The average U.S. citizen produces about 4.4 pounds of trash per day — and that’s just looking at solid waste. Although this is a significant figure itself, physical trash isn’t the only source of waste produced by individuals on a day-to-day basis. We all produce waste indirectly, from the way we consume energy in the home to the emissions created driving our cars to work or the grocery store. The more you pay attention, the more you might realize the many ways your lifestyle has an impact on the environment. Luckily, there are many small changes you can make in your daily life to significantly reduce the waste production of your household, and support the health of the environment.
Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
Reduce, reuse, and recycle is a philosophy that seeks to limit waste in both the form of discarded items and in the form of factory byproducts. Reduce, reuse, and recycle can be successfully implemented in any area of life, including your daily home life.
Cutting your waste and pollution footprint begins with reducing how much you consume — particularly single-use plastics and other items that can add bulk to your waste. The less you use in the first place, the less you throw away. Of course, harmful waste is not only produced through municipal solid waste (MSW), but also during the production of consumer goods. Therefore, when we look at the big picture, we should be considering not only how we discard products, but also where we acquire products and how often we do so.
Because production processes can create waste that is harmful to the environment, the reduction philosophy encourages consumers to decrease their overall consumption, especially as it pertains to goods that are produced through particularly harmful industrial processes. You can approach this through many avenues, including minimalist living, the use of durable and multi-use products, and mindful sourcing. It can also be helpful to replace physical products with digital products to cut down on the use of materials such as paper. In a similar vein, another way that you can help minimize harmful factory byproducts is through reuse.
In the interest of minimizing potentially harmful factory byproducts, you can also reuse old or used products, rather than purchase new ones. You could utilize a used product for its originally intended purpose, or you could even utilize a product for a purpose that is different than what it was originally intended for. For example, you could use an old tire as a flower pot. You could even alter a product to better fulfill its new purpose. For example, you could insulate an old or unused container in order to create an outdoor house for a pet.
You can also reuse an old product for the same purpose by fixing or updating it. For example, you may choose to sew a torn clothing item rather than replace it, or add on to your porch rather than start from scratch.
Reuse can also support the “reduce” principle when you replace single-use items, like plastic bags or paper towels, with durable items that can be used over and over, like rags or cloth bags. The more you take advantage of reusable items in your daily life, the more you can reduce the overall consumption and footprint you are responsible for.
If you do need to discard an item, you can still reduce your environmental impact by recycling it. Once again, effective recycling can be a variation on the “reuse” principle. For instance, you might be able to convert old clothes into cleaning rags, turning a waste item into a tool that can be reused. However, sometimes recycling is also better achieved at the purchasing level. You can more effectively and consistently recycle items if you choose products in the first place that are recyclable or more convenient to recycle under your specific circumstances (e.g. your proximity to a recycling center, what types of recycling are available in your area, etc.).
Taking full advantage of recycling opportunities requires you to become familiar with the programs available in your community. This might include some municipal or curbside recycling programs, but it might also take the form of bringing your old goods (clothing, toys, furniture, electronics) to a thrift store, rather than discarding them. There are also many community upcycling initiatives and nonprofits that will convert old products into something new, like art or other goods.
Check out artist collectives, nonprofits, and thrift stores in your area to see what nontraditional options you might have for recycling and supporting important organizations with your donations of both money, and goods.
As with many other products we consume, energy use has an environmental impact. This environmental impact is most significant at the production stage. The most common source of energy in the United States is the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas, and petroleum, to turn turbines and generate electricity. The burning process releases harmful emissions such as sulfur dioxide into the air. As consumers, we can reduce this negative impact in two ways: by choosing less harmful energy sources, and by using less energy overall.
As stated, the burning of fossil fuels is largely responsible for harmful emissions that are released during energy production. Therefore, you can reduce your environmental footprint by using alternative energy sources. Alternative energy sources include:
- Solar power;
- Wind power;
- Geothermal power;
- Tidal power;
- Hydroelectric power;
- Nuclear power.
Some of these necessitate power usage through a company, while others you can install for your personal use (e.g. solar panels). It is also important to note that, while these alternative sources do produce fewer harmful emissions overall compared to the burning of fossil fuels, they can also harm the environment in other ways. Additionally, they all have different pros and cons in terms of things like cost and convenience. Therefore, it will be important to do some independent research on what makes sense for you.
The use of lighting is of course a relatively unavoidable part of day-to-day life. However, you can take some simple measures to reduce your footprint in this regard, including:
- Turning off lights when you leave a room;
- Using energy-efficient LED lighting;
- Incorporating more natural lighting.
