Do you ever feel like your environmentalist friends are judging you for not being as "eco" as them? Does it make you feel annoyed and/or guilty? Don't worry, even environmentalists have their "thing" they really care about, but may be weak in other areas. For instance, some environmentalists are serious about recycling or organic food, but may not adhere to other environmentally friendly practices such as biking or taking public transportation. Being an environmentalist, or whatever you call someone who seeks to reduce his or her environmental footprint, isn't an all-or-nothing approach to life.How we integrate reducing our environmental impact is intrinsically tied to what we value: our health, mitigating climate change, saving money, creating a sense of community, etc. So don't worry about going 100% green overnight, try to focus instead on impacts that affect your life, and trust us there are tons. That being said, there are some habits that are beneficial to you no matter what you are motivated by; they also happen to be things that drive environmentalists crazy when ignored. Here is our list of habits that are easy to take on and will make even your most hard core environmentalist friend proud:
- Turn off the water when you don't really need it. It is easy to leave water running when brushing your teeth, shaving, and soaping dishes or your hands in the sink. However, the sound of water running is like nails on a chalkboard for environmentalists. This is especially true in California, where the drought is in its fourth year. Although many argue that agriculture and other commercial and industrial facilities are the main water use culprits, gratitude will be sent your way for every drop of water spared.
- Take a minute and read landfill/recycle/compost signs. We know waste diversion is confusing and it is extra confusing because different cities recycle different things and the majority of manufacturers don't include information on their products about how to dispose them. However, the more waste diverted from landfills the better, not only because landfills are filling up but also because they emit methane, a greenhouse gas with 25 times more global warming potential that carbon dioxide. Don't be embarrassed, it's OK to take an extra few seconds to read signs, think about it, and sort accordingly. Just ask someone if you are still unsure about what goes where.
- Don't let your parked car idle. When environmentalists hear an engine idling, we picture carbon emissions floating up into the atmosphere and smog getting thicker by the second. For every 10 minutes your engine is off, you'll prevent one pound of carbon dioxide from being released, and save money as well. Cars only need a few seconds of idling time before driving so just turn that key and go, and try to get in the habit of taking the key out as soon as you park.
- Only accept a plastic bag if you really need it. It's OK to tell a cashier at a store that you don't need a bag and then hand carry the items out. If they really think you stole it, you can just show them your receipt and a smile. Many cities have a small tax on bags and it does seem to motivate people to use them less -- not only by bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, but also to the drug store or when clothes shopping. If your city doesn't have a tax you can just get ahead of the game and help bring down the number of bags used by an average European or American each year, which is estimated to be about 500.
- Eat all your food. About 1/3 of the food produced worldwide is wasted with the majority ending up in landfills creating methane. Although the food waste problem is systematic, with food wasted at many points between producers and consumers, consumers are still responsible for their fair share of waste. In the U.S. consumers waste about 25% of the food they purchase. Check out this John Oliver clip for the full story. Food waste can be reduced through putting less weight on sell-by, best-by, and expiration dates (which are arbitrary anyways) and buying and putting on your plate only what you think you can eat.
- Unplug electronics or use a smart power strip. Electronic devices such as microwaves, TVs, and chargers for cell phones and computers draw electricity when they are plugged in, but aren't being used (standby power). The average American household spends $165 each year on this "vampire energy". The only way to stop this unnecessary energy use is to unplug the devices when not in use or use a smart power strip to cut off power drawn from multiple sources at once.
- Turn off the light. This one might be the worst for environmentalists because it is generally well-known that leaving lights on unnecessarily uses energy, but lights are still frequently on when they don't need to be, such as when you leave a room or during the day. Incandescent bulbs and LEDs should be turned off whenever you leave a room, but CFLs are a little more complicated with the general rule that if you are going to be out of a room for 15 minutes or less go ahead and leave it on. If you need a little more motivation, turning off unnecessary lights will reduce your electric bill. Win-Win!