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On the hunt for the right stuff to furnish your green home or office? When you’re looking to boost your decor, it behooves both you and Mother Earth to choose vintage furniture whenever possible. Buying secondhand furniture and decor is not only a fun way to express your unique style, it’s a great way to ensure that your hard earned dollars are not trashing the planet. Another bonus of vintage furniture: it can save you loads of cash for more fun stuff (like gadgets and new bicycles!)

One of the main benefits of choosing vintage is that you are saving all the raw materials and energy used in the manufacturing and transport of new furniture, known as embodied energy. By choosing secondhand, you’re helping to keep resources in the ground, reducing the amount of waste in your community, and encouraging recycling, upcycling, and resale.

vintage couchFinding the right vintage furniture can take some time, but checking out your local secondhand shops, flea markets, and Craigslist can lead you to the treasure you seek. Such vintage treasures might require a little elbow grease to make them look like new, but small fixes or some quick upholstery work can make a older piece better than new. You can get creative with couch covers or tapestries to cover up an especially “unique” looking couch or chair if you’re not feeling crafty.

Another good reason to choose secondhand is that new furniture contains dozens of chemicals that release into the air in a process known as “off-gassing.” New furniture, carpets, paints, and decor release dozens of chemicals (known as volatile organic compounds) into the room, leading to indoor air pollution. Choosing vintage furniture is a way to decrease the amount of VOCs in the home or office and keep your family safer.

But of course, one of the most pressing reasons to choose vintage is that is saves hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars. Newer couches can cost anywhere from $1,500-$5,000, while secondhand couches almost always come in under $1,000. The difference is not as huge – but there are definitely savings to be had– for other items like beds, chairs, dining sets and decor. If you’re not saving, you might be shopping at the wrong thrift store!

And if you’re on the other side and looking to ditch your furniture, you can make a big dent in your waste load by donating or sharing your used stuff. Some thrift stores will take furniture (some will even pick it up), but you can also check with local charities like Big Brothers, Big Sisters that collect furniture and household items for community members in need. Sometimes schools, churches, and other community groups can take items off your hands too. Avoid junk collection agencies like 1-800-Got-Junk, as they just trash the furniture. Unless your furniture has totally fallen apart or is otherwise damaged (infested with bugs or potentially hazardous), there’s probably someone ready to make your trash into their treasure.

Couch image from Flickr Creative Commons

These washing and drying tips for more efficient laundry make household chores a chance to show off your eco-consciousness!

Cold Wash Your Clothes

Did you know the average American household washes roughly 300 loads of laundry a year, and that during those loads over 90% of energy spent during a wash cycle is used just to heat the water? Seems like a pretty big deal, right? But it’s an easy solution: making a simple swap to cold water washing can eliminate 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide annually by reducing the demand for hot water. With the exception of especially dirty items, cold water will clean your clothes just as well as hot, and almost all detergents are formulated to work in cold and warm water.

More Efficiency Tips for Washing

In the market for a new washer? Make the most of each load with Energy Star washers. Newer, more efficient washers (and dryers) will use considerably less energy (about 25% less) and much less water (about 40% less). Best of all, you can reap the rewards each month with an average savings of $40. Other ways to reduce: wash full loads of laundry to maximize energy and water use. Be sure to check with state and federal rebates to see if you efficient washer can save you even more cashola.

water efficiency

Here’s another green tip: if your gym clothes or towels have that special je ne sais quoi musty stank, add half cup of white vinegar along with your laundry soap to each load. It will eliminate the stink and work as a natural fabric softener too! And, don’t worry — the vinegar washes out, so you won’t smell like a pickle!

folding drying rack

a simple indoor folding drying rack

Line Dry Your Laundry

The second step in greener laundry care is to reduce the amount of time needed for the dryer — or perhaps eliminate using it at all! You can keep your laundry vibe sparkling green by hanging your clothes to dry instead of using the machine. How much impact could it have? Dryers, all by their lonesome, use an average of 6% of total household energy. In California, an average dryer costs roughly between $0.35-$0.70 cents/hour for electric and $0.12 cents/hour for gas, which adds up quickly throughout the month, especially with a bigger household.

A better solution is to set up an indoor or outdoor clothesline, or invest in a small folding drying rack. Line drying your clothing not only reduces your energy costs, it also keeps your clothes in better shape for the long haul. Ever thought about what’s coming out of the lint trap? Those are teeny pieces of your clothes! And if hung properly, clothes will stay wrinkle free.  And, if you have the advantage of strong sunlight, your whites will get naturally bleached.

