Sustainability is an important part of our everyday lives and the best place to engage in these practices is in the home. Greening your home is an on-going but simple process that will not only lower your ecological footprint but yield a multitude of health and financial benefits as well. The easiest and most effective ways of greening your home include reducing waste, reducing energy and water consumption, and incorporating natural hygiene and green cleaning into your daily routine.
Here are few simple but effective suggestions to get you started.
Reducing waste allows for better use of open space and natural resources. In the United States, each person generates an average of 4 pounds of garbage per day. To an average household, that equates to up to 8,000 lbs/per year. A large percentage of that waste can be diverted from our landfills through reducing, recycling and reusing materials that enter your home.
The following items should always be kept out of your trash can and placed in your city-supplied recycling bins:
- Unsoiled paper products: This typically includes loose leaf paper, cardboard boxes, paper packaging, used toilet paper rolls, paper price tags, newspapers, and magazines. There are very few paper products that cannot be recycled.
- Plastic containers: Virtually everything made of plastic should be marked with a code. Not all codes or even types of plastics within each code can actually be recycled. For instance, plastics within codes 1 and 2 are widely accepted in container form. Code 4s are only sometimes accepted in bag form. Check with your recycling company to determine which codes are recyclable in your area.
- Glass and Metal containers: Aluminum soda cans and most metal food cans can be recycled. Some recyclers even accept aluminum foil and foil lined snack packaging. Check with your local recycling company to determine which materials are accepted in your area.
- Food waste: Food and soiled paper can be transformed into compost, an organic material that can be used as a soil amendment for growing plants. In some municipalities, a waste hauler will pick up your food waste and soiled paper to make compost; if you have space outside your house, you can make compost yourself. For more information, check out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website on compost at: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/rrr/composting/index.htm
When recycling plastic, glass, and metal containers, be sure to empty out any liquids and rinse off any food debris before placing in the recycling bin to avoid contamination.
Recycling, although beneficial, requires energy to convert waste materials to new products. An even better alternative is to consume less recyclable materials and reuse those materials that do come into your house.
- Reuse empty glass bottles and plastic containers to store leftovers, pack lunches, and store homemade juices.
- Look for products that use less packaging. Instead of buying snack-sized multipacks of your favorite items, buy in bulk and create your own snack sized portions using reusable mini containers.
Reduce Energy Consumption
Reducing your home’s energy consumption is not only good for the environment but much easier on your pocketbook. Applying good energy efficiency practices in the home reduces monthly energy bills and the need to keep using and/or building outdated power plants.
The following measures are simple and inexpensive to implement:
- Replace all incandescent bulbs with lower wattage equivalents like compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs or light emitting diodes (LEDs). These technologies use up to 90% less energy to produce the same amount of light and can be found in virtually every incandescent style lamp, from common desk lamps to bathroom globes.
**Make sure to dispose of all burned out lamps properly. CFLs must be placed in a sealed plastic bag to avoid exposure to the small amount of mercury contained in the lamp. Go to https://www.thinkgreenfromhome.com/ for more information on recycling CFLs.
- Plug all electronics into power strips and shut off the power strips at night. Electronics that sleep on a standby setting continue to pull a current even when “turned off.” Clunky AC adaptors on many power cables pull current too. Plugging electronic devices into a “smart” power strip not only protects them against power surges, but allows you to easily turn off multiple devices with a few simple clicks at night.
- Set your computer to utilize screen savers and sleep mode when not in use for more than 10 minutes.
- Line dry clothes. Give your dryer a break and hang your clothes on a clothes line during the drier seasons. If you crave that fresh-out-of-the-dryer softness, you can fluff up line-dried clothes in the dryer for less than 10 minutes on the lowest setting.
Reduce Water Consumption
Every drop of water you use in your home must go through a rigorous treatment process that is both land and energy intensive. Incorporating water conservation best practices in the home helps to preserve and maintain the quality of this precious resource for future generations.
