This is Part 6 in my "100 Sustainable Swaps for a Greener Life" series.
A year and a half ago I started slowly and systematically changing my behaviors to live a less environmentally-impactful life. I'm proud to say that I now have a list of 100 sustainable swaps that I have personally implemented. Read on to see if you can apply any to your life!
Click here for part 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
51. Switch Your Energy Supplier
In more than half of US states (including my home state of New York), electricity and/or natural gas markets have been deregulated. Before deregulation, consumers had to source their energy from the local utility company, so they had no choice on how their energy was generated (fossil fuels vs. renewables). Today, in deregulated markets, consumers can choose to source their energy from a variety of suppliers that offer lower rates, more flexible payment options, and/or cleaner sources of energy.
Deregulated markets allow consumers to choose "green" plans in which their supplier purchases renewable energy certificates (RECs) to match the customers chosen usage percentage (example: in a 50% green electricity plan, the supplier will purchase RECs equal to 50% of your electric usage). While enrolling in a green program doesn't necessarily mean that the energy powering your house will actually be generated by renewable sources, it ensures that more clean energy is going on the grid by funding renewable energy generation through the RECs - and the more renewable energy there is in the grid, the less room there is for energy generated by fossil fuels.
This site can help you explore ESCO (energy service company) options in your area.
52. Use a Bamboo Toothbrush
Plastic is extremely harmful to our planet, yet the staggering rate of plastic generation and pollution continues to increase. A significant amount of this pollution comes from everyday items that are used and disposed of without a thought, such as toothbrushes.
Switching from a conventional plastic toothbrush to a bamboo toothbrush is simple, inexpensive, and helps to decrease plastic waste and pollution. When the toothbrush is worn out, simply toss the plastic bristles and compost the biodegradable handle.
Find my favorite bamboo toothbrush on my products page.
53. Remove Your Window AC Unit in the Winter
Leaving a window AC unit installed throughout the winter is extremely inefficient because it allows the heat inside of your apartment to flow outside it is used inside - and that heat doesn't just magically appear, it's created by burning fossil fuels (even if you've switched your energy supplier or if your landlord pays for your heating bill). Removing your window unit every winter helps decrease demand for energy generation and will save you $$$ on your heating bill.
Outside winter conditions like snow and ice can also damage your unit and shorten its lifespan. If you absolutely have to keep the unit in place, wrap the inside with a padded cover to reduce draft and insulate the area around it to reduce heat transfer.
54. Use Loose-Leaf Tea Rather Than Tea Bags
A lot of people assume that tea bags are made of paper and put them into their compost bins. In reality, most tea bags contain plastic, and should be disposed of in the trash to avoid contaminating the compost and leaching microplastics into the environment.
A better option is to purchase loose-leaf tea in bulk or in a compostable package. This tea can be used with a tea ball (shown above) or refillable tea bags to create plastic free tea!
55. Recycle (Properly)
Everyone knows what recycling is, but most people don't know how to recycle properly. What is/isn't accepted and the way the items are sorted varies based on where you live and what waste hauling company collects your recycling.
At the most basic level, you should know if your recycling system is single stream or source separated.
You should also know which types of plastic are accepted, and which aren’t. The numbers printed on plastic products tell you what type of plastic it's made of, and not all types of plastic may be recyclable in your municipality.
Finally, it’s good to know nitty-gritty details about specific materials. For example, in NYC magazine paper can be recycled with the paper recycling stream, but in other cities it is unacceptable due to the glossy coating.
Every time you are unsure of how to dispose of a certain item, do a bit of research and soon you will be a recycling pro!
(P.S. I plan to create a guide to recycling in NYC soon so STAY TUNED!)
56. Use Reusable Cotton Rounds for Skincare
Reusable cotton makeup rounds are gentle on skin and can be used infinitely (just throw them in the washer when they get too dirty), whereas disposable cotton balls and makeup pads are used once and spend eternity in the landfill. Also, you don't need to spend money to buy cute ones like those shown above, you can simply make your own from old fabric or t-shirts.
57. Make Your Own Trail Mixes/Energy Bites/Granola Bars
I spend a lot of my free time hiking, running, biking, climbing, etc. so I frequently buy high calorie, low-weight, portable snacks like trail mix, granola bars, and energy bites. Although the food itself may be healthy and organic, these type of products almost always come in single-use packaging. Plan ahead before your next adventure and make some yummy homemade versions instead!
Check out Minimalist Baker for recipe ideas or experiment with whatever you have in your pantry!
58. Get Receipts Emailed
Receipts are printed on paper, but receipt paper is coated with bisphenol-A or BPA, an endocrine-disrupting industrial chemical. The presence of BPA in receipts prevents them from being recycled with other paper products, but since most people are unaware of this they put their receipts into the paper bin and thus contaminate the paper recycling stream.
As an easy alternative, have an electronic copy of your receipt emailed or texted to you, or simply ask for no receipt!
59. Walk More
One of the best parts about living in a city like NYC is the ability to walk to so many places. I often choose a 30 minute walk over a 10 minute subway or Uber ride. Walking is a zero-emissions mode of transportation and is a great form of low-impact exercise. It allows you to get outside, breathe fresh air, and clear your mind. Also, walking around a new neighborhood or city is a great way to experience it!
Can you tell I love to walk?
60. Volunteer for Environmental Organizations
Educating yourself and changing your own behaviors is a great start, but to create effective change we need to help others do the same. A great way to spread the environmental movement is to volunteer with a local environmental organization. These organizations often rely on volunteers to operate, so they will appreciate any time you can give them. Volunteering has many personal benefits, too - it's a great way to try out a new industry or skill, meet like-minded people, and lift your spirits when the laundry list of today's environmental issues is bringing you down.
Check out this article for ideas on places to volunteer, and keep your eye out for opportunities in your community. I personally volunteer with GrowNYC, Urban Green Council, and Muddy Paws Rescue.
Stay tuned for the next installment of 100 Sustainable Swaps!
Click here to go back to Part 5