1. Eat Less Red Meat
Not all meat is created equal when it comes to sustainability. Choose white over red—and no, we’re not talking about wine. Turkey and chicken are far more environmentally friendly than red meat like lamb or beef. If eaten, red meat should be an occasional treat, rather than a regular appearance on the dinner menu. If you’re going to eat it, it’s also best if it is ethically sourced. SR recommends:
Red meat is the product of a group of animals called ruminants. This includes cattle, goat, sheep, buffalo, deer, elk, giraffes, and camels. Now, while only cattle, goat and sheep feature on mainstream Western menus, all of these animals share the same type of digestive system made up of multiple stomachs, skilled at digesting tough grasses. While perfectly well-suited to the purpose of breaking down grasses, ruminant digestion has a unpleasant side effect: lots and lots of high-methane flatulence. As a highly potent greenhouse gas, methane need not be present in large quantities to have a powerful impact on the warming of our planet.
Besides, big grazers require lots of land. Whether free range or cooped up on an industrial “factory” farm, ruminants consume large quantities of natural resources— directly or indirectly—either through the establishment of grazing lands, or the dedication of vast expanses feed cultivation (corn and soy and barley are the most common). This is a huge area in comparison to other land-based animals we commonly enjoy, like chicken or turkey. Of all ruminants, cows are the most climate-damaging, generating the most emissions and requiring the most water and land.
Agriculture is a “man-made” ecosystem. Essentially, agricultural land use is an issue of sustainability grab because the creation of farmland generates GHG emissions (through the destruction of biodiversity and tree cover) and does not receive the full environmental benefits of a biodiverse ecosystem which develop naturally without large-scale human intervention.
Transitioning to 100% plant-based meals isn’t realistic for a lot of people. If you have a household full of budding athletes who are playing sports at the Ridgewood level, then meat protein can feel quicker and easier than planning out legume-heavy meals. Regardless, choice of protein has both health and environmental implications, that are worth taking into consideration:
To start reducing your red meat consumption, or meat in general, Meatless Monday’s is a tried-and-true way to turn eating less (red) meat into a habit and tradition. Finding good vegetarian or traditionally meatless recipes is a great way to start too. Some of our favorite plant-based recipes—both side dishes and mains—can be found here.
2. Choose the Best Reusable Bag for Your Needs
Unfortunately, plastic bags are just so darn useful! Cheap to produce, versatile, and able to carry heavy items, it makes sense that plastic was so readily embraced. Functionally, plastic is a “wonder” material. For the environment, it’s a pressing threat.
The problem with plastic is that it doesn’t go away. Piled up in our landfills plastics are known to take up to 1000 years to decompose. Yes, 1000 years! In the natural environment, weathering reduces that, but many plastics still take hundreds of years. Not only are they a hard-to-get-rid of eyesore, they also leach toxic chemicals into the natural environment, which are linked to health issues and diseases linked to every kind of living organism, and yes, that includes humans.
Even when they do break down, they just come apart, into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics. These are particularly harmful for living organisms, which can accumulate toxic levels of them in their body over time. This includes humans.
Anyhow, single-use plastics, as you might imagine, pile up really fast — about 50%
of all plastic produced globally every year is made up of single-use plastics. This makes them the worst type of plastic in terms of plastic pollution, and an integral part of the solution. According to the UN, we produce 300 million tons of plastic each year; of that one trillion are single-use plastic bags.
Single use plastics grocery bags took off in 1979, about a decade after single-use plastics were popularized. They are now one of the biggest threats facing the world’s seas and its inhabitants, especially due to the twin pressure of overfishing and plastic pollution.
The solution to the plastic problem is twofold: eliminate plastic and end throwaway culture. There are many innovators out there working on truly sustainable solutions to plastic packaging, but for the time being, one must be beware of claims of biodegradable or compostable plastic. Not a total lie, these labels frequently misrepresent the feasibility of it. Many of these so-called bioplastics will require special facilities to compost properly, not supplied by a backyard compost and rarely by municipal waste collection. Before grabbing for these alternatives, it’s imperative to check.
