Did you make any green living resolutions for 2019? I don’t know about you, but I’m worried about the future of this planet. 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record, behind 2015, 2016, and 2017. Driven by warmer oceans, weather is becoming more extreme, and according to international climate scientists, it’s only going to get worse. We may have limited control over the actions of our leaders (and they’re ridiculously anti-science right now in the US), but there are a lot of little things that we as individuals can do to mitigate our contributions to climate change. Here are 10 non-intimidating, totally doable ways to go green in 2019.
1. Buy secondhand
There are tons of reasons to buy secondhand as much as possible. For me, frugality is at the top of the list. Aka, I’m cheap, and I don’t like to spend more than I have to. But I also love the thrill of the hunt, and the possibility of finding cool and unique vintage treasures. A huge bonus of buying things secondhand is the positive environmental effects. You’re keeping something out of the landfill, (probably) buying local, so cutting down on shipping and packaging, and preventing materials and energy from being used to produce new stuff.
Can you, or should you, buy everything used? Nope, definitely not. But I can’t think of a single room in my house that doesn’t have at least one secondhand thing in it. Even one of my bathrooms has a reclaimed sink, shelves, and cabinet, and the other one has a reclaimed glass light shade that I literally found on a curb. In my opinion, mixing old and new is key to a stylish home and wardrobe. Thrift stores, consignment shops, buy-nothing groups, and Craigslist are all great local options, and eBay and Etsy are always there if you need to widen your search.
2. Reduce or eliminate meat and dairy
There’s no way to get around the fact that the meat and dairy industries are huge contributors to climate change and pollution. That’s a big reason why I eat a plant-based diet, but I didn’t make that change overnight. I was a vegetarian for decades before I stopped eating dairy and eggs, so I understand that making gradual changes to the way you eat may be the least-intimidating option. Even cutting out meat or dairy for just a few meals a week can make a difference, and it’s a great way to ease into a new way of eating.
3. Avoid plastic
When you start paying attention, the amount of plastic that you use and throw away on a regular basis begins to seem incredibly wasteful. Not only is making it from petroleum non-sustainable, but it will seriously damage ecosystems for decades to come. It’s a systemic problem, but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. You can help by making small changes, like switching to canvas bags, reusable water bottles, reusable straws, and eliminating or cutting down on your use of plastic wrap. I’m so used to using my Klean Kanteen, food huggers, and giant collection of reusuable bags that I’m not sure what I’d do without them.
If you live in a city that collects food and/or yard waste for composting, take advantage of it. Even if you don’t, but you have a yard, you can compost on your own. Be sure to compost or mulch your Christmas tree if you haven’t gotten rid of it yet. A sustainably-produced, mulched Christmas tree can actually have a negative carbon footprint!
5. Switch to green power
Even if you can’t install solar panels on your home (one of my long-term goals), many power companies have renewable, emissions-free energy options. Some will let you choose between wind, solar, or hydropower. Or just simplify things and go for 100% renewable energy across the board. Check with your local power provider to see what’s available in your area.
6. Buy local and seasonal
Your local farmers market is your best bet for finding locally-produced seasonal food. Why bother? Because the closer your food is produced to where you buy it, the fewer fossil fuels are needed to transport it. Plus, it will likely be fresher, and you’re keeping money in your local economy.
If you can’t quite carve out the time to buy your produce at a farmers market, or the ones in your area aren’t up to snuff, another option is community-supported agriculture (CSA). The options vary a lot, but the general idea is that local farms put together a set box of in-season produce, which is delivered directly to subscribers for a set price. My favorite one actually allows you to customize the box contents, and I picked it up at a local grocery store, so explore the available options in your area.
And this doesn’t only apply to food. Buying locally-produced goods of all types is often the most sustainable option.
7. Reuse before you toss
Sometimes I actually have trouble throwing things away, or even recycling them, because I overthink whether I might be able to somehow reuse them first. I make new candles out of the ends of old ones, mix paint in old plastic food containers, and use the pieces of broken terracotta pots in new pots to keep soil from leaking from the holes. You don’t have to get obsessive about it, but challenging yourself to find creative ways to reuse stuff that you might otherwise throw away can be fun. Plus it’s super satisfying to know that you’re getting a second use out of something that would otherwise be waste.
8. Use energy efficient appliances and lightbulbs
If you’re remodeling, or just replacing old appliances, energy-efficient versions can save you money in the long-run. And I love LED lightbulbs. They’re pretty much the only bulbs I buy any more, because they last forever, and the light is so much better than from CFLs. You can even get dimmable LEDs and cute Edison bulb versions these days. They don’t have to be expensive, either. Ikea makes some really affordable LEDs that are a great choice.
9. Switch to reusables
Transitioning to reusable paper towels and napkins is one change I just made this year, and I’m only sorry I didn’t do it sooner. I do still use paper towels for cleaning up after my cats, but otherwise I’ve cut my useage way down thanks to these reusable bamboo towels.
And this may be TMI for you, but I’m happy to share that I’ve used a reusable menstrual cup for years. At this point I’ve probably saved hundreds of dollars on tampons (it would be slightly more if my friend’s puppy hadn’t dug my first rubber menstrual cup out of my bag and mistaken it for a chew toy, oops). There are a bunch of different types now, but the only one I’ve tried is the DivaCup. Goofy name, but the tons of trash it has diverted from landfills is no joke!
10. Brew your own Fair Trade coffee
When you brew your own coffee, rather than buying it in a coffee shop, you save money, and keep single-use trash out of the landfill. Those paper coffee to-go cups aren’t recyclable, so if I can’t talk you into brewing your own, at least bring your own cup.
For extra credit, roast it yourself, too. I’m not sure if this is actually any more eco-friendly, but it is cheaper and tastes better than most commercially-roasted coffee. You can order green coffee beans online (or at Mr. Green Beans if you live in Portland), and roast them with an old popcorn popper. It’s fun, and you’ll be shocked at how much better your home-roasted coffee is than the stale stuff most shops sell.