More eco tips for your laundry

If your line-dried clothes don’t dry properly due to humid or rainy conditions and acquire that not-so-delightful musty smell, toss them into the dryer for 10 minutes on low heat with some plain old baking soda. Dry, fresh clothes will be yours!

Can’t make a clothesline work in your space? Here are some sustainable solutions for drying clothes if you do need to keep the dryer in action:

Infographic from NRDC, rack image from Amazon

water efficiency for showers

Shower better, not less often.

Is showertime your happy place? Who doesn’t love the relaxing, steamy experience of a hot morning or evening shower? Sorry to rain on your parade, but showers account for a whopping 17% of indoor water use. That’s an average of 40 gallons of water each day for a typical US family, which translates to 1.2 trillion gallons of water a year in the United States.

But we want you to keep up with the showering… just in a much more efficient and sustainable way. Learning how to save water will help you save money on energy and water bills, and reduce the overall water footprint of your home.

Here are some simple and affordable changes to reduce your water usage:

  • The easiest option, especially for those who really LOVE their shower, is to install water-efficient shower heads. The EPA’s WaterSense label designates products that ensure efficient water use in your home. Standard shower heads use 2.5 gallons of water per minute (GPM), while qualifying WaterSense shower heads don’t use more than 2.0 GPM; newer shower heads can get as low as 1.25 GPM with no change to pressure or flow. Quick installation of water-efficient shower heads in your home can immediately save money and water. How much? EPA estimates the average household savings at 2,900 gallons of water a year, or 370 kilowatt hours of electricity, equivalent to 13 days of power.

showerbetter-infographic

  • If you don’t want to spend the upfront cash for efficiency upgrades, the second best solution is to just take shorter showers. If an average shower in the US is 8 minutes long and the flow of a standard shower head is 2.5 GPM, that’s 20 gallons of water just for one shower. Cutting down your shower time to 5 minutes or less can go a long way towards reducing your energy and water bill.
  • Does your shower take forever to warm up? If so, you might want to think about installing a thermostatic shut-off valve. This nifty gadget is easy to install and helps minimize wasted energy and water by limiting water flow once your water reaches 95° or hotter. Just pull a cord to turn the flow back on when you’re ready to jump in!
  • If you’re in the process of designing a new home, on-demand water heaters are a great option. These small gas or electric gadgets heat water instantly on the spot, so there’s no energy or water wasted.
  • Wondering if it’s more water efficient to take a shower or bath? We can’t argue with the luxury of a bath, but it is, indeed, a luxury. Assuming you have switched to water efficient showerheads, showers will always win for the lowest amount of water usage. If you can’t give up your bubbles, Umbra from Grist advises readers create their own “water offsets” by practicing taking shorter showers or skipping a shower now and then to justify the time in the tub.

Here are some more resources for water efficiency:

Bring Your Own Bag!

reusable bags

A free reusable bag from a local store

Here’s a question: Is it morally or socially acceptable to use a product for just 20 minutes but have it linger for a thousand years in our environment? Most of us would agree: NO! However, this is the situation we face with our dependence upon single-use plastic bags.

Just how dependent are we? Across America, we toss out a hundred billion polyethylene bags EVERY YEAR. Only a very small percentage of plastic bags are recycled; the remaining bags enter our landfills or clog up our waterways and oceans, where they irreversibly alter ecosystems and marine life.

Why should you bring your own bag every time you shop? If the stats in the first paragraph were not scary enough, how about these? Renowned 5 Gyres Institute estimates that there are currently 268,000 tons of plastic floating in our oceans made up of plastic bags and single use water bottles. While many of us have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (the gigantic plastic patch found between Hawaii and California), there are actually four other plastic gyres swirling in our oceans, and all are growing rapidly.

A host of states and many countries have made progressive change towards banning single-use bags. To find out more about plastic ban legislation in your state, go to Ban the Bag for current information. To get excited about the progress being made for plastic bag bans around the world, check out this cool interactive map.

