30 Things You Can Do to Help the Environment in 30 Days
For Earth Month, here's how you can reduce your carbon footprint every single day.
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Making it personal
Perhaps you’ve heard that the only meaningful way to do something about climate change is to turn the fight for a greener world over to legislators—never mind about taking matters into our own hands. But as ethicist Mark Hanson wrote in Ensia this past December, individual action is still critical for a number of reasons: “It stimulates and supports social action. It is central to honoring our moral duties to respect life. And it can be a force for social change in subtle or unexpectedly powerful ways.” Here we round up some things you can do to protect the environment every single day of Earth Month—and year-round, too. Try these 20 tiny everyday changes to help the environment.
Do an energy audit
First things first: Find out what the carbon footprint of you and your family actually is. You’ll probably be astounded to see how much energy you use, even when you think you’re being as efficient as possible. You can find an online calculator at CarbonFootprint.com. Then, stats in hand, sit down with your family to draw up a plan of how you will make meaningful changes together. Find out 40 ways you can reduce your carbon footprint at home.
Cut down on energy usage
In the United States, the most common sources of electricity are still natural gas, coal, and nuclear power, although wind and solar are becoming increasingly available in many communities. All of them have an impact on the environment—whether through greenhouse gas emissions or through the use of water to produce steam, for example. To decrease your own energy usage, unplug your electronics when you’re not using them—they still use electricity even when they’re turned off. Find out 13 more clever ways to slash your home energy bill.
Slow the flow
Swap out your old showerhead for a low-flow showerhead; it’ll save water and energy, which translates into a savings of up to $145 a year, and you’ll never feel the difference. Find out the toilet that saves Japan millions of dollars each year.
Hang it up
Another great option: line-drying your clothes; one electric-dryer-load uses 5 times more electricity than running the washing machine and you can save 1/3 of the carbon footprint of a white t-shirt by line-drying it. You don’t need to have a backyard to line dry—invest in a drying rack or retractable clothesline for your shower. You’ll want to avoid these 14 things that are shortening the life of your washer/dryer.
Plant a tree (or two)
If you have space, consider planting one or more trees in your yard; a hardwood tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, according to CO2 Meter—but be sure to search out species that are native to your region and that don’t tax the surrounding environment.
Plant some veggies
Plants and trees all absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their leaves and roots and branches. They also cool the air and support wildlife—even in cities! And, if you plant things to eat, you not only garner these benefits, you also cut down on the emissions it would take to truck food to a store near you. We’re all social distancing right now due to the coronavirus pandemic, but we can still get gardening in our own backyards or even in pots on our windowsills. These are the 12 easiest food to grow during quarantine.
Just like growing your own food in your backyard, purchasing local foods cuts down on fossil fuel use, according to Columbia University’s Earth Institute—whether in the gas used to ship them or the refrigerant used to keep them fresh en route to the store; farmers markets are the most obvious place to find hyper-local foods in season. Learn the dead giveaways that the food at your farmer’s market isn’t actually local.
Make it organic
Selecting certified organic foods as much as possible means you’re eating foods grown with fewer chemical inputs and, in some cases, that use soil practices that keep carbon locked in. Find out 21 things you never knew about organic food.
Eating lower down on the food chain—i.e., choosing smaller fish like sardines and mussels rather than larger fish at the top of the food chain like tuna and shark—is often more environmentally sustainable, although it’s important to check with a trusted source like Seafood Watch to make sure your dinner is indeed ocean-friendly. Find out if the ocean is really running out of fish.
Limit what you toss
Over 3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide is used to produce, harvest, transport, and package the food wasted around the globe each year, according to a report from the U.N. every year. Needless to say, reducing the food we toss could have a significantly positive environmental impact; try planning your meals out ahead of time, and seeking out recipes that help you use of leftovers. These 9 tricks will help you cut back on food waste and save money.
