So you'd like to live a little greener but don't know where to start. And you're probably feeling overwhelmed (and maybe annoyed) by the amount of information out there. Well, to begin with, you can forget about solar panels and wind turbines and electric cars. Don't feel bad if your kitchen countertops aren't made with recycled glass or your hand towels aren't organic cotton. In reality, most of us can make the biggest improvements with small changes in our daily household routines. Here are 6 easy green habits that will make a difference to the Earth and to your wallet.
1. Green your meals with a simple dish washing routine.
The old, familiar slogan Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is still the best motto for green living today. When you think about it, reduce and reuse essentially define how our grandparents ran their households simply by being thrifty and not wanting to waste. As for recycling, that should be a given; it's just what you do with garbage that still has some value. And even though recycling a paper plate is better for the environment than throwing it in the trash, it's still not as good as using and washing a regular plate (and it's a lot more expensive).
If you're a fan of paper plates and plastic bowls for everyday meals, switch to durable and inexpensive dinnerware (such as Corelle). Clean up by scraping off the scraps (composting it, if applicable) then soaking plates in the sink with a little cold water. In a few minutes, dishes can go right into the dishwasher with no additional rinsing. Run a full load at the end of the day and let it air-dry overnight (turn off the "heat dry" option on the dishwasher). Washing full loads in the dishwasher typically uses less hot water than hand-washing dishes.
2. Store food smarter.
Instead of nickel-and-diming yourself with "reusable" plastic storage containers (the kind that are like lightweight Tupperware but are trashed after about a half-dozen uses), invest in a good set of oven- and microwave-safe glass containers with quality plastic lids. They'll pay for themselves many times over and will keep scores of cheap plastic out of the waste stream.
3. Make a couple small changes to your laundry routine.
Big, full loads save water, electricity and natural gas (or more electricity, depending on the type of water heater you have). An easy way to ensure full loads is to have a laundry basket for each color (whites, darks and mixed colors) and wash only when a basket is full. For most loads, hot-water wash is overkill (use warm or cold water instead), and always use cold water for the rinse, which rinses just as well as heated water.
4. Clean up your bathing routine with a low-flow shower head.
Since many people would rather starve than compromise their shower routine, the easiest way to save resources here is to use a low-flow showerhead. By law, the maximum flow for a single head is 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm), but you can find a decent spray with even less gpm. To take it another step, use a head with an ON/OFF switch so you can shut off the water while you shampoo and soap up and turn it back on instantly with the same temperature.
5. Reduce waste with an old-fashioned cleaning routine.
As with meals, reusable stuff makes for a big improvement (and savings) over disposable wipes and other throw-away cleaning products. Cleaning pros (and Grandma) know this best: they fill a good bucket with their favorite cleaning solutions, sponges, gloves, mop and any other essential tools. This keeps things portable and storable. You might want to have additional buckets for different parts of the house.
6. Make a habit of carrying reusable shopping bags.
You're probably tired of hearing about reusable shopping bags, but they really are the way to go. The problem is most of these have been reduced to lousy advertising vehicles and are too small or oddly shaped to do much good. The best all-purpose bags are large, reinforced plastic types with woven cloth handles. They're capacious, washable and virtually indestructible. The kind that folds like a paper grocery sack is ideal. Keep a few in your car's trunk and you'll have them for every kind of shopping trip.