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Simple changes improve planet

Leading more climate-friendly lives is easily achievable in new year

By LEANNE ITALIE, Associated Press
Published: January 20, 2024, 5:05am
7 Photos
Emily Rodia, owner of Good Buy Supply, holds concentrated laundry soap that customers can pump into their own refillable containers at her store in Philadelphia.
Emily Rodia, owner of Good Buy Supply, holds concentrated laundry soap that customers can pump into their own refillable containers at her store in Philadelphia. (Associated Press files) Photo Gallery

NEW YORK — The fight against climate change requires the mass cooperation of industries, companies, governments and communities, but individuals have a role to play, too.

Little things make a difference and feel good, too.

At the dawn of 2024, also known as New Year’s resolution season, here’s just a handful of small, easily achievable ways to lead more climate-friendly lives:

Make the most of groceries

Food waste is an enormous environmental concern, yet it’s often ignored in the conversation about how to live more sustainably, said Lauren Phillips, associate editorial director for news at Better Homes & Gardens.

“Once you start noticing how much food you throw out, it’s a simple shift to start thinking about how you can use your excess groceries before they go bad,” she said.

Better, plan grocery shopping more strategically so you have little to no excess. Buy only what you need, even if BOGO is on!

Other steps: Commit to eating all your leftovers. Keep a sharp eye on expiration dates so you use foods in time. Buy locally grown, in-season fruits and vegetables. Invest in glass or bamboo containers for food storage. Freeze things.

Real Simple’s senior home editor, Hannah Baker, recommends beeswax wraps instead of plastic to seal leftovers when a container doesn’t work.

And then there’s composting food scraps.

“This one can be easy, so long as you consistently take your compost out and wash the bucket,” Baker said. No meat or dairy products in the compost pile, she cautions.

“For an easier solution, there are some machines like the Lomi that turn your fruit and veggie scraps into nutrient-rich plant food. Just keep in mind that they’re pricier than your standard compost bin,” Baker said.

Is takeout your routine? Jono Waks, 55, in Brooklyn requests that his orders come with no plastic utensils.

“If they give it to me, I go back and make them take it out of the bag. The Thai place down the block thinks I’m a hoot because I go back with the plastic,” he said.

How do small steps like these make him feel?

“Like a lonely drop of water in a great big ocean of environmental despair, but I can only control what I can control,” Waks said.

Buy quality

“Considering longevity in the products you purchase will ultimately cut down on how much you buy and throw away over time,” Phillips said.

That applies to pretty much everything shoppable — furniture, home goods, clothes, appliances, shoes.

“Sure, you could buy the very on-trend shirt at that fast fashion store and wear it three times before it shrinks or disintegrates, or you could buy a well made, more durable shirt from a retailer you like that you can wear for years to come,” Phillips said.

When you calculate cost per wear or cost per use, the ultimate financial burden is much lower than the money spent replacing a cheap vacuum cleaner, say, after a year or two.

Or what about shopping thrift? Finds are everywhere.

Check out antique and second-hand stores, and also see whether you can give a second life to any treasures tucked away at home.

Rent and borrow

“I rent clothes for big events, and now I don’t have a closet full of fancy dresses I’ll only wear once,” Phillips said.

Also on her rental list: Reusable moving bins for relocating, instead of a towering stack of cardboard. The library versus the bookstore.

“If you look around, you’ll be surprised by all the rental services that are available now,” she said. “You don’t have to buy items that you’ll only use a few times before they get tossed.”

Walk, bike, bus, train

Caveat: If you’re able.

If ditching the car, or Uber, sounds daunting, pledge to do it for trips of a mile or less to get started. If four wheels is the only way to go, there’s always the good old-fashioned carpool.

Try to combine errands to make fewer trips.

Break out the cloth napkins all week long

That goes for cloth towels rather than paper ones, too.

“I switched to cheery reusable cloth napkins,” said 36-year-old Rachel Cooper in Chicago. “And not only does it elevate every meal and brighten up my tablescape, but it saves paper.”

While you’re at it, skip the plastic-bag liners for small trash cans that aren’t used for messy stuff, like those in the bedroom or office.

Speaking of garbage, why not make a habit of picking up some after your daily run or walk?

And speaking of cleaning, look for eco-friendly cleaning products, including concentrates. Some brands offer the chance to refill bottles, instead of buying new ones. And concentrates contain less water than non-concentrates, so take less energy to ship.

Help birds and bees

Doug Tallamy, who teaches ecology at the University of Delaware in Newark, urges gardeners to plant more native plants to feed and shelter beneficial wildlife like pollinators.

Plant densely with more groundcovers, he said. “If you can see the ground, you don’t have enough plants, because that’s the weeds’ opportunity.”

Why not take out some lawn and replace it with native plants or a tree or two? Choose groundcovers and plantings that are caterpillar-friendly, Tallamy advised, calling caterpillars key in the local food web.

“How you treat the land under that tree makes all the difference in the world,” he said.

Lastly, he said, don’t use weed killers and quit fogging for mosquitos — he suggests a natural larvicide like Mosquito Dunk for more effective and less harmful protection that’s a lot cheaper too.

Pollinator-friendly garden patches can be as small as containers on a balcony, said Tallamy, who has proposed a Homegrown National Park, connecting all those healthy little gardens.

Other tips for more sustainable gardening — outdoors and inside too — include catching rainwater at your drainpipes, or in buckets for the garden. Capture shower water for houseplants.

Reduce juice at home

The National Resources Defense Council, an environmental action nonprofit, has lots of easy ideas for saving electricity at home.

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Start with turning things off. Don’t just hit the light switch when you leave a room, but completely turn off the TV, computer, video game console and cable boxes when they’re not in use. Or unplug them completely.

They’re sucking a little bit of energy if they remain lit up when powered down. Chargers for cellphones, tablets and other cordless devices do the same when they’re not in use but remain plugged in.

Avoid streaming video through game consoles like PlayStation or Xbox, the NRDC said. They can use up to 30 times more energy than streaming on TVs. If you do use a game console regularly, at least set it to “auto power down” mode.

Other energy-saving ideas from the NRDC: Buy smarter bulbs. An LED light bulb uses up to 85 percent less energy to deliver the same amount of light as incandescents.

Don’t run the dishwasher when it’s not full.

Set your washing machine to the appropriate water level and wash all but your dirtiest cloths in cold water. Air-dry clothing when possible. If you can’t quit your dryer, ditch the dryer sheets, Baker said.

“Dryer sheets can increase drying time, which wastes energy, plus they aren’t reusable and you can go through them super-quick,” she said. “Instead, try using reusable wool dryer balls.”

Set your refrigerator temperature between 28 and 42 degrees and your freezer between 0 and 5. Make sure both are sealed tightly. Try the dollar bill test on the doors. If the bill shut into the door easily slides out, replace the gaskets.

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