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home decisions affect the planet

How Our Decisions at Home Affect the Planet

By Laura Bourland Rise Writer
Sep 4, 2020

You may not realize it, but everything you do has a direct impact on the environment. Today we're diving into dozens of things you can do every day to reduce waste, conserve natural resources, and live a more conscious life.

Rainy Traffic

Curb Your Transportation Impact

One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to curb that regular commute to work. You may have been forced to do this already due to the ongoing pandemic. Once the world returns to "normal," carpooling just twice each week can make a big impact. Making this small change will reduce your individual greenhouse gas emissions by 1,600 pounds and cut your monthly transportation costs by almost 50%. If we all chose to carpool just one day each week, we could reduce traffic by an astounding 20%!

If you own a car, it's best to keep on top of those regular tune-ups. They'll help identify any existing issues and can raise your car's fuel efficiency by 4-40%. You might also consider upgrading an older car to a newer electric or hybrid vehicle or even decrease the number of cars your family owns.

You could also decrease your impact on the planet by planning your outings to combine multiple trips. Simply starting and heating a car consumes a great deal of fuel and can be decreased by half by planning to do your grocery shopping and other errands in a single trip.

Consider a shopping center where you might make multiple stops. Perhaps you can park your car in a central location and walk to each store, rather than moving your car. And, if you find yourself waiting in the car for any reason, always turn the car off instead of idling. Idling actually burns more gas than it takes to start the car up again!

Of course, the best way to decrease your transportation-related impact is to skip the car altogether. Switching a 20-mile commute from your car to public transit will reduce your carbon dioxide emissions by, on average, a whopping 4,800 pounds annually. And for trips close enough to walk, ride a bike, skateboard or rollerblade, you could reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by 90%!


Get Smart About Paper and Plastic

Many cities have swapped out the old "paper or plastic" checkout question for reusable shopping bags. But, we're all confronted with more options every day that could make even more of a difference.

Did you know, Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic water bottles every single hour. Still, only about one in five of those bottles is recycled? Merely choosing to refill a reusable water bottle is an excellent start to reducing waste (and recycling). Now think bigger. Think about bringing a reusable silverware set to work for your lunches and saying no to plastic forks with takeout. Think about bringing a reusable straw or chopsticks when you dine out. Maybe even think about carrying reusable containers when you know you'll be bringing home leftovers!

Disposable Cup

Paper goods like paper towels and napkins contribute to the destruction of more than 34 million trees each year. We're not suggesting you stop using all paper goods, but rather, be more conscious when you do.

Linen Home Decor Etsy
Linen Napkins. Photo Credit: Linen Home Decor via Etsy

Tips for Using Less Paper:

  • Buy paper goods made from recycled materials
  • Use cloth napkins and towels
  • Take a few fewer sheets of toilet paper 
  • Cut a single napkin into two napkins 
  • Buy items that contain less packaging
  • Switch to online billing, where possible, and reduce junk mail.

If every US citizen could curb their junk mail, think about how many trees could stay in the ground! Of course, it's inevitable to have at least some paper and plastic waste in this consumerist age. There are innumerable ways to reuse things like cardboard, glass food jars, and plastic packaging. What's left should always be recycled. And remember, when you buy items second-hand, like furniture, they come with a whole lot less packaging!

Eat Consciously

It's no secret North Americans love to eat. In fact, most of our holidays center around a big meal. It's totally possible to partake in all your favorite festivities and still make conscious decisions to alleviate the environment's strain. The easiest way to do so is only to buy and serve yourself what you're going to eat. That means creating a shopping list and sticking to that list. Impulse purchases like snack foods and sodas often seem easy and fulfilling. In actual fact, they serve very little, if any, nutritional value, come with abundant packaging, and can significantly increase your bill.

Farmer's Market

Buying your regular groceries in bulk is another excellent way to decrease your carbon footprint. Things like flour, rice, oatmeal, and even beverages can be purchased in larger containers, or even your own jars, that decrease excess packaging and get you a better price per pound. Buying your food from local sources, like farmers' markets, supports local growers and reduces carbon emissions associated with transporting goods.

