How to be Green at Home

How to be Green at HomeAre you concerned by the size of your ecological footprint and the enormity of the environmental crisis? Don't get discouraged---small steps can all add up to make a real difference. Start by challenging your assumptions about what you really need versus what you want. Step outside your comfort zone and practice using less---water, paper products, electricity and other fuels. Be creative in reusing or finding new uses for disposable or worn items. Share with friends or neighbors instead of buying your own.


Difficulty: Easy


Step 1
Cut your energy use. At home and at work, use a programmable thermostat and set it at least 3 degrees F higher (summer) or cooler (winter) than normal. Close air vents in unused rooms. Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs. Plug items into smart power strips that can be turned off when not in use. Turn lights off when leaving a room. Air-dry clothes instead of using a dryer. Insulate your home, and fix air leaks around doors and windows. Install skylights to increase natural light, reducing the need for electricity. Reduce cooling needs with attic fans. Use a microwave instead of a conventional oven. Chop food by hand instead of with a food processor. Solar electric and hot water systems are expensive but will dramatically slash your energy costs.
Step 2
Reduce use of toxic chemicals. Many products used in the home contain toxic chemicals or additives. Most detergents contain phosphates; antibacterial agents also harm the environment and should be avoided. Products for personal care, lawn/yard care and pest control commonly contain toxic ingredients---look for natural or biodegradable alternatives. Paints and flooring release volatile organic compounds that pollute the air and cause health problems. Look for low- or no-VOC products instead.
Step 3
Reduce use of disposable products; repair rather than replace. Many disposable products can easily be replaced with reusable ones. A few examples are cloth towels and napkins instead of paper, sponges instead of single-use wipes, cloth diapers instead of disposables, and plastic or bamboo picnic ware instead of paper. Rinse, dry, and reuse plastic produce and freezer/sandwich bags. Get your shoes resoled instead of buying a new pair. Hang onto that computer or TV for another year instead of rushing to buy the latest model. See if you can get electronics repaired when they break instead of replacing them.
Step 4
Reduce water use. Indoor water use can be slashed by installing low flow shower heads and dual-flush or ultra low volume toilets. Front-loading washers, faucet aerators, and tankless or on-demand water heaters help too. Turning water off when brushing teeth and running the washer or dishwasher only when full will save significant amounts of water. A modern, energy-star rated dishwasher actually uses less water than washing the amse amount of dishes by hand, if run with a full load. Outdoors, get a rain barrel or a rainwater harvesting system. Greywater recycling, if legal in your area, can be a big saver too. Install a smart controller and a rain sensor for your irrigation system, and switch to drip where possible. Use native, drought-tolerant plants and convert your lawn to a meadow or an edible landscape with fruit trees and a vegetable plot.
Step 5
Dispose of waste properly. Many people flush unwanted prescription drugs down the toilet, contributing to pollution of our oceans, streams and water supply. Contact your pharmacy to find out how to dispose of drugs properly. Batteries, solvents, oils, paints, electronic waste and appliances also require special handling and should not be tossed in the regular trash. Littering contributes to a buildup of plastics and other toxic compounds in the oceans, which ends up in our food supply and harms marine life.
Step 6
Reduce waste by recycling, donating and going to the source. Check with your local waste management company to see which items can be recycled. Donate used clothing, computers, toys, books, cell phones and other items. Magazines can be donated to a doctor's office. Egg cartons and plastic berry baskets can be returned to growers at your local farmers market. Remove your name from mailing lists. Unsubscribe from unwanted catalogs.
Step 7
Start a compost bin (pictured top). Anyone can compost kitchen waste, even in a small home. A worm bin takes up very little space and can be kept indoors. For those with more room, a larger compost bin or heap outdoors can be used for yard waste as well as food scraps. In either case, you'll slash your trash output and end up with soil-enriching compost that your plants will love.
Step 8
Buy recycled, used or repurposed products. Many products made partly or completely from recycled materials are now available, including paper towels and napkins, toilet paper, tissues, printer paper and aluminum foil. Look for the highest possible percentage of "post-consumer" content. Thrift stores, swap meets or flea markets, and websites such as are good sources for used or repurposed items.
Step 9
Green your diet. Eating a vegan or mainly plant-based diet has great benefits for you and the environment. Meat production uses lots of land, drugs, pesticides and fertilizers, and grain for feed. It also can involve significant animal cruelty and is a major source of greenhouse gases and other pollution. Buying local, organic food also boosts your health and is easier on the planet.

Article Written By Peggy Hansen

Peggy Hansen holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from UC San Diego, Doctor of Medicine from UCLA, and completed postgraduate training at Stanford, Duke and Harvard. An award-winning writer and photographer, her work has been featured in Catnip, Herbalgram, Porter Gulch Review, and many online pieces. She's also a commentator for KQED-FM

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