20 Easy Ways To Go Organic In 2016

Even the biggest journey begins with a series of small steps.

December 30, 2015
washing dishes
1/20 CLIVE STREETER/GETTY

It’s exhausting just imagining the amount of change we ‘re going to have to effect to leave the world a better place for future generations. Thankfully, our individual actions can add up to a major shift in our shared future. Even better? Many little things we can do to help save the world are actually kind of easy, and require little or no sacrifice on our part. It’s a win-win all around. Here are 20 easy ways you can go organic—and help save the planet.

1. Avoid Hand Washing Dishes (But Load Up Your Dishwasher)

You don’t need to feel lazy for turning on the dishwasher. With the exception of cast iron, which should always be cleaned by hand, washing dishes in the sink is an inefficient use of water, and of the energy used to make it nice and hot.

Dishwashers, on the other hand, are designed do the maximum amount of cleaning with the least possible amount of hot water. A full dishwasher uses half the energy and one-sixth the water, as well as less soap. Plus—according to the EPA, you’ll save up to 100 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.

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2. Compost Leftover Salad

The average American family tosses out $1,600 of food a year, according to the EPA, yet farmers over-plant by about 10 percent, according to the NRDC. All that wasted food goes straight to landfills, where it ends up contributing to methane emissions.

Related: No Backyard Required Compost

According to the EPA, the average American could reduce the amount of waste they send to landfills every year by 140 pounds if they were to compost food instead of tossing it in the trash. Plus, think of all those beautiful lawns and backyard gardens!

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3. Buy Organic Produce 

Factory farming based on heavy pesticide use has cost consumers both in terms of flavor and nutrition.

Related: Change This 1 Thing + Be Radically Healthier 

A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2014 found that organic fruits and vegetables were 20 to 40 percent higher in antioxidant activity than conventionally grown produce. Antioxidants have been linked to slower aging and cancer prevention.

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4. Bike + Walk More

Our reliance on gasoline-powered vehicles is suffocating the planet, and may lead to an irreversible change in climate that will have far-reaching effects on all life on Earth. The average American driver alone is responsible for 7,840 pounds of carbon emissions per year.

Related: How I Became A Walking Fanatic

Walking or biking rather than driving by a little more each year can lead to a significant reduction in greenhouse gases. If the number of Americans who traveled mostly by bike or foot increased by just 3 percent—from 12 to 15—we’d save 3.8 billion of gas and 33 million tons of greenhouse gases each year, or about the same as replacing 19 million conventional cars with hybrids, according to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

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5. Buy Organic Cotton

Cotton is a crop that’s notoriously dependent on chemicals as conventionally grown, using 16 percent of all the world’s pesticides, or about three-quarters of a pound of chemicals per pair of jeans (and a third of a pound for per t-shirt). The World Health Organization blames many of the 20,000 pesticide-poisoning deaths each year on the cotton industry.

Related: Save Money + Stay Cozy By Making Your Own Organic Bedding 

Buying organic cotton supports an industry that uses less water than convention cotton, is less harmful to the soil and air, and isn’t steeped in chemicals.

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6. Give Up Gift Wrap

Wrapping paper might make your birthday or holiday present look great before opening, but it’s a terrible gift for the environment: Each year, 4 million tons of trees are chopped down and milled into wrapping paper, according to the Clean Air Council, essentially wasted so they’ll look good for a few minutes under a tree or on a receiving table. What’s more, those cheerful colors often come from harmful synthetic dyes and inks, meaning you can’t even use them to light the yule log or birthday barbecue. Let your gifts go naked, or use containers that your friends and family can keep using forever, like clay pots or reusable bags.

Albacore Tuna
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7. Try A Different Fish For Dinner

For far too long, we’ve indulged in the bounty of the sea without consequence. And now stocks of our popular eating fish like are nearing the point of extinction—the population of bluefin tuna has dropped by 96 percent over the last century, thanks to overfishing. 

Related: What You Need To Know About Genetically Modified Salmon

What’s worse, unethical fishing methods have devastated seabeds and wreaked havoc with other endangered marine species, including dolphins, seals, seabirds, and whales. So put down the tuna burger and shrimp poppers and try a so-called “trash fish,” an underutilized species that tastes great and can sustain responsible levels of consumption, like wreckfish or U.S.-sourced rockfish. If you’re not sure about a fish, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s sustainability guide, Seafood Watch, or NOAA’s FishWatch.

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8. Avoid Products With Microbeads

From face soaps to toothpaste, microbeads—tiny balls of plastic that provide a soothing, gritty texture that supposedly makes for a better cleanse—are sounding alarm bells. They’re not biodegradable, and are so small that they simply pass through the filters of waste-treatment plants. 

Related: 10 Ways You're Polluting Water Without Realizing It

Along the way, they can soak up pollutants and carry them out into the waterways. Though there’s legislation banning microbeads pending across the country, the companies that make them hear the sound of profits more clearly than that of lawmakers: Do your part to send manufacturers a message by banning the beads from your home.

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9. Plant Native Flora

Our American need to impose a ‘50s-era suburban ideal everywhere we live is both bad for our wallets and bad for our country. The 30 to 40 million acres of lawn across the U.S. drink up as much as 60 percent of our home water, cause us to spend billions on harsh pesticides, and pump pollution into the air in the form of lawnmower exhaust—one hour using a gas-powered mower is equivalent to taking a 100-mile spin in a car). 

Related: 6 Steps To A Healthy Organic Lawn

By beautifying your yard with plants that nature meant to be there—succulents in desert regions, for example—you waste less water and gas, and don’t have to resort to spreading harmful chemicals around in order to keep your unnatural grass carpet on life support.