Another way to get closer to nature and eat more consciously is by choosing to grow food at home. Consider planting the foods you regularly use, like herbs and greens. You can plant a small kitchen garden in the borders surrounding your house, in pots, or even in flats on a table to protect your back from overexertion. 

Eating more consciously doesn't necessarily mean changing what you eat, but how often and how much you eat. Adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet is admirable, but it's certainly not for everyone. However, you can commit to eating just one less burger each week, which equates to taking your car off the road for about 320 miles. That's because it takes about 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water to grow and process a single pound of beef. In contrast, locally grown tofu only requires about 220 gallons of water to create per pound. A family that commits to eating meat and a cheese-less meal once each week saves the planet just as much as if they were to stop driving for five weeks!

Whether you decide to decrease your meat consumption, buy in bulk, or serve yourself a smaller plate, you can always make a difference simply by paying attention and not letting food go to waste.

Ideas To Stop Wasting Food:

  • Learn about expiration and sell-by dates
  • Freeze produce that's about to go bad
  • Make croutons with stale bread.
  • Learn to can leftover sauces and stock
  • Make stock from meat bones and veggie scraps
  • Make yogurt from almost sour milk
  • Donate excess to a food bank
  • Compost spoiled and rotten food

Save Electricity and Water

We talk a lot about innovative ways to decrease your utility consumption by upgrading appliances and adding smart technologies. There are dozens of other ways you can reduce your carbon footprint without buying or building a thing.

Sweater at home

Tips for Saving Electricity:

  • Only heat/cool the room(s) you're using
  • Set your thermostat to save when you're not at home. Turning it down two degrees in the winter and up to two in the summer will save about 880 pounds of carbon dioxide every year
  • Turn lights off when not in use
  • Keep your doors and windows closed in cold months and open in the warmer season
  • Cook in a convection oven, slow cooker, pressure cooker, or rice cooker instead of heating the whole oven 
  • Paint your roof white and save 20-40% on summer cooling costs
  • Switch standard incandescent light bulbs out for LEDs to cut energy consumption 
  • Talk to your local energy company about renewable energy options or purchase clean energy from a reseller like Bullfrog Power in Canada.
Dirty Laundry

Tips for Saving on Water:

  • Turn the water off while brushing your teeth
  • Save outdoor watering for chilly mornings and evenings
  • Decrease outdoor watering from daily to every other day
  • Only wash your clothes when they're dirty. Jeans and sweaters can usually go more than one wear between washes
  • Install faucet aerators and high-efficiency showerheads
  • Get an ultra-low flow or dual flush toilet

Say No to Unnecessary Chemicals

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) lurk in all sorts of inconspicuous products. Take the time to read the labels to avoid buying products that could harm the environment.

Cleaning products are often laden with VOCs that create a lemony-fresh scent or more bubbles. Don't be fooled! Simple household items like vinegar, baking soda, water, and dish soap do a lot more cleaning than most people realize. You can even make natural air fresheners with essential oils and spices.

Beauty products like lotion, soap, and even makeup often contain harmful toxins that you certainly don't want to put on your skin! Check those labels for sustainable, natural ingredients and ensure the company doesn't test its products on animals. Remember to pass on any products containing microbeads as they don't break down in the water and seriously harm fish and wildlife.

Staining Wood

VOCs are also found frequently in household renovation products like paintcabinetrywood stain, and finish. Fabric and even furniture can worsen your indoor air quality as well. Always err on the side of caution and ask about those VOCs before bringing a new item home.

It Takes Just a Little Thought to Do a Lot of Good for Our Planet

Being aware of your everyday choices is the easiest way to decrease your carbon footprint. Because when we're educated in our actions, we think about the consequences they may have.

Whether you choose to carry a reusable water bottle, shop at your local farmers' market, or recycle all that cardboard packaging, that action makes a BIG difference. Keep it up and spread that knowledge. Together, we really can make this world a better place!

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2020-12-09T02:52:06+0000
Laura Bourland

Article by:

Laura Bourland

Laura grew up in the California suburbs, far removed from environmentalism, but nature always has a way. She uprooted her life in 2015, moving to the countryside of Washington to live a more sustainable and simple life on 12 acres. She and her fiancee are learning on the job as they attempt everything from gardening and natural pest control to eco-friendly building and home improvement.