25 Simple Swaps to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Doing your part to protect the planet this Earth Day can be as easy as making small, strategic changes to your everyday routine.

Dry naturally

dryMenna/ShutterstockAccording to the National Resource Defense Council, a typical American home uses 800 kilowatts of electricity running their clothes dryer. Instead of machine-drying all your stuff, set up a clothesline in your backyard or on your balcony and let your sheets and clothes air dry. The amount of energy the appliance consumes depends on the brand and age of your clothes dryer, but air-drying will help you save a little cash on your electric bill too. If you don't have outdoor space, consider setting up a drying rack in the laundry room, a bathroom, or any well-ventilated area of your home.

Let exercise do double-duty

exerciselzf/ShutterstockIf you live close enough to work or errands, consider walking, running, or biking to work to keeping one more car off the road and burn calories to boot. If you live too far from work to get there by foot or bike, consider carpooling with a coworker who lives nearby, or research public transportation options. According to the EPA, a typical passenger vehicle emits 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year so each day you're off the road you're conserving cash and carbon.  

Cruise and coast

cruise-controlMK-photograp55/ShutterstockIntermittent acceleration and braking burns extra fuel, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. When you're on the highway, turn on cruise control to maintain an even speed and conserve gas. The exception: On hilly terrain, cruise control can expend more fuel by trying to maintain an even speed on uphill portions of the road, so consider going fully manual in the mountains. You can also conserve gas—and save your brakes—by taking your foot off the gas pedal when approaching a red light (if there's no one behind you).

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Lights on

lightSteve-Cukrov/ShutterstockTurning off lights and appliances as much as possible is a sure-fire way to reduce your energy consumption, but swapping your standard light bulb for an LED or CFL bulb reduces energy consumption by up to 80 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The more efficient bulbs also last longer, reducing waste and cost.      

Drink up

drink-upPoprotskiy-Alexey/ShutterstockRather than grabbing a single-use container when you're out and about, carry a reusable water bottle with you. You can take this tip further by carrying a coffee thermos too; most coffee shops will fill your brought-from-home mug. Still need to buy plastic bottles? Consider giving them a second life at home before you recycle.      

Home brew

home-brewMasa-Kato/ShutterstockInstead of one-time plastic pods, which wreak havoc on the environment, purchase a drip brewing machine that reduces plastic consumption. Even better, invest in a French press or cold brew maker, which does the steeping without plastic or power.        

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Skip the straw

no-strawpathdoc/ShutterstockAmericans use a whopping 500 million straws per day, a number that, end-to-end, could circle the planet 2.5 times, according to environmental action group Sailors for the Sea. Instead, skip the straw and lid all together and sip from the cup to avoid contributing to plastic pollution. If you need to use a straw, or have little ones in tow, purchase paper or metal straws made from recycled material. The paper will biodegrade more easily than plastic, and metal straws can be reused until they're ready to recycle.  

Go paperless

paperlessPushish-Images/ShutterstockInstead of printing a receipt each time you hit the ATM, opt in to email or text message receipts to keep tabs on your balance. Most banks now offer paperless billing, so you can handle all of your transactions online without wasting a single sheet of paper. While you're at it, download an app like Venmo or Paypal, where you can transfer money between individuals free of charge and save on the paper checks too. Never heard of Venmo? Here's what you need to know.

Reject the junk

junkJacob-Schroeter/ShutterstockThe average American adult receives 41 pounds of junk mail per year. Stem the flow of paper waste by signing up for a service like DMA Choice to remove your name and address from direct mailing lists. If you're getting catalogs from favorite retailers, email them to request being removed from their direct mailing list and opt into email updates instead. Many stores like CVS and Stop and Shop now offer apps that allow users to load coupons directly onto their loyalty cards to avoid printing them. Another bonus: One card means fewer coupons to forget at home!

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Put the e in email

e-in-emailFoxy-burrow/ShutterstockSave paper by swapping snail mail for email. For birthdays and holidays, websites such as Paperless Post offer digital invitation services, greeting cards, and more. As a bonus, many online greeting websites allow you to schedule sending cards in advance, so no more missing birthdays.      

Pack your bags

shopping bagDragon-Images/ShutterstockStash a few reusable shopping bags on your car to use in the grocery store to avoid plastic bags, which are difficult to recycle. Many grocery stores and online retailers sell reusable produce bags as well, to further reduce plastic consumption. So, what to do with the stash of plastic grocery bags under your sink? Here are six ways you can use them again.    

Bring lunch

bring-lunchPhotographee.eu/ShutterstockSave money and calories by bringing your lunch in from home. Takeout restaurants are disposable-packaging powerhouses, and by packing your lunch, you control the wrappings and trappings for your midday meal. Brown bags are recyclable, but consider investing in a reusable lunch bag and food containers (like Box Appetit), and swap plastic snack bags for reusable ones made of silicone, like Stasher Bags. Need some ideas for what to pack? Check out these healthy salad recipes to take to work.