Abolish as much plastic from your life as you can
The world is experiencing a plastics crisis; 12.7 billion tons of it a year winds up in our oceans alone, reports BBC Earth. Sheltering in place offers the perfect opportunity to try out a life with less plastic: For one, you can swap plastic straws for metal ones. Find out 13 brilliant ways other countries are reducing plastic.
Stop buying yogurt in plastic cups and containers; instead, make your own yogurt in glass jars. It’s easy with this recipe.
Switch from tea bags, which release 3.1 billion microplastic particles per cup, to loose tea that you scoop into metal tea balls. Opt for organic, fair-trade varieties of tea whenever possible to benefit the planet even more.
Rethink your clothes
If you’re due to replenish your socks or t-shirts, consider eschewing so-called “fast fashion” for items that are better made and longer-lasting, even if you have to pay a bit more. Find out what else you shouldn’t be buying at TJ Maxx and Marshalls.
Don’t dump, donate
Cleaning out your drawers while you’ve got a little extra time on your hands? Don’t dump your old clothes into the trash, where they wind up getting shipped to landfills—where 85 percent of that fast fashion winds up—and generating methane; set some bags aside to donate to the Goodwill or to bring to a textile recycling center. Find out what really happens to your used clothing donations.
When it comes time to launder your garments, wash them in cold rather than warm water. As the Earth Institute reports, “Doing two loads of laundry weekly in cold water instead of hot or warm water can save up to 500 pounds of carbon dioxide each year.” Find out more laundry facts you never knew.
Consider how you get around
Walks are something most Americans are availing themselves of now—hopefully while they wear masks and practice appropriate social distancing. Get used to them! Walking to your destination instead of driving is a fabulous way to cut down on CO2 emissions anytime, any place.
Find transportation alternatives
When we’re all free to get back to our lives, switching to biking and public transportation for our commutes is also a clear carbon-cutting strategy.
Take it easy on the road
If you must drive—and many of us are doing it these days, just for a safe change of scenery—try to avoid lots of braking and accelerating, which the Earth Institute reports “can result in 40 percent more fuel consumption than consistent, calm driving.” Find out the problem with hybrid cars no one is talking about.
Finally, make sure your tires are properly inflated, which can improve your mileage, and efficiency, by as much as 3 percent. Properly inflated tires are also your car’s most important safety feature.
Make an electronics swap-out plan
If you expect to be in the market for a computer, plan to choose a laptop model—it can use up to 80 percent less electricity than a desktop computer, according to the Houston Chronicle. Follow these 11 tips to make your laptop battery last even longer.
Look for energy-efficient appliances
When it comes to dishwashers, air conditioners, lamps, and other appliances and things that plug in, look for products with Energy Star efficiency ratings. Here’s how to decide if a bottom freezer or top freezer refrigerator is better for you.
Put your money where your mouth is
In 2007, the first so-called “beneficial corporations,” or B Corps, started to be certified. These companies are “legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment;” there are now 3,275 of them around the world—including Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and Kleen Kanteen. Want to make an impact with your consumer purchases? Research these companies’ mission statements and spend as much of your dollars as you can in supporting them. Find out which companies are getting rid of plastic for good.
Regulate your temperature
We know it’s easy to crank up the heat when you’re feeling cold and blast the air conditioner when you’re feeling hot. But this sort of practice not only increases your fuel and electricity bills; it’s bad for the environment, too. Try to turn your thermostat way down at night in the winter and in the summer follow these 13 tricks to cut down your utility bill.
Turn off the air conditioner
If possible, switch to electric fans for at least some of your least-hot summer days; they not only use less electricity, they contribute a whole lot less to greenhouse gas emissions than air conditioners do. These air conditioning tricks will also help you spend less.
Reach out to your representatives
Feeling extra motivated to save the planet? Then by all means, get in touch with your legislators on the local, state, and federal levels to tell them the time is now to pass laws that strongly address climate change and will help the U.S. meet the UN’s call to limit global temperature rise. Here’s what it’ll take for the U.S. to become carbon neutral by 2050.