Easy Ways to Go Green
"I hate waste. Even before it was trendy to be 'environmentally friendly,' my family would wash out glass jars, reuse aluminum foil, use junk mail for scrap paper, and so on. Not only does it keep garbage out of landfills, it saves money! I don't spend money on anything unless I've thought of a way to reuse something else for that purpose. Now they call it 'upcycling,' but we just call it common sense." —Andrea M., Connecticut
It may take a little time to change the buy-use-throw habit. But giving whatever you can a second (or third) life in your home saves space in landfills and saves you money by replacing store-bought consumer goods with repurposed resources, says David Bach, author of Go Green, Live Rich: "It's these little things that add up to help the environment and your wallet in a big way."
Check sites like Craigslist when on the market for new appliances and decor. Shopping these next-to-new listings prevents landfill waste, gives goods a longer life, and saves your family money. Give outgrown clothes to a younger neighbor or donate them to a thrift store or local community organization.
Be a Green Role Model
"We're trying to teach our kids the value of recycling and conservation, because if they grow up with these values, it will become habit; they won't even think twice. It will simply be a way of life." —Kelli W., West Virginia
Monkey see, monkey do! Mimicry begins at birth, and it's never too soon to start practicing what you preach. Give earth-friendly habits a kid-friendly spin by turning recycling into a game, spending a day—or weekend—traveling only by bike, foot, or on public transportation, and incorporating recycled materials into afternoon craft projects. By teaching sustainable habits, you're creating lifelong ways of living green.
Skip the theme park and book a volunteer vacation. These nontraditional family trips are an excellent way to put your family values to work (literally) in a different part of the country or the world. "They can cost as little as $20 plus travel and expenses, but the memories will be priceless," says eco-expert David Bach. "You'll save money, have a terrific adventure, and provide valuable manpower on projects that are helping the planet and all its inhabitants." To get started, check out the Sierra Club, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and Habitat for Humanity.
"We talk a lot about where our food comes from. If we don't know where it comes from, we probably shouldn't be eating it. The closer the food is to its origin, the healthier it is for us. It's also a ton better for the environment to have fewer middlemen in the production of our food." —Andrea M., Connecticut
"That couldn't be more right-on," says Sara Altshul, author of New Choices in Natural Healing for Women and contributor to the Whole Green Catalog. "It benefits you and your family in so many ways," she says: Not only does buying local support farmers who practice sustainable agricultural methods and are less likely to use pesticides, it also cuts back on greenhouse gases emitted by shipping foods around the world. Farmer's markets are great for seasonal produce, and even large grocery stores have begun to carry organic, locally grown foods.
Become a member of a CSA, short for "community-supported agriculture." Your money goes to support local farmers and the return is a fresh weekly crop of locally farmed seasonal fruits and vegetables (sometimes even meat and dairy). Integrate unfamiliar fruits and veggies into your dinner by heading to Supercook, and list what's on hand in your cupboard to turn out recipes that incorporate your organic ingredients.
"I save glass jars from sauces and dips, adding to my collection to be used as candleholders. Fill a quarter of the way with play sand, add a votive...beautiful! I have added wire around the top to a few so I can hang them outside!" —Samantha P., Oklahoma
This environmental one-two punch not only repurposes glass jars, it also cuts down on your electric bill by providing an unplugged source of light. The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle will operate a 100-watt lightbulb for four hours, according to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency, and these candleholders do it one better by giving off atmospheric lighting from what was once an unassuming bottle of pasta sauce.
Make the most of your homemade lanterns by inviting friends to a candlelit dinner party. Visit your farmer's market for local produce and meats for the meal, or stop by your favorite grocery store and buy organic. Use votives with soy wax to give a cleaner-burning, longer-lasting flame and send guests home with their own candle jars.
"I don't live too far from work, so I started walking to save money on gas and reduce my carbon footprint. I get up a half-hour earlier to walk, and aside from saving money and being good for the planet, it's good for me too." —Laurel G., California
"That is amazing—keep it up!" says Bach. "It feels great to be able to burn off lunch before you even eat it and you can save the cost of a gym membership." Walking also is a great way to wake up and get your endorphins flowing before work or drive off the day's stress on the way home. You can even turn hoofing it into "me-time" by loading up an iPod with an energetic mix, walking meditations, or a daily news podcast.
