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We’re all aware of it, but we don’t really address it. We experience it every day when we pick up a plastic utensil, but we don’t really give it a second thought as we eat our delicious takeout salad.

That convenient plastic fork will soon be tossed in the garbage – and we know better.

This is no time to be playing at riddles. We need to talk openly about our impact on the environment. Thankfully, people are more willing than ever to have this discussion. In fact, 93% of people express a general concern for the environment, and 77% of people want to learn more about sustainable living, according to a Southern Cross University study [1]. Our Earth is sturdy, but there’s only one, and we have to protect it — even if it’s a small change like choosing to swap out your plastic fork for a reusable one.

Interested in reducing your impact on the environment, but don’t know how or where to start? Here are five tips to kickstart your journey to a more sustainable life. If you believe you’re already living sustainably, this list can serve as a refresher – or maybe even introduce a new tip or two for you!

Incorporate These Small Changes and Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

1. Go Meat-Free on Mondays

So, we’re not asking you to go completely vegetarian — but we are advocating that you incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet. The benefits of reducing your consumption of meat, even if it’s just one day per week, are twofold: It can be good for your health and for the planet, too!

According to a study published by the journal Nature [2], the production of animal products generates 72-78% of all food-related greenhouse gas emissions. And the American Heart Association [3] touts that a plant-based diet can lower your cholesterol and improve your heart health. The state of New York has already implemented the idea of “Meatless Mondays” in all public schools.

The key takeaway: Reducing the consumption of meat can translate to healthier humans and fewer greenhouse gases. So why not go meatless for a day?

2. Waste Less Food

Speaking of food, reducing meat consumption isn’t the only one way to reduce your carbon footprint. Food waste accounts for a significant chunk of carbon emissions, too! According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization [4], the food we throw away contributes to 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions produced. Nearly a tenth of all greenhouse gas emissions is tied to the food we toss out – or don’t even use.

That’s a lot of CO2 and methane we could avoid injecting into the atmosphere if we simply shopped and ate smarter. Here are a few strategies to curb your food waste:

  • Save and eat your leftovers: Leftovers are the fail safe if you cook too much or buy too much food. If you make too much dinner or simply don’t eat everything you make, just store the extra food in the refrigerator or freezer to eat later. This can cut down on food waste significantly (and save you a few dollars on meals).
  • Donate unused/extra food: That’s right! Food pantries and food banks often take unused food. So, before you throw out those cans in the back of your pantry or lug them with you when you move , think about dropping them off at a food bank that feeds people in need. 
  • Shop smarter: As the old saying goes, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” This is especially true at the grocery store. One minute, you’re just getting bread and eggs; the next, you have a whole cart full of items you didn’t really need. Make a shopping list for each trip to the grocery store, stick with it, and don’t go shopping on an empty stomach.
  • Remember that expiration dates reflect food quality, not food safety: Just because the “sell by” date on food has passed, it doesn’t mean the food has expired and is bad for you. Many people are overly cautious and throw out food that’s still good just because they blindly adhere to the expiration date, as if the food somehow automatically self-destructs on that date. 

3. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle to Eliminate Single-Use Plastic

Whether you like it or not, plastic is ingrained in our daily lives — so ingrained that we actually ingest it. In fact, if you’ve recently eaten seafood or drawn water from the tap, you’ve most likely consumed microplastic, according to the journal Environmental Science and Technology [5]. It’s even found in the farthest reaches of the Earth, including Arctic ice. This begs the question:

What can we do about it? 

The easy answer is to completely eliminate single-use plastics. This includes water bottles, utensils, straws, grocery bags, and other items we use for the sake of convenience. Instead, we recommend these simple swaps, ones you can implement right now with a trip to your local Target. 

