Special Report

30 Ways to Make Your Life More Environmentally Friendly

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6. Donate used goods

Donation is a particularly positive alternative to throwing away used consumer goods in the trash. Give your used clothing, appliances, and furniture to GoodWill, the Salvation Army, or a local church; computers to schools or needy families; and building materials and tools to Habitat for Humanity. Of course, these are just a few suggested organizations and any organization will do. In addition to the environmental benefits of giving these items a second life, you are helping others and may be eligible for a tax deduction.

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7. Buy products with less packaging

The waste landfills are bulked up with consumer product packaging. Containers and packaging made up the largest portion of municipal waste at almost 78 million tons, or nearly 30%, according to the EPA. Slightly more than a third gets recycled, but huge amounts end up in landfills. Packaging also adds significantly to both the cost and carbon footprint of consumer products.

When it’s not possible to avoid packaging, reuse containers, polystyrene (styrofoam) fillers, and bubble wrap, or see if your local shipping service can use them. The third best alternative, after reducing and reusing, is recycling.

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8. Avoid disposable products

Paper and plastic plates and utensils, disposable diapers, paper towels and napkins, cheap plasticware, and other non-durable consumer goods (goods designed to last for a short period of time) make up about 20% of America’s waste stream, which amounted to 50 million tons in 2015, according to the EPA.

A great concern are the greenhouse gas emissions that result from these items manufacture and disposal. Store away a quantity of durable, bargain-priced dishes, flatware, and glassware for parties and picnics. Use cloth napkins, cloth diapers, cloth rags, rechargeable batteries, durable razors, and refillable coffee thermoses for take-out coffee.

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9. Kick the bottled water habit

Americans consumed 13.7 billion gallons of bottled water in 2017, beating carbonated drinks for a second year in a row. Though America’s tap drinking water supplies are generally clean and have to meet EPA standards for potability, it’s the convenience of bottled water that makes it so popular. And consumption continues to grow as consumers move away from sugary drinks in pursuit of better health and still use bottled water to the detriment of environmental health.

According to researchers from the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, energy required to produce, transport, and chill bottled water requires up to 2,000 times the energy required to produce tap water. In addition, plastic bottles can take 450 years or more to decompose. So, yes, drink plenty of water for good health, but use a reusable water bottle or simply a glass as you pour water from your tap.

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10. Upcycle

Repurpose items that still have life in them. The internet is full of crafty ideas for reusing waste materials, from high concept artistic statements — like a chandelier from bicycle parts, an aquarium from an upright piano, or a pool table from classic car — to simple DIY projects like turning plastic bottles into planters, wine bottle corks into bath mats, and various containers into toy organizers. These kinds of reuses do not remove a large percentage of material from the waste stream, but, to the extent the reimagined objects take the place of new purchases, they save the energy and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions required for their manufacture.