For the time being, the more reliable action is to reduce the number of single-use bags (and plastic, generally) that you consume, by either choosing to forgo a plastic carrier bag or bringing a reusable alternative. For products that are encased in plastic, you can try to look for options with the least amount of plastic packaging or none at all, although often this can be a frustratingly difficult task.
At the end of the day, what matters really matters when choosing a carrier bag—whether plastic, paper, or cloth—is how many times you are genuinely going to reuse it. This article from the Stanford Magazine lays out the dilemma at hand:
- Paper bags must be reused at least 3 times to be worth the climate cost of production
- Cotton bags must be reused at least 131 times to be on par with a plastic bag for climate-impact of production
- Single-use plastic bags are reusable, at least a few times – they just don’t look as trendy
Although a plastic bag has the lowest carbon footprint per bag, it has many more problems associated with it than its paper or cotton alternatives.
To reduce the amount of single-use plastic you consume, we recommend:
Continue to reuse all your bags including the plastics. Try to remember your shopping bags by placing them back in your car after you have unpacked your food shop and try not to accumulate new. Educate your family on this plan and why this is important.
- Choose a reusable carrier bag wisely so that you are genuinely reducing your environmental impact.
- Say no to plastic bottles (if you prefer filtered, we recommend this filter)
- When purchasing products in person or online, look for options with the least plastic packaging or none at all.
- Consider zero-waste stores or brands (brands will often be called ‘circular’)
3. Boycott Fast Fashion
While fast fashion can seem like an impossible-to-pass-up bargain, the true cost of cheap clothing is paid elsewhere: environmental contamination, unethical working conditions, and blithe consumption of huge amounts of non-renewable resources for clothing that isn’t intended to last more than a year. Americans are the world’s largest consumers of fast-fashion.
The environmental footprint of the fashion industry is enormous. Fashion is the second largest polluting industry on the planet after oil. According to a 2017 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation:
- hazardous chemicals in the textile production harm factory workers, end buyers/wearers of clothes, and contaminate the environment through their release in toxic-laden water into the lakes, rivers, and groundwater
- Global GHG emissions from textile manufacturing is greater than 1.2 billion tons annually. This is equivalent to more than all international flights and maritime shipping together.
- microfibers from cheaply made garments come out of clothing in the laundry and end up in the oceans, contributing to ocean pollution by half a million tons per year (*16 times more than cosmetics!), and harming marine life.
These tips will help you to leave fast fashion for good:
- Consider a clothes drive or clothes swap. (if you have kids, write to your school principal and HSA and ask them whether they will consider hosting one as a joint sustainability and fundraising initiative)
- Buy second-hand and embrace hand me downs. (e.g. Facebook groups: “Buy Nothing Ridgewood” and Facebook marketplace.)
- Only buy clothes you actually need.
- Invest in good quality clothes or try sustainable brands.
- Take good care of the clothes you have; fix whenever possible rather than replace.
- Rent the Runway—high end rental clothing
- Facebook Group—Buy Nothing Ridgewood (North) or (South)
- Local Consignment Stores:
- Thred up – Here you will find a comprehensive list of sustainable brands.
- Borobabi––Rent or Buy children’s clothes
4. Sustainable Laundry
a) Wash in cold water.
Washing your laundry in cold water saves 90% of the energy consumed by the average washing machine. This is because heating up water requires a lot of energy. Not only will this save you money (in the triple digits) over the course of a year in energy bills, technology has improved such that the benefits of warm water (whites stay white) or hot water (killing of bacteria) are also achievable in cold water. With the exception of truly dirty items—like reusable diapers, for example—washing in cold water is cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
b) Invest in a more energy efficient washer and dryer.
You can use the NJ Clean Energy Bill website to find out about rebates on info on looking for energy star models. You can also hang your clothes to dry when conditions are suitable.
c) Get yourself some 100% wool dryer balls.
According to the Environmental Working Group: Skip the dryer sheets and the fabric softener; they contain polluting chemicals that are bad for the environment and the air quality inside your home.
Instead, treat yourself to a couple of dryer balls. Not only do they reduce static, but they also reduce drying time by up to 50%. You can purchase them locally, including Walmart. Another sustainable alternative: put half a cup of distilled white vinegar in the washing machine during the rinse cycle; fear not, your clothes won’t smell.
d) Use liquid natural (eco) laundry detergent.
