Note: If you’re looking for a specific topic, hit “Control-F” (PC) or “Command-F” (Mac) and enter the word or phrase you’re searching for.
Where to Begin
Identify your WHY.
Why are you interested in making changes?
Identify the reasons behind your motivation, and make them clear to see every day: put them on your fridge, make them the wallpaper on your phone, put a note in your car or in your wallet.
Calculate your carbon footprint at www.footprintnetwork.org or earthovershootday.org.
Do a “trash audit.”
Dump out the entire contents of your trash and recycle bins.
Sort the contents into categories (e.g., food packaging, papers, other packaging, clothing).
See which pile has the most items in it.
Begin reducing your largest piles with the following tips!
Along with the trash audit, do a consumption audit/energy audit.
Check your bank statements to see where your money is going.
Is a lot going to energy use?
Is a lot going to non-essentials or frivolous purchases, or even single-use items?
Start by addressing three areas you feel might be easiest – see below for categories.
People often feel too overwhelmed to even begin.
Instead of taking on the entire project at once, feel free to take baby steps. Start with the three easiest areas.
BUT don’t stop there! Once you’ve created a habit or system that you feel comfortable with, introduce another lifestyle change.
Helpful Tips and Resources by Category
Tips and Resources
Reduce water consumption.
Turn off the water while brushing your teeth or scrubbing dishes.
Fill the dishwasher and washing machine completely when doing loads.
Use cold water for laundry — tons of energy is wasted by heating water for loads.
Take shorter showers.
Put a bucket in the shower to catch extra water, and use this water to water plants or to flush the toilet.
“If it’s yellow, let it mellow.”
Reuse water used to cook rice, pasta, veggies, etc.
Grow a food garden instead of a lawn!
Fix plumbing leaks.
Reduce consumption of animal products: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/how-does-eating-meat-impact-your-water-footprint/
Reduce consumption of the most water-intensive products:
Meat and dairy
New clothing – opt for second hand
Paper – opt for recycled
Fuel/Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Tips and Resources
Minimize driving — take a bus, walk, bike, carpool.
Avoid “same day” or other rushed shipping. This intense time frame increases greenhouse gas emissions because it prevents delivery companies from operating at maximum efficiency. Amazon has a free option to opt out of this; they even provide discounts for participating.
Reduce usage of AC/heating.
Hot days: run a fan, open your windows at night, and close them and blinds during the day.
Cold days: wear extra layers, drink tea, eat warming foods, get lots of exercise to warm the body naturally.
Reduce energy usage in the home (these tips will also save you money!)
Buy energy-efficient light bulbs (LED).
Unplug appliances, computers, etc. when not in use.
Turn off the lights when you’re not in the room.
Turn off the lights during the day.
Turn off heated dry on your dishwasher.
Turn off the oven a few minutes before food is finished cooking — the residual heat will continue to cook your food without using energy.
Keep the oven open after you're done cooking (oven off) to let hot air heat your home.
Opt for renewable energy if your budget allows: Check out this 100% renewable energy program through PG&E: https://www.mcecleanenergy.org/100-renewable/
Wash clothes in cold water and hang them to dry (saves an average of $63 a year).
Dryers use a ridiculous amount of energy.
Use an indoor drying rack in winter or an outdoor clothesline in summer.
Documentaries on this subject
An Inconvenient Truth (Netflix)
Cowspiracy (Netflix or http://www.cowspiracy.com/)
Before the Flood (Netflix or https://www.beforetheflood.com/)
Forests/Paper and Wood Usage
Tips and Resources
Think before you print! Do you really need to print it?
Use both sides of the paper.
Reduce consumption of palm oil: palm plantations are a leading cause of deforestation after animal agriculture.
Shred paper and add it to your compost pile or put it in a paper bag in your recycle bin.
Reduce paper use in general. Recycling is better than nothing, but recycling paper produces a TON of harmful chemicals and uses up a lot of energy.
Buy recycled paper or sustainably harvested paper.
Go to https://www.catalogchoice.org/ to reduce your junk mail.
Or call/email junk mailers directly and ask that your name be removed from their mailing lists.
Check out salvage yards or the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse when starting a project.
Salvage yards often have lots of wood, and the Depot has lots of perfectly good second-hand craft supplies.
Choose bamboo products when you can.
Bamboo grows really fast and takes in more carbon than trees.
Some examples of bamboo products include bamboo fabric, bamboo toothbrushes, bamboo sheets, and bamboo kitchen utensils.
Food Waste/Food-Related Sustainability
Tips and Resources
Meal plan to avoid food waste.
Compost all food waste in a home compost or your green bin, or bring it to the Seven Circles Garden (no animal products except honey, please, for the Seven Circles Garden, but they’re ok in the green bins at home).
Reduce consumption of animal products.
Support local farmers — their produce is generally unwrapped and reduces transportation emissions. Buying local also helps you buy in-season foods. https://www.contracosta.ca.gov/7549/Contra-Costa-Certified-Farmers-Markets
Purchase unpackaged foods.
Avoid plastic produce bags — make your own out of old T-shirts!
Or buy produce bags here: https://packagefreeshop.com/products/organic-cotton-net-produce-sack-large
And bulk bags here: https://packagefreeshop.com/products/drawstring-produce-bag-cotton-large-medium
Avoid paper or plastic bags — carry a reusable bag with you.
