Environmental Do's and Don'ts
It's not hard to have an environmentally sound lifestyle. You just have to look at the things you do, and ask yourself whether there's a better way. We've given you a big head start with this list.
In addition to helping the environment, ideas marked save money, either immediately or in the long run; ideas marked are good for your health; and ideas marked save time.
Or At Least...
throw recyclables in the trash because there's no recycling facility at your workplace or school. start a recycling program. If your employer/school refuses to arrange for collection of recyclables, take them home with you. take home your own recyclables and add them to your household recycling. Tell people you're doing this to encourage them to do it, too. use paper towels, paper napkins, and facial tissues made from virgin fibers and bleached with chlorine. use cloth towels, cloth napkins, and handkerchiefs. use paper products made of post-consumer recycled fibers and bleached with oxygen or hydrogen peroxide . . . or not bleached at all. Here are some places to shop. Use half a paper towel for small cleanup jobs, and use the same paper napkin for more than one meal. buy plastic or foam cups and plates when you have guests or go on a picnic. buy a cheap set of washable dishes and silverware. (If the dishes stack, they'll be easier to store between events.) buy cups and plates made of chlorine-free recycled paper. Here are some places to shop. use coffee filters bleached with chlorine. Who cares if a coffee filter is white? It's going to turn brown when you use it anyway! use a reusable coffee filter. Here are some places to shop. use unbleached filters, which are available in many stores. buy a plastic-foam or paper cup of coffee on your way to work every day. make coffee at work and drink it from a washable mug. get an insulated mug that your coffeeshop will refill. use plastic utensils or bamboo chopsticks just once and then throw them away. carry washable utensils to use when you eat fast food. wash the "disposable" utensils and use them again. Even one re-use cuts waste by half! eat meat at every meal. Raising animals for meat requires a much larger amount of resources than growing vegetables. become a vegetarian. eat less meat. Have more vegetarian meals. Make dishes like casserole or stir-fry that use small bits of meat, instead of eating a big piece of meat with side dishes. Consider eating vegetarian food at home and meat only in restaurants. buy a fast-food lunch or take a frozen "TV dinner" to work every day. pack food into washable plastic containers for your lunch at least a few days a week. In addition to packing up leftovers, you can make big batches of foods like pasta or rice for this purpose. Besides being cheaper, your homemade food will often contain fewer additives than fast/convenience food. choose restaurants and convenience foods that use minimal, biodegradable packaging. If you really love, say, the Chinese food that comes in a big plastic box, make it a special treat that you have only once a month. Call or write to restaurants and food manufacturers to let them know why you are or aren't buying their products! buy individual servings of foods like pudding, chips, juice, and cereal . . . even if you're packing lunches for school or work. buy larger packages and pack single servings into reusable containers. Plastic sandwich bags can be used several times, and plastic bags from bread and other foods can be reused.
WARNING: Don't turn bread bags inside-out so that food is touching the logo side of the bag; these logos sometimes contain lead!
