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Easy ways to help your family become more eco-friendly

I am not what one would call an environmentalist but this past year, I have a new passion for recycling. When I was a missionary in Switzerland in 1993, I was amazed that every home had multiple recycling bins. Though I joked about needing a PhD in Recycling to live there, I admired how they had adapted it as their way of life.

I had lived with the guilt of not recycling for years but last summer I decided I would make more of an effort. I called my HOA to find out the recycling retrieval rates and found out I’d already been paying for it as a part of our fee.

Whoops.

A year later, I am proud to say my recycling bin has more items than my garbage can and it has required very little extra effort. My reluctant husband, on the other hand, can’t be bothered. He remained indifferent when 6-year-old Hadley and I recently staged an intervention after she read Where Does The Garbage Go?

Though I can’t teach that old dog new tricks, I have been educating my kids. When Haddie and I were departing from a restaurant last week, I pointed out the tall garbage can full of pop cans whose home would inevitably be a landfill in the future.

“I know, Mommy,” Haddie exclaimed. “After school next week, let’s go to lots of different restaurants with garbage cans and see if we can find some things to recycle.”

Whoa, let’s back up a bit here. I fear I may have created a dumpster-diving monster.

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Easy Ways to Make Eco-friendly Changes

Many of us want to make eco-friendly changes but don’t know where to start or think we don’t have the time. A couple of years ago, I was given the book The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do To Make A BIG Difference and it has been a fantastic reference for all things green. The changes are as small as using the right burner, putting a tennis ball in your dryer to speed up the process, skipping the plastic stir stick in your coffee, and this one surprised me the most: don’t throw food waste in your garbage disposal. Check out these great tips below:

Put your dryer lint in the backyard. The soft lint is ideal for birds to feather their nests and is a much more eco-friendly alternative than throwing it in the garbage. Simply place the dryer lint in a pile on the ground and wait for nesting birds to retrieve it.

Use hydrogen peroxide instead of bleach when you wash a load of whites. Bleach is toxic to marine life and has been linked to birth defects. Once it goes down the drain, its impact is irreversible. Hydrogen peroxide is just as effective. Add a cup of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide to your wash instead.

Choose the right burner on the stove when you’re making dinner. You can minimize the amount of energy you use to cook dinner by using the right burner for the right size of pan. Also avoid using a pot that is too big; it takes a lot of extra energy to heat the contents.

Throw a couple of clean tennis balls in the dryer to speed up drying time. They keep your clothes from sticking to the sides and help fluff up items like comforters and pillows.

Keep food waste out of the garbage disposal. The peach pits and cucumber peels you put in the disposal eventually end up in streams and lakes where they deprive the water of oxygen and kill aquatic life like algae and fish. Running the disposal also uses a lot of water. Instead, add food waste to a compost pile or put food scraps in the trash. Once food reaches the landfill, it biodegrades over time.

Use cloth napkins at dinner. The average American uses 2,200 two-ply paper napkins per year. Switch to cloth and you’ll keep more than 662 billion paper napkins out of the trash.

Sign up for paperless billing. Ask your bank, energy provider and credit card companies to send your monthly statements via email. Paper bills account for almost 700,000 tons of waste and 2 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Turn off your car while you wait for your kids. For every minute your car idles, it emits almost 7 grams of pollutants like nitrous oxides into the atmosphere. You can also save gas: for every 10 minutes you let your vehicle idle, you use approximately 25 gallons of gas per year.

Skip the plastic stir stick with your morning cup of coffee. Americans throw away 138 billion straws and stirrers every year. You can mix your coffee without the stir stick: just pour the sugar in first, then add the mile or cream.

Switch to eco-friendly cat litter. Over 2 million tons of non-biodegradable cat litter ends up in the landfill every year. Traditional cat litter is made from clay using a process called strip-mining, a process that has destroyed thousands of acres of land. Choose cat litter made from wheat, recycled newspaper, corn cobs or other renewable materials.

Make a few eco-friendly changes to keep mosquitoes at bay. You don’t need harsh chemicals to control mosquitoes. Standing water in your yard is a breeding ground for them. Drill holes in your planet pots and trash cans and be sure to replace the water in birdbaths, water fountains and pet bowls regularly to prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs.

Donate your old eyeglasses to those in need. The visually impaired in developing countries are in desperate need for used eyeglasses. Organizations like Lions Clubs, Goodwill Industries and LensCrafters collect used eyeglasses, repair them and distribute them around the world.

