I'm a person who ~cares~ about the environment.
But while I try my best to recycle, I consume copious amounts of coffee in disposable cups and I buy too much shit in plastic packaging. So, I set out to find a few small ways to be better to the planet (and also my wallet). Here are some of my favorite tricks for cutting down on waste and saving energy.
1. Convert to electronic statements and bills.
Electronic bank statements are fantastic because you can opt to receive email notifications, which I don't usually open up, but they do remind me to periodically review my account to pay my bills. For a while, I was receiving a lot of mail from my insurance company, which was a hassle to sort through, but after switching to electronic mail, I could quickly search through my email and pick out what I needed to know and what was irrelevant.
2. Buy more things at thrift stores even if they're not in perfect condition.
For clothes, you can easily fix any tears or loose buttons with a basic sewing kit. I bought this wool Anne Klein coat (with a hood!) from Buffalo Exchange for $16. It had about three rips along the seams, which I was able to sew up quickly with a needle and some black thread. Easy. And I'm not even good at sewing. Also, the great thing about getting most of my clothes at thrift stores is that by the time they're completely worn out, I'll be ready for a new wardrobe (which to be honest, happens after a year).
3. Set your fridge between 35 and 38 degrees and pull it a few inches away from the wall.
The optimal temperature of 35 to 38 degrees will keep your perishables fresh and cold, and while setting the temperature colder seems tempting, it just increases your energy bill. If you don't have a fridge that demarcates exact degrees, you can get a fridge thermometer to find out.
It helps to pull your fridge 1–2 inches away from the wall because it'll make it easier to keep your food cold.
4. Maximize the use of space in your fridge and freezer.
This keeps the temperature of the fridge consistent, so that it's not using additional energy when you're opening and closing the door. Luckily, I live with five roommates so overstuffing my fridge and freezer isn't that difficult. If you have trouble filling up extra space, you can always fill up jugs of water and stick them in the fridge.
As for the freezer, here's a great list of all the foods you can freeze.
5. Stop using paper towels and get yourself some cloth napkins.
While you can definitely buy cloth napkins, here's a really easy way to make them out of dish cloths for cheaper.
6. In addition to using reusable shopping bags, start using reusable PRODUCE bags.
So, I had no idea these miraculous things existed. Considering I cook a fair amount of fresh veggies, I dispose of 3–4 plastic produce bags weekly. The horror!! I know. The nice thing about these bags is that they keep your vegetables well-aerated so they'll last longer. (For leafy vegetables, don't seal the bag tightly, or preserve them longer by wrapping them in flour sack towels). If you use them for fruit, they'll also keep away fruit flies. You can find these mesh produce bags at The Container Store, Crate and Barrel, or on Amazon for $12. These reusable bags that remove ethylene gas are also a great option.
7. Learn what you actually can and can't recycle in your city.
8. Stop printing your plane tickets and use your Passbook.
9. Order groceries online because it's carpool for groceries.
Ordering groceries saves time, gas, and stress. Here's a list of over 50 places you can order groceries online. Just don't order groceries when there's an apocalyptic storm coming; then you must fend for yourself. 💀
10. Make sure your oven is properly insulated and updated.
You can check if your oven is properly insulated by using a an oven thermometer. Or you can try this crazy hack where you test two batches of sugar: one at 180 degrees Celsius (354 degrees Fahrenheit) and another at 190 degrees Celsius (375 degrees Fahrenheit). The one tested at the higher temperature will crystalize because of science! You can watch in detail how this works here.
11. If you love candles, try using beeswax or soy candles.
Beeswax or soy (pesticide-free and non-GMO) candles burn longer and cleaner than regular (paraffin) candles. A clean burn usually indicates fewer toxins and chemicals in the candle. Make sure you get them with a cotton wick, which also extends their burn time. If you're concerned with expensive prices, Paddywax offers $6 travel-size tins and a range of affordable soy candles in recycled glassware.
When I got a soy candle for half off(!) in Target my senior year of college, I burned it at least once a week for several hours and it lasted for the entire year. Though it was still going strong, I had to hand it off to my old roommate when I moved, and it was a tearful departure.
12. Consolidate your electronics onto strips, making it easier to save energy.
I use a combination of two surge protector power strips and one extension cord to power things in my room so I'm able to shut off all electronics with one flip of a switch before heading out for the day. You can find surge protectors here. However, don't use too many surge protectors and daisy-chain them. If you're going to use more than two around the room, don't occupy every single plug of every protector for this can cause fires.