Simple changes mean those that are the easiest to incorporate into your life. You might still drive your car everywhere, but you will choose paper over plastic (or perhaps no bag at all). You’ll flush the toilet, but turn the water off when you brush your teeth. It’s about the simple changes.
And these simple changes, over time and over a great number of people, equal huge benefit to the Earth. These small attempts to be Green will result in big impact.
Literally, and we don’t mean to sound trite, you CAN make a difference.
How? Let’s look at some ways you can make simple, easy changes in your daily life. There are literally thousands to choose from, but we’ll focus on a few: Your water, your energy use, your transportation choice, your garden, your food and recycling.
When we talk about simple changes, we mean nothing having to do with infrastructure. We’re not talking about anything that will disrupt your daily life too much. We’re talking about simple choices you make every day. We’re only asking you to make a different choice or think hard about the choice you do make.
Water is one of the most precious resources we have, yet most of us don’t think twice about letting the water run while we wash a coffee mug, or watering our lawns in the summer. Americans, in fact, use about 130 percent more water than we did just 50 years ago.
Given that water resources are being depleted, that’s a significant increase with global implications. It’s not something that can be remedied without humans – all of us – trying to reduce our consumption.
On any given day, you have the ability to reduce your personal water use by many gallons of water, perhaps hundreds of gallons if you are very careful and cognizant of your use.
Let’s look at some ways you can reduce your consumption and use of water.
First, when you get up in the morning, do you keep the water running while you brush your teeth? If you brush for the recommended 4 minutes, you are using 4 gallons of water.
Did you know?
If you let your water run for 5 minutes, you are using as much energy as you do when you use a 6o-watt light bulb for 14 hours.
(Cleaning water requires a good deal of energy, so using less water reduces energy consumption as well.)
After you brush your teeth, do you use the bathroom? It’s good to remember this old saying, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” It might seem a little crude, but it’s a good rule of thumb. Of course, you don’t want to let urine sit for a long period of time in the toilet, but if you flush every third time you urinate, you could save several gallons of water each day or more.
To that end, if you don’t have low-flow toilets, consider installing them. Older toilets use an average of 3 gallons of water per flush, while newer toilets use about a gallon. That’s a considerable savings over the course of a day, or a week or a year.
If you can’t replace your toilet or toilets, but they are older, consider using a “displacement device” to help save water each time you flush. A displacement device is nothing more than something that “fools” the toilet into thinking it requires less water than it really does to “flush” through it. You can save about a gallon of water with each flush using a displacement device.
When you wash your hands after using the toilet, turn the water off while you lather your hands. Better yet, switch to hand sanitizers at least some of the time.
Did you know?
In the UK, more water is used by individuals than any one industry. This means that we use more water than the manufacturing industry or the agriculture industry. That’s a lot of water that we’re washing down the drain!
Most everyone knows that taking a shower saves much more water than taking a bath, but do you know how much? The average bath requires 40 gallons of water. A 5-minute shower, on the other hand, can be had for as little as 20 gallons of water.
Have you ever heard of a “power shower”? This type of shower is hard to succumb to in the winter but you shut the water off while you soap up and shampoo your hair. Turn the water back on to rinse. This saves another 10 gallons of water, cutting your 5-minute shower down to a total use of 10 gallons.
By the far the bathroom is the easiest place in which you can save water. You can choose to not flush the toilet, or to turn the water off when you brush. You can take shorter showers and choose showers over baths.
And while we waste a lot of water in the bathroom, there are two other rooms in which we waste even more: the kitchen and the laundry room.
Do you have a dishwasher older than 5 years? If so, it’s using up to 13 gallons of water per cycle. If you clean a load a day in the dishwasher, that’s 91 gallons of water a week, or 4,732 gallons a year! Switch to a water efficient dishwasher and you can reduce that usage to about 4 gallons per cycle, saving as much as 3,200 gallons of water a year.
When you do use the dishwasher, only run it if the load is full.
Better yet, consider not using the dishwasher. They can send pollutants into our streams and rivers, and use expensive and potentially damaging electricity. If you wash your dishes with a dishpan and by hand, you can save many gallons of water, some electricity and you’ll never have to empty the dishwasher!
When you begin to think about how much water you use in a day, it really gets to be a study in inadvertent consumption, doesn’t it?
What about your kitchen faucet? Do you always turn the water off while you are peeling potatoes or carrots, or do you turn the water off and only run it when you need to rinse the potato or carrot? Even better, many water watchers suggest using a bowl to clean your vegetables, just swishing them around nicely to get them clean. (Best yet, buy organic and forget worrying about pesticides on your produce. The bowl swishing, then, will seem especially appropriate.)