Committing to reusing bags is not just a quick fix. Instead, it is indicative of a larger behavioral shift towards thinking beyond our immediate needs and being conscious of the long-term effects of our daily actions. So, how can you make this shift? Make it easy for yourself and keep a few reusable bags handy at all times: in your purse, your car (not your trunk), a backpack, or wherever fits your lifestyle. If you need to purchase reusable bags, check out your local thrift store to find reused ones, or check with your favorite local stores to see if they offer a free bag to customers. If you need to buy some bags as a gift or just need to feel fancy, Chico Bags, Eco Bags, and Project Green Bag offer great products. You can find more tips here about shopping without plastic bags.

Want to get even crazier? Take your BYOBag commitment one step further and find alternatives to other types of plastic bags too: reusable lunch bags, produce bags, and bulk bags are all available. Solutions like this are a clean, green way to reduce your plastic impact and shift your habits. Also, how cute are these lunch bags?

reusable bags for lunch

Ditch the plastic for lunch with reusable lunch bags.

reusable produce bags

Reusable produce bags are another great solution to the plastic conundrum.

If you’re like us,  you probably have a collection of plastic bags under the kitchen sink or in the pantry just waiting to be recycled, reused or… crafted? For some innovative DIY projects, check out Saved by Love Creations and Pinterest: Reuse Plastic Bags. Who knew you could do so much with plastic bags?

Snack Taxis image and mesh bag image from Flickr; reusable bag image from Kanu Hawaii

Perhaps many of us have a love-hate relationship with public transportation? Waiting for buses and delayed train schedules can certainly be frustrating, but choosing public transport whenever possible is a great step to take for the planet and your bank account.

How much of a difference can public transportation make on your carbon footprint? Almost a third of our nation’s footprint is guzzled by the transportation sector. Of that chunk, individual vehicles are responsible for 64%! This means that changing the way you move around town is one of the quickest ways to cut your footprint down to a manageable size.

san francisco bus

Get on the bus!

The American Public Transportation Association estimates that one person can reduce his daily carbon emissions by 20 pounds, or more than 4,800 pounds a year, just by switching from driving to public transit; this translates to 10% of the entire household’s emissions. If you can’t get on the bus or train, carpooling is another great option that saves you money and time while dropping your emissions impact significantly.

Which forms of transit are the best for the planet? The US Department of Transportation calculates that heavy rail transit, like metros and subways, produce roughly 75% less in greenhouse gas emissions per passenger-mile than single-occupancy vehicles, while light rail systems produce 57% less, and bus transit 32% less. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley also conducted a full life-cycle assessment for public transit and found that even when taking into account emissions from infrastructure, manufacturing, and upkeep, public transportation still provides consumers a greener option. Innovations in hybrid or renewable technology continues to make public transport ever greener, giving us more reasons than ever to ditch the car whenever possible.

As an added feel-good bonus, public transportation has also been shown to help conserve land, reduce travel time, and spur economic development. Since public transit eliminates the need for large parking lots and highways, businesses can be closer together, helping to reduce travel time between destinations. Instead of being chopped up by ugly freeways, public transportation helps create more close-knit communities where people are more comfortable traveling on foot or on bicycles. Foot traffic is instrumental in the success of small retail and food spots, so next time you have the choice to take the bus, remember that you’re helping support the local economy thrive on various levels.

Perhaps most importantly to many of us, taking the rail, bus, or ferry can also make a huge positive change for your budget. Vehicle maintenance, parking, and fuel costs add up quickly. See how much money you could save by using public transportation with the APTA’s Fuel Savings Calculator. One writer on Treehugger shares how he has saved about $10,000 each year by using public transport. Even though public transit may require a little extra time and planning, it has the big potential to save you some serious cash for more organic food, sustainable wine or gadgets.

Want more information about the benefits of public transit? Start here: 

San Francisco bus image from Flickr

Single-use plastic and paper pervade our life: a latte, a take-out lunch, a quick snack from the local co-op, a cocktail at a picnic. We’re all complicit in this because a few cups here and there don’t seem like a big deal, right? Wrong.

Data from the EPA show that Americans generate over 251 million tons of trash a year, with paper constituting 27% and plastics coming in at 12.7%. Most importantly, of that 12.7%, 7 million tons of plastic are from disposable cups and plates alone! The EPA successfully recovered/recycled 87 million tons of trash in 2012 (no small feat, to be sure), but because recycling is energy intensive and often pricy, it’s much more important to find ways to reduce waste at the source… which is us!