buy individual servings in recyclable packages AND RECYCLE THEM. For example, unless you have access to one of the rare juicebox-recycling programs, buy juice in aluminum cans or glass bottles. let the supermarket pack your groceries in a paper bag nested in a plastic bag. bring your own canvas totebags to the supermarket. They hold more and are easier to carry anyway. You can use these bags at drugstores, etc., as well. Many stores give a discount for this. bring paper or plastic bags back to the store and use them again. Many stores give a discount for this too. When bags wear out, recycle them. put plastic wrap over every dish before microwaving it. Chemicals in the plastic may get into the food when heated. Even if plastic wrap is labeled "microwave safe," avoid using it because it will NEVER decay after you throw it away. use a washable plastic lid or an upside-down plate to contain splatters. use biodegradable waxed paper. (Don't use recycled paper towels because, in rare cases, they may contain tiny bits of metal that could cause arcing.) buy overpackaged items--for example, pills in a plastic bottle with a foil seal under the cap, a plastic seal around the outside of the cap, and an outer box wrapped in plastic. Any ONE seal is enough to tell you if someone has tampered with the product! buy minimally packaged items when you have the choice--for example, a sealed bottle of pills with no exterior box or shrink-wrap. buy products in the largest size you can use before they go bad. This reduces the amount of packaging per pill (or whatever). Choose a bottle of pills over a blister pack. buy ready-to-drink fruit juice in a big bottle or carton. Although the containers are often recyclable, they're unnecessarily large . . . and the juice is usually made from concentrate anyway. You're paying for that added water! buy frozen concentrate in a recyclable plastic can or room-temperature concentrate in a recyclable aluminum can. buy frozen concentrate in a biodegradable cardboard can with recyclable metal endcaps. buy products you use a lot in small "convenience" packages. Even if the packaging is recyclable, the manufacturing and recycling of several small containers uses more energy than the manufacturing and recycling of one big container. join a wholesale club and buy in bulk. (However, avoid "bulk packs" made up of a lot of smaller packages held together with an extra layer of plastic!) Order environmentally friendly products by the case from mail-order companies. If you find a large package inconvenient to use, transfer some of the product to a smaller container and store the rest out of the way. buy the largest size available at your usual store. The price per ounce is usually lower for larger packages, and it saves you the trouble of buying the product repeatedly. use rayon tampons bleached with chlorine. use a reusable menstrual cup like The Keeper. use all-cotton tampons bleached with oxygen. Here are some places to shop. Tampons without applicators are less wasteful. use feminine pads bleached with chlorine and wrapped in plastic. use washable cloth pads. Here are some places to shop. use chlorine-free pads or flushable pads. Here are some places to shop. put disposable diapers on your baby. In addition to causing an incredible garbage problem, most are bleached with chlorine, putting chemicals that cause cancer and infertility right next to your baby's most sensitive parts! use cloth diapers. Disinfect them with borax or non-chlorine bleach. A wide variety of cloth diapers are available from catalogs, on the Web, and even at major retailers, including Toys"R"Us and Burlington Coat Factory. reduce your baby's pollution contribution by using cloth diapers at home and saving disposables for day care or traveling. use disposable training pants when toilet-training your child. In addition to creating a lot of garbage (much of which is plastic and will NEVER decay) this teaches your child that when something gets dirty, we throw it away--not a great lesson for sustainable living! use cloth training pants. Yes, there will be some leakage when your child has an accident--that's why it's called an accident! The associated mess and embarrassment will help motivate your child to become trained. keep your child in diapers until he/she has attained enough control to wear regular underwear. line every wastebasket in your house with a virgin plastic bag that you throw away on trash day. dump wastebaskets into a single large bag, and buy bags made of recycled plastic. Here are some places to shop. Save space in the bag by putting trash inside containers you're throwing away (milk cartons, cereal boxes, etc.). line wastebaskets with re-used shopping bags. use dish detergents, laundry detergents, and other cleaning products made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. (All the major brands are made from petroleum.) use cleaners made from plants. Here are some places to shop. read the labels on cleaning products to make sure they're biodegradable and free of phosphates, chlorine, and optical brighteners. use chlorine bleach to whiten your clothes, kill mold and mildew, and disinfect household surfaces. use hydrogen peroxide, which bleaches and kills germs but is far safer than chlorine for you and the environment. Many chlorine-free laundry bleaches are available; here are some places to shop. buy a new vinyl shower curtain every time your old