Get the junk out of your trunk. If you’re driving around with a cooler, beach chair and the kitchen sink you’re not getting good gas mileage. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk can reduce your car’s fuel efficiency by up to 2 percent. Also boost your fuel mileage by removing the roof rack. The extra weight and aerodynamic drag impact fuel efficiency.

Donate old newspaper to your local animal shelter. They use newspaper as bedding for pets awaiting adoption. Ask about donating old, clean towels as well.

Turn off the water with the main shut-off valve before you leave on vacations. You’ll prevent the faucets from dripping, the ice maker from working overtime and the toilets from running. In the winter, it’s possible for pipes to freeze and break if the water is unused for long periods of time.

Clean the kitchen with a cloth dishrag instead of paper towels. If every family in the U.S. replaced on 70-sheet roll of paper towels with a reusable alternative, it could save 544,000 trees. That adds up to 6,528,000 trees per years for families who use one roll of paper a month. If you must use paper towels, make sure they’re made from recycled content.

Buy solar lights for your home or garden. Solar lights are charged by the sun. Once the sun goes down, the self-charging lights cast a soft glow along garden paths and light up the patio.

Change the setting on your printer. Nearly one million print cartridges are throw away every day. Stores like OfficeMax and Office Depot allow you to refill you ink cartridges instead of buying new ones. Extend the life of your cartridge by printing unimportant documents in draft mode, which uses less ink (check your owner’s manual for instructions).

Donate your used athletic shoes. The rubber soles can be recycled and turned into surface material for basketball courts, athletic fields, running tracks and playgrounds all over the country. The Nike Reuse-a-Shoe program is the largest shoe recycling program in the United States.

Don’t top off your gas tank. Though it’s tempting to do, you need to leave some extra room in your gas tank to allow the gasoline to expand. Topping off may cause gas to evaporate into the vapor collection system in your car, causing the vehicle to increase its emissions.

These are just a sampling of the 365 quick tips listed in The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do To Make A BIG Difference ($14.99) by Jodi Helmer.

What small things are you doing to make a big difference?!

Photos: Canon, Best Green Home Tips, Planet Green, Lions Recycle for Sight.

Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

15 Comments

  1. Wow, these are some good tips. Good for you trying to make changes. I’m still not where I need to be but I found another great place for some helps.

  2. Thanks, I’ll go check it out. One area I definitely need to do better on (according to the list) is kitty litter. I had no idea it was so damaging.

    Maybe I need to potty train my cat. 🙂

  3. At first I thought you meant only use the burner on the right side of the stove. Haha. That is my brain without coffee! Great tips!

  4. Great list! I already do a few on the list. I didn’t know I was so green. ; )

  5. That’s why I really like this book–so many tips are really easy to do and almost no-brainers!

  6. I use the re-usable basket in my coffee maker instead of coffee filters. But I don’t compost because I think it’s gross… I need to get over it! And I need to plant a vegie garden so I have a reason to compost 🙂

  7. In Jamie’s defense, he does some composting as well as growing worms in our garage. I’d like to say it’s to help the environment but it’s just to help The Great Pumpkin’s soil. 🙂

  8. Thanks for the great tips. There were a few I never even thought about before. I realized lately how many plastic sandwich and freezer bags I was throwing away. So I decided to start washing some of them and re-using them again. Especially the freezer bags. They don’t even touch any food and I was throwing them away. Also saves money as you don’t have to buy them so often.

  9. I like that. I go through a lot of plastic wrap with my daughter’s lunch and need to be better about reusable containers.

  10. I thought I was doing good, but it sounds like there are a lot of things I can improve 🙂 I’ve tried rubbing a dryer sheet on clothes to keep mosquitoes away – not sure that it worked, and we have recycled our cloth diapers by using them for dusting and mopping floors.

  11. We’ve been recycling for years here (at home on the farm, we did, because we didn’t have trash pick up. Whatever couldn’t be recycled had to be burned on the burn pile or composted…so we had very little waste.)

    There are certain members of our extended family that can’t imagine paying MORE to recycle, but we won’t get into THAT argument. Ha.

    Anyway, we barely fill a trashcan a week, but our recycling tends to take over the world. I wish they came more than every other week. 🙂

  12. I love that small changes can make such a big difference! Our recycling continues to grow and we’ve added compost in the last several years. It makes a huge difference!

    Now I’m increasingly convicted that I should reduce my recycle bins too – in other words, how can I buy things that don’t have the additional plastic or cardboard packaging? Buying used is definitely one way to go…

    Thanks for all the great ideas!

  13. Great tips to have a green life. Once started the efforts to have an eco friendly life are getting easier and easier, and then it’s just fun.

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