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How to Be Green(er) in 2016: Reduce—It’s First for a Reason.

How to Be Green(er) in 2016: Reduce—It’s First for a Reason.
By: Katy Powell

We’ve all heard the mantra Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Good. Let’s say it again: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Okay, Thanks. Yes, repetition is tedious; and yes, simply saying it over and over again doesn’t accomplish much of anything. But that little chant is more than just a little chant. It’s our quick and easy, make-better-decisions, Go-To Guideline for (that’s right) being greener.

If we do want to commit to being greener this year, a good place to start is with this refrain. And a good habit to get into is keeping these three suggestions in the forefront of our minds. When we make decisions, let’s take a moment to consider if what we are about to do is the best we can do for the environment; if it’s not, let’s try to make it so. (Note: This will most likely take some getting used to and will probably involve a little effort. [Another note: It actually won’t be that bad. In fact, it’ll be easy. And remember, this is a good thing, for us and the planet]). In subsequent articles, I will write about ways we can reuse and recycle what we would normally throw away, but for today I’ll be sharing ideas about the first and most important directive: to reduce.

The decisions I’m specifically referring to in the above paragraph are the routine decisions we make about the routines we do everyday: getting ready in the morning; driving; shopping; cleaning; meal planning and storage; and going to bed. There are small, easy changes we can make in our daily habits that will reduce the amount of energy we use and waste we create. (The less waste we create, the less we have to worry about reusing and recycling it. That’s why it’s the most important.) Let’s take a look at just a few.

1. Take shorter showers. This may be asking a lot for some of us (and it’s only the first tip!), but consider setting a timer and being strict about the buzzer. Or turn the water off as you lather your shampoo and soap.
2. Do you shave? Invest in a quality stainless steel safety razor. There’s an increased cost upfront; good razors can be between $40-$60, but say good-bye to throwaway plastic razors forever.
3. When preparing lunches for yourself or your kids, pack them in an actual lunchbox or bag. And get some of those washable snack and sandwich baggies. Skip the Ziplocs.
4. As much as you can, plan out your day. Try to consolidate all your errands so you don’t have to make multiple car trips in and out of town. Bonus points: is public transportation or walking an option?
5. Reusable shopping bags! Put a couple in your car and bring them with you into the store. If you forget them in the car, go back, get them, and bring them into the store. Pretty soon you won’t leave them behind; it will become a habit, I promise.
6. Buy in bulk. That means less packaging over time and it will almost always save you money.
7. Speaking of packaging, take a moment to consider the packaging of the regular products you buy. Look for products that contain recycled material or material that is compostable. Even if you don’t recycle it afterward (although you should), buying recycled packaging is better than that made from virgin materials.
8. Why not skip the packaging altogether? Bring your own bags for dry grocery goods (like beans and lentils) and your own jar for freshly ground almond or peanut butter. Do you need a plastic bag for your produce when you’re going to wash it at home?
9. Need a midday pick-me-up? Bring your own travel mug to the coffee shop. Save a paper cup, a paper sleeve, a plastic lid, and sometimes even a nickel or two. Some coffee shops reward their environmentally conscious customers.
10. Similarly, buy a nice, fancy water bottle, preferably steel, aluminum, or glass. And stop buying single-use water bottles. Just don’t do that anymore.
11. At home, see if you can fade out paper napkins and paper towels. Use cloth napkins at the table, dishrags for cleaning counters and sticky hands, and old rags for spills. Throw those items in with your regular wash cycle.
12. Make a meal plan. Having an idea of the food you’ll prepare for the week will a) save you trips to the grocery store; b) save you time deciding what to eat; c) reduce or eliminate food waste. And store any leftovers (or any preparatory ingredients) in glass containers or jars. They will last longer than plastic Tupperware.
13. Think about bringing those storage containers with you when dining out. Your leftovers will thank you; they don’t like Styrofoam either. Bonus points: carry your own fork wrapped in a cloth napkin for those unexpected on-the-go meals.
14. Wear your clothes more than once before washing them. Bath towels, too.
15. Buy some bamboo toothbrushes. They’re compostable, and they’re not plastic. (Basically, when you can replace any plastic product with something that’s not plastic, try to do that.)
16. Use reusable cotton swabs or a washcloth for makeup removal. Don’t use Q-Tips. And ladies, invest in a menstrual cup. Seriously. Life changing.
17. Unplug. Switch off. And turn out the lights.

There are certainly more ways we can reduce the amount of waste we produce and reduce our impact on the environment, but this is a good start. And any changes we make towards that end, even if they are small, are better than nothing. So my advice is to start small. Make the simple changes first. Recognize the positive impact you are making and let that motivate you to make another change, do a little more, and try a little harder. All the while, keep the environment and environmentally conscious decisions at the forefront of your mind. And repeat the mantra.

I’d love to hear any tips or advice you have about reducing energy and waste or any changes you’ve made already that you’ve found worthwhile. If you’d like to pass a comment along, send me an email me with the subject heading “Going Greener”. I’ll make sure to include it in the next installment. Until then, try to make a little change, or a big one, and see what you can do next. Let’s see what we can do.