one gets moldy or the rings rip through the holes. Vinyl gives off harmful fumes, and once discarded it will never biodegrade. get a durable cloth shower curtain and treat it with non-toxic mildew remover. Here are some places to shop. make each vinyl curtain last as long as possible by treating it with mildew remover and using reinforcements on the holes. use toxic oven cleaners. Not only are they bad for the Earth, they're very dangerous for you and everyone in your home--just read the many safety warnings on the label! use a citrus cleaner. You still shouldn't drink it or get it in your eyes, but the fumes are non-toxic and pleasant, and it won't burn off your skin! Here are some places to shop. reduce the need to clean the oven by removing food spills, as soon as they've cooled, with an old toothbrush and a paste of baking soda and water. drive everywhere. walk, skate, or ride a bike when going short distances. Take public transit whenever possible. If you're moving, choose a new home close to work, shopping, and other places you go often. minimize your driving by combining errands into one trip , choosing nearby destinations over faraway ones , and carpooling. waste electricity by running your air conditioner all summer. open windows and use fans. Wear cool clothing and drink plenty of water. use air conditioning only on days over 90 degrees F, and don't set your thermostat cooler than 70 degrees F. power all your electrical devices with single-use batteries. use rechargeable batteries. You can even get a solar-powered charger. Here are some places to shop. reduce your battery consumption by using an AC adapter whenever an outlet is available. use office paper, envelopes, folders, etc., made from virgin fibers and bleached with chlorine. buy paper products with a high post-consumer recycled content, bleached with oxygen or hydrogen peroxide or unbleached. Here are some places to shop. make photocopies of a document for everyone who needs to see it. send the document as an attachment to e-mail or paste it into an e-mail message. attach a routing slip--a list of the people who need to see the document, so that each person can pass it on to the next. use just one side of the page for printing or photocopying. set your printer or copier to "double-sided" mode. You'll use half as much paper with no extra work! save pages that are blank on one side and print or copy unimportant documents on the blank side. If your printer or copier doesn't like this (some older machines will jam on re-used paper), use the pages for scratch paper. print out all your e-mail. save it on your hard drive or on floppy disks. print on blank-on-one-side paper or recycled paper. Here are some places to shop. send a cover page with every fax. use stickynotes to indicate the sender and receiver of the fax. Reduce paper waste on your end by installing paperless-faxing software. Avoid sending unnecessary faxes. Use blank-on-one-side paper in your fax machine. print out a document to proofread it. learn to proofread onscreen. use spell-checking and print-preview functions before printing. Print draft copies on blank-on-one-side paper. use excessive paper in your workplace for internal forms like timesheets and purchase orders. submit forms electronically via e-mail or a file server. If you're not the boss, suggest that this change be made. make forms as small as feasible. Print more than one on a page when you can. Print multi-page forms double-sided. use health and beauty products made from petroleum, such as hand lotion and lip balm. use products made from hemp oil. Here are some places to shop. use products made from natural, renewable ingredients. Here are some places to shop. dry-clean clothing unnecessarily. hand-wash (or machine-wash in cold water on the "delicate" cycle) any clothing that can take it. Many garments are labeled "dry clean only" so the manufacturer won't be liable for damages from laundering, but in fact they can be washed safely. look for a dry cleaner that uses Green Clean or at least recycles cleaning fluids. wash small loads of clothes in hot water and dry them in an electric or gas dryer. fill your washing machine as full as you can without leaving soap residue on the laundry, and use cold water. Line dry your laundry. These methods help to prevent shrinkage, fading, and premature wear. set your washing machine to "small load" when it's not full. Line dry at least some of your laundry. use chemical fertilizers on your garden or lawn. The chemicals run off in rainwater and can poison pets, wild animals, and even children playing outdoors. Once these chemicals are in the water supply, they can easily find their way into your drinking water. fertilize your plants with household compost. buy fertilizers made from wood mulch, peat moss, manure, etc. wrap gifts in wrapping paper made from virgin fibers and mail them in new cardboard boxes with plastic-foam packing pellets you buy at the post office. remove wrapping paper neatly when you unwrap gifts, and save it to use again. You can also wrap gifts in Sunday comics or a piece of cloth. Save old boxes and packing material to reuse. If you need more packing material, tear up scrap paper. buy wrapping paper made of post-consumer recycled paper. After use, shred it to make colorful packing material.
Copyright ©1999-2003 by Becca Stallings.
Last update: 2003-03-12
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