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10. Use Cover Crops 

Your garden could be doing its part even when it’s cold out and the sun seems to barely peek over the horizon. Planting Protective Cover Crops like vetch, clover, and legumes improves the soil, helps feed and shelter beneficial insects, and prevents soil erosion. They’ll also make your garden more productive—a 2013-2014 study found that farms that used cover crops were 4.3 percent more productive.

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11. Keep Root Vegetables In A Storage Clamp

Instead of spending money and wasting electricity and space on a new fridge or chest freezer, for your potato haul, or having to go to the store all winter to keep replenishing your rutabagas, create an outdoor storage clamp with a bit of straw and soil. It’s a time-honored way to keep carrots, potatoes, turnips, and other starchy veggies fresh, and will put less stress on the power grid than a power-hungry fridge—which typically accounts for 8 percent of a home’s annual energy bill. Plus you’ll get to enjoy more of the bounty of your garden and let less go to waste.

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12. Choose WaterSense Appliances

The next time you redo your kitchen or bathroom, look for the WaterSense label, a brand of approval for products that make efficient use of less water. 

Related: 9 Water-Saving Tips For Homeowners

The savings add up: a single WaterSense faucet can save up to 8 gallons of water per day. A toilet? A whole 28 gallons. When you consider that people use an average of 155 gallons at home every day, that’s no drop in the bucket.

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13. Make Much Mulch

A generous bed of organic mulch not only traps in moisture and requires you to use less water on your garden, it’s also healthier for the soil, makes your plants stronger, and is a natural weed killer that means you’ll be less tempted to reach for the chemical herbicides. It’s important to Choose The Right Mulch For Your Need but try to use homemade mulch when possible, such as grass clippings or recycled straw. If you need store-bought, be picky—the demand for cheap cypress mulch has stripped the wetlands of Florida and Louisiana of much-needed natural forestation.

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14. Make Your Own Deodorant

Commercial antiperspirants and deodorants rely heavily on aluminum compounds (which have been linked to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s, and are derived through the environmental train wreck that is bauxite mining) and on triclosan, which has a whole host of possible health issues as well as environmental problems—it washes into our surface water and is absorbed by aquatic life. If you don’t want to Stop Using Deodorant you can Make Your Own Deodorant at home easily enough with baking soda, shea butter or arrowroot powder, and essential oils.

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15. Recycle Old Phones

Smartphones come with a lot of baggage, including the valuable elements that they use, from gold to palladium to tantalum—a rare metal valued for its resistance to corrosion. Sales of some of these substances prop up the finances of oppressive, armed groups in conflict-ridden parts of the world, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yet a 2014 study found that, of the1.8 billion cell phones expected to be bought that year, only 3 percent would be recycled, 4 percent would be thrown away, and 44 percent would forgotten in some corner of the owner’s home. Recycling your old phones isn’t just a way to reduce the strain on our Earth’s most precious resources, it’s also a way to help stop supporting violent militias.

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16. Stop Drinking Bottled Water

Besides the massive price we pay in energy and greenhouse gases to ship tens of billions of units of bottled water around the U.S. each year, most of them aren’t recycled, meaning nearly 30 billion plastic bottles end up in landfills annually. 

Related: This Artist Lives On An Island Made From Upcycled Water Bottles

For the most part, the U.S. is blessed with drinkable tap water that is usually just as safe and sometimes safer than the bottled variety. (In fact, one out of four bottled waters are actually just tap water in plastic.) So the next time you go to a restaurant, tell the waiter that he can put away the overpriced bottled water and fill up your glass from the faucet—and know that that’s one fewer piece of plastic to add to humanity’s ever-growing trash heap.

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17. Know Which Expiration Dates You Can Ignore

The average U.S. family tosses out 2 million calories of food every year, and part of that’s because we compulsively abide by those expiration dates on the containers, which are put there by manufacturers—they’re not required by law for anything besides infant formula. 

Related: I Ate Every Bit Of Food In The House + You Won’t Believe What Happened

You can actually safely use plenty of products past their sell-by date by a matter of days or even years, and prevent a lot of food waste. In general, trust your eyes and nose, or use our handy rules of thumb.

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18. Wash Your Pallets Before Upcycling

Shipping pallets have long been a favorite of gardeners for a variety of purposes, but the ones made in the U.S. or Canada these days are often treated with pesticides against the emerald ash borer. The insecticide of choice is methyl bromide, which is highly toxic to the soil, your plants, and you. Look for a stamp that says either “MB” or “HT”—the former means it’s been treated and shouldn’t be used in the garden, while the latter stands for “heat treated” and is more than likely safe. Whatever the case, it’s a good idea to thoroughly wash a pallet with soap and water or bleach before you bring it into your garden; you never know what it’s been in contact with in transit.

shower
19/20 Camila Massu/getty

19. Take Shorter Showers 

The average shower is 8.2 minutes long. Shaving that down to five minutes can save 13 gallons every morning. Having a hard time convincing yourself it’s time to towel off? Try singing shorter songs while you’re in there. 

Related: 5 Things You Should Never Do In The Shower

And skip baths altogether—filling up the tub can require up to 70 gallons of water. If you insist on rubber-ducky time, maybe you can at least cut down on the water use by inviting a friend to join you.

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20. Go Natural, Hairwise 

The hair-salon industry has long relied on harsh dyes and toxic treatments with chemicals like lead, formaldehyde, and paraphenylenediamene. Those poisons end up washing into our rivers, streams, and oceans, into our soil, and back into our bodies. 

Related: Why Carla Hall Is Embracing Her Gray Hair

Fortunately, more and more salons are adopting green methods that include natural dyes that rely on herbs and vegetable and fruit extracts and oils like grapefruit, rhubarb, black walnut, calendula, and henna. Give them your business. Or go a step further, and simply let your hair shine with its natural color.

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