The benefits of recycling are well known, but it’s important to remember that the old mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is actually a hierarchy, with recycling at the bottom.
Reducing your habits of consumption and reusing items can be far more helpful to the planet than collecting cans or newspapers, and even small changes in your consumer behavior can have a huge impact on environmental sustainability. Read on for six changes you can make in your daily life that will do more for the world than just recycling.
Ditching Bottled Water
Producing the 30 million bottles of water Americans consume each year takes an enormous amount of natural resources—in fact, it takes three times more water to make one bottle than it does to fill it up with water. Manufacturing and transporting the bottles also requires huge amounts of oil. About 80 percent of them end up landfills, creating even more pollution. Global consumption of bottled water rises every year. Cutting out this convenience in favor of tap water is one of the most effective steps you can take to reduce environmental damage.
Going Vegetarian or Vegan
Removing meat and other animal products from your diet isn’t just a way to be more humane to animals—it’s a way to be more humane to the planet as well. Raising and feeding animals for human consumption takes an immense toll on the environment, from the resources required for livestock feed to the methane produced by farm animals. A 2014 study comparing greenhouse gas emissions among different diets found that meat eaters contribute twice the amount of greenhouse gases that vegans do.
Buying in Bulk
One of the most wasteful aspects of consumer goods is their packaging, a lot of which goes straight into landfills. Bulk products have less individual packaging, generating far less consumer waste. They can also be densely packed and transported more efficiently, cutting down on oil usage. The reduced cost of packaging and shipping also makes bulk foods cheaper – like a lot cheaper. A study conducted by Portland State University found that organic bulk foods are on average 89 percent less expensive than their packaged competitors.
Washing Your Clothes in Cold Water
No one’s arguing that you need to break out a washtub and do your laundry by hand, but opting for cold water rather than hot when washing your clothes can have a major impact on energy consumption. Among the greenhouse emissions created by doing a single load of laundry, 75 percent come from the process of heating up the water. Using cold water reduces energy usage, lowers your utility bill, makes clothes last longer and still gets your laundry just as clean as warm water in most circumstances.
Thrift stores are a great example of the principle of reuse, extending the lifespan of consumer items by offering them up for resale. Secondhand items don’t just save money; they help the environment as well. By buying secondhand clothing, for example, you reduce the consumption of natural and synthetic materials used to make garments—from leather and wool to polyester and nylon. You also avoid directly supporting foreign factories that produce cheap clothing while polluting the environment with chemicals and dyes.
Signing Up for Renewable Power
While the other suggestions on this list require you to make actual changes to your own behavior and shopping habits, signing up for renewable energy only takes a phone call to your power company. It probably helps the environment the most of all. Many electric companies offer green and renewable energy programs that cost just a few dollars a month more than regular power. Signing up for green power reduces greenhouse emissions, improves environmental quality, generates jobs and creates a more stable, resilient energy system.