With the average commute approximately 30 miles round-trip, walking may be out of the question. Carpooling lowers your carbon footprint and reduces money spent at the pump. "If the 91 percent of Americans who commute to work alone in their car every day carpooled or took public transportation one day a week, they could save $215 a year and we'd reduce carbon emissions by 148 million tons," says Bach.
Mix It Up
"Making homemade cleaners was very easy to implement. The ingredients are generally found in the home: vinegar, baking soda, peroxide. All I had to do was get some spray bottles and mix up cleaning solutions." —Diana B., Nebraska
"That's fabulous! Making your own cleaning supplies is a very significant thing to do," says Altshul, who advocates concocting effective homemade cleaners from pantry staples. Because manufacturers of cleaning supplies aren't required to list their ingredients, keeping your house free of dangerous, unlisted chemicals is important in keeping a nontoxic household, especially where allergy-prone kids are concerned.
"Just as cleaning products don't have to list their ingredients, neither does the stuff that you slather on your skin," says Altshul. From moisturizers to cosmetics, keep yourself and your family safe from phantom chemicals by seeking all-natural beauty products—or make your own. A simple starter is swapping a traditional multi-ingredient moisturizer for a jar of coconut or shea butter.
Zap Electricity Use
"I put as many electronics onto power strips as I can so that I can turn off the power at night. That way my TV and other electronics don't leach electricity while off." —Diana B., Nebraska
"Americans spend about $4 billion a year on electricity for things they're not even using," says Bach. "Your phantom load—the energy that's used even when you've turned off your appliances—totals 5 to 15 percent of your monthly electricity bill." If you keep vampiric gadgets from draining your budget with this Motherboard Mom's easy-on, easy-off tip, you can knock off an average of $94 per year from your electric bill.
Save even more with a Smart Strip, whose intelligent name says it all. Unlike a traditional power strip that requires all plugged-in parts to be either on or off, the Smart Strip knows what's in use and automatically cuts power to inactive equipment until you're ready to shut it all down for the night.
"Paper plates, paper towels and napkins, plastic spoons and forks have all been banished from our house. We spend more time washing dishes, but I feel good about not having bags and bags of trash to throw away after every event." —Samantha P., Oklahoma
Single-use products are an efficient way to waste money and stock a landfill, warns Bach: "Wasting money and hurting the planet go hand in hand." Choosing reusable food products is a great way to cut down on both your environmental impact and your costs. "In the same way that 'little things' add up to drain your wealth, 'small changes' add up to make a big difference for the Earth," he says. Case in point: Skipping a store-bought bottle of water a day and drinking from a refillable bottle of your own saves $500 a year.
For lunches on-the-go, skip single-use plastic bags and wrap sandwiches and snacks in ReUsies instead. These nylon-lined cotton snack bags are free of BPA, lead, and phthalates. Wipe with a wet sponge and air-dry between uses or throw 'em in the washing machine for a waste-free way to pack meals.
"We plan and care for a garden. It's hard work! But in the end, the amount of money saved and appreciation gained for what we eat is immeasurable." —Andrea M., Connecticut
"A kid who really doesn't like tomatoes is going to love cherry tomatoes he grew himself," says Altshul. Getting a child's hands dirty is a great way to turn a vegetable-despiser on to healthy produce. Wherever you have room to grow 'em—a garden, a sunny window sill, or, like Altshul, on a concrete front porch—vegetables are a great way to involve the family in their meals and give children a fun bio lesson on how plants grow. It cuts down on grocery costs too, says Altshul: "You can save a lot of money when you grow it yourself—all you need is dirt and seeds."
To really emphasize the growing cycle, forgo seed packets and collect seeds from the fruits and vegetables your family eats—and plant those in the garden. Apples, oranges, cucumbers, and watermelons all yield excellent starters.
"We recently purchased a Nook together as a family. We all love to read, but books really add up, paperwise." —Allison P., Pennsylvania
This tip embraces both literacy and environmentalism. New gadgetry can get kids interested in reading. And a study conducted by The Book Industry Study Group and The Green Press Initiative found that more than 30 million trees are cut down annually to produce the books sold in the U.S. That means your digital alternative not only increases forestland, it boosts your family's shelf space.
Don't forget about your local library as a great resource for out-of-print books. Browse the books on CD while you're there, too, for tales perfect to engage both you and your family on long car trips. And many local libraries now carry e-books.