Think one person can’t make a difference? Think again. With every American producing 4.5 pounds of trash per day, the little things we do to reduce our impact can make a huge difference.
Here are 20 little things you can do to help the environment and your world in less than 20 minutes.
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1. Shop local for produce
Next time you’re headed out for groceries, take a few minutes to make an extra stop at a farmer’s market for fruits and veggies. Buying local reduces your footprint and helps support farmers in your community. Local fruits and vegetables are also packed with way more nutrients than produce with a passport, and they’re tasty too!
2. Click to give
The web is full of sites that allow you to contribute to charitable causes with a click a day. That means no cost, just clicks! Use the power of your right index finger to support The Rainforest Site, The Animal-Rescue Site, The Hunger Site, and more.
3. Make a reusable survival kit
Having trouble getting through the day without using disposables? Think ahead, and make yourself a survival kit for daily use. Include items such as a reusable water bottle, coffee mug, hankies, and utensils — and put it all in a canvas bag for impromptu shopping trips. Leave your kit in your car or desk.
4. Switch to eco-friendly cleaning supplies
Next time you’re stocking up on cleaning supplies, trade your standard brands for nontoxic and biodegradable products. Or make your own! Vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice are all great natural cleaning solvents.
5. Do a quick closet cleanse
We’re not talking about a deep clean here, but more of a declutter. Do you have duds you haven’t worn since 1984? If they’re still in good shape, maybe someone else can get some use out of them. Drop them off at the local Goodwill or another secondhand store. If they’re really not wearable anymore, can you salvage the fabric? There are a lot of ways you can upcycle your old jeans, T-shirts, and even sheets.
6. Re-adjust your computer
Learn to adjust your computer’s viewing settings for easy reading. This will reduce your need to print out emails or pages of interest. When you do print, use both sides to reduce paper waste. Also, change your power settings to optimize battery usage and activate sleep mode after a period of inactivity.
7. Fix that leak
A leaky faucet or a running toilet may not seem like a big deal, but little leaks can waste loads of water. Make sure all your faucets are leak-free and your toilet is always working properly.
8. Donate paper scraps to a local classroom
Kindergarten classes and daycare centers can often use extra pieces of wallpaper, scrap paper, or newspaper for arts and crafts. Just think, your paper scraps may soon be hanging on a proud parent’s refrigerator.
9. Go unplugged
Vampire power is the energy your appliances use when they are plugged in but not running. Cut back on wasted energy by unplugging cell phone chargers, coffee pots, and toasters when they are not in use. Keep bigger electronics such as televisions and sound systems on a power strip, and flip it off when you’re not using them.
10. Switch to cloth napkins
Not only do they add pretty accents to your table, but cloth napkins significantly reduce paper waste. If you have some old shirts you’re not wearing, you can even make your own cloth napkins.
12. Switch to hankies
13. Start composting
Composting food scraps is a quick and easy way to reduce waste in your home. Once your pile is set up, it’s as simple as tossing your food scraps into a bowl and taking it outside every day. Check out these tips for starting a new compost pile.
14. Do a weekly purge of the fridge
Take a weekly account of what’s in your fridge. Throw perishables a few days from spoiling into a slow cooker or casserole for tonight’s dinner. For food you know you won’t use before it goes bad, freeze it or donate it to a local food pantry or church that can use it.
15. Check your pressure
Having your tires at the proper pressure increases your car’s gas mileage. It also increases the longevity of your tires, which reduces rubber waste. Most gas stations and service centers have pressure gages and air dispensers available.
16. Make the switch to paperless
Banish endless paper bills by paying bills online and opting to receive e-mail statements. And open up some of that junk mail before tossing it into the recycling bin. It’s usually as simple as calling a service line to get your address removed from a company’s mailing list.
17. Make fruit juice concoctions
Throw some of your locally purchased fruit in a blender for a healthy drink. For something more refreshing, run your creation through a strainer and add some water. Even easier, make fruit-infused water. Pour your tasty tonics into upcycled jars and stick them in your fridge for the week.
18. Pack a lunch
Instead of stopping at the lunch truck when mid-afternoon hunger hits, reach for a packed lunch in a reusable lunchbox. Check out reusable sandwich containers as an alternative to plastic bags, and don’t forget the reusable silverware!
19. Save your water
Set aside water that you used for washing veggies or cooking vegetables, potatoes, eggs, or pasta. Allow it to cool and reuse it to water your houseplants. The cooled cooking water retains some nutrients to help fertilize your plants.
20. Compare and contrast when you shop
Next time you’re at the store, take a few minutes to compare products before buying. Not for price, for packaging! Reach for items with as little packaging as possible, and buy items packaged in recyclable material whenever possible. You’ll be shocked at how empty your trash can gets!
Originally published on July 5, 2013, this article was updated in November 2020.