I’ve always been at least a little environmentally conscious — probably made easier by drinking the
kool-aid tap water while at UC Berkeley — but lately I’ve noticed there are things that I could, dammit, should be doing greener. There are amazing articles about women who are going completely waste-free, and maybe one day I’ll be there. There’s a lot of ground to make up between where I am and where they are.
I’ve made habits of some of the obvious things already, but now that I’m not tossing my garbage down a chute every week, I’m starting to pay attention to ways I’m being wasteful. It’s time to cut back.
What I’ve Already Been Doing
1. Reusable Grocery Bags: If anyone isn’t doing this already, please start! It’s the easiest thing in the world. I keep 4-5 vinyl Trader Joes bags in my trunk, along with one cloth wine bag. I pull whichever I need out when I’m shopping, and leave them with my keys after I’m done unloading so I never forget to put them back in the trunk.
2. Reusable Water Bottles: This is so important — why pay someone to package water for you (unless, of course, you live without access to potable water)? If you don’t trust or even like your tap water, that’s fine. Just get a Brita filter and reusable bottles, and fill up with newly filtered tap water. Done. Even better, I got myself an infuser bottle, and pop in fruits or tea whenever I’m feeling particularly fancy.
3. Reusable Coffee Cups: I scored mine from a FabFitFun box a year ago and still use it to this day, but you can find great options just about anywhere. Some coffee shops will give a discount for bringing your own cup in, but if you’re like me and never find yourself at coffee shops, it’s good to just keep one around the office. Why use the paper cups if you don’t have to?
4. Recycling: I once lived with someone who would never recycle, and it drove me up the damn wall. We had the extra bin, right next to the trash can in the kitchen, but his excuse was always the same: “It all gets sorted anyway.” Even worse, he’d go so far as to say he’s “creating jobs.” *Cue dramatic eye-roll.* I’m happy to say that, of the waste I do create, 75%+ is recycled.
5. Container Gardening: For the past three years or so, I’ve always kept a few plants on my apartment balconies. These are usually herbs, jalapenos, maybe even some tomatoes when my thumb feels particularly green. I realized that whenever I needed just some cilantro for one recipe, the rest of the bunch from the grocery store would go to waste. I feel better just picking whatever I need, and even better, nobody had to transport it to my market.
6. Say No: When it comes to things like plastic straws or cup caps, receipts that could be paperless, or cardboard sleeves, you probably don’t need them 9 times out of 10. Just say no.
What I’ve Recently Started Doing
7. Scrap Gardening: I’ve been upping my garden game recently in a couple ways, but my favorite is taking the produce I buy, eating it, and then planting the scraps myself. I do this with green onions, lettuce, seeds from peppers…really whatever strikes my fancy.
8. Saving Water: I keep a (reusable) bottle of water by my bed each night, and the next morning I don’t want to drink it anymore. Well, half the bottle is still full and going to waste. Not anymore! I used to toss some into my plants and pour the rest down the drain, but now I’m keeping a handy jar next to my sink. Half-filled glasses? Toss it in the jar. Boiled water to make tea eggs or melt chocolate? Hose half-full but need to be stored? Toss that water in the jar! I’ll then use it for my garden, and keep using the water until it’s all gone.
9. Composting: I haven’t pulled the trigger on my own compost tumbler yet, but I have my eye on one for my birthday…that said, I have been saving the food scraps that can’t be replanted, but also don’t smell awful when dried and crushed down. This means used coffee grounds are flattened and left to dry on the window sill, and eggshells are rinsed and left to dry before I crush them down with a mortar and pestle. These are then stored in recycled jars until I can lovingly sprinkle them in my plants’ containers. I haven’t gotten much fancier beyond that. However, this means that my only food scraps getting tossed in the garbage are chicken bones/trimmings and the occasional banana peel.
What I Still Need to Figure Out
1. Commuting: My new job is a 15-minute drive from my house, and I should be biking there and back — that’s just an extra 15 minutes each way! There are, however, a few issues: my neighborhood isn’t as bike-friendly, and I have to wear business attire now (yay, boo). I do work with people who live somewhere in the same town, so maybe carpooling is the option.
2. Cat Litter: I love my furry brat, but she’s not the greenest aspect of my life. Okay, let me rephrase that. Keeping a cat indoors is not the greenest thing, if I don’t want her to just, you know, uh, go wherever she pleases. I’ve used natural/compostable litters like Swheat Scoop before, and I felt good about the fact that they were somewhat better for the environment, but not great about how well they always worked. I once went so far as trying to literally potty-train my cat, and she was getting it, but some people understandably aren’t wild about the idea of a cat using the restroom they’re using. What to do.
3. Better Composting: I’m still tossing those scraps that would otherwise smell up my house, so that next step is to invest in a compost system, and do it right.
4. Reusable Cutlery at the Office: I bring a packed lunch just about every day (usually just leftovers from the night before). I found these adorable, reusable, dishwasher/microwave-safe storage bowls which I’ll pack and bring into the office, but then I go and use plastic forks once I’m there. Every time I throw another little plastic fork away, I hear my old Cal roommate’s voice in my head: just bring your own to work!And she’s right. So, now I’m waiting for these reusable utensils to arrive, and spare our landfills one fork at a time.
5. Reusable Feminine Products: To all the menfolk who have gotten this far, I commend you, and yes, okay, you can skip this one. All my ladies out there, I promise never to buy another box of tampons again. I love the idea of Diva Cups over tampons, but thanks to my beautiful birth control (#ThanksObama), I’m not currently in the market. Still, for those who are, revolt against the Pink Tax with reusable pads and Thinx panties. Who says Mother Earth and Aunt Flo can’t be friends?
Still plenty of room to improve, but it’s a start. Maybe one day my garbage will fit in a tiny, Instagram-able mason jar, and I’ll have own my beehive and chicken coup and produce all my own food. Until I live in that commune, I’ll keep making realistic baby steps towards that tiny carbon footprint.
I’d love to hear any other options that might shrink this footprint down! What am I not doing? What’s worked well for you?
Tis is a 20-something recruiter, startup enthusiast, finance blogger, and proud feminist-slash-crazy cat lady. Find her on Twitter or check out the blog for lifehacks and musings on personal finance, professional growth, and enjoying the journey to early retirement.
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