Earth Day is Sunday and that’s a great day to high-five the planet. Mother Nature could do with more than a fist-bump, though, so we’ve compiled this list of changes YOU can make to create a greener, more Earth-loving apartment, none of which involve doing things like joining a commune or becoming Amish.
Use power strips to turn off appliances and electronics when they aren’t in use
In our shocking statistical research, we found that 40% of power use comes from “vampire” appliance drain. While this is not a Twilight reference, it does mean that your appliances are still using a LOT of power (and adding to your electric bill) just by being plugged in! If you re-plug the TV, DVD player, xBox, cable box and whatever else onto a power strip instead, you can deter their vampire ways any time they aren’t in use with the flick of one little switch.
Make your own Earth-friendly cleaning products
DIY cleaning products are quickly becoming all the rage on the interwebs, possibly because everyone is penny-pinching a bit more these days or possibly due to an increase in unfortunate incidents involving bleach. These projects sometimes get a bad wrap as time-consuming and producing less-than-stellar results, but that’s just not the case anymore. You can make about a gazillion cleaning products with just a box of baking soda, white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, borax, olive oil and water. Whether or not you actually use them to clean up after last night is up to you…
You don’t need to be a farmer or hippie to have a compost pile. In fact, anyone can compost – even urban apartment dwellers. Buy a small composting bin at the store and then add any organic matter like food scraps, hair, or bits of shredded paper in two inch layers. Every two inches, spread a layer of Mother Nature’s bounty (mulch, dead leaves, dirt) to add the nitrogen necessary for the decomposition process and in about 45 days, voila! Your own garden-ready compost will be ready to nourish tiny saplings or head out into the wide world via Craigslist or Freecycle. Get the full scoop here.
Use CF light bulbs
Have you seen the weird swirly looking light bulbs at the store that cost more than the regular bulbs? Wondering if the swirl design is what’s knocking up the price point? Wonder no more, my friend. These are compact fluorescent bulbs and, while their upfront cost is slightly higher, they last 10 times as long and use 1/3 of the energy of a regular bulb. Anyone with basic math skills can see that this is a win for both the Earth and your wallet. They also come in fun colors now, so if you ever wanted turquoise mood-lighting, this is your year. Don’t forget the crystal ball and Ouija board.
Wash your clothing in cold water
We’re not saying you have to wash all your clothes by hand on a washing board. We just mean select “Cold” on the laundry dial instead of “Warm”. That’s it. That’s all you have to do. This miniscule, zero-effort change saves 80% of the energy your washing machine uses and, in our highly scientific tests, makes absolutely no difference in how clean your clothes come out. YOU may like a nice warm bath, but your clothing is indifferent, mostly because it’s inanimate and doesn’t have feelings. If you like, you can buy detergent specifically formulated for use with cold water, but it’s unnecessary. Truly, this is the lazy man’s way to hug the planet.
Physical mail is so passé. Just ask the US Postal Service, which is currently on the brink of bankruptcy due to the utter lack of anyone mailing anything important these days. What IS still being mailed is mostly junk mail and bills. You’d be shocked at just how many trees had to die for your junk mail that you didn’t even want in the first place, so do the baby trees a favor and give them a future as big, strong grown-up trees by opting out of junk mail (brought to you by your friends at the Federal Trade Commission) and setting all your bills to paperless statements. Catalogs and newspapers are ubiquitously available in e-versions, so you can just as easily peruse this season’s shoe trends or NBA league free-throw statistics from your iPad, iPhone, laptop, Nook, Kindle, Android or any of the other 957 electronic devices for which things are now optimized.
Use grocery tote bags
Reusable tote bags have popped up everywhere recently and this trend is here to stay. Accruing 8,000 plastic bags always presented the problem of what to do with them once you pooper-scooped the results of Sir Barkley’s evening walk. It’s true that many grocery stores now offer plastic bag recycling, but the better solution is to skip the plastic altogether and use the inexpensive, super durable totes that many of those same stores are selling. These totes can hold a lot more groceries, but they also hold things like beach supplies, picnics, crafting projects and other miscellaneous things that need bags. You can never have too many bags.
Cultivate house plants
Plants are good. They clean the air, they produce oxygen, and they make you look like a responsible adult if you can keep them alive. Apartment living is not known for availability of green, outdoor spaces, so bringing the green inside can also compensate for the concrete jungle you may be traversing outside. Especially good at cleaning the air are the Areca Palm, Money Plant (real plant, not real money) and Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (hah!). Aloe plants are also easy to care for and come in handy when you get a sunburn. Plastic Ficus trees won’t do either of these things, unfortunately.
Convert to Energy Star appliances
This is a long shot, but worth a try. Energy Star rated appliances are gentler on the planet but most landlords aren’t going to run right out and replace every major appliance in your building. If your appliances are due for upgrading or repair, request Energy Star replacements. If your landlord is not enthused about the prospect, mention the difference in energy usage and be sure he knows this equates to a big karmic boost. And promise not to throw any more noisy parties if he caves in.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
An oldie but a goodie. The reason this mantra keeps being taught in school is that it’s a good one. Many people are gung-ho on the recycling part, but it’s easy to forget that this mantra is a prioritized list. The two things better than recycling are not getting rid of it (reusing it) or, even better, not getting it in the first place (reducing). Hence, opt for products with less packaging and, where possible, no packaging at all. Glass and aluminum are better choices than plastic or Styrofoam, but some stores with bulk bins will even allow you to bring in your own storage containers. It’s like bringing your own mug to the coffee shop (which you should also do), except you’re bringing your ceramic flour jar to the flour store. The store spends less on packaging, and you cut out an unpacking step when you get home from the store. Everyone wins – including Mother Earth, future generations, your cat, ladybugs and butterflies.
The illustrious author of this article, Stephanie Huey, is an itinerant writer, sub-letter of apartments and lover of craft beers. Her favorite sentences are those containing syllepsis or ones that mention Vietnamese food, of which is she is inordinately fond.