How to Help Save the Planet on a Budget
Earth Day was on April 22nd, and this past Saturday was the Climate March. While pondering what more I can do for the planet, I was inspired to write this post. Hopefully it also inspires you to make some changes in your own life.
In my former life, I was an environmental activist. In college, I ran two environmental organizations on campus. I was trained by Sierra Club and Greenpeace and even went to jail once for protesting at the State Department (my parents weren’t pleased). I moved to DC primarily to be in a place where I could make a difference. When the climate bill failed in Congress in 2010, I was so disheartened. It’s heartbreaking to dedicate your life to something that the government and big business don’t take as seriously as they should.
But we can still do things in our own lives that make an impact. In fact, the more of us who do that, the more of an impact it will make.
But we can still do things in our own lives that make an impact. In fact, the more of us who do that, the more of an impact it will make. This list is just a start, but every little bit helps. If you have other ideas to add, please share in the comments!
1. Use low-energy light bulbs and appliances
By now, most of us probably use compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). In fact, the U.S. will be phasing out incandescent light bulbs completely by 2020. Why? Because CFLs, halogens, and LEDs use 25-80% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. They also tend to last a lot longer. So even if you’re spending more money up front, you’ll end up saving money in the long run on energy use and longevity. Plus, you’re using up less coal-powered electricity.
2. Turn off the lights
Now this is an easy thing to do. Whenever you’re not in a room, turn off the light. Better yet, unplug your phone and laptop chargers when you’re not using them. I plug in my chargers to a power strip and turn off the strip whenever I’m not using it, so that the chargers don’t use up energy. (Yes, things like chargers suck energy even when you aren’t using them.) Then, when I’m ready to use it, I just flip the power back on. It’s one easy extra step that saves a lot of energy over time. This will also help to lower your electric bill!
3. Use less plastic
Plastic is actually the worst. As you might have heard, there’s an island made of plastic floating in the ocean, and it’s twice the size of Texas. Plastic takes at least 450 years (!!!) to biodegrade. So do your part by not buying bottled water or using plastic bags. If you don’t have a reusable shopping bag with you, ask for paper bags (and then recycle them after). Get a reusable water bottle - you’ll save money this way too. Of course, you can’t always avoid plastic all together. But if you do have to use plastic, make sure to recycle it!
4. Walk when you can
We love our cars in America. I mean, we looooove our cars. That’s why we don’t have high-speed trains, and why Amtrak is so damn expensive. Anyway, in many places in this country, walking everywhere is just not an option. Even many cities are not designed to be walkable. However, if you have the option of walking somewhere safely, do it! Not only does it lower the amount of pollution you’re putting out in the world, but it gets your body moving too. Win, win. If you can’t walk to work or other activities, consider carpooling. This will also help you save money on gas!
5. Buy and donate used items
I personally get a little overwhelmed in thrift stores. There’s so much stuff, and it’s not always well-organized. However, you can find some pretty amazing things that someone else didn’t want anymore. Donating your used items cuts down on landfill waste, and allows other people to buy things that they may not otherwise be able to afford. You can even get a tax break if you claim the things that you’ve donated. Look around your neighborhood for a Goodwill, or a local thrift store like Martha’s Outfitters in NW DC.
6. Switch to clean energy
This one is obviously harder to do. We can dream of having a house covered in solar panels (just me?), but that’s not always realistic. However, some utility companies do provide the option for you to choose clean energy. In fact, I just got a letter in the mail from Pepco saying that if I sign up for 100% wind/solar energy this month, I can get a free National Park pass to use for the rest of the year.
7. Buy local
This is another idea that isn’t always the most budget-friendly. But not only is it good for the planet (less transportation pollution, no industrial farming practices, etc.), but it’s good for the local economy as well. It also feels good to know that you’re supporting local business owners. You can do this by shopping at farmers markets or finding local artists. You might have to plan ahead or save up in order to do so without busting your budget. Here’s a great resource for things that are made right in Washington, DC. I personally love DC Brau, Cherry Blossom Creative, Mallory Shelter Jewelry, and Marcella Art + Illustration. Check them out!
8. Patron companies that prioritize sustainability
Sustainability is becoming more popular. So not only is it better for the planet, but it’s increasingly good for business too. The more people demand environmentally responsible practices, the more companies will adopt them. Try to buy from companies that already believe in and practice sustainability. If there’s a company that you love that could improve, ask it to to better. Garnier Fructis used to put all of its products in non-recyclable containers. When a few young customers reached out and asked them to do better, they did. Now they have a whole commitment to going green.
9. Plant a tree
This isn’t always possible, especially if you live in a city like I do. I wish I could go outside and plant a bunch of trees in my yard! If you have a yard, plant some trees, and start a garden. You’ll help take some carbon out of the atmosphere, and you’ll be able to grow your own food. Even if you live in an apartment, you can start a container garden! If you don’t have the space to do either of these things, support organizations that plant trees. Examples of these are the Arbor Day Foundation, One Tree Planted, and Plant A Billion.
10. Call your representatives
This is last but it’s certainly not least. We need to show our elected officials that environmental protection matters, and we need them to support it. We need the EPA and we need to mitigate for climate change. We need clean air and water. Don’t let dirty energy lobbyists be the loudest voices. There’s more of us than them anyway. To find your rep, check out this helpful resource.