8 Easy Ways to Start Being Green

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This story is part of Earth911’s “Green Eight” series, where we showcase eight ways to green your life in various areas.

It’s hip. It’s hot. And best of all, it’s a snap. A start-up approach to greening your routine is almost effortless. You do not need to go out, spend a lot of money and purchase fancy gadgets. For most of our tips, you don’t need to spend a dime. Actually, enjoying a more environmentally responsible lifestyle generally saves money. How’s that for motivation? Protect the planet and keep that piggy bank nice and heavy.

If you’ve been wanting to get started in the “green scene” but don’t know where to begin, these are our favorite simple ways to get moving:



1. Reduce

Use less stuff. Simple. Just rethink some of your habits. Take, for example, paper. You don’t always need a fresh sheet. If you’re writing a grocery list, grab something like a junk-mail envelope and scribble on a blank section. When you do use a whole sheet of paper, make a point of using both sides of each page.

Also, take advantage of occasions to skip paper entirely. Don’t automatically hit the print button on your computer. Send out party invitations by e-mail. Think how much paper, postage and effort you’ll save.

2. Reuse

This particular “R” offers fun and interesting potential. Think about inventive uses for items that you’re discarding. Here are some fun ideas to spark your creative juices:

  • Repurpose old jars as funky vases
  • Transform old socks into puppet projects for kids
  • Use junk mail and old magazines to make beaded jewelry

3. Recycle

Take advantage of convenient recycling programs offered by your local government. Many municipalities provide curbside pick-up for common items such as glass and paper. Other types of recyclables, such as electronics, printer cartridges and household paints, are generally accepted at specific sites around town. You can search for these regional drop-off programs as well as participating businesses on Earth911.com. Also, some companies take back items at the end of their usable lives. One example is Dell, which offers free recycling of old products.

4. Power Down

When you walk out of room, hit the light switch to the “off” position. When the MP3 player is fresh and ready to go, unplug the charger. Activate the low-power settings, such as sleep and hibernate, on computers, monitors and printers. You’d be surprised to learn how much power your toys consume, even when they are “off.” Some estimates put this phantom power drain at a cost of $4 billion annually in the U.S. alone.

5. Don’t Be a Drip

When you brush your teeth, turn off the tap. Doing so may save eight gallons a day, according to the U.S. EPA. Here are some other easy water-saving measures:

  • Install an aerator or a faucet that meets the EPA’s WaterSense efficiency standards.
  • Repair dripping faucets and showerheads quickly to reduce water wasted. Can’t get a plumber over soon enough? Collect the drops to water your houseplants later.
  • Water your lawn and garden during the cool morning hours, minimizing the amount of water that’s evaporated. Aim sprinklers where the water is needed, rather than allowing overspray on the sidewalk or driveway.

6. Shop Smart

Get empowered by reading labels and investigating environmental claims. Select products with genuine eco-friendly features, such as:

  • Nontoxic and natural contents
  • Made from recycled materials
  • Minimum packaging
  • Produced locally
  • Energy- or water-efficient

Take advantage of ratings by reputable organizations that promote products with preferable environmental attributes. Here are some to keep in mind:

  • Energy Star – This label indicates that various products, such as refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, televisions and printers, meet energy-efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. EPA and United States Department of Energy (DOE). “Energy-efficient choices can save families about a third on their energy bill, with similar savings of greenhouse gas emissions, without sacrificing features, style or comfort,” according to Energy Star.
  • WaterSense –  This label indicates products and programs that meet the EPA’s standards for water efficiency.
  • Green Seal – This nonprofit organization rates products based on its standards of environmental responsibility.

7. Don’t Tire Out

Keeping tires at their proper pressure improves gas mileage, according to the DOE. Plus, when properly inflated, tires are safer and more durable. You can also improve your gas mileage by 1 to 2 percent by using the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil.

8. Be a Show-off

Let merchants know you support green products and services. Talk to the staff at local shops and restaurants to see how they’re working to improve their eco-efficiency, such as integrating composting or recycling processes at their facilities. Now is a great time to voice your green opinion, and strong consumer demand for eco-friendly practices encourages business to make that a priority.

Worried you might not remember these tips? Fun products like EcoMinders will help you remember these simple tricks to a greener lifestyle. If you’re ready to get more in-depth, check out our breakdown of the Waste Hierarchy, and how you can use it to improve your efforts.