Natural (eco) liquid detergent is less likely to remove microplastics from synthetic clothing. This means there will be less microplastics in the dirty washing water overall. You can find sustainable ratings for common laundry detergents here or here.
e) Install a washing machine filter for outgoing water.
This ensures that microfibres, dyes, and other chemicals that are in the washing water don’t get flushed into the pipe system and end up contaminating our oceans. Used water after doing the laundry is returned to the pipes, which makes its way into the environment and our oceans. A filter can help—by trapping 90% of microplastics and preventing them from getting into the water supply!
5. Swap Out Paper Towels
We Americans use and throw out 13 billion pounds of paper towel annually—that’s 110 million trees and 130 billion gallons of water per year. Over 3000 tons goes into landfill where it can create methane—a highly potent greenhouse gas—which exacerbates the effects of global warming. While the paper towel has become a kitchen staple, they haven’t always been.
Paper towels are energy and resource intensive cleaning products, that are simple and easy to replace with a more sustainable alternative. We recommend cutting up used clothing and using it as cleaning rags, or alternatively, if you feel you can’t do away with paper towels altogether, swap to 100% recycled. If you go that route, we like Who Gives A Crap which donates half of profits to building toilets and improving sanitation in the developing world.
Tips to reduce the impact of paper towels:
- Invest in more sustainable alternatives, like Swedish dishcloths or reusable cloths made of cotton, linen, or hemp.
- You can compost paper towels, either in your backyard compost (unbleached paper towels are best), or in municipal compost (once we get one in Ridgewood!)
- Remember you can add paper towels to yard waste, but you can’t recycle them
- Try adding a recycling bin to the bathroom: Easy and practical: this makes life easier and reinforces the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) to family members.
6. Conserve Water in These Simple Ways
Conserving water is important because it keeps water pure and clean while protecting the environment. Conserving water means using our water supply wisely and be responsible. As every individual depends on water for livelihood, we must learn how to keep our limited supply of water pure and away from pollution.
- Take shorter showers —under 5 minutes—and install a high efficiency, or low-flow showerhead (don’t worry, you can’t tell the difference)
- We’ve all heard it before: Turn off the tap when you don’t need it (e.g. when brushing teeth)
- When boiling vegetables in the pan, use half the water and steam with a lid.
- Always use your dishwasher (or invest in one, if you don’t have one already—they require less energy and water than hand-washing dishes. Your utility bill will thank you.
- Reduce water-use in the garden: place compost or mulch on your plants (helps with water retention) and try a Smart Sprinkler. You can also have a rain barrel outside, that you can draw from for watering the garden or indoor houseplants. You’ll save money too!
7. Cleaning with Vinegar and Baking Soda or Use Verified Environmentally/Health Friendly Products
Cleaning with baking soda and vinegar is an age-old solution to common household cleanliness: it works just as well as what you’ll find in the cleaning isle for most applications and is especially great for windows, floorboards, and surfaces.
If that’s not for you, we recommend that you check the environmental/health scores of cleaning products and brands. These organizations provide impartial product reviews:
8. Invest in Proper Home Insulation
Proper home insulation can make a huge difference in your energy bill. It’s estimated that in older homes, air leaks are responsible for 20-50% of your heating energy bill!
Tips to reduce energy consumed by heating
- Plug up the fireplace
- Draft Excluder
- Spray Foam Installation
- Proper sealing between windows and walls
9. Make the Switch to LED Light Bulbs
Believe us, it’s worth it. While lights may seem small, LED bulbs can save both you and the environment a lot of trouble (and money). You can calculate how much you’d save by switching to LED’s here.
LED’s have many benefits, including being more energy efficient than other bulbs, the longest lasting, most durable, and easiest to recycle. While LEDs cost slightly more than other bulbs, in the long-term they pay for themselves in energy savings.