- Replace old leaky faucets and showerheads with new water-savings fixtures. Older showerheads can use as much as 5.0 gallons per minute (gpm). Newer showerheads use between 2.0 -2.5 gpm, provide great water pressure, and are available in a variety of styles and finishes.
- Replace old high water usage toilets. Today’s new water saving toilets use between 1.2-1.6 gallons per flush (gpf), compared to older toilets that use between 2.0 to as high as 4.5 gpf, and are also available in a variety of styles and finishes.
- Replace your old washing machine. According to Energy Star, the average household washes almost 400 loads of laundry each year, consuming about 13,500 gallons of water. Switching to an Energy Star-qualified top-loading (or “horizontal axis”) machine can save as much as 7,000 gallons of water per year and up to $550 in operating costs over its approximately 11-year lifetime.
- Use natural ventilation or fans in place of air conditioning during the warmer months. The cost of electrical energy is highest during the peak demand summer months. Avoid using your air conditioner by opening windows and using fans to circulate air whenever possible to save extra cash for fun summer activities.
Natural Hygiene and Green Cleaning
Adding natural hygiene and green cleaning products to your regimen reduces your exposure to harmful chemicals and reduces the risk of higher medical bills in the future. Explore the multiple uses of common household items and save some money in the process. Many of the products we use on a regular basis can be used for a variety of purposes.
- Cooking oils: Extra virgin olive oil is a heart-friendly cooking oil. But did you know that it is also excellent for your skin and hair? A little olive oil applied after a bath keeps fights dry skin and keeps hair soft and silky. Coconut and sesame are just two examples of other versatile cooking oils that can double as a luscious skin, hair or lip treatment as well.
- Fragrant herbs, fruits and spices: Cloves, orange peels, lemon peels and cinnamon can be boiled to freshen the air in your home. Pure vanilla extract on a cotton ball in a small saucer is also great at removing car or refrigerator odors. To remove strong cooking smells like fish, sprinkle an aluminum pie pan with cinnamon, nutmeg, and a dash of orange essential oil – place in the warm oven, and let it sit as the oven cools.
Did you know?
The average family stores and uses up to 5 different chemical based cleaners for simple household chores. This practice contributes to the countless numbers of chemical laced bottles ending up in our landfills and a variety of health ailments ranging from contact allergies and poisoning to more serious and life threatening chronic diseases like asthma and cancers. Luckily, there a variety of natural cleaning alternatives you can use to keep your home clean, including:
- BAKING SODA (sodium bicarbonate): An all-purpose, non-toxic cleaner. Cleans,deodorizes, removes stains and softens fabrics.
- CASTILE and VEGETABLE OIL BASED SOAPS: Cleans everything.
- CLUB SODA: An excellent stain remover for carpets.
- CORNSTARCH: Starches clothes, absorbs oil and grease.
- HERBS and ESSENTIAL OILS: For disinfecting and fragrance.
- LEMON JUICE: Cuts through grease and removes perspiration and other stains from clothing. A natural bleach alternative.
- SALT (sodium chloride): An abrasive.
- TOOTHPASTE:A mild abrasive. Can be used in place of metal cleaners like TarnX to scrub clean small items like silver jewelry.
- VINEGAR (acetic acid): Cuts grease, removes stains and is an excellent water softener.
- WASHING SODA (sodium carbonate): Cleans clothes, softens water, cuts grease and disinfects. Increases the cleaning power of soap.
Keep in mind too, that if it’s bad for the environment it’s probably bad for you as well.
Here’s a quick and simple cleaning solution you can make yourself for most of your common cleanup needs:
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 10 drops of lemon, orange, or lavender essential oil
Mix in an old, thoroughly rinsed spray bottle spared from the trash bin. Make sure to shake bottle before each use for a delightfully fresh smelling all purpose cleaner.
It only takes a small number of enjoyable changes to your daily routine to make a significant and positive impact on the environment and your own personal well-being.