8 Ways to Reduce Your Impact Today

With a full-time job, an active social life, and perhaps a kid or a pup to raise, it can be tough to fit in a commitment to the environment — especially if it seems to require added cost or responsibility.

Take heart, though, because there are many ways to save money and reduce your impact on the planet. Once you’re up to speed with the basics like changing your incandescent light bulbs to low-energy LEDs and shopping with reusable bags, check out these equally easy ways to simplify your high-wattage life.

polystyrene take out box

Avoid take-out waste: Bring your own to-go containers. Image courtesy of dotpolka

1. Say ‘No’ to To-Go

Even if you’re constantly on the run, it’s possible to reduce the amount of waste you generate by packing your own mugs, water bottles, and reusable food containers. The majority of restaurant to-go containers are made from plastics that don’t recycle easily — and a plethora of reusable options are now available. Each paper cup and plastic fork costs money, and you can be sure this cost is passed onto consumers. As an incentive to reduce this cost, many retailers offer rebates for those who bring their own mugs and bags. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition lists companies that have made compostable and reusable to-go packaging. If you find a restaurant still using foam to-go packaging, suggest they visit the site and find a better alternative.

2. Water Well

Water is a precious resource, which is often a fact overlooked in developed countries where we can just turn on the tap and get clean, safe water. However, millions suffer from lack of clean water, and the available supply of potable water on the planet is dwindling. You can decrease your H2O consumption by following a few simple steps.

  • Flush and run sparingly: The average toilet uses between 1.6 and 5.5 gallons of water per flush. If you are already “letting it mellow,” save even more water by turning on the tap only when absolutely necessary — no need for the water to run when brushing your teeth or doing the dishes, for example.
  • Make sure it’s really dirty before washing: Clothing, dishes, and your body should undergo the wash and rinse cycle only when necessary. Use the same water glass all day, and wear those jeans more than once.

3. Hang It Out to Dry

After the fridge, the clothes dryer is the second largest consumer of home power. Most of us are not willing to give up cold milk and crisp veggies, but we can easily use the dryer less often, which can add up to a significant savings of energy and money.

As an added bonus, letting your clothes air dry extends their usable lives (it is much less taxing on the stitching and fabric), it gives you a good excuse to get outside in nice weather, and the end product smells better too! If you live in a place where drying clothes outside right now would mean wearing duds that are cold and wet, consider using indoor drying racks to accomplish the same energy-free job.

4. Lights, Camera, Out!

Many electronic devices — such as chargers for phones and cameras, televisions, and computers — continue to draw energy even when in the “off” position. To avoid this phantom power use, unplug such devices, or plug everything into a power strip that you can turn off when not in use. Encourage these same practices at your workplace. And no matter where you are, always turn off unnecessary lights.

5. Be a Wise Post-Consumer

In the digital age, we still rely on a steady stream of paper in our offices, kitchens, and bathrooms. Here are some easy suggestions for keeping more trees outside.

  • Print sparingly: When you do need to hold a document in your hand, be sure it has been printed and/or copied on both sides, and of course, be sure to recycle when done.
  • Buy the highest level of post-consumer, recycled paper: From toilet paper to notebooks, there is rarely a reason to use virgin paper. Look for the percentage on the packaging (such as products made with 100 percent recycled and/or 50 percent post-consumer materials), and also look for paper that is processed chlorine free (PCF).
  • Class it up with cloth: Reusable napkins are not just for fancy dinner parties. They can be washed and reused indefinitely. The same goes for old T-shirts or towels, which can be repurposed as rags and used instead of their paper counterparts.

6. Resist the Urge to Splurge

A lack of excess cash can serve as a great excuse to reduce your consumption. Here are a few suggestions to help you consume less.

  • Take a consumption vacation: Consider taking the day or week off from making any new purchases, with the exception of necessities such as health products and food. By doing this, you’re not only saving money, you’re also reducing the waste created throughout the life cycle of each new product, the packaging used, and the fuel consumed and produced in transporting products from original resources to manufacturer to consumer.
  • Buy nice, don’t buy twice: For necessities, make sure that you buy the highest quality, most energy efficient, eco-friendly model available within your budget. From appliances (Energy Star) to food (Local Harvest), there are low-impact alternatives for almost everything on the market. 
Public transportation

Do you have to drive, or can you take public transportation? Image courtesy of L.A. Urban Soul

7. Bid Your Car Adieu

We are a society that loves our cars, but there are many alternatives to a day spent solo in your gas-guzzling ride. Backing out of your car rut can also provide new opportunities to socialize and get some exercise.

