12 Practical Green New Year’s Resolutions #GoGreenOrGoHome

1 Ditch bottled water

This is actually a super easy one. Just stop buying bottled water, duh! It will save you a lot of trouble. No spending money on this madness, no driving gallons and gallons of water home, no carrying all these heavy bottles into your kitchen anymore.

Did you know that the water quality of tab water is generally more strictly regulated than bottled water? In Germany where we live, tab water is the best controlled food. Nevertheless, most people here are concerned and convinced that the tab water in their area is somehow not drinkable because it’s “hard water”. Guess what? “Hard water” is admittedly bad for your electric appliances – but it’s actually good for YOU! By definition, hard water is water with a high mineral content! Yes, the expensive mineral water you buy is hard water!

2 Swap disposables for reusables, packaged items for unpackaged

Another easy one 😊.

Disposables/ Packaged Items Zero Waste Options
Plastic toothbrush
Cotton pad
Reusable makeup removal pad
Razor
Double-edge razor
Shaving foam
Shaving brush + alep soap + cup
Hand soap, body wash, face wash
Alep soap
Shampoo
All sorts of lotions or creams
Cooking oil
Toothpaste
Homemade toothpaste, toothpowder
Cleaning wipes
Microfibre cloths, cotton cloths made from old clothes or towels
Cleaning products
White vinegar + water, sometimes some baking soda
Tissues
Handkerchiefs
Paper Towels
Cotton or microfibre cloth, cleaning rag
Dish sponge
Cotton cloth, cleaning rag
Dish scrubber
Wooden dish scrubber with coconut fibres
Coffee maker (pad, Nespresso)
French press
Tea bags
Tea in bulk + tea strainer
Parchment paper
Silicone baking mat
Tin foil, cling wrap
Cover food with plates instead, wrap in dish cloth
Muffin liner
Grease your muffin pan
Trash bag
Make your own origami liner (IF you happen to still generate trash that is 😜)
Disposable coffee cup
Tumbler
Bottled beverages
A refillable water bottle, preferably plastic-free (e.g. stainless steel or glass)
Disposable food containers
Jars, stainless steel lunch boxes
Disposable cutlery
Regular silverware, wrapped in a hanky
Disposable paper bags for e.g. bread Clean cloth bag
Disposable produce bags Mesh bags, laundry bags

3 Remember to take your Zero Waste Kit with you

Make it a habit to have the basics with you so you won’t be forced to use disposable items instead.

You might think that you are quite the spontaneous person, but believe me, you can still prepare for the unexpected!

Back in college I used to think my days were unpredictable because I would leave the house in the morning not knowing when I’d be back (very often a couple of days later). Well, guess what? I used to keep a toothbrush in my purse. A friend of mine with the same party-heavy lifestyle was even more prepared. She kept her toothbrush, underwear, a pair of pantyhose and sometimes a bottle of wine in her purse!

So, get to know your habits and behavior patterns and simply dump some stuff that might be useful in your bag!

Those are the items in my zero waste kit. I don’t always have everything on me though.

  1. Foldable shopping bag*
  2. Dish cloth (e.g. for wraps or grabbing some quick food on the go)
  3. Coffee tumbler
  4. Hanky purse*
  5. Clean multipurpose cloth bag (for pastries, bread, buying dried goods in bulk, or as a shopping bag)*
  6. Mesh bag for produce
  7. Silverware*
  8. Stainless steel food container
  9. Jar
  10. Water bottle*

* Things I usually carry around with me.

4 Eat less meat, dairy, and eggs

Animal products all have a massive carbon footprint. And they spoil easily, so they generate more food waste than produce. According to conservative calculations, the meat industry is responsible for 15% of all carbon emissions worldwide – which is MORE than all cars, trucks, ships, and planes together! Oh my…

Not only do meat, dairy, and eggs have an enormous carbon footprint, they also have a ginormous water footprint! To produce 1 kilogram (~2,2 lbs) of beef 15,400 liters (~4,068 gal) of water (1,849 gal/lb) is needed! Cheese needs 3,180 liters per kilogram (381 gal/lb), apples 800 liters per kilogram (99 gal/lb).

Try to stick to at least 2 cruelty-free days a week. Join #MeatlessMonday and the European #VeggieDay.

5 Cut back the coffee intake and stick to Fairtrade and organic

I have just mentioned the dismaying 15,400 liters of water 1 kilogram of beef needs to be produced. Well, coffee is even worse! It takes 18,900 liters of water to produce 1 kg of coffee (2,270 gal/lb)! 1kg green coffee has a carbon footprint between 9 and 14 kg (1 kg beef has ~13,3 kg), 1 kg apples 0,55 kg.

While coffee has become an integral part of our daily routines, and most of us are quite emotional when it comes to our beloved beverage – we need to remind ourselves it is in fact more of a lifestyle product than a real necessity. Of course, it wakes us up, keeps us fuelled, and we like the taste of it. However, it is hardly ever produced without exploitation, and it usually has to be shipped halfway around the globe. I’m not telling you to swear off coffee, I, too, still drink coffee. Not every day though, maybe one cup every 2 – 3 days. Try to slowly reduce your consumption, and consume consciously when you do.

6 Buy local and seasonal

There are a lot of great superfoods out there – but most of them are not locally sourced! I for one love avocados and bananas, but they sure as hell do not grow in the cold German climate. Neither does Chia. So for 2016 we have decided to gradually reduce these things and to be more conscious about what is actually in season. We have downloaded a seasonal produce calendar for Germany and were a bit shocked that a lot of the local veggies we were still buying were not in season, which means they were grown in energy-consuming greenhouses 😢.