Climate control is very important for the sake of both safety and comfort, and you don’t need to sacrifice those things to reduce your footprint as it pertains to using your HVAC system. Some ways that you can reduce your footprint while still utilizing an HVAC system include:
- Replacing your filters;
- Improving your insulation;
- Filling air leaks;
- Updating your ventilation system;
- Installing a programmable thermostat.
These methods can help reduce your energy usage by improving efficiency. For the same reason, it is also important to ensure that your HVAC system is serviced regularly. To help simplify this process, it can be helpful to choose a servicing company that uses HVAC scheduling software to ensure you get routine maintenance throughout the year. This can keep your heating and cooling systems in top working order, especially if you live in an area with different weather between the seasons and one system or the other goes unused for months at a time.
We use a lot of appliances in our day-to-day lives, and many of these appliances use electricity. You can continue to use these, and do so in a way that reduces your footprint. Options for doing so include:
- Choosing energy-efficient appliances;
- Choosing multi-use appliances;
- Unplugging appliances when possible.
When water is in short supply, more energy is required to process it and deliver it for household use. Therefore, by conserving water in our daily lives, we can reduce pollution, as well as the negative effects associated with water shortages.
Of course, the most obvious thing you can do to conserve water is to limit your usage of water. However, some more specific strategies you can incorporate to this end in your daily life include:
- Don’t let the water run when you are actively not using it, e.g. while brushing your teeth.
- Only wash full loads of laundry or dishes.
- Check for and fix leaks.
- Shorten your showers.
- Use a water-saving shower head.
- Water your lawn and plants during the cool parts of the day.
- Use mulch to reduce water evaporation on your lawn.
- Cool drinking water in the refrigerator rather than waiting for the tap water to run cold.
- Don’t let the hose constantly run while washing your car.
You can supplement the water you use with alternate sources, such as rainwater. This is especially useful in the case of water that is not for drinking or use in household cleaning, as it does not always need to be treated as carefully. However, it is important to review local laws and safety recommendations as it pertains to the use of alternative water sources.
Tips for Household Maintenance
Household cleaning and repairs are a necessary part of day-to-day life. You can alter how you approach these tasks slightly to promote sustainability.
Ways that you can update your cleaning routine to reduce your footprint on the environment include:
- Use of rags rather than paper towels;
- Use of a bucket of water rather than a running hose;
- Use of natural cleaning products;
- Proper disposal of things like oils, pesticides, and pet waste.
You may also retain a cleaning company to look after your home, office, or other property. Using cleaning scheduling software to have your cleaning service make either regularly scheduled appointments, or having them come for especially large projects can be a more efficient way to keep up with your property and cut down on wasted cleaning materials, paper towels, and other byproducts of your normal cleaning routine.
You can also reduce your footprint on the environment by improving the efficiency of your home. Minor upgrades to different parts of your home can accumulate into dramatic savings in your energy consumption or waste, including:
- Improved insulation;
- Installation of weather-proof seals;
- Repair of air leaks;
- Installation of solar panels.
Tips for Yard Maintenance
Yards are often a significant source of wasted resources, as well as a common source of local pollution.
You can improve sustainability and reduce pollution in regards to regular lawn care by taking the following steps:
- Mulching to save water;
- Watering your lawn and plants during the coolest parts of the day;
- Using natural pesticides;
- Reusing water;
- Cleaning up discarded materials, such as old pet toys.
When tackling a landscaping project, you can improve sustainability and reduce pollution in the following ways:
- Introducing plants that don’t require a lot of water;
- Introducing plants that are native to your area and can survive without additional fertilizer or supplementary watering;
- Introducing pollinator-friendly plants that provide natural food and habitat for important species;
- Incorporating a rain garden that can help trap and reduce runoff and support your local ecosystem;
- Incorporating permeable surfaces to further reduce runoff and restore groundwater;
- Incorporating multipurpose components, such as vegetable gardens to make your yard productive;
- Increasing efficiency by choosing a business that incorporates landscaping software, allowing you to set up recurring appointments during the season, and keep tabs on the professionals you hire to look after your yard;
- Reduce or eliminate your use of pesticides to keep your yard livable for important species of insects like pollinators;
- Work with professionals using pest control software when you do require abatement or pesticide use to ensure safe, targeted use that minimizes risk to vulnerable populations.
Additional Resources for Green Living
For additional resources on green living, take a look at the following resources:
HOA Leader: This page provides insights for implementing green initiatives in a condo or homeowners association.
Energy.gov: This is a guide for the implementation of solar energy systems at home.
Composting at Home: This is a guide published by the EPA for composting at home.
Identifying Greener Cleaning Products: This is a guide published by the EPA for choosing green cleaning products.
Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety: This is a guide published by the EPA for choosing and using pesticides.