April 22 is Earth Day ? a day of political and civic action focused on protecting our planet. Because every person counts when it comes to eco-friendly actions, here are 15 green challenges to try this Earth Day.
1. Take a shorter shower
Start your Earth Day on an eco-friendly note by taking a shorter shower than normal. Set a timer to really challenge yourself ? and bonus points if you keep the water on the colder side. ?Saving water reduces carbon pollution, too,? according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. ?That’s because it takes a lot of energy to pump, heat, and treat your water.? Be sure you also turn off the water while brushing your teeth. And if you have any leaky fixtures, make Earth Day the day you finally get them fixed.
2. Buy local
If you?re doing any shopping on Earth Day, make a point only to go to local establishments ? especially restaurants that serve food produced in the area. ?In North America, fruits and vegetables travel an average of 1,500 miles before reaching your plate,? according to the World Wildlife Fund. If you have a farmers market open near you, head over to stock up on fresh, local produce.
3. Green your commute
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Challenge yourself to a greener commute in the spirit of Earth Day by biking, walking or using public transit. ?If 25 percent of Americans today used mass transit or other alternatives to driving for their daily commute, annual transportation emissions nationwide would be slashed by up to 12 percent,? according to the NRDC. If ditching your car isn?t an option, at least see whether you can carpool with someone ? even if it?s just to run errands. Every little bit counts.
4. Take your car for a tuneup
Speaking of driving, Earth Day is a fitting day to take your car in for a tuneup. ?If all Americans kept their tires properly inflated, we could save 1.2 billion gallons of gas each year,? the NRDC says. ?A simple tune-up can boost miles per gallon anywhere from 4 percent to 40 percent, and a new air filter can get you a 10 percent boost.? So check your tires and schedule your car for other service if necessary to make sure you?re rolling as eco-friendly as possible.
5. Check for expiring food
Make Earth Day the day you finally clean out your refrigerator and pantry, checking for expired and almost-expired food. ?Approximately 10 percent of U.S. energy use goes into growing, processing, packaging, and shipping food ? about 40 percent of which just winds up in the landfill,? according to the NRDC. So if you find items that will expire soon, work them into your meal plan before they do.
6. Go vegan
If you eat a plant-based or mostly plant-based diet, you?ve already won this challenge. If not, at least make Earth Day a vegan day. ?Since livestock products are among the most resource-intensive to produce, eating meat-free meals can make a big difference,? the NRDC says. And who knows? You might discover some great vegan options to regularly incorporate into your meals.
7. Wash on the lowest settings possible
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If you have laundry to do, keep it as eco-friendly as possible. ?Using cold water can save up to 80 percent of the energy required to wash clothes,? according to the WWF. ?Choosing a low setting on the washing machine will also help save water.? Similarly, if you?re washing dishes, try to run a full load in the dishwasher instead of handwashing, which actually uses more water.
8. Switch off and unplug
You don?t have to go out on Earth Day and buy all new energy-efficient appliances (unless you really want to). But you can use the day to hunt for ?energy vampires? ? i.e., electronics and other appliances drawing power even when they?re not technically in use. Some examples include a computer sitting idle instead of fully shut down or even a coffee maker left plugged in just to keep that little clock functioning. Switch off and unplug what you don?t need to slay those vampires.
9. Green your lighting
Again, you probably won?t be purchasing new efficient appliances on Earth Day, but maybe you can pick up some more efficient lighting. If you haven?t already, make the switch to LED bulbs. ?LED lightbulbs use up to 80 percent less energy than conventional incandescents,? according to the NRDC. ?They?re also cheaper in the long run: A 10-watt LED that replaces your traditional 60-watt bulb will save you $125 over the lightbulb?s life.? Plus, instead of always using overhead lighting with multiple bulbs, try positioning some lamps around your home and even at work to lower your energy use.
10. Tweak the thermostat
Depending on where you live, you might be using the heat or the air-conditioning (or neither) when Earth Day rolls around. If you?re in a climate-controlled environment, tweak the thermostat just a little bit, so it kicks on less often. ?Moving your thermostat down just two degrees in winter and up two degrees in summer could save about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year,? according to the WWF.
11. Look for air leaks
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Fixing air leaks in your home can potentially save around 10 percent to 20 percent on your energy bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Not only is that great for your wallet, but the environment will thank you, too. Some common places to look are around windows and doors, baseboards, vents and fans, fireplace dampers and the attic hatch. Plus, check your fridge to make sure its seal is still strong.
12. Broaden your recycling knowledge
If you already recycle, that?s great. Definitely don?t get lazy about it on Earth Day. But how well-versed are you in recycling protocol? Recycling rules sometimes vary by community, and there?s a chance you?re unwittingly recycling something that clogs the machines or otherwise just belongs in the trash. Find your local rules, and read through them to make sure you?re doing things correctly.
13. Take special recyclables to the correct facilities
As long as you?re thinking about recycling, use Earth Day to gather any special recyclables that can?t go in your normal recycling bins, and take them to the proper drop-off facilities. Often there are recycling events on Earth Day that accept items, such as old electronics and batteries. Check your community calendar, so you don?t miss events for any special recyclables you want to get rid of.
14. Sign up for e-bills
This Earth Day challenge should only take you a few minutes. If you?re still getting paper bills or other mailers you don?t need, change your settings to get the electronic versions instead. ?In the United States, paper products make up the largest percentage of municipal solid waste, and hard copy bills alone generate almost 2 million tons of CO2,? according to the WWF. Likewise, tell companies to take you off their mailing lists for advertisements (you can find all those online nowadays anyway), and ask for digital receipts and records whenever possible.
15. Ask for eco-friendly additions at work
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You might not have as much control at your office as you do at home in terms of making the place more eco-friendly. But you still can put in some requests. Ask for eco-friendly additions, such as recycling bins if you don?t already have them or 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper products. Challenge your colleagues to bring in reusable mugs and water bottles instead of using paper or (gasp) Styrofoam cups. And if you have an office coffee pot, try to get people on board with purchasing one of the more eco-friendly coffee brands (and definitely not the single-serve coffee pods).
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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.