How To: Be a Little Greener

As a very smart frog once said, "It's not easy being green."

Props to all the purists out there, but not everyone has the passion or moral convictions to get them to commit 100% to any particular lifestyle. I consider myself an environmentalist, but not quite ready to stop washing my hair or to start using a sawdust toilet. For those of us who are eager to improve our lives and contribute positively to the world around us but aren’t ready to commit gung-ho, little changes can go along way in making a big difference. Today’s post focuses on some simple changes you can make to be a little easier on the environment.

Think Beyond the Bin
It's 2017, and one would HOPE that everyone who has a local recycling program is taking advantage to properly dispose of items made of glass, aluminum, and paper, but did you know that there are so many other things you can recycle? We have been able to find organizations that recycle mattresses, shoes, cork, and several other household products. Old bedding can be donated to animal shelters. Hazardous waste facilities properly dispose of batteries, fluorescent bulbs, and other things that can be damaging to the environment. Sure, it takes a little bit more effort, but it's nice to know they're not sitting in landfills or leaching chemicals into nearby water supplies. TerraCycle is an organization that can help you track down recycling programs or buy boxes to send in less-commonly recycled materials.

Carry Reusable Bags
By the end of this post I am going to sound like a walking advertisement for Whole Foods, but really that's just because, for me, it is the most conveniently-located store that supports the lifestyle I am striving for. I have gotten several reusable bags from WF that I use for carrying groceries, papers for grading, and even clothing when I go away for the weekend. Even if you recycle, taking disposable bags from the grocer tells producers "we need these," which only increases production. Reusing bags not only reduces waste, but it reduces the need for making MORE disposable bags. Score!

Skip One-Use Plastic
The less you need to buy, the less waste you create. It's really as simple as that. Whenever possible, I carry refillable beverage containers for my morning cup or for water on the go. Check out this awesome, somewhat scary short video on the damage of one-use water bottles: Story of Stuff.

Minimize Packaging
So many stores are offering ways to reduce packaging during your trip to the market.  Many grocers offer reusable bags for carrying produce or buying in bulk. For hardy things like apples and zucchini, I just skip the bag altogether. Who needs it? Simply refuse unnecessary packaging.  If your everyday products bulk up on extra plastic, stop buying them! If you can't live without them, write a letter to the company demanding that they change their ways. Every dollar you spend (or don't) is a vote for change.

Use Eco-Friendly Products
As someone with sensitive skin, I am drawn to products with no phosphates, sulfates, or added perfume and dyes. As an environmentalist, these products are becoming a must! I am more than happy to spend the extra dollar or two on the more earth-friendly brands. According to Seventh Generation: if every household in the U.S. replaced just ONE bottle of 25 oz. petroleum-based dishwashing liquid with a plant-derived product, we could save 5.2 million gallons of oil…

Consume Fewer Animal Products
Start educating yourself on the environmental and health costs of the typical American diet. Overconsumption of meat is not only dangerous to your health, but it wreaks havoc on the planet! Eating less meat and choosing meat that is raised in a responsible, humane manner are great steps toward ensuring a better future for your family and the environment. We're still working on the dairy, but slowly incorporating plant-based meals and snacks has helped us cut down on our food footprint.

Go Paperless
As someone who LOVES the printed word, it has not been easy for me to make the transition into the digital world. I love the smell of new books, the feel of a newspaper in my hands, the joy of penning a handwritten letter...but more paper means more trees, and I am slowly training myself to use less of it. Wish me luck.

Buy Local/Organic
As I mentioned earlier, Whole Foods is the most convenient store for me to shop and still achieve the goals I am working toward. As a national company, however, WF brings in products from all over the country and all over the world. I do the best I can to look for local labels and consume foods that are in season. Yes, I do indulge in my daily cup of coffee and the occasional piece of chocolate, which to my knowledge are not easily grown in the United States, but I try to keep non-local, non-seasonal consumption to a minimum. In the summer, when I don't have to commute back and forth to work every day, I try to find local farmers' markets. And yes, I am willing to pay the extra pretty penny to get products that I know are high-quality and responsible. We often have to scrimp and save in other areas, but for us, what we put in our bodies goes to the top of the priority list.

Consider Cloth
There is a lot of debate over whether cloth/reusable items are better than paper/disposable ones, so we like to do a little bit of both in our house, being as thoughtful as we can with the choices we make. We tend to use paper products when we're on the go and for cleaning greasy messes or ones that might carry a hefty dose of germs (like a sneeze or juice from raw meat). We use cloth for small cleaning projects, dinner napkins, and other everyday household needs. To get the most out of each, we generally buy recycled, unbleached paper products and try to use organic cotton and/or rags made out of old clothing. We also hang/line dry things like cloth diapers and napkins to minimize energy use and harness the cleaning power of the sun. I find that I am often more careless/frivolous with disposable items while I am more willing to reuse and take care of items that will be washed, so I love having cloth napkins and rags around the house!

Living in Hoboken gave me a great opportunity to get around without using my car.  I could walk for fun, for exercise, for peace of mind, and to get the things I need. It's not as easy to get around in Colorado Springs where things are a lot more spread out and public transit is less than impressive, but we try not to use our car to get everywhere when we are downtown. If it's possible for you, walk or take your bike when you can.

This list is not exhaustive and is by no means a fool-proof way to be an environmentalist, but it highlights some of the things that I do to contribute to a better planet. It's a small list, and I am hoping to expand it as I learn and grow. What do you do to be green?

Jenna is a writer, educator, wife, and mama living in Colorado with her husband and two children. She founded American Ingenue as a personal blog in 2008 after losing her mother to breast cancer, using the forum as a reminder to live life to the fullest. Jenna loves cooking, dreaming, and adventuring with her family. She has been inspired to share her experiences with others as she navigates this crazy life and strives to have "it all."