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The lazy man’s guide to saving the planet

Ten small changes to your daily habits that can have enormous benefits.

Ten small changes to your daily habits that can have enormous benefits.
Ten small changes to your daily habits that can have enormous benefits.

Sure, every day should be Earth Day. We should all go green, cut carbon, recycle religiously. But not everyone wants (or can afford) a Prius. Composting can be for the flies. And that don't-flush-mellow-yellow thing? Don't even go there.

And while it's true that industry and government are far bigger contributors to pollution than regular folks, you can be a Save the Planeteer with even less effort than it takes to overpay at Whole Foods. Here are 10 easy ways to help preserve natural resources — and save yourself some money.

1. Turn off the tap

Rather than letting all that water just go down the drain, turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth or shaving, except to wet and rinse the brush. Sound trivial? Every minute your tap runs wastes about 2.5 gallons of water. If all 320 million Americans took this simple step for a year, the water savings would fill 560,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, or about as much water as all of New York City consumes annually.

2. Punt the pods


If placed end to end, the billions of single-use coffee pods sold just last year would circle the planet at least 10 times. Worse, they are mostly non-recyclable. Is it any wonder that the inventor of the K-Cup says he now sometimes regrets his invention? Though pod machines do require less power than good old coffee makers, halting pod use would relieve pressure not only on landfills but also on your wallet: One analysis found that a three-cup-a-day coffee drinker would save more than $400 a year by switching from pods to a regular coffee maker.

3. Slow down

You have to be 65 or so to remember 55, the mandatory nationwide speed limit set during the gas shortages of the 1970s. For today's Massachusetts drivers, such a limit would be cruel and unusual punishment. But driving slower really does save gas while reducing carbon emissions (and accidents). Driving from Boston to New York City at 55 miles per hour instead of 65 adds about only 35 minutes to the trip and would save you about 35 cents per gallon (at $2.50 a gallon). So set that cruise control and enjoy the view.


4. Light up

You've probably already heard the pitch to replace your old light bulbs with longer-lasting, more efficient CFL (the squiggly ones) or, better yet, LED lights, which, while pricier, reduce energy costs and consumption by up to 80 percent compared with incandescent bulbs. But this, too, is more than just some symbolic gesture: If each American household replaced just one bulb with an Energy Star-rated one, the energy saved could light 2 million homes for a year and cut electricity bills by $460 million annually, says the US Environmental Protection Agency. Whatever kind of lights you use, turn them off when leaving a room, just like your dad always told you.

5. Go cold, turkey

Americans could save the equivalent of 100,000 barrels of oil a day simply by switching their washing machines from the hot-hot cycle to the warm-cold one (no, it won't affect how clean your clothes get). And wash only full loads: a person who reduces the total number of loads by 25 percent could save 3,227 gallons of water a year.

6. Nix the napkins

The average American uses six paper napkins a day — that's 2,200 a year. If we all used just one less a day, it would keep more than a billion pounds of napkins out of landfills annually, enough to fill the Empire State Building. And fewer napkins means less manufacturing by the paper industry, which is among the nation's biggest water hogs.