  • Get on the bus: Many cities and towns have excellent public transportation systems that include buses, subways, and trains. You’ll be surprised at the new friends you make or the added reading time you find when not behind the wheel.
  • Carpool with friends or co-workers: There are several rideshare services available now that will help you make a match, including Hytch. Mark Cleveland recently talked with Earth911 about Hytch’s programs that help companies, cities, and nonprofits collaborate to reduce traffic.
  • Get on a bike or walk: While riding your bike or walking might take a little longer to reach your destination, the fresh air, lack of carbon emitted, and exercise more than make up for the extra minutes.
  • Phone it in: Explore telecommuting or teleconferencing options with your employer to significantly reduce your daily commute. If half of American office workers telecommuted just two days a week, it would save up to $500 billion a year.

8. Ban Planned Obsolescence

The more we view potential waste as building blocks for new products, the lower our overall impact will be. Granted, some products (“gum” comes to mind) are decidedly single-use items, but with a little creativity, many others can easily be creatively repurposed.

Feature image courtesy of Kevin Dooley

Editor’s note: Originally published on April 6, 2009, this article was updated in November 2018.


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  1. My name is Archie Beaton I am the executive director of the Chlorine Free Products Association an independent not-for-profit accreditation/standard setting association registered in 1994 in the State of Illinois.

    We are the owner and creator of the PCF (Processed Chlorine Free) trade mark and term. Our focus is promoting sustainable manufacturing practices, educating consumers on alternatives, and developing world markets for sustainable produced third party certified products and services.

    Our audits require a chain of custody for all raw materials, measures the impact of a manufacturing process on the environment: water and energy use, chemistry, carbon gas releases, reviews environmental policy and permit compliance, reviews ethical management practices and compliance, financial performance, product stewardship, public information, funding of research and development, and employee recognition. Once the audit is complete we are able to plug the numbers in to provide a ranking on a Sustainability Index {SI rank best of 1350 points}. Only processes, or products that are manufactured free of chlorine chemistry are identified with the TCF {Totally Chlorine Free} or PCF {Processed Chlorine Free} Trademarks. The CFPA has no financial interest in any manufacturer or company of the products it certifies.

    Sustainability Index = Environmental Policy + Environmental Management + Mill Process + Forestry Certification + Environmental Risk Management + Product Stewardship + Public Information + Environmental Compliance + Employee Recognition

    If you truely want to have a positive impact on the Future and a Better Place for our Children look for the PCF Processed Chlorine Free Marks.

  2. This is just an article and not really that practical and is just a repeat to leave it all up to the consumer.

    The government needs to stop just letting consumers worry about recycling and saving natural resources. It needs to START at the factories not at the consumer level!

    They need to make packaging that are recyclable that break down so when the consumer is done using it it can either be recycled or breaks down in the landfill.

    Its nice that theyre making all these products that are recyclable like 100% recycled material but the factories need to step up and purchase them or find some cost effective ways of buying them to use for their post product and not wait for the consumer to collect or cut down all the time.

    Companies need to create electronic products that will terminate any electrical use when powered off/shutdown and not trickle IN electricity(Phantom power use) – these items need to be created at the manufacturing level and not have to leave it to the consumer to unplug or have to buy power strips!

    Also in regards to paper. Why does it take a rocket scientist to think about other ways to create paper rather than just trees? The ancients used papyrus, paper can be made from that and from hemp even the threatening “bufflegrass” that was originally used to feed cattle and now is strangling surrounding vegetation all over the southern usa and can be made from numerous other resources. Stop cutting down trees and use those or somethign else! THINK outside the box!

    Sorry this article just sounds like a broken record to me.