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Trade paper for cloth

cloth5-second-Studio/ShutterstockCloth napkins are more durable and less wasteful than their paper counterparts. Retailers like Ikea sell packs of reusable towels and napkins at affordable prices. The cloth napkins can be washed by hand or in the washing machine, and reused. Plus, they come in cute patterns and fabrics that beat plain paper napkins any day. You can take this further by swapping your paper gift wrap for cloth—and the wrapping becomes another gift in itself.  

Buy local and in-season

localMatej-Kastelic/ShutterstockThe National Resource Defense Council says the typical American prepared meal contains, on average, ingredients from at least five countries. This translates to hundreds of gallons of fuel and tons of carbon dioxide expended to import these food products to your local grocery store. Instead, buy locally grown produce whenever possible. While the options will be limited to what's in season, you'll be getting fresher food that hasn't traveled for days or weeks before reaching the shelf. Search for farmer's markets in your area, which not only will get you the freshest ingredients but cuts out the middle man, getting more of every dollar into the hands of the producers themselves. These farmer's market secrets will help you scope out the best produce.

Drink local

local-drinkRostislav_Sedlacek/ShutterstockDon't stop at local food. Make an effort to also purchase wine, beer, and liquor from local vineyards, breweries, and distilleries. By reducing the distance the bottles have to travel, you're not only supporting local businesses but also reducing transportation costs. Many of these places also offer tours and tastings on-site for a fun weekend activity.      

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Avoid food waste

food-wastekosmos111/ShutterstockAccording to data from the United Nations, over one third of the food produced annually across the globe is wasted. To avoid contributing to this problem, grocery shop with a plan and use items in your pantry and fridge according to their expiration dates. For the bits of food you can't eat, consider starting a backyard compost pile to turn leftovers into fuel for plants.

Grow your ownvegetableyuris/ShutterstockIf you have outdoor space, consider planting a vegetable garden in the ground or in containers. With your green thumb, you can keep chemicals out of your garden and out of the soil using responsible gardening practices, and also save yourself a trip to the store by simply walking outside and shopping your garden. If space is limited, grow herbs in an indoor container near a window, or tomatoes in a large planter.  

Water well

wateringGyuszko-Photo/ShutterstockThe average household hose uses six gallons of water per minute and isn't particularly efficient. Reduce waste by using a watering can to better target your plants and give them a more natural watering akin to rain. Plus, you'll save on your water bill.        

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Adopt Meatless Mondays

meatlessBrent-Hofacker/ShutterstockRaising meat cattle and other animals for consumption takes a major toll on the environment, according to the World Watch Institute. Reduce your reliance on these industries by forgoing meat and dining on legumes, grains, and veggies more often. Start with one meal a week, and if you're feeling ambitious aim for more.    

Rethink your disposables

disposabeskwanchai.c/ShutterstockA benefit of having more and more environmentally conscious consumers is that companies are rushing to meet their needs. Evaluate the disposable household items you use and consider a swap, like switching from plastic toothbrushes to the Bogobrush or trading plastic forks and spoons for Bambu's bamboo eating utensils.    

Read better

readMark-Alan-Howard/ShutterstockPurchase an e-reader, like an Amazon Kindle, to reduce shipping materials and costs of new books, not to mention the paper materials of the physical copies. Not willing to give up turning pages? Support your community and sign up for a library card. Consider donating your used books and movies to the library too. (Don't miss these incredible features you didn't know your Amazon Kindle had.)      

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batteriesAVS-Images/ShutterstockBatteries may contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, silver, nickel, or lithium that can contaminate the environment if not recycled or if disposed of improperly, according to the EPA. Keep these materials out of landfills by purchasing rechargeable batteries for your electronic devices. While they're initially more expensive, you'll spend less over time by not having to replace batteries, and will reduce waste.  

Skip the gym

gymlzf/ShutterstockNo, this is not an excuse to not exercise. Skip the gym and take your workout on the open road instead. You'll save the fuel it might take you to drive to the gym and the energy consumption of the machines you would be working on. It's even possible in winter.      

Shrink your appliances

appliancespanpote/ShutterstockWhen possible, skip cooking in the oven and opt for the microwave or a toaster oven instead. While the average amp hours of these appliances are similar, smaller appliances generally cook food faster and don't require preheating. The microwave can also make cooking tasks much easier.      

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Be brand aware

brandMcimage/ShutterstockReevaluate the products you have in your home and make the necessary swaps to more environmentally sustainable products and businesses. Websites like rankabrand.org give grades to businesses based on their degree of social responsibility and sustainable practices to help you make the best brand choices for the environment.
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