In the post-holiday daze, many of us find ourselves setting lofty New Year’s goals like saving the planet. But the chances of sticking to a resolution that broad are slim to none. Instead, set yourself up for success by starting with these easy, achievable and eco-friendly resolutions that can decrease your waste production, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and protect our world’s natural resources.
1. Stop throwing away food because of the date printed on the label.
Did you know “sell by” and “use by” dates are simply suggestions for peak quality and don’t actually indicate food safety? According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, lack of education around date labels creates mass amounts of avoidable food waste because consumers are throwing away perfectly good food. All that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills and contributes to a large portion of our country’s methane emissions. Stop contributing to the problem by examining the quality of the food itself instead of just looking at a date. Head to a site like StillTasty.com for a detailed list of ways to tell if food has gone bad.
2. Serve dinner on smaller plates.
Larger food portions can lead to more than just unwanted thigh jiggling. Because cooking portions have increased over time, we’re wasting more food than ever due to not being able to clean our over-sized plates. In fact, the surface area of the average dinner plate expanded by 36 percent between 1960 and 2007. Serving yourself and your family on smaller dishes means less food will get loaded on and wasting unwanted leftovers will likely decrease.
3. Support your local market.
Making an effort to shop regional and local food systems can cut down the amount of waste we’re producing. Fresh products sometimes don’t make it to the shelves fast enough when they come from far away, so the shorter the distance they need to travel, the lower the risk of losing good food during transport.
4. Turn your garbage into free fertilizer.
The saying that one man’s garbage is another man’s gold has never been more true when it comes to food scraps and yard waste. These organic materials can be composted to eventually fertilize your soil instead of being sent to a landfill. When you consider that compostable items make up 20-30 percent of what we throw away, we can drastically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from landfills if we change our ways. Get a lesson in composting from the EPA.
5. Become that friend who borrows all the time.
Forty-two percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are associated with the energy used to produce, process, transport and dispose of goods. That means every purchase you make has an effect on the environment. Before you start to panic, consider this simple step to curb your consumption: vow to borrow items you only need to use once. That means instead of buying a new tablecloth to match your red, white and blue party theme come July, ask a friend if they have something they could lend you.
6. Keep the car in the garage twice a week.
Leaving your car at home just two days a week can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 2 tons per year. So if you can walk to work, start hoofing, and if it’s too far, consider setting up a carpool. When you do need to drive, improve your fuel economy and reduce harmful emissions by shutting off the car when you’re not moving instead of leaving it running. Starting a car requires almost no fuel while an hour of idling wastes almost an entire gallon of gas in heavy-duty trucks and transit buses.
7. Power your home with green energy.
Most homes in America use fossil fuels to create electricity, and in the process, emit harmful gases into the environment. You can reduce your family’s carbon footprint by adopting renewable energy: electricity generated from sources such as wind and sun. Consider installing solar panels to generate your own eco-friendly power. Not only will you cut your greenhouse gas emissions, but going solar could also save you some dough: many solar power users find that payments for solar energy cost less than what they were spending on electricity from their utility.
8. Donate your electronics for reuse.
Donating used (but still operating) electronics for reuse extends the lives of valuable products and keeps them out of the waste stream for a longer period of time. This includes televisions, tablets, computers, and cell phones. Next time you have an item like this to get off your hands, ask around in the community to find organizations like churches and schools that often accept donations.
9. Unplug instead of going idle.
Fact: the total electricity consumed by idle electronics equals the annual output of 12 power plants. Pretty crazy, right? Save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions at work by setting your computer, monitor and other office equipment to power down when not in use. You can make it easier to power down by plugging multiple electronics into a single power strip. Then, you’ll be able to shut everything off with just one switch.
10. Always say no to single-use bags.
Did you know those flimsy plastic bags at the grocery store take hundreds of years to decompose? They also kill thousands of animals every year when they’re carried out of landfills by wind and water. Help reduce pollution and save wildlife by always bringing your own bag to the grocery store. Keep a few canvas tote bags in the trunk of your car. It’s an easy way to make sure you’re never without a sustainable option.
Photo credit: Stacie via Flickr