Originally posted by Robert Stockham, Smart Cities Dive

As we all know, we are in a difficult time for the environment. How difficult, we don’t really know. It all depends on who you talk to. If you are old enough to remember, we went through much of this hype and hysteria in the 70’s. That is when many people tried to save Mother Earth, live off the grid, build efficient houses and install solar panels. Enter cheaper oil prices of the 80’s and all that effort was forgotten. So are we worse or better off than we were 30+ years ago? I don’t think anyone can really answer that question. We can model future weather patterns and expand predictions of energy use and carbon output all we want, but the truth is that there are simply too many variables to make any of this theoretical research much more than speculation. Does that mean that we should ignore it, continue to use resources at a terrible rate and hope we end up okay? I say no. I hope that our current situation is not nearly as dire as some predict, because that means we have more time to fix things. It is clear that we are using up the planets natural resources. It is clear that we are polluting the air and water. The rising cost of simple things like fish are testimony that we are consuming them faster than they can replenish. Furthermore, the rising levels of toxins in our environment are evidence that we have not been living very smartly so far. But what is one to do? Can any of us really do anything right now that can change the direction we are heading in? Absolutely! We need to start thinking in a different way. We need to start recycling more and better. We need to use less, buy products with less packaging, be less of a throw away society. But with a problem so big, where does one start? Here are 10 simple things that you can do to start you on your way. Put a few of these ideas into practice. You will see that it isn’t difficult. Add a few more, and soon you will start to see new ways that you can live just a little bit lighter on the planet. Add all of us together and you can make quite an impact!

1. Drink tap water

Studies are showing that tap water is just as clean and healthy as bottled water. Your tax dollars are going to pay to clean up the water, so take advantage of it. Plastic bottles are recyclable, but the vast majority of them end up in the landfill anyhow. Cut out the middleman. Drink from the tap. If you find that your water at home has an odd taste, buy a Brita or similar filter. They filter vast amounts of water before needing replacing, and will save you money as well as plastic. We use a Pur filter that fits on our kitchen tap and we can filter whenever we like. With new options, like being able to add flavorings to your water, it is really a chic way to go. Besides the plastic, think of all the carbon eliminated by transporting water from all around the country or as far away as France. Even Perrier is no longer cool.

2. Take your lunch to work or school 

Taking lunch at least once a week to work or school will save you money. It allows you to buy at better pricing. Take out containers and paper wrappers are a huge problem for the environment. Invest in a good reusable lunch bag and a few containers, and you can reduce the need for several trees a year. Besides, fast food eaten at your desk is not nearly as good for you. Take the extra time that you would have spent waiting in line at McDonalds and take a short walk after eating. Trust me, you will feel better about yourself and the environment.

3. Stop using plastic shopping bags

Invest in a couple of reusable totes for your shopping trips. Keep them in the car and they are always handy. After you put away your groceries, simply hang them on the doorknob and when you next go out to the car, throw them back in the trunk. It has taken me a while to get into the groove, but I bring home less than one bag a month now, when I used to bring home dozens per trip. Now I get to bag my groceries the way I like, too. The trick I used in making myself remember to use them, was to keep extras in the trunk. If I forgot to take them inside, I took my groceries without any bags at all and bagged them at the car. It didn’t take long to get into the habit.

4. Use the car less

Think about where you are going, when you are driving somewhere. Try to combine trips. When we started counting business miles for taxes, I began to see how quickly they add up. So, if you are going to run out to pick up a few things, look around and see what else you need and make the trip more efficient. Less trips means less gas, carbon emissions, and more money on your pocket. Walk to the corner store for that one item-the amount extra you pay for that one thing will be made up for in the gallon of gas you spent driving to the market. Try to take alternative transportation to work once a week, or at least twice a month. That means hop on a bus, ride your bike, walk, or at least ride share with someone. Once a week is not as difficult as you might think.

5. Cash in your change

The US Treasury spends a lot of money and resources every year on making new coins. Do the government and yourself a favor by cashing in your coins. The more coins in circulation, the less needed to be minted and fewer resources mined and spent in the mining process. Over 10 billion coins were minted in 2008. How many are in a jar in your bedroom?

6. Buy Local

I know, if you live in Cleveland, there aren’t many choices in the middle of winter. Still, when ever you can, buy local. There are plenty of egg farms nearby, why buy eggs that are trucked in from Texas? Even if you can’t always buy local, make the effort to look. Is that chicken being processed and shipped from Arkansas, or is it from an Amish farm or local producer? Buying local means keeping your money in the local economy. Buying local groceries means that food is fresher. Less travel by products means less gas used in shipping it. Even when at the West Side Market, take the time to ask where your produce comes from. With all the local apple orchards, you will be surprised how many of the local vendors are selling fruit shipped from Australia. Support local vendors and make your local economy stronger.

7. Flush less

I know that some of you think this is disgusting, but think about it. We are one of the only countries who use almost exclusively drinking water to flush toilets. Every flush uses anywhere from 1 to 3 gallons of water. Most toilets use about 2. Every time you flush, you use more water than some families in third world countries have to drink for the day. Use the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” rule-at least some of the time. Be conscious of the amount of clean drinking water you are literally flushing down the drain. If this idea makes you squirm, try replacing with a dual flush or low flow toilet. Low flow toilets use much less water than standard fixtures to do the same job, and dual flush toilets have two buttons, one for liquid only flushing (using tiny amounts of water) and one for solids. Want a cheap alternative? Put a brick in your toilet tank. You will use about a quart less of water with every flush.

8. Get your next book from the library

With the current economy, libraries are becoming cool again. Why spend $15 or more on a book that you will likely read once, when it could be free from the local library? Libraries are getting modern and easy to use now as well. At many, you can check the availability of a book on line, reserve it, even recheck it out if you aren’t done with it yet. If you live in Cleveland, there is likely a branch within walking distance. While you are there, check out the other programs that they offer-some branches have child programs, some offer classes, some have internet or wi-fi. Make use of the public service that you are paying for, rather than spending money on a book and having to recycle or resell it. If you fall in love with a book that you check out, you can always buy it later-or check it out again.

9. Buy less

I read a quote somewhere that said the best green product, is the one you didn’t buy. Wear that pair of jeans a couple more months before buying a new pair. Do you really need one more pair of shoes? Can you get that appliance fixed instead of replacing it? The more we replace, the more resources we use, and the more end up in landfill. While it is better to recycle than to throw away, it is even better to reduce your demand by reusing what has already been made.

10. Replace your bulbs

Compact Fluorescent bulbs and LED bulbs are widely available now. While they may cost more per unit to purchase, they last so much longer and use so much less energy, they are significantly cheaper in the long run.

There you go. All simple ideas that could have a big impact. More importantly, they take a small effort, but that is why they are so important. One little effort will make you stop and think: can I wait to go shopping until I need more stuff? Can I use up the quarters in my purse, instead of tossing them in a jar at home? Can I get this book at the library instead of buying it new? These simple practices will start you down the road to thinking a little more about how you are impacting the planet.


This article was written by Robert Stockham  @thegldc and originally posted on Smart Cities Dive