE you need it? Check again – Maybe you have something you can fix instead of throwing away. Maybe you can borrow from a friend. If you’re only going to use it once or twice, try borrowing!
- Can I get this somewhere else with less packaging? This is a big one, actually. If there’s a store nearby that sells food in bulk, see if they will let you bring your own food containers, weigh them there, and then fill them directly from the bulk container. Whole Foods does this, as do many other such places. A number of places also have soap that comes by the pound and doesn’t have a wrapper. You can get milk in glass jars that will earn you a small refund when you return them. Seek out ways to not have packaging in your stuff.
In day-to-day life, try to cut down on garbage generation. This is hard, but doable. Trash-free living is a growing fad, and it’s a good one. It involves a lot of skills that are good to cultivate anyway. Learn how to store food. Learn how to can safely, or to dry food. If you can buy something in a glass container instead of a plastic one, go for glass, and then re-use the container! Buy from farmers markets where there’s no packaging (plus, local=no travel time).
Another angle is personal hygiene. I recently started using baking soda as shampoo (inspired by my housemate) and apple cider vinegar as conditioner, and it seems to do the trick. Maybe instead of using shaving cream/gel you can use shave soap and a shaving brush. For that matter, you can use a straight razor if you think you can do it without cutting yourself – there are resources to help you figure out how, and you’d never need disposable razorblades again!
Of course, there are also things like going vegetarian – meat requires ten times the amount of resources per unit weight as an equivalent amount of vegetables, and animals produce methane (greenhouse gas). You can also make sure that instead of three bulbs in a ceiling light, you’re only using one bulb per fixture. That way if you have to turn on another light for a brighter room, it’s a conscious use of power.
The list goes on, but I won’t for now – this has been quite long enough. The other advantages of everything I just posted is that in working towards these goals, I’ve found that not only does it make my life simpler (which is nice), and less carbon-intensive (which is great), it’s also cheaper than NOT doing all that. It’s actively saving me money, and for a college grad who’s in debt, that is a wonderful thing!