A healthy lifestyle isn’t limited to food and exercise. Activist efforts in environmentalism have brought to light all kinds of harmful additives in clothing, cosmetics, cleaners, and other household products that have made us all more aware of these products’ impact on our health. Saving energy saves money, and who can say that isn’t a healthy habit? I think vegetarianism and veganism tend to go hand in hand with being green — a lot of my friends went organic before concluding that they had to give up meat — but I’ve only recently begun seriously green-ifying my house and habits. Here are the top ten categories in which we can all probably afford — and should be easily able — to do our part, whether it be for the planet, our health, or our wallets.
- Shop at consignment and thrift stores, such as Plato’s Closet, rather than buying your items off the rack at major retailers. If you do buy something new, get organic and sustainable cotton, bamboo, or hemp.
- Never, ever throw away your old clothes: If they’re in great condition, sell them at a thrift store or in a garage sale, and if they’re in good condition, give them to charity. If you can repair them, do so, and if you can’t, use them as rags instead of buying paper towels.
- Save some cash by resisting the urge to buy more than you need: I know we all have more than a few items we never wear haunting the back of our closet, so don’t go adding any more to that collection.
- Join a library, and get books, magazines, DVDs, CDs, and anything else you can from them for free and without generating any waste.
- When you do want to purchase something for your personal collection, do so from a local, used retailer or a provider of electronic files.
- Look for local events like musicians at coffee shops or community film screenings rather than venturing downtown. If you plan on hitting a few places, try to park centrally and walk to each location, or, if you can, walk or bike from home.
BATH AND BEAUTY
- Consider making your own products. Lip balms, moisturizers, and even conditioners and shampoos are easy, and there are tons of websites where you can buy all of the ingredients if you can’t find them locally.
- Bar soap comes in easy-to-recycle cardboard packaging, as opposed to liquid soaps in their plastic bottles. One of the comments below suggests bar soaps from The Soap Works, which come without packaging and can even be used for shaving.
- Origins stores recycle any and all empty cosmetics containers, and most shampoo and other bath packaging can be recycled, too — take the time to take advantage of that (and cut the aerosol cans from your shopping lists, too).
- Household cleaners can be made from vinegar, baking soda, and citrus — Google some recipes.
- Lines like Alba and Burt’s Bees tend to be organic, though not always vegan, and even though their products seem a bit expensive compared to their chemical-laden counterparts, a little bit goes a long way.
HOLIDAYS AND DECOR
- Decorations are nice, and so are the fancy store-bought birthday cakes and decked-out Christmas trees, but a big part of going green is utility — making everything you purchase or consume worth as much as possible. Bake from scratch; it isn’t all that hard, and it can be a fun family activity. Decorate with pumpkins for fall and eat them before they rot, and consider making decor from recyclable materials that you have on hand.
- Don’t buy fake plants or flowers for the dining room when you can grow real ones in your yard and harvest a few pretty sprigs for a small vase. Or you can display the produce you buy in pretty glass bowls before you eat it.
- If you get plastic stuff, make sure it’s recyclable. Still better, store food in glass containers that are microwave and/or oven safe, cutting an extra dish from the reheating process.
- Don’t buy plastic hangers or bins; try bamboo alternatives. (Though, don’t get rid of the plastic ones you already have — that would be wasteful. You may as well make them worth their while.)
- Don’t forget to pick up some reusable canvas bags to do your shopping with. If you do happen to use a plastic bag at the store, be sure to return and recycle it.
- Consider organic litter or waste baggies, shampoos, flea treatments, carriers and leashes, even food. A good Google search should shed some light on options available from your local retailers or through the web.
- Read those pet food labels and try not to give your companions food laden with ingredients you yourself wouldn’t eat. One of my friends has theorized that the high incidence of canine and kitty cancers we’ve both seen may have something to do with our pets’ diets, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s right about that.
- Set the water heater to a lower temperature; about 120*F.
- Put efficient faucets on showers and sinks, and reduce the amount of time you spend running the water.
- Reduce the water you waste with each flush by filling 16-32 oz. bottles with sand or rocks and placing them in the toilet tank.
- Don’t use AC or heating unless the temperature is unbearable, and strip down or bundle up before you consider visiting your thermostat. Set the thermostat only a few degrees warmer or cooler than the outside temperature if at all possible.
- Use CF light bulbs, and turn the lights off unless you desperately need them (say, to read some fine print). Consider using candlelight or a small nightlight if you need some markers to see your way around after dark.
- Use rechargeable batteries, and be aware that you can even buy solar-powered chargers for them and other items like cell phones and cameras. Turn off and unplug (or turn off the power strip) all appliances when you’re not using them, including phone, laptop, and iPod chargers.
- Instead of running your dryer every wash, invest a few bucks in a clothes line and some pins.
- If you need to buy a new appliance, look for an Energy Star one that is more efficient than standard appliances.
- If you’re buying a computer, realize that laptops are more efficient than desktops.
- There are a ton of federal incentives to go green, such as tax credits for installing solar panels — Google ought to lead you in the right direction.
- Switch to a green electricity provider. The one I have charges only a fraction of a cent more than their non-green program (and is still much cheaper than a lot of the other providers), and I bet a Google search would turn up some alternatives in your area, too.
- Recycle all paper. Switch to paperless billing, and Google organizations like Do Not Mail to remove yourself from all those junk mailing lists.
- If you’re big on landscaping, try to spend less effort and resources watering and cutting the grass, and kill weeds with vinegar or by digging them up after a rain rather than with pesticides.
- We already know I don’t endorse junk or meat products, but it can’t hurt to re-iterate that produce comes cheapest (and greenest, if you get it locally), and that frozen items are cheaper and healthier than canned ones.
- Buy local and organic produce, and consider growing some of your own.
- Eat seasonally, or freeze your produce for later (especially if it looks like it may go bad before you get to it).
- Don’t buy products that come in containers that can’t be recycled easily or at all (such as individually wrapped foods and drinks), and invest in a travel thermos or bottle rather than a pack of water bottles or juice boxes.
- Start a compost pile or see if you can drop your organic wastes — apple cores, orange peels, potato skins — at a local one.
- Bake from scratch to save some green, and challenge yourself to recycle all of the waste your eating habits generate — if you find something you can’t recycle, don’t buy that product again. I had a lot of fun, actually, sorting through the kitchen’s garbage and realizing that I wouldn’t be putting out any trash this week!
Well, there you have it. I know this post may have induced information-overload, but I hope that among all of these suggestions, you found a few that you can easily pick up on. I know I’ve got my work cut out for me, implementing all of these. I also know that it will be easy to simply stop buying a lot of these items, to replace my bulbs with CF ones when they die, and to hang a clothes line in the back. What green efforts have you all made? Do you plan to pick up any of these habits, or do you have some great ideas I should add to this post?
My Homemade Beauty Products are Now For Sale!
I’ve been making my own household, beauty, and bath products for almost ten years now. In that time, I’ve perfected recipes that are simple, all-natural, and effective. Now, some of my favorites are available for purchase in my Etsy shop! Relax with a variety of bath salts in Lavender-Rose, Eucalyptus-Mint, or Citrus-Clove scents. Or simultaneously exfoliate and moisturize with my avocado-rich salt scrubs. Shop the whole A Clean Slate collection here.