Every family has weird habits for saving electricity and water. Most people have heard that you should turn the lights out when you leave a room to save on the electric bill. But families in drought-ridden areas have to get more creative. In increasingly dry Sydney and California, many households save water by not flushing the toilet unless there’s #2. There’s even a rhyme for it: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down!” Many of these money-saving habits are also good for the planet, but if you’re not used to them they seem crazy! A Californian in a drought would think you’re crazy for flushing every time you pee. What other “crazy” habits could you adopt?
Check out our "crazy sustainable" questionnaire on our Instagram @csb_sustainability_office .
Ride your Bike
To some people without cars or access to fuel, biking is a way of life. Some people are even buying “Cargo Bikes” to replace cars! For the non-biker, this can seem like a tough one to work into your schedule. Everything seems so far away, or you worry about getting sweaty. Find time this summer to plan trips to places you can bike to! Picnics in the park, nearby hiking trails, and small trips to the store can be accomplished on a bike. It keeps you in shape, saves gas money, and reduces your car’s pollutants. Win-win! If your cycle is in bad shape, find your local bike store (literally, google “bike store near me”) and look for local bike workshops put on by the community. You’ll learn something, get excited, and meet a lot of great people!
Reduce your Demand for Fossil Fuels
If your energy provider uses fossil fuels to generate electricity (most providers do), your appliances are using up a trickle of oil, coal, or natural gas even while they’re not turned on.
- Turn off the lights when you leave a room
- Unplug appliances and electronic devices when they’re not in use – phone and laptop chargers, microwaves, toasters, washer/dryer, oven, coffee maker,
- Use fans and open windows to cool your house, not the thermostat
- Hang dry your clothes on a clothesline or drying rack
- Ask your energy provider where their energy comes from!
All Five R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot
Everyone knows the three R’s, but Zero-Waste guru Bea Johnson adds Refuse and Rot. Refuse is when you actively choose reusable items, like bringing your own reusable shopping bags and refusing the free plastic ones. Rot is when you compost food scraps outside, turning them into rich soil.
- Reduce your consumption by only buying what you need
- Reuse everything! Refill plastic water bottles. Use plastic and glass food jars to hold leftovers. Make DIY art out of plastic bottles. The world is your oyster and the things you throw away are still useful!
- Recycle what you can, but try not to contaminate it. Depending on your location, you can recycle glass, plastic film, and certain numbered plastics—Or not! Look up your local recycling guidelines, because they vary based on your area’s recycling program.
It might seem gross, but “If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down” might save you a lot on your water bill in addition to helping the planet. Really, urine isn’t that smelly or unclean if you’re drinking enough water, and the 3-5 gallons it takes to flush the average toilet is a lot of water for just a little urine. Aquifers across America are being depleted, and while water seems abundant now, we only need to look at California and Australia to see what happens when we lose it. Increasingly, not flushing is becoming the new normal. Watch for signs in public bathrooms encouraging water conservation and try it yourself at home.
- Flush only after you poop! Urine is safe to leave in the bowl, and flushing actually causes microscopic particles of it to fly out (google “toilet plume” if you’re curious, but even those airborne particles aren’t too dangerous).
“Compleat” your Food and Get it Sustainably
We live in a lucky time, where we can afford to discard, on average, a quarter of the food that comes into our homes. Grocery store goods are cheap and plentiful. But if wasting food sounds “crazy” to you, try these radical ideas.
- Keep leftovers. Days-old rice can be cooked into yummy fried rice, leftover pasta sauce used in new dishes and wilted celery ends boiled into a vegetable stock! Eat all of the food you buy, and check out lovefoodhatewaste.com for more info!
- Grow your own food. This can sound like a crazy leap but if you have even a little outdoor space it’s easier than you think! Buy seed packets online, at a gardening store, or even in the garden section of a supermarket. Grow your own veggies (tomatoes and greens like baby spinach are a good start) and enjoy tastier, longer-lasting produce. Champion gardeners can try canning, preserving their produce for later in pickles, soups, and jams!
- Buy local, farmer-direct, or go to farmer’s markets! If you don’t have the space or energy for your own garden, check out your local farmer’s market! You can find everything from local honey (save the bees by supporting sustainable beekeeping!) to hydroponic greens to fresh veggies. It can be more expensive to buy local but it’s frequently healthier, fresher, and tastier! Plus, you’re “buying” way less in processing and shipping costs. Bonus points for biking there!
Conversations about sustainability are most productive when they’re conversations, not lists! And not every sustainable habit is possible as written here. Talk with a friend or family member about the habits above and questions below.
How much trash does your family make per week? Check out the bag size on trash day, then think of how many people are creating that much waste every day just in your neighborhood. What can you do about it? Buying in large bulk containers (or without packaging, in your own reusable containers like mason jars or plastic bins) is a great way to cut down on the packaging you get in staple items like flour, nuts, or cereals. What else do you waste frequently?
A lot of these tips and habits save money, too. The average household wastes a quarter of the food they bring home, so if you make use of 100% of your food, you save a lot! What stops your family from adopting these policies? Sometimes it’s convenience – it’s easier to throw away paper napkins than wash cloth ones. Maybe it’s cleanliness or peace of mind: a 20-minute shower is more relaxing than a 5-minute one. Talk through the pros and cons of each of these small changes and decide how to make them worth it to your household!
It can sometimes feel like minor changes like this are meaningless. You start thinking, “What’s the point? Low-flow showerheads aren’t going to change the world.” You’re absolutely right! Just one change by one person doesn’t solve the problem, but your showerhead is part of a growing movement by individuals to care about their consumption. You can spread that movement by talking to friends and family, with a conversation starter just like this. While everyone is stuck at home for quarantine, try talking about sustainability!