Who remembers watching Jim Henson's Muppets and listening to Kermit the Frog plaintively warbling that "It's not easy being green"? Well, Kermit, living a greener lifestyle is easier than you might think. You don't have to live off the grid, eat nothing but organically-grown lentils harvested when the moon is in Aquarius or use a composting toilet to make a difference to the planet.
The phrase often tossed around in environmental circles is "Think globally; act locally." This doesn't just mean picking up litter in your local park and campaigning to save a local park being turned into a shopping mall (although these aren't bad places to start!). The "act locally" part refers to the place closest to you: your home and workplace.
There are four main areas of environmental concern that everybody can help do their little bit. After all, if everyone did a little bit, it all adds up! These areas are waste reduction, sustainable use of resources, conserving energy and reducing noxious emissions.
In the area of waste reduction, what you do with your household waste is the easiest thing. While it would be ideal to reduce the amount of waste packaging, etc. that you generate, this isn't always within our power to control – manufacturers seem to insist on putting masses of packaging on products and buying something with a special "green" label can be harder if you are on a tight budget. Two of the biggest items in household waste are totally recyclable – kitchen waste and paper. Other items, such as PET plastic, glass bottles and aluminium or steel cans, are also recyclable. All you need to do here is to set up a system for waste "disposal" – a bin for compostables, a bin for paper, a bin for other recyclables such as plastic, glass and metal, and a bin for non-recyclables. These don't all have to be kept in the same place. The paper bin might go in the hallway or a corner of the lounge (handy for putting the newspaper when you've finished with it). The compost bin goes outside (keep a small container in the kitchen to be emptied daily for convenience). The "recyclables" bin can go in the laundry, as can the "other rubbish".
One real bonus of eliminating kitchen waste from your regular waste disposal is that you will not have problems with animals knocking over a garbage tin or tearing a plastic garbage bag open. OK, the animals will probably raid your compost heap instead, but mess can be avoided by having an wide "stack" (the animals will eat the waste in the heap rather than dragging it out) or having a tightly sealable lid. If you have pets, you can always give leftovers and scraps directly to them – you'll save on pet food costs this way.
Local councils are now beginning to have schemes for collecting recyclable materials such as paper, cans, glass and plastic. These schemes range from having kerbside collection in special bins to a discount on dump charges if you drop of your recyclables first or even having special drop-off points for recyclables (such as a bottle bank). Make use of these after you have sorted your rubbish.
These steps, particularly recycling steel and aluminium also help to reduce our need for new raw materials. Another easy step you can do is to take good items that you no longer need (e.g. clothing, appliances, computers) to charities. Some places will even take broken down items and repair them. This will not only help conserve natural resources, it will also help raise money for a good cause.
Reducing energy use is another simple thing everyone can do. It still astounds me how many people pay barrow-loads of money to run clothes dryers when sunshine is free! Use clothes lines and drying racks. Drying racks are especially useful if you live in a rainy area – they can be used indoors, on a covered porch or outdoors, depending on the weather.
You can reduce consumption of fossil fuels and carbon emissions by walking or biking more. Instead of driving down to the gym for a workout, why not just slip on a good pair of shoes and walk around the block? If safety is an issue, go with a friend – or stay indoors and dance or use a skipping rope. You can also use muscle power to take you on short trips (to school, to the corner dairy, to the post box, etc). This way, you not only save money, reduce fuel and conserve fossil fuels, you burn calories, too!
Another simple way to save energy at home (and save on home heating costs) is to look at home heating. While double glazing and increasing your insulation in the home is one option, it may not be that easy if you are on a tight budget or live in rented property. Make the most of free sunlight and if the weather's cold, put on more clothing. It seems perfectly idiotic to have your home heated so that you can go around in a T-shirt during the depths of winter. Put on your winter woollies or polar fleece, wear warm socks and put a singlet on. You'll save money as well as energy.
The list of simple things everyone can do to live "greener" goes on and on. And the real bonus is that these simple steps don't just save the planet, they save you money, too.