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If every time Earth Month rolls around you wonder how you can live greener but “wondering” is as far as you ever get, read on. More than 97% of climate scientists agree that human activities have caused global climate change, according to NASA, so being more mindful of your carbon footprint is absolutely worth your time. And the good news is, it takes less time than you might think.

1. BYOBag

Single use plastic bags, like the ones you find at the grocery store, do not biodegrade so they are clogging up our dumps and our waterways. Many cities, including San Francisco, Austin, Chicago and Cambridge, Massachusetts, have banned these bags already (and many charge $0.10 for each bag you need), so if you are not already doing so, get in the habit of bringing your own bags to the grocery store. Some stores will even give you a discount for each bag you use. Keep a sack of reusable bags by the door and several in the car. If you want the coolest looking bags in the checkout line, check out the stylish bags from Envirosax. They offer 5-packs for around $30, before tax and shipping.

2. Reuse Everything

The reusable approach works at home, too. Think about all the stuff you throw out every day and ask yourself, “Could I have reused that instead?” Between the baggies for school lunches to the bottled water you’re drinking every day, you probably have a lot of room for improvement. My daughter’s school has a no trash rule, and that’s something you could institute at home (or at least a “reduce trash” rule). Replace plastic baggies with reusable pouches, and instead of purchasing bottled water, drink filtered water from a Brita pitcher and use refillable water bottles. A great resource for everything reusable is Reusit.com. From utensils to bento-style lunch boxes, they have it all.

3. You Are What You Eat

Does what you eat impact your carbon footprint? In fact, it does. According to ShrinkThatFoodFootprint, “A person’s food footprint (foodprint) is all the emissions that result from the production, transportation and storage of the food supplied to meet their consumption needs.” A lion’s share of this footprint falls into the meat and waste categories. Simply cutting back on your meat consumption, which is good for you anyway, and cutting back on food waste by buying and preparing food strategically so you don’t toss out uneaten food can impact your footprint in a very positive way. 

4. Go Au Naturale

Many household products, like cleaners and detergents contain chemicals that can be harmful to the environment because they either take a long time to degrade or are not biodegradable at all. Knowing everything there is to know about this can be a full-time job, but if you keep these few things in mind, you’ll be taking a big step in the right direction:

  • Look for products that contain ingredients that you recognize, like baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and plant-based ingredients. A good example of this is one of my favorite environmentally friendly all-purpose cleaners Dapple Pure ‘N’ Clean Everything, which contains purified water, a cleaning agent derived from coconut oil, a pH adjuster derived from fruit, baking soda and lavender.
  • Just because something is labeled “natural” doesn’t mean that it is. Read ingredient labels.
  • Avoid products that are labeled “hazardous” or “toxic.”
  • Minimize packaging use by buying large containers of products you use regularly and dispensing into smaller bottles that you reuse.

5. Create a Greener Home

You can also reduce your impact on the planet by tweaking your regular routine.

For example, if you have a dishwasher, use it regularly instead of hand washing. Studies show that dishwashers (especially those with an Energy Star label) use far less water than hand washing. You can also save extra energy by using the “fan dry” option (if available) instead of heated dry. Pre-rinsing dishes in the sink or running a dishwasher when it’s not full, however, can negate your efforts to conserve.

A similar concept applies when you’re washing clothes. Only run your clothes washer when it’s full and use cold water when you can.

When it comes to heating and cooling (which require a lot of energy and can result in costly bills), there are a lot of tricks you can use to improve your carbon footprint. In the winter, keep the oven and toaster oven open after using them, and in the summer, avoid using the clothes dryer too much, because it can heat the house. Instead, hang your clothes to dry. If your windows are not drafty, leave the shades/curtains open on winter days to take advantage of the warmth from the sun. Conversely, leave them closed in the summer. Technology can help, too: Install a programmable thermostat and set it to use as little heating or cooling as is comfortable.

Remember that many chargers use energy just by being plugged in, so unplug them when not in use. Finally, you can cut down on paper waste by opting for paperless billing. You can also opt out of direct mail in the categories of your choice (or everything from credit offers to toy catalogs) by using directmail.com.

Not only can these efforts make you a more environmentally friendly consumer, these small actions can also add up to significant savings. That could leave you a little extra money to pay off debt or work toward other financial goals. (You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, on Credit.com.)

Editor’s Note: The product recommendations in this article are the author’s alone and neither the author nor Credit.com have financial relationships with the companies listed.

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