This is a seasonal vegetable and fruit calendar for the UK. Look for a seasonal produce calendar for where you live.

Also check if there’s a CSA program in your area. CSA stands for Community-Supported Agriculture. CSA members pay for the running costs of a farm and in turn they get weekly shares of what the farm produces. This way you pay for the real costs of the food, not some abstract market price that might ruin the farmer. You support your local small farmer, you get super fresh produce (very often harvested on the same day), you know first-hand that it is fairtrade, it is usually great value because the middle men are cut out, and it is also very educational. We are currently looking for CSA programs in our area too 😊.

7 Only buy things to replace things, not to ADD to your possessions

Reducing your overall consumption will not only save you a surprisingly large amount of money over the course of an entire year, you will save a lot of time and effort as well! We all complain that we have too little time for what really matters. Well, don’t spend it shopping.

If you have to buy something to either replace a broken item, or in order to better reduce waste, look for secondhand items first. You know, ask your friends, go to garage sales, flea markets or your local thrift store, check local Facebook groups, Craigslist, ebay, and so on. If you cannot get what you are looking for secondhand, support your small local stores. Some things, however, are close to impossible to get secondhand or by shopping local. A plastic-free thermos or stainless steel lunch boxes for example… In these cases try to place a collective order.

8 Conquer the clutter!

Would you rather have really organized crap or no crap at all?”
(- Tico and Tina)

I’m actually a very messy person, and I hate household chores! Over the years I have come to really love decluttering. Not only is it very liberating, but having only what you truly use and need makes household chores a breeze 😁! Simply because there are fewer things to care for, less stuff that needs to be cleaned and maintained.

When you do not have a lot of stuff there really is no need to waste your time trying to find the perfect organizing system. When you only keep the important documents, it is easy to flip through the files and find what you need even if your system is a bit faulty. When your closet is not overflowing you can actually see what you have and putting an outfit together is so much faster and less frustrating.

On busy days

Grab 5-10 items in your home and put them into a box. Go for doubles (nobody really needs 2 or even more spatulas). Repeat every day.

Sort the content of the box into “recycle”, “toss”, “donate/give away” on a less busy day and get rid of that junk.

On a day where you feel productive

Declutter by category: Shoes, your wardrobe, documents, kitchenware…

Declutter by space: Your closet, the junk drawer, everything on that messy kitchen counter…

Sort into “recycle”, “toss”, “donate/ give away” and get rid of it.

9 Drive less

Walk, cycle or use public transportation where and whenever possible.

Subway U-Bahn Bochum

Go get this extra exercise 💪!

10 Reduce your paper waste

People often ask me why I don’t use paper napkins (in restaurants, at food stalls), paper towels (in public bathrooms), or paper bags (at the bakery). Aren’t they compostable and thus eco-friendly? Well, yes, they are less harmful than plastic, but they are still far from “eco-friendly”… To produce paper, trees had to be cut down, and by the way, a significant part of these trees were logged illegally. The production consumes a lot of water and energy, and a lot of harmful chemicals are used in the process. And since especially paper napkins, paper towels, and paper bags can be avoided so easily I really don’t see why I would need to use them?

  • Say no to junk mail! Put a sticker on your mailbox refusing junk mail. Cancel your loyalty cards.
  • Switch to electronic billing.
  • Use both sides. Reuse the back of old letters and envelopes for quick notes, print on both sides if you really have to print something out.
  • Use the public library.
  • Go digital. Get the digital subscription of your favorite newspaper, get an app that gives you access to thousands of magazines (i.e. Readly), and try to be more open-minded when it comes to ebooks. Somebody from the publishing industry once told me that it is kind of an open secret in the industry that letterpress printing very often takes place on a ship so that they can just dump everything into the ocean. If you really cannot tolerate ebooks and for some reason don’t have access to a public library, buy secondhand and sell the books afterwards instead of keeping them on your bookshelf without re-reading them.

11 Eliminate phantom power

When I was a kid, I was thrilled when I saw on TV that one nuclear power plant could be taken off the grid if every household in Germany would just unplug the electronic devices they were not using. I thought, that was it! How hard could it be to just unplug your appliances and to get people to do the same?

Well… Turned out it was close to impossible… I asked my parents, but they complained that they would have to turn the TV on manually because the remote wouldn’t work. The VCR time would have to get re-programmed every time we turned it on again, and my father’s radio alarm clock wouldn’t work at all if we unplugged it. Years later I tried to convince my roommates. Naaahhhh…!

Finally, the time had come, when I moved in together with my then boyfriend (now husband)! We rented an ammeter for a day and were shocked that our washing machine was constantly using 25 Watts just by being plugged in! Same for the computer monitor and many other appliances that do not even have a stand by function.

We got power strips to turn off all of our unused appliances at once. Yes, easy as that.

Over the years we have reduced the amount of appliances we own and use. We have gradually switched to LEDs, and when we needed to buy a new appliance we were very careful to choose the most energy-efficient model. The average household in Germany uses 3,512 kWh each year, the average American household 11,698 kWh. Last year, we only used 836 kWh.

So what are you still waiting for 😜?!

12 Switch to green power

It is more expensive, but trust me, if you ban phantom power from your home you can definitely afford it 😜.

Wind power plant

Try to find a provider that only offers green power. This way you can be sure that all profits they make will go into funding more renewable power generation instead of a nuclear or a coal-fired power plant. If there is none available, call your local energy company and ask if they offer renewable options.

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