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Earth Day challenge: 6 expert tips for simple but effective ways to go green

While we all try to do our part for the environment on a daily basis, it’s also nice to use Earth Day as an opportunity to find even more ways to green your lifestyle.

Woman with reusable shopping bags

We asked Barry Dennis, eco-expert and author of The Chotchky Challenge: Clear the Clutter from Your Home, Heart and Mind and Discover the True Treasure of Your Soul (Hay House, April 2012), for his tips on some of the easiest and effective ways to go green for Earth Day – and beyond.

“Precycle” before you recycle

Most of us recycle, but why not go one step further? If you’ve never heard of precycling, Dennis describes it as “the art of returning a thing to the Earth before it was even taken, saving our resources and creating a brighter future.” What kinds of things can you precycle? Start with bottled water or plastic grocery bags. Drink water out of a reusable water bottle and pack your groceries in a reusable cloth bag, he advises. “You’ve just precycled, preventing two plastic items from ending up in the refuse stream. Less demand for these items leads to less production.”

light switchFlick a switch — or three

Make a point to power off whenever something is not in use. If you already turn off the lights when you leave a room, keep up the good work – but expand your green thinking. “Turn off the water when brushing your teeth or even while soaping up in the shower, then turn it back on to rinse off. Turn off your car ignition when you’re waiting for someone,” Dennis says. “Every time you flick the switch, you are also flicking a switch in your brain that helps to reinforce the behavior and turn it into a good habit — the habit of conserving.”

Don’t replace things that still work

Before upgrading to the newest iPhone or a bigger flat-screen TV, ask yourself if you really need it. Will it really make that much difference in your life if you don’t have the latest or biggest item? “Take a moment to really visualize all the Earth’s resources it took to make these items. You could save some of Earth’s resources by simply waiting six months or a year before replacing something old with something new,” advises Dennis. We know it’s tempting to have the newest of everything, but if it’s not broken, avoid replacing it.

Change the demand cycle

The more we use plastic bags, buy items made using poor environmental practices or eat processed food, the more these things will continue to be part of our lives. If we want to see more of a focus on the earth (when it comes to everything from makeup to food to clothing), we need to think before we buy, Dennis says. “By bringing greater awareness to what we consume, we change the demand that must create a new supply,” he explains. Consider organic food, which doesn’t use pesticides or hormones. The more we choose organic, the more common it will become. “Increasing the demand will change our common agricultural practices so the supply naturally shifts for all our benefit.”

Say no to more stuff

It’s so easy to think that the more we buy, the happier we’ll be. But trust us — it’s not the new shoes or the new lipstick or the new car that creates genuine happiness. It’s the people, pets and our favorite activities that really make an impact. Focus on that rather than planning your next trip to the mall, Dennis advises. “This Earth Day, think about those you love, as well as the things around you that make your life easier, more fun or more comfortable,” he says. “Give thanks for all that you have instead of wanting more.”

De-clutter your life

It’s time to take stock of your stuff and eliminate the overstock. In celebration of Earth Day, walk around your house and get rid of everything that’s not useful or healthful, advises Dennis. “Go through your bathroom, closets, drawers, kitchen cupboards, garage, basement, porch and yard. Recycle everything you can and donate the rest,” he says. “Cleaning up your immediate environment will make you feel happier — and then keep your empty space empty. The Earth will thank you.”

More green living tips

Alternatives to throwing away old items
Plan a complete home energy makeover
How to calculate your carbon footprint

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