It can be a challenge to fight against our ingrained throwaway mentality, but there are lots of benefits to choosing reusable lunch boxes, mugs, and utensils as often as possible. Bringing your own containers might seem weird at first (and you might get a few looks from your coworkers). But it can be healthier, cheaper and help you drop your trashy habit of single-use food containers.

resusable mug

sip in sustainable style with a stainless steel mug for your coffee or tea.

The easiest place to start? Begin using a reusable mug for your morning beverage and a water bottle for your hydration. Whether you choose fair-trade coffee or organic tea, your personal mug will keep your beverage warmer/cooler, will show off your sparkling personality, and will easily transport on your bike or car. Find mugs and water bottles of glass or stainless steel from thrift stores or splurge on some eco-luxury brands like HydroFlask. Most cafes offer a small discount for your drink when you bring your own mug. Doesn’t seem like much, but if you drink coffee each day for a year, that’s $36 of savings.

When you’re ready to take the next step, choose a reusable container for your meals. The best option for carrying food to work and school are stainless steel or glass containers with tight fitting lids. Both glass and steel are safer than plastic, they transport safely, and don’t contain harmful chemicals like bisphenol A, styrene, vinyl chloride, and phthalates, which are all often found in plastics. If you don’t feel like splurging on new containers, simply reuse the jars and containers you already have at home until you find the ones that work best for your lunchtime solutions. You will also be feeling better too, as studies show that homemade food of any type is a healthier option than restaurant food!

resuable containers

bring lunch, snacks and more in these study and sustainable containers

This action has a small upfront cost, but offers important benefits for a healthier lifestyle and decreased waste. Carrying your own food and beverage containers around town might seem a bit wacky, but once it becomes a habit it’s hard to go back to formerly wasteful ways. You’ll also be flying your sustainability flag high, and inspiring others with your super conscious choices.

reusable mug image from Amazon; Pyrex containers image from Target

water wise yard drip irrigation

Drip irrigation saves water and reduces runoff

As climate change threatens to make both energy and water resources increasingly scarce, it’s important to find ways to reduce water usage and thus reduce our energy needs — making the drop to watt connection. According to research, over 12 percent of all US energy consumption is directly related to water use. There are dozens of easy green ways to commit to reducing both energy and water in your yard and garden.

Committing to a greener land-scaping plan is one of the ways we can make a big difference in our water-energy use. An average lawn uses 10,000 gallons of water a year (not including rainfall). Taking steps to redesign your yard to include more native, drought-resistant plants, instead of (or in addition to) grass, is a wonderful way to reduce your water usage and keep your landscape beautiful. Native plants adapted to your region’s climate and soil require much less upkeep, are resistant to pests and diseases, and can help with erosion. Building a yard of native plants can help reduce pesticides and fertilizers, leading to a healthier ecosystem for other plants and animals too.

water wise yard

A water-wise yard can include a variety of plants and features.

Not ready to redesign the landscape just yet? There are still plenty of ways you can ensure your garden makes the most of its water. When possible, nuture old growth. Maintain those plants and trees already rooted in your yard to reduce the resources, nutrients, and water to needed to establish new vegetation. When choosing new items, focus on trees and shrubs when possible. Bigger plants can absorb more rainfall, reduce runoff, and absorb larger amounts of carbon dioxide (bonus: your trees can discourage your nosy neighbors from peeking in). Reduce runoff and erosion by adding compost and mulch to your soil. Compost will enrich your soil for healthier, happier plants, and work as a carbon sink for your yard.

Changing up your watering techniques can be instrumental in saving water too. When possible, it’s better to do the work of watering yourself. It’s much more efficient to manually water your plants with a garden hose or watering can; take a happy, meditative gardening break to give your little greens some water. The EPA estimates that you generally use 33% less water doing it yourself, rather than through an irrigation system. If manual watering is too impractical for your schedule and you have the spare funds, use an automatic irrigation system, specifically a drip irrigation or a water-efficient spray head, which are the most effective in getting water straight to the roots. The final tip: hopefully you’re an early bird, because the best time to water your plants is in the morning. It’s the coolest time of day, best for optimal absorption and decreased evaporation. Be mindful of the changing seasons, changing your watering routine as rainfall, heat and humidity change throughout the year.

The tips above will have you well on your way to a water-wise yard, and the great resources below can help you build a flourishing backyard ecosystem.

drip irrigation image from Flickr Creative Commons; xeriscape yard image from EPA

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