With global pollution at an all-time high, there’s never been a better—or more important—time to work toward a more eco-conscious lifestyle.
However, short of shelling out for a hybrid car or living entirely off the grid, the ways someone can reach their green dreams aren’t always clear—especially for people over 40.
Decades ago, environmentalism was not as much of an integral part of education and everyday life.
So, if you’re a forty-something eager to make the world a healthier place, start with these easy tips from some of the world’s top sustainability experts.
Use reusable food containers
Foregoing plastic bags at the grocery store in favor of reusable totes is a step in the right direction. But if you really want to do your part to help planet Earth, try using recyclable food containers, utensils, and straws, too.
“You may have seen painful videos of sea turtles found with plastic straws or forks up their noses. Using reusable materials is a small but effective way to reduce the plastic pollution that harms marine life,” says Eric Otjen, a member of the SeaWorld Rescue Team. “Choose to drink straw-less, or buy reusable metal ones. Drink from water bottles instead of disposable cups. If you go out to eat, bring your own containers to take home leftovers.”
Pare down your party supplies
Celebrating a work milestone, anniversary, or birthday? Choosing eco-friendly party supplies can make a major difference over time. “Instead of balloons at your birthday, use biodegradable confetti or rice paper lanterns,” recommends Otjen.
Cut down on your lawn space
Having a well-manicured lawn may look nice, but opting for a garden or planting trees will yield more benefit for the environment in the long run. “Put in native trees, shrubs, and flowering plants. By doing this, you’ll restore the ability of your garden to absorb rainfall and soak it into the ground,” says Maya K. van Rossum.
Turn off your outdoor lighting
Decorating for the holidays may make your house look festive, but if you leave those lights on for months on end, you could be having a deleterious effect on the environment. “If you put out holiday lights, consider putting out less than you did last year, and make sure you turn your lights off when you go to bed—overnight, nobody (or practically nobody) will be awake or outside to enjoy your holiday display,” says van Rossum.
“Similarly, be sure to turn off all outside lights when you don’t need them, and especially when you go to bed,” she notes. “And think about putting LED lightbulbs throughout your home—they last longer and use significantly less energy. All of these little steps can be a big money and energy saver that reduces your carbon and pollution footprint.”
Quit using chemical herbicides
If you’re eager to keep weeds and pests from destroying your garden and eating your vegetables, opt for fencing and good old-fashioned manual weeding instead of chemical herbicides and pesticides. “[Herbicide] glyphosate in the environment can be toxic to an array of living organisms including plants, animals, and microorganisms,” says van Rossum.
She adds that research shows that frogs and toads are particularly at risk, even in your garden. Instead, “use non-toxic options, hand-weeding, or handheld burning for managing weeds.”
Recycle your kids’ art supplies
If your kids are getting too old for those crayons they once loved, or their markers have dried out, don’t drop them in the trash. Recycle them! Crayola’s ColorCycle program will recycle reused markers from school classrooms, while non-profits like The Crayon Initiative will recycle old crayons and distribute new ones made from recycled materials to art programs in hospitals.
Save water with low-flow fixtures
While turning off the tap while you brush your teeth or taking shorter showers is a great place to start, if you really want to reduce your water consumption, replace some of your fixtures.
“Look for easy, inexpensive ways to reduce your usage, such as finding EPA WaterSense-labeled fixtures and low-flow faucets and toilets,” explains Matt Daigle, CEO and founder of sustainable building company Rise. “Toilets are the single largest water user in a household, accounting for up to 30 percent. So installing a more efficient toilet is your best way to reduce your water consumption.”
Add heat pumps to your home
Keeping your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer may be necessary, but oil and gas heating and traditional air conditioners eat up a ton of energy and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
“Switch away from fossil fuels—oil, gasoline, natural gas, and propane—to energy efficiency and renewable energy,” says Daigle. “A great and easy way to do this is to invest in a heat pump. Heat pumps can reduce the amount of energy needed to heat and cool your home and reduce or even limit your reliance on fossil fuels.”