Source: Arcadia Blog
10. Invest in Smart-home Fixtures
a) Put a timer on your thermostat
- The Nest Thermostat E’s energy-saving features have saved people an average of 10% to 12% on heating bills and 15% on cooling bills. Based on typical energy costs, that’s an estimated average savings of $131 to $145 a year – Google Store
b) Unplug appliances
- When I read this, I thought, “you have to be kidding!”. However according to the Natural Defense Council, a quarter of all residential energy consumption is used on devices like modems, computers and TV’s that are in idle power mode. You’ll save on your electricity bill too.
- SR recommends using a Sense Monitor. It tells you exactly how much electricity you are using in the home. We used an electrician to install ours.
11. Replace Old Household Appliances with Certified Energy Efficient Alternatives
When old appliances need replacing, choose certified energy-efficient products.
Choosing certified energy-efficient products you can ensure that you’ll be saving on emissions and energy bills. Often this will mean replacing old gas appliances or products with a electric alternative.
Try and check that an electric product is certified energy-efficient, as not all devices powered by electricity can be considered energy-efficient. Even if you don’t electric is generally better than gas.
You can often get rebates by choosing energy-efficient electric alternatives. You can find incentives and rebates on the website for New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program.
12. Grow your own vegetables
Growing your own vegetables is easy, convenient, and can save you a whole whop of money. Who could resist their own home-grown heritage tomatoes? By growing vegetables at home, you reduce emissions involved in the transportation and packaging of vegetables bought at the store.
Click here on Erin’s Guide to Get Started with Home Vegetable Gardens.
Composting is the best option for dealing with organic waste, and the most sustainable.
The benefits of composting include:
- Improving soil quality and plant yields
- Saving money on fertilizer – compost is free!
- Saving water – compost increases water retention of soil in your garden
- Reducing waste – otherwise, compost would go to landfill, where it cannot decompose properly
- Reducing GHG emissions
14. Join a CSA
A CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. CSA brings local farmers and local residents together, often in the form of a produce box subscription, so that you can get local, fresh, and sustainably farmed (often) produce right to your table. You can read more about the joys of CSA more here.
Whilst the Ridgewood Farmers market doesn’t currently work with a CSA, I do hear good things about the Ramsey Farmers Market, which does. Dates for this market can be found on the calendar here.
15. Smart Packaging
Pack Lunches and waste. The big message here is don’t bring the waste into the schools. Leave your waste at home. Buy bulk. Use reusable containers and stainless-steel water bottles. Show your kids what a waste free packed lunch looks like and explain to them why it’s important. Get ahead of your kids before they come home and start educating you!
Beeswax paper – this is great for sandwiches, keeps them moist. You can wipe down the wrap (in vinegar) to keep it clean. It has a naturally sticky film to it which lends itself well to covering left over food in the fridge or countertop.
Tips to reduce waste when eating out:
- Skip the straws or bring your own reusable straws if you can’t live without them.
- Can also add “bring your own Tupperware containers to use for any leftovers and avoid takeaway packaging” – we collapsible ones so you can carry them more easily.
- Ask about portion size to reduce the chance you’ll need to bring leftovers home
16. Choose Sustainable Home Furnishings
Choosing environmentally friendly products—whether that be clothes, cleaning products, appliances, furniture or otherwise—is not just about preserving natural resources or contaminating the natural environment; it’s also about indoor air pollution. Poorly manufactured products often contain an excess of chemicals too. Ensuring that you don’t bring these chemicals into your home is good for both your and your family’s health, as well as the natural environment. You can read more about chemical pollutants in the home here.
Tips to reduce chemical pollutants from home furnishings:
- Avoid synthetic rugs—they off gas releasing bad chemicals from the manufacturing into your home, and then into the natural environment upon disposal
- Buy wool rugs instead—they’re actually shown to improve indoor air quality by absorbing, rather than releasing, toxic chemicals.
- Buy Reused furniture to reduce the consumption of finite natural resources that comes with always buying new.
- Avoid VOC’s (contained in composite wood, glues, sealers, paints, many stains, finishes, carpets, and gas stoves)
- Keep strange chemicals out of the home as much as possible by choosing natural ingredients, fibers, and dyes.
SR recommends looking on here to find information on vetted sustainable providers in your area.
View our Local Resources page for some sustainable recommendations.