  • Get a reusable water bottle: Stop buying those cases of bottled water and take your reusable water bottle everywhere you go. A helpful app we love is called Tap [6], which enables you to find businesses who encourage you to come in and refill your reusable bottle!
  • Ditch the straw: Do you really need a straw? Not really, but we must admit it’s nice to have one when sipping on an ice-cold iced tea. So, if you yearn for a straw, opt for an eco-friendly alternative like paper, metal or reusable silicon. It’s easier than ever to eliminate this extraneous plastic waste from your life. 
  • Bring your reusable bag: Think of how often you go to the grocery store and how many plastic bags are used each trip. Some people do reuse them, but most people toss ’em after the 20 minutes of use they served toting groceries from the car to fridge. Eliminate those single-use bags and swap them for a bag you can reuse countless times. As an additional benefit, the reusable bags come in lots of unique designs, which means they’re much more fun than the single-use ones from the grocery store.

We admit that it’s hard to avoid some plastic, especially plastic packaging. Luckily, most of this plastic can actually be recycled to make more packaging. This idea of reducing, reusing, and recycling is called the “circular economy” [7]. It revolves around the idea that we continually reuse the resources we already have produced rather than constantly introducing new items and throwing them out when they no longer serve their purpose.

So, if you do end up having to use that plastic fork, be sure to wash it off and throw it in the RECYCLING bin, not the trash bin.

4. Shop Sustainable Brands

Speaking of reducing, reusing, and recycling, you can promote more sustainable practices by purchasing from brands that prioritize the environment and commit to eco-friendly practices — such as Chariot Energy! 😉

From the electricity that powers your home to the clothing you wear, or even the utensils you use to eat, choose brands that actively help the environment. For example, companies have perfected technology that transforms recycled plastic bottles into usable fabrics. Ten years ago, who would have predicted the materials used to make a shirt would include 20 water bottles?

How to spot green brands? When you’re shopping in-store, check the label, as it will reveal all kinds of facts like how much consumer-recycled plastic packaging or product contains. For products not sold in stores, such as an electricity plan, we recommend you do online research and look for things such as renewable content.

What matters is that you can really vote with your pocketbook. More and more brands are investing in green initiatives that can make a difference in the environment, so buying those eco-friendly products shows them you care.

5. Save Energy in your Home

Whether you want to save a few dollars on your electricity bill, or lower your home’s carbon footprint, you can achieve both by reducing your home’s energy usage. In fact, nearly half of your monthly electricity usage [8] is sucked away by your Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system.

Here are a few strategies to help your HVAC run more efficiently – which will can definitely lower your energy usage and electricity bill.

  • Your HVAC regularly uses the more energy than all the other appliances in your home put together. As in, there’s no need to heat and cool your home to a comfortable temperature. Program your thermostat to higher temperature for when you know you aren’t regularly at home, including work, school, and scheduled activities. Additionally, we recommend setting your thermostat as high as possible while still being comfortable during warmer months.[ 1] 
  • Weatherstripping: Don’t let all that cool or hot air escape your home! If you feel a draft in your windows or doors, your weatherstripping needs to be replaced. This super simple fix is cheap, easy to install, and could reveal significant savings on your electric bill. 
  • Natural ventilation: Why keep your HVAC on during cooler nights when you could turn it off altogether? During fall and spring, raise your windows and enjoy the cool breeze. This way of cooling your home, called natural ventilation [9], involves the wind ventilating your home through the “chimney effect.” It relies on elementary physics: Hot air rises and cool air sinks. The convection of these two forces creates a breeze that circulates air throughout the house more effectively, cutting the HVAC out of the equation altogether!
  • Blinds and curtains: This tip might seem obvious, but approximately 30% of your home’s heating energy escapes through the windows. Thus, it’s important to reduce this loss by installing window coverings such as shades and curtains. Don’t worry — there are so many options and companies on the market today! 

One Person Living Green Can Make a Difference

It really does start with one person living out their values by using eco-friendly products, choosing green companies, and putting these sustainable living tips into action. Individuals like you can make small differences that create an enormous difference.

Now, go out there and start saving the environment, one reusable straw at a time.

Sources:

  1. https://online.scu.edu.au/blog/going-green/
  2. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0594-0
  3. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/vegetarian-vegan-and-meals-without-meat
  4. http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/nr/sustainability_pathways/docs/FWF_and_climate_change.pdf
  5. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/06/you-eat-thousands-of-bits-of-plastic-every-year/
  6. https://findtap.com/
  7. https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/concept
  8. https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=10271
  9. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/natural-ventilation [ 1] 

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