Green eating and living are not by any means new concepts to most people. We have been told of the importance of recycling for years; parents have been telling their kids to turn off lights and close the refrigerator door since they could walk. And more and more vegetarians and vegans have been popping up in recent years, along with a growing natural and organic food sections in grocery stores and healthy options at restaurants.
There are many different things we can do every day to live a more green life and reduce our carbon footprint. It may seem overwhelming at first to think about every little thing you do in a day that you might want to change or improve on to help your health or the environment, but when you take it one step at a time, it won't seem as hard.
Cutting out meat or all animal products can be a way to a healthier diet, but not in all cases. Being a vegetarian or vegan doesn't necessarily mean that you are putting the best things into your body. Sometimes eating habits could worsen when someone stops eating animal products because it makes food choices seem more limited.
Planting a garden is one way to improve the quality of food that you consume, lower grocery bills and become healthier. Shown is a photo of a garden planted and cared for by Kirsten Swartz-Morton and her husband Quincey, Muncy.
If you are not willing to take the time to prepare most of your own food and rely only on processed, frozen or prepackaged foods, this may not be the route for you to take. But this can be a very healthy lifestyle for those who love to cook.
Kirsten Swartz-Morton and her husband Quincey, of Muncy, enjoy educating others on food issues and policy, healthy living and many other topics of the like. They have made a commitment to live as green and clean as they possibly can, and have found a happiness by doing so, that they have welcomed with open arms.
Swartz-Morton said she began eating healthier in 2006 and cut out all meat in 2009. She and her husband have the same eating habits and also have cut out most wheat and dairy as well.
"We don't eat processed foods as a general rule, eggs on occasion but always from people down the road that let their chicken free-range all day long," she said. "We juice a lot and make smoothies, drink a lot of water, dehydrate fruits and veggies to retain nutritional content. Our bodies need nutrients not trash. That's our focus."
Planting a garden is a great starting point for healthier eating, whether you are cutting out meat or not. You know where the food is coming from, how it was grown and if anything was used on the plants. Not to mention, fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit are delicious and you get a sense of pride and accomplishment when you plant something and help it grow.
"We have gardens all over our almost one acre of land," Swartz-Morton said. "It is so therapeutic nurturing plants from seeds, planting them, weeding, harvesting, saving seeds for next year. I love the feeling I get anytime I am doing any of those things."
If you don't have land to plant a garden, maybe you have a porch where you can start a potted porch garden. If not, maybe you could help a friend or relative out with a garden at their home or join a nearby community garden.
When it comes to recycling, Swartz-Morton said reduce first, reuse or repurpose second and recycle last.
By reducing what you use, it then cuts down on recycling and trash. Why not cut down on your recyclables from the start? We think by recycling, we are doing our part to help cut down on trash, which is true, but most of the recyclable plastics only have a one-time recycle life. So, recycle when you can, but try to cut them out completely if you can.
You not only can reduce the amount of trash you produce, but you also can reduce the amount of water and energy you use.
Unplug appliances and electronics when you are not using them. Some appliances and electronics continue to use power even when they aren't turned on - these sometimes are referred to as "energy vampires."
Some of those energy vampires include cable and DVR boxes, phone chargers, microwave ovens and video game consoles. You also can use a power strip with a power switch to turn multiple items off and back on easily.
Also, changing your light bulbs from incandescent bulbs to fluorescent or LED lights will save energy and are less expensive, use less energy and last longer.
Riding a bike or going for a walk are good ways to get exercise and improve your health, not to mention the fact that you are not driving a car, which reduces air pollution and lowers gas emissions and saves you on gas money.
Also, when going to the grocery store or the farmer's market, be sure to bring along reusable bags instead of getting more plastic bags.
Other ways to reduce are to set your thermostat a few degrees lower in the winter and a few degrees higher in the summer. Wash your clothes in cold water whenever possible. Most of the power used to wash clothing goes to heating the water.
Also use a drying rack or a clothesline to dry your clothes instead of using the dryer. And reduce the amount of water you use by turning off the faucet when you are brushing your teeth or doing the dishes and take shorter showers.
Now that you are making a conscious effort to reduce and cut out unnecessary items, reuse the items that you can - or repurpose them. This also is referred to as upcycling.
Instead of using the paper or plastic cups at the water cooler at work, get a reusable cup. Wash and reuse food containers to store leftovers, craft items, office supplies, kids toys or other small items.
Use cloth towels instead of paper towels for cleaning, or cloth napkins. If you find yourself throwing away a lot of paper at work, cut the paper into smaller squares and use it as scrap.
Turn wine corks or bottles into craft projects like jewelry, coasters, ornaments, home decorations or pieces of art. Many other items could be used for craft projects for yourself or for kids. Turn old clothes or clothes that don't fit you anymore into blankets, quilts, purses or bags. Make a monogram picture out of old crayons for children as a gift or melt the crayons down and make your own new crayon colors.
Something that many moms have been known to do is open birthday or Christmas presents delicately so the wrapping paper, tissue paper and bows all can be reused.
Another holiday repurpose idea is to hold onto old birthday or Christmas cards, cut out the pictures on the card and use as gift tags on other gifts. There are many ways to repurpose items, get creative or go online and search repurposing or upcycling ideas.
When you think about all of the personal care and cleaning products you buy throughout the year, you may not realize how much money you end up spending. When we think about reducing the amounts of energy and water we use, we also can think about reducing the amount of money we spend on items as well.
Swartz-Morton said she makes her own personal and cleaning products such as deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, hair pomade and laundry detergent out of simple and mostly organic ingredients, and uses raw apple cider vinegar for cleaning.
By doing this, she said it is better for her health, as well as the health of her two dogs and she spends about $2 a month on all of the items used to make her products.
There are so many things you can do to improve your health, save money, conserve energy and other resources and reduce your carbon footprint. Swartz-Morton recommends taking the changes you want to make one step at a time.
"Resolve that you aren't going to buy any beverage that is in a plastic bottle ever again," she said. "Purchase some reusable grocery bags ... Turn off the television and get out into nature ... Look online and figure out how to make your own cleaning supplies and toiletries. Start your own small garden and then make it bigger each year."