Earth Day comes every April, and with it our annual reminder to be a little kinder to our planet.

Us humans generate a lot of waste and many of the things we use contribute pollution to the air, water and earth. From daily driving to grocery shopping to furnishing a home, modern living isn’t always great for our environment.

While going green can seem like a big task and the idea of global warming seems abstract or too complex to affect, there is some good news: a few small changes in your daily routine really can make a big difference in your personal footprint.

Turn the Faucet Off When Not in Use

Clean water is rapidly becoming a scarce resource, and in modern households, it’s estimated that 95% of everything that comes out of the faucet is wasted!

The average American individual uses 176 gallons of water a day, while the average African family uses just 5 gallons. If you leave the faucet running while you brush your teeth, you’ve wasted the equivalent of entire family’s daily water use in mere minutes, just to put things in perspective. Running water while doing other things around the kitchen or procrastinating before and during your shower also wastes gallons of precious h2o.

This isn’t a long-term issue either: within the next 10 years, the United Nations predicts billions of people will face water shortages due to growing demand and pollution. So, when you’re not actively washing up or getting water from the faucet, simply turn it off and conserve.

Go Vegetarian Once a Week

Livestock animals put out quite a bit of gasses, factory farms can be polluting, and the transportation required to process them and then get them to local stores makes meat a fairly large burden to the planet.

Meat is also resource intensive: one pound of beef takes 1,800 gallons of water to create versus 500 gallons for a pound of chickpea beans or 300 gallons for a pound of tofu.

While most people don’t find going fully vegetarian practical, swapping out meat for plant-based proteins like chickpeas, lentils, or soy for even one dinner a week can have a big impact over time.
Plant-based proteins come with a lot of healthy vitamins, minerals and fiber, as well as being easier on your cholesterol, blood pressure, and waistline. There are plenty of tasty ways to prepare them, too.

Swap Plastic Bottles for Glass or Metal

Disposable plastic water bottles are undeniably convenient, but an estimated 18 to 35 billion wind up in landfills each year, and plenty more end up littering oceans and the outdoors. Plastic accounts for 16% of all landfill trash, where it’ll stay for up to 1000 years before decomposing — that’s a lot of time for one quick drink.

Choosing reusable, washable bottles from glass or metal keeps your water free of plastic-leached chemicals, cuts your waste disposal, and saves you money. If you do prefer plastic, at least buy reusable bottles made from recycled materials to keep things more planet-friendly. Using a tap water filter is also a smart move over plastic-packaged water.

Choose Reusable Coffee & Tea Cups

coffee cup and saucer
Reusing your own coffee cup is a great earth-friendly move.

In the same reusable vein, bringing your own reusable coffee cup or thermos to the office or local cafe is another earth-friendly move. Most commercial cups are composed of paper and plastic or styrofoam, with the plastic and foam being especially bad for landfills.

Opt for a reusable metal, glass or recycled plastic cup instead. At the office, you’ll create less waste (an office-wide ban on disposables would also save money), and many coffee shops will knock a few cents off for using your own vessel.

Wash Some Laundry on Cold

Laundry machines use a lot of energy, the majority of which is consumed for heating. For your regular clothes and loads that aren’t all that dirty, washing on cool and only doing full loads saves energy needed to heat gallons of water. Use hot washing only for things like sheets and towels that really need to be sanitized.

Bonus: cool washing also reduces wear on your clothing, helping your outfits last longer. The reduction in energy costs saves money on your bills, and drying on low or air drying when you can further cuts your energy impact.

Take Care of Your Purchases & Choose Furnishings Wisely

Buying inexpensive items is attractive for saving your hard-earned dollars, but often times, low-quality materials wear out quick and need to be replaced much sooner — that means more trash and more spending.

Choosing quality furniture and appliances designed to last helps reduce your overall household waste, as can repairing items rather than tossing them when they break. Low-VOC paints, foams, and wood finishes mean less air pollution during manufacturing, and cleaner air inside your home as well.

When it comes to household furnishings, foams found in cushions, carpeting and mattresses can be some of the biggest offenders. Look for options that incorporate plant based materials in lieu of unsustainable petroleum and for companies that practice eco-friendly manufacturing processes.

Walk or Bike for Short Trips

man riding a bike
Riding your bike for short trips can save a lot of carbon emissions.

Driving is a treasured American pastime, but our love of cars contributes quite a bit of pollution, especially in densely populated cities. You don’t need to give up your vehicle all together to make a difference though.

Taking a brief walk or biking for trips to the corner store, to see a close-by friend, or for your workday lunch break rather than firing up your engine can save a lot of carbon emissions. Plus, you also get the perks of exercise and Vitamin D during the daytime jaunts.

Recycle The Basics

Recycling the basics can cut your household waste down dramatically, reducing what winds up landfills (where it will stay for many years after you toss it out). It also cuts consumption of new materials and the pollution produced manufacturing them.

  • Glass: never decomposes. It’s taking up space in landfills for at least one million years.
  • Plastic: takes 500 to 1000 years to compose. It’ll still be there leaching chemicals 15 to 30 generations after you throw it out.
  • Aluminum: takes 80 to 200 years to decompose. Twenty recycled cans can be made with the energy needed produce one new aluminum can.
  • Paper: decomposes quickly, but costs valuable, slow-growing trees to make.

Many local municipalities now combine recycling pickup with regular waste pickup, and several recycling programs don’t even require you to sort your recyclables. All you need to do is a have a separate bin for glass, plastic, paper and cans and they’ll take care of the rest. If your city hasn’t jumped on the green wagon yet, you can likely still find a local recycling facility that does occasional pick ups or accepts drop offs for free. Check Earth911 for local resources.

Be Easy on Your Thermostat

Air conditioning and heating make life more comfortable, but they also use a lot of energy. According to the EPA, making a couple small changes in the winter and summer can have a big impact on your footprint and reduce your bills by an estimated $70 per year:

  • In Winter: Turn your thermostat down 8 degrees during the day when no one’s home.
  • In Summer: Turn your thermostat up by 4 degrees during the day when no one’s home.

You can also be more eco-friendly by making sure windows, fireplaces and doors aren’t drafty, using your fireplace in the winter, and using ceiling fans or a dehumidifier in summer for cooler-feeling air. Smart thermostats that can be set on a schedule or optimized in other ways for efficiency make the job of going green even easier.

Also, things like wearing warmer clothing and using thicker blankets at night can reduce your need for central heating during colder months. In warmer months, use lighter, breathable cotton bedding, a fan, or open windows to cool down with less AC.

Minimize Paper Mail

Take Earth Day to check and make sure you’re signed up for electronic billing on all of your accounts. You can always print your statements if you end up needing physical copies, and some companies will even give small credits for paperless billing.

Sign up on the Do Not Mail list and opt out of prescreened credit offers to cut back even more. It’s estimated that we all receive 40 pounds of junk mail annually, at the expense of 100 million air-cleaning trees. Choose not to receive a physical phonebook if possible as well, since all of that data is readily accessible online. allows you to opt out of all phonebooks or choose which ones you receive.