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  1. Another tip to reduce water usage… don’t crank the faucet to super power mode… Most people turn it off when brushing their teeth, but then use the highest pressure to rise their dirty bristles. Makes no sense

  2. One recycling idea that I highly believe can be reused, grocery/shopping bags. I don’t like the idea of buying a “grocery” tote/cotton bags. IMO, that’s just another sneaky way for stores to make $. Use the plastic grocery bags a few times. After a few time, use it as “trash bag”. The advantage, we reduce oil consumption (plastic requires oil), reduce waste (instead of using 4 bags, only one bag is used), save money (no need to buy trash bag).

  3. Thanks for all the tips given by 911. I am a member of Kiwanis, Auburn and the tips are being read at our weekly meeting this week to “get the word out”

  4. “Transform old socks into fun puppet projects for kids” – nonsense. lets start with sth more efficient. think about reusing water from your bathtub

  5. you probably have a printer at home and at work. Every page that is printed can be used two times by putting it back into the printer and using the other side. I RARELY gram a fresh ream of paper!

  6. Save water and money by using a recyclable, reusable aluminum water bottle (such as a Sigg) and filling it with water from a water pitcher with a filter. No more bottled water! As for a simple way to reuse, cut way back on using paper plates and napkins. Dig out those cloth napkins gathering dust and spend a little extra effort to wash reusable dishes, it’s worth it!

  7. What to do with wire hangers? My dry cleaner only reuses new hangers and I even doubt that. The rest he throws away. Do other dry cleaners really reuse and/or recycle them? Where can I bring all my wire hangers? I have tons of them!! I will go out of my way to properly dispose of them.

  8. in reference to the “reusable grocery bags”. I am not against using these bags, as they are made from recycled material and for the amount of times and things i can use them for (c’mon, everyone uses bags when they travel or for toys, picnics, books, etc etc..why spend $20 on some brand name), they are fairly eco-efficient in my opinion. HOWEVER, I cannot for the life of me understand the concept of selling these supposedly ‘inexpensive’ and ‘eco-friendly’ items online…aren’t we defeating the whole purpose of protecting our environment when we buy a $.99 bag and then waste all that energy to have it shipped to us??? I don’t know if anyone agrees but it seems a little backwards to me.

  9. Great tips! I was at a neighborhood association meeting last week where they handed out free squiggle CFLs and I could *not* believe the number of gasps in the room when it was announced you could not throw these bulbs in the trash. We’ve been using these bubls for years – how can people not know they require special handling? We really need to re-visit this and be talking to our friends and neighbors about things that may seem obvious to ourselves but not known by others.

  10. i agree with Jamie why spend like $20 on some brand name bag that you would probably use only once then forget it the other times you go shopping.Even though helping the planet feels great and is great though;and im a big green maniac, why do we have to pay to help? But you could bye those clothe like bags frome Safeway or Fred Meyer for $0.99 and if you dont use all of them decorate it and use it as a gym,swim,beach bag,ect…

  11. Re: the old sock comments, here’s another suggestion: Turn them into cleaning rags. They work quite well as a dusting mitt, for everything from knick knacks to furniture to car dashboards. And use simple white vinegar instead of toxic chemicals.

  12. Patti,
    I am writning a musical for my 5th graders to do next month and I would like to have your permission to paraphrase “8 Ways To Start Being Green”. It is great and concise, using simple language that my audience will grasp.

  13. I replaced my thermostat today I went with a new digital type I was just about to chunk the old one when I noticed it was a mercury type…. I work for home depot so I called to find out where to take it. we had no receptacle for them but found the city takes then at the disposal site off commonwealth in Jacksonville. I am posting here to say we sell shopping bags at any store for .99 cents beats ordering bags. also we take the compact flourescents and dispose of them at no cost to consumers

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  15. Nina had a good suggestion with the reusable Sigg bottle, but I’d take it one step further. I keep a travel coffee mug in my car so I can use it when I stop by the coffee shop. Also, I’ve been seeing more and more groups hold events with BYOM (Bring Your Own Mug) where no styrofoam cups are available and everyone brings their own mug for drinks! It’s something new to get used to, but what a great way to cut down on the waste going into landfills.

  16. I’ve recycled my used cell phones, i-pods, and digital cameras at recycleforcharities.com and they gave the money to the Red Cross! I think that more services like this should be created!

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  18. Check your local zoo’s website to see what items they collect for recycling. This way you are helping the environment and helping your zoo raise money for other conservation efforts!

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