Purchase in bulk (pasta, rice, beans, lentils, dried fruit, nuts) using reusable cotton bags (see links above).
Stores that have bulk dry foods
Harvest House in Concord
Sprouts Farmers Market in Walnut Creek
Safeway in Alamo
Whole Foods and Whole Foods 365 in Concord
Documentaries on this subject:
Cowspiracy (Netflix or http://www.cowspiracy.com/ )
Sustainable ( https://sustainablefoodfilm.com/ )
Just Eat It ( http://www.foodwastemovie.com/ )
Tips and Resources
Reduce what you consume — think about purchases and their entire lifespan (production, consumption, end of life) before you purchase.
Reduce your purchases of FIRST-hand items. Try to find things you need second-hand — this reduces the impact on the planet and your wallet!
Use free programs to reduce consumption
Hold a clothing swap
Join Toy Cycle to swap toys with other mindful families
Reuse what you already have, or make purchases of reusable goods that will last a long time.
Reuse an old T-shirt to create bulk produce and dry-goods bags.
Use an old jar to hold flowers or to put food in as a gift.
Consider ALL places in your house — even things you might not think of:
Women: reduce period waste by using a menstrual cup (https://putacupinit.com/quiz/).
Babies: reusable diapers and wipes (use old cut-up clothing and spray bottle filled with water and some lavender essential oil)
Shampoo/conditioner bars and bar soap
Elate cosmetics offers refillables (https://elatebeauty.com/)
Bamboo toothbrush (https://packagefreeshop.com/products/bamboo-toothbrush-adult )
Reusable makeup wipes/cotton rounds (check Etsy)
Reusable cling wrap (https://www.beeswrap.com/)
Reusable produce bags and bulk bags (make your own from an old T-shirt or buy them here: https://packagefreeshop.com/collections/kitchen/products/organic-cotton-net-produce-sack-large )
Glass spray bottles to be filled with homemade cleaner (white vinegar and citrus peels)
Reusable water bottles (glass or stainless steel)
Reusable wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets (add essential oils to make them smell great https://packagefreeshop.com/products/bog-berry-dryer-balls )
Reusable rags instead of paper towels (make these out of old clothing)
Repair things that are broken instead of replacing them.
Get your shoes resoled instead of purchasing new ones
Dean’s Shoe repair, or A1 Shoe Repair
Get electronics repaired instead of replacing.
Get clothing altered or resewn instead of tossing it.
Altering clothing can give it new life.
Sew up small holes, reattach buttons, and take ripped clothing to a tailor.
Purchase high-quality items in the first place — it will generally save you money in the long run, and you won't have to repair them as often!
Recycle what you cannot reuse or repair.
Choose glass, metal, and paper. Avoid plastics as they do not easily recycle, but instead downcycle. Downcycling is a recycling practice that involves breaking an item down into its component elements or materials. Once the constituent elements or materials are recovered, they are reused if possible but usually as a lower-value product. For example, plastic water bottles are eventually downcycled into plastic bags, which are further downcycled into materials that can only be placed in landfill.
Recycle old electronics and clothing.
Electronics: Best Buy accepts e-waste, or participate in the Meher Schools’ annual e-waste drive.
Clothing: H&M accepts used clothing (try to repurpose first! — baby wipes, rags, makeup wipes)
Clean your recyclables — recycling plants often dump goods if they’re dirty or covered in food residue.
Don’t place your recyclables in a plastic bag. It will be thrown away.
Avoid throwing food waste into the trash can.
Start a compost pile, put the waste in the green bin, or bring it to the Seven Circles Garden (no animal products except honey, please, for the Seven Circles Garden, but they are ok in the green bins at home).
Bring reusables with you if you’re getting take-out meals or expect to bring home extra food after eating at a restaurant.
Bring Tupperware, utensils, a napkin, etc.
Bring a reusable coffee cup to the café (you might even get a discount!).
Avoid single-use plastics.
Reusable options exist for almost anything — they will likely save you money in the long run as well!
Buy things second-hand.
This saves you money and the planet’s finite resources.
When you can’t or don’t want to buy things second-hand (undies? socks? toothbrushes?) …
Sustainable companies exist for tons of items! Just do your research before buying!
Examples of helpful websites:
Wearpact.com (organic cotton clothing – does come wrapped in plastic, though)
Books on this subject (check your library!)
Plastic Free by Beth Terry
Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson
Affluenza by John De Graaf
Shoptimism by Lee Eisenberg
Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline
Documentaries on this subject:
The True Cost (Netflix or https://truecostmovie.com/)
The Story of Stuff (YouTube series)
A Plastic Ocean (YouTube)
Stores that sell goods to help reduce your waste
This is a process. No one perfectly reduces their consumption overnight. My own journey began about three-and-a-half years ago, and I still have changes I have been putting off or trying to figure out. All we can do is our best and spread the message. If one day you throw away a pound of garbage but remember to bring your coffee mug to the café, then count that day as a success and set another goal for the next day. Always remain reasonable in what you can accomplish, and take it step by step. Ask for help, do your research, and seek out inspiration. We’ve got this!
Adrienne Wallace is our gardening teacher and Sustainability Coordinator, and has a degree is Environmental Sciences.