If you have a garbage disposal, consider not using it. They use a great deal of water and you could instead add your fruit and vegetable peels to your compost pile (which we’ll discuss in the section on gardens).
Did you know?
It is estimated that about 95% of the water that comes into our homes is washed down the drain in some form or another. That’s a LOT of water we’re not using for much of anything at all. Of the remaining 5% that we do use, about a third of that is used for drinking water. The rest is used for washing dishes and laundry, preparing food and the like.
Although you might not give much attention to your water use in the laundry room, you should, because in the laundry room, a lot of water goes down the drain.
But you have to have clean clothes, so what choice do you have, right? There are a few choices you have when you walk into your laundry room.
First, only run full loads. Make sure your washing machine is as full as it can possibly be. Not only do you waste water if you run a less than full load, but you also waste that precious water.
If you don’t have a full load to wash, but need a particular item clean quickly, wash it by hand in a basin of water. Add a small amount of detergent and use some elbow grease to get it clean. Rinse with a small amount of water.
Finally, if you are in the market for a new washing machine, purchase an energy-efficient front-loading washer. These use less electricity, of course, but also a good deal less water. Top-loading washing machines can use as much as 40 gallons of water per load, but a front-loading machine might use only 16 gallons (most range between 16 and 24 gallons of water per load).
Much of the energy in our homes is sucked out without our knowledge. We think nothing of keeping things plugged in even when we’re not using them and we think that the tiny bit of energy expended when a light remains on is inconsequential.
But it’s all of consequence. As we learned earlier, the production and use of electricity damages our water, our air and our land. Any little bit of energy conservation is helpful and worthwhile.
The best part is, conserving energy – in the “simple” way – can be effortless. It’s about small changes, being aware of your use and respecting the need to conserve and curtail.
Again, we’ll be looking at ways to conserve in the home. The bulk of the efforts we can make individually, in those simple ways, are in our homes. It’s here that we can control the energy output, the water use, and implement the Greenest measures.
Do you know that 18% of the total emissions through energy output come from our homes? While we often like to cite big business as the source of the greatest volume of emissions, we are responsible for almost 1/5 of it. That’s a significant amount that we – all of us – can help to mitigate.
Did you know?
More than 50% of the energy usage in our homes – specifically, that number is closer to 56% -- comes from heating and cooling uses. If you make simple changes to how you heat and cool your house, you could save a good deal of energy.
In the winter, there are many changes you can make to heat your house while saving energy. First, heat only the rooms you are in. You can close the vents in rooms you don’t use often, or you can use space heaters to heat just the rooms you are in.
If you do use your central heat, there are many ways to reduce your emissions and save a little bit of money at the same time. Keep your thermostat low – in the mid-60s in the winter is excellent. Turn the heat off at night. If it’s extremely cold and you’re worried about your pipes bursting, you can keep your thermostat as low as 41 degrees Fahrenheit (or 5 degrees Celsius) to prevent pipe damage. Invest in a good comforter and stay warm that way.
Did you know?
About 2/3 of our home’s energy costs is spent on trying to keep our homes warm in the winter. This is an area that requires more of our energy-saving attention.
Generally speaking, you can work harder at keeping warm in the house so you require less help from the heater. If you have hard floors place rugs throughout the house. Once your feet are cold, the rest of you will follow and then you’ll turn to the heater for help.
Wear more layers at home so you don’t get so cold. It does seem ridiculous that we live in such an age of consumption that we think nothing of wearing short sleeves at home during the winter because we keep our homes so warm. Keep the house cooler, put on more layers and keep yourself busy to keep warm.
In the summer, use those ceiling fans, open windows and turn off the air conditioner. The air conditioners in homes – whether central or not – account for as much as 15-20% of the electricity used in a home. In the summer months, about 60% of your total energy bill can be attributed to the air conditioning system.
Did you know?
Central air conditioning can use as much as 3,500 watts of energy. If you run your central air for 12 hours a day for just three weeks, it will use the same amount of energy you would use if you left your refrigerator door open 24 hours a day for an entire year! It will pay (many fold) to spend some time thinking about how to reduce your usage here.
One tip many energy watchers use in the summer is to keep blinds and drapes shut on hot days, allowing the blinds and drapes to keep the heat out. Conversely, you can simply close the blinds as the sun moves throughout the day (for example, if the front of your home is west-facing, you will close the blinds right before sunset, so the sun can’t heat up your house as it shines directly on it).
If you do run your central air conditioning, use a timer so that the air turns off when you are not home, at night and at cooler times of the day. If it’s a programmable timer, set it so that it will turn the air on just before you arrive home for the day.