Recycle. We’ve been recycling in Italy for so long that I wince when I see plastic and paper going into the general waste stream. Most parts of the US offer recycling now, and it’s not that much extra effort to do it. This includes composting food waste – your garden will thank you for that.
Go paperless. Most financial organizations and other companies you pay regular bills to will be happy to stop sending you paper reminders – they can send them by email instead, in most cases you can choose how far in advance of the due date you want to be reminded. And most can be paid, automatically or not, directly from your bank, so you don’t have to write out a check and use an envelope and a stamp to get it there. Heck, don’t even send paper Christmas cards. Personally, I’d prefer you called to wish me a happy holiday, and with the phone plans most of us have these days, that call will be free, or at least cost less than a first-class stamp. One online friend has just eliminated the expense and hassle of wedding invitations and formal, mailed responses: she’s doing it all via a website.
Another way to go paperless: Use cloth handkerchiefs instead of kleenex, dish cloths instead of paper towels, cloth instead of paper napkins – all can be used multiple times, then washed and reused. (“Eww gross, I don’t want to wipe my mouth with someone else’s napkin! How do I know which napkin is mine?” Personalized napkin rings.) Strictly avoid all those “convenience” wipes and other single-use cleaning products. Toilet paper and “women’s sanitary supplies” are probably unavoidable uses of paper, at least in American culture (hint: in India, you clean your butt with water, Europeans have bidets). On the other hand, with diaper services, cloth diapers are a viable alternative to plastic ones in this country.
Do you really need newspapers delivered to your door? So many of those pages are just advertising anyway, and you know you’re never going to read it all. Why not just read the news you’re really interested in online? You can get the nation’s best newspapers right on your desktop every day, free gratis.
Be conscious and conservative in your use of plastic. For example, instead of wrapping leftover food in plastic wrap or putting it in a ziploc bag, put it in a reusable plastic container with a lid. You don’t even have to buy those things, so many foods come in reusable containers (although the colorful one-pound margarine tubs of my childhood appear to be out of fashion now).
Use less heating and air-conditioning. I wish the managers of public spaces and offices would practice this. It’s ridiculous to have to take a sweater to cinemas, malls, and restaurants in summer because the air conditioning is so cold you’ll get sick without it. Likewise, it’s silly to arrive at the office in winter and instantly have to peel off layers of clothing because the heating is so damned hot. And the thermic shock of going from outside to inside, or vice-versa, probably isn’t good for you in any season.
Air-dry your laundry. Yes, there are some parts of the country and times of year when this works better than others. Where I’m living now in Colorado, a dryer is absolutely superfluous, even on “wet” days. The local homeowners’ association would probably scream if I put clotheslines in the backyard, and anything I hung on them would blow away anyhow, so I strung clothesline in the unfinished basement. I wash and hang clothes at night, they’re dry by morning. This also saves wear on the clothes, thus, in the long run, money. In Italy we’re still using wonderfully soft linen bedsheets handed down from Enrico’s parents, they must be over 30 years old.
Garden appropriately for your climate and water supply. In Colorado, that means xeriscaping instead of a lush, green lawn, which will cost you hundreds of dollars a month in water, and then you just have to mow the damned thing – and mowers are a huge source of air and noise pollution. If your activities require a lawn, there are plenty of public parks around.
You tell me! What do you do to reduce consumption, pollution, and waste?