  3. Get churches and religious organizations involved in all aspects of being sensitive to our environment. Churches etc. own a lot of real estate and have huge buildings which are somewhat vacant much of the time. I am wondering who monitors their use of energy in those buildings with respect to managing electricity and what awareness goes into their properties and how they are able to upkeep their lawns to be so pretty and how they accomplish that. Given how much our collective consciousness has evolved in the USA regarding these issues, I am curious to see if their exists a corresponding awareness within the churches, synagogues, and temples. I’ve imagined for some years now that these places would be great shelter for the homeless but that’s still another issue.

  4. I like the way Al put it, and I agree with that perspective. It’s great to see articles that promote “thinking green”, and we all like to do personal things in our daily lives to reduce waste, but government and industry need to stop forcing consumers to choose between ‘cheap & convenient’ or ‘expensive & the environment’,

  5. I am so glad you included the information about cloth napkins rather than paper napkins. My household has switched to cloth napkins, and the transition was easy. I dug out all the cloth napkins recieved as wedding gifts in 1989, and placed them in a pretty basket on the counter. I have since added several more napkins purchased at garage sales to the basket as my family grasped the convience of using the cloth napkins. It takes up no extra laundry space. If I run a full load of clothes, five to ten cloth napkins can be added making very little difference to the load size. We have opted to go greener one step at a time. Each month we implement a new green feature to our home. Going green is a lifestyle change accomplished and maintained by reprogramming. We also give thumbs up to apartment composting (or a worm farm) which we keep in a tub in our fireplace (noone even notices it behind the fireplace screen and there is no bad smell), and adding black shades between the blinds and window which has cut down our electrical consumption and still looks good– noone notices this feature either. Starting in July we will be buying season passes to the local bus system leaving the car parked most of the time. We call these our Damn the Man projects. We appreciate websites like this one and the comments and ideas left on these discussion pages for giving us our new ideas for the up-coming months.

  6. Nice Article. Some of the tips are really useful as well as contribute to a large extent in making our world green. But the important thing is that we should try to create awareness on this issue, so that more and more people know about the hazards of global warming and come forward with initiatives towards an eco-friendly and more greener world.

  7. I appreciate opinion and tips in this website.
    Very helpful for everyone to save our earth.
    be creative to keep our environment.

  8. I especially like #5. because I think with the economy in a recession, a lot of people have become more frugal and not spending on things that we don’t need. Hopefully, when the economy picks up, we still keep these practices and learn that we don’t need to have so much “stuff” that ends up in our landfills anyway

  9. Every morning and evening – I take Blackie my dog to walk ., we pick up cans.
    Today we have a total of 11 cans ., unreal . We have a garbage can in the shed – we will donate them to the humane society. When we walk through the park – kids laugh at us for picking them up ., its really sad that today kids are not learning – why do the parks not have bins there ?
    We are happy to pick them up and recycle them. Keep up the good work

  10. Ways we are reducing our comsumption:
    Washable cloths instead of paper towels and napkins.
    Catching rainwater in barrels at downspouts for watering.
    Vermicomposting our kitchen waste, paper, ect.
    Making fire starters from dryer lint stuffed in paper towel, toilet rolls (it’s the little things)
    Growing an organic vegetable garden, using worm castings as fertilizer.
    Using self-watering container gardening to reduce watering requirements (see it: http://www.organicgardenworks.com/
    Eating at home.
    Watching movies at home (thank you Netflix)

  11. Am i the only few conservative and recycle conscious person in my family and collegues? YES! I visit some of my friends and family members and gosh, they don’t give a hoot about the environment. Some of them don’t recycle, continue to use paper towels, dump their old clothes instead recyling them (chariies for a start) and its very worrying.

    Well, i try to educate them all the time and i believe evenually they’re gonna turn a new leaf. Well, hope so.

  12. Mr. Beaton and his company, Chlorine Free Products Association, is a big scam. I had the misfortune of dealing with him and his company before. He sucks you in by telling you he is a non-profit organization that is trying to make the world a better place. He claims that by paying him an obscene amount of money that he can not only make your company more environmentally friendly but also reduce manufacturing costs. He also likes to talk about how large his organization is and how efficient they are. In reality he runs his company out of an office in his house that he rents. His company is in shambles. He just tries to get people and companies suckered into giving him large amounts of cash to buy in to his company and his services, which he then just puts into his own pocket. What’s the end result? You wind up with nothing, and he winds up with your cash. Please avoid this scammer and his company at all costs.

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