by Amanda Sims: Start small and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to make a change…
Somewhere between California and Hawaii, there’s a patch of floating plastic that’s now twice the size of Texas. Our sea level is rising, and the weather is now consistently out of whack (just look outside). It might seem like an insurmountable situation—something best left to our “trusty” lawmakers and politicians—but there actually is something you can do, and from the comfort of your home, no less. A lot of things, actually. They don’t have to take up all your time or money, either: Sure, you could install solar panels or invest in a new selection of Energy Star Appliances, but we recommend starting smaller. Here are 29 little things you can do tonight, or tomorrow, or this weekend to make your home a more eco-friendly place.
1. Swap in some LED bulbs. It’s tempting to spring for the dinky incandescents at the corner store, but that $17 six-pack of LEDs will last 13 years each.
2. Use more rags, fewer paper towels. We’re not saying no paper towels—that move takes serious commitment—we’re saying fewer. Cut up old shirts to make rags (just like grandma did!) and launder them in a batch whenever you run out. Or buy cute rags if you must (we don’t judge!).
3. Clean the fridge coils. Get a long, skinny brush like this one and use it to gently scrub loose any lint and scuzz from the coils under your fridge. This will help it use less energy to keep your food cold.
4. And the filter on your dryer. Bonus: That tool also doubles as a cleaner for the lint slot in your dryer. You’ll be amazed at what comes out of it! And again, now that appliance is running more efficiently.
5. Line-dry whenever possible. Honestly, your bras and undies and crop tops will last longer if you let them air-dry anyway. Helps to have a good-looking drying rack, but a plain old clothesline works, too.
6. Get a set of dryer balls. Say what? Think about all the dryer sheets you go through doing laundry—did you know one set of wool dryer balls can do the same work (speed up dry time and fluff out wrinkles) without chemicals? And they last basically forever.
7. Shop vintage. Next time you decide to upgrade a piece of furniture, peruse sites like Chairish or your local thrift store to see if you can find something used that works. On less item heading to the landfill.
8. Get window treatments. Bare windows aren’t just a little bit naked-looking, they also let in heat and cool air from the outside even if sealed shut. Curtains and blinds can help with that.
9. Use cold water when washing your clothes. (You can even specify that your wash-and-fold place do this!) Hot water will actually set stains, and cold water will get your clothes just as clean.
10. Get power strips. Don’t just get and use them—flip them off whenever you’re done using the things that are plugged in. Everything from TVs to phone chargers can act as “vampire appliances,” leeching energy while not in use.
11. Time for a houseplant. Turn some of that CO2 into O2 just by potting a Ficus or Dracaena (and actually caring for it.
12. Water it using used water. As in, the water you wash your vegetables in, or the water that collects in a bucket by the door during a thunderstorm. No need to break out the Brita for your fern!
13. Speaking of which, it is time to get a nice water filter. Here’s one! A good reusable water bottle is also going to help. You will very quickly recoup those costs when you quit buying a 24-pack of water bottles every time you go to the grocery store.
14. Use your totes. That pile of free totes you’ve compiled over the years and always forget about? Toss one in your trunk and one in your work bag so you’re never at the grocery without it.
15. Get a recycling bin. We don’t have official statistics on this one, but it seems safe to say that you’ll be 100 percent more likely to recycle your beer bottles and salsa jars if you actually have a designated place to put them.
16. And a compost bin. Erase the picture that has formed in your mind—composting can be neat and tidy and even smell-free. Stash scraps in a bag in your freezer, or in a sleek countertop bin designed for the purpose, and watch your trash loads get way smaller. Plus, free fertilizer!
17. Bypass the elevator. If you live in an apartment building, take the stairs. (Occasionally, at least—it’s good for those glutes, too.)
18. Clean out and give away. All those great treasures in your secondhand shop down the street? They came from somebody finally doing a spring cleaning, and then taking the stuff to be repurchased.
19. Fill your dishwasher all the way before running it. And if you really can’t wait, run it on that “top rack only” setting that so many of them have these days, instead of doing a full cycle just for four wine glasses.
19. Or run it in the middle of the night. Say what? Ever noticed that “delay” button on your dishwasher and wondered why you’d ever want to use it? If you set it to start during your electric company’s “off-peak hours” (usually the middle of the night), you’ll be reducing peak energy demand on the grid. And possibly getting charged less.
20. Upgrade to a a smart thermostat. Sure, your rickety manual one works just fine, but a smart thermostat (like Nest’s will have a setting like Eco-Mode that automatically drops the temperature when you’re not home.
21. Get a low-flow showerhead. Just look for one with good reviews—that specify a powerful spray despite the restricted water use—and screw it on.
22. Switch to online bill pay. You know what, why don’t you do this before reading the rest of the article. We’ll wait.
23. Embrace e-readers. Or, for anyone who just can’t stomach the thought of “turning the page” by swiping a screen, support your neighborhood used bookshop on the regular.
24. Use cloth napkins. Pro tip: Dark colors are easier to keep clean, and the bigger the napkin the happier you’ll be with it on your lap. (You’ll also feel pretty damn fancy even if you’re just eating a PB&J.)
25. Fix any drippy taps. You know why this is wasteful!
26. Plant herbs this spring. No need to buy parsley that had to be transported from a farm to your grocery when you can snip a few sprigs on the back deck. (On the kitchen counter by a sunny window would work, too.)
27. Turn down your water heater. The standard setting for a residential water heater is 140º F, but that’s extremely hot. To test: Turn on the hot tap but not the cold tap in your shower. Is it scalding? Too hot to touch? Try turning the heater down to 120º F so that the hottest it gets is your ideal shower temp.
28. Get a decent coffee maker. If the stuff you make at home is actually delicious, you won’t be as tempted to pick it up at the coffee shop (paper cup and plastic lid included) instead. No, you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on one—a basic French press will do the trick.
29. Quit using the oven to make toast. Heating up your whole oven for two pieces of sandwich bread is . . . not efficient. Use a toaster instead.