Most of us would like to treat the Earth a little better, but sometimes it can be difficult — even expensive — to do. Store shelves are lined with products claiming to be environmentally friendly, and it feels like “going green” has just become another marketing ploy.
Don’t give up just yet. It turns out, some of the most impactful ways to be more environmentally friendly don’t require any new purchases. Being a warrior for the planet might be in your cards just yet.
Here are the cheapest, simplest ways to help Mother Earth.
1. Refuse excess
You know the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle”? There should be an additional R — refuse — and it’s the best way to cut down on environmental harm. Could you put your produce in reusable nylon bags instead of the plastic bags at the store? Do you accept freebie items you never use, like pens, flyers or plastic utensils? Start saying no instead and skip the need to reuse or recycle altogether.
2. Walk, bike, carpool & use public transportation
Cutting back on your car use could save you money and help reduce the environmental impacts of cars, like fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Commit to reusable containers
That means foregoing bottled water because you’ve got your own water bottle handy, happily schlepping your coffee mug to Starbucks and — if you can get past the awkwardness — bringing your own food containers in when you’re getting takeout or think you’ll have leftovers. Hopefully, food containers will get easier. A college in New Hampshire started a purchase-and-return leftover container program, and Go Box has created a similar system with 80 vendors in Portland.
4. Use less water
Take shorter showers, try low-flow showerheads and use your energy-efficient dishwasher (which uses less water than traditional dishwashing) or switch up your dishwashing practice to leave the faucet running for less time. Only run your laundry if it’s a full load, don’t use heated water unless it’s absolutely necessary and only wash truly dirty clothing.
5. Use less electricity
Did you know that many electronics consume energy even when they’re not actively “on”? It’s called phantom energy, and besides being a waste of electricity, it can add as much as 10 percent to your electricity bill. Try to unplug things like chargers, microwaves and computers when not in use, or invest in “smart” surge protectors that disable power when items are not in use.
6. Responsibly recycle e-waste
E-waste can contain all kinds of pollutants, including lead, mercury, beryllium, polyvinyl chloride and flame-retardants. Recycling your e-waste through a verified recycler allows the item to be broken down into reusable or recyclable pieces and have toxic materials appropriately handled. Look for recyclers on the EPA’s website.
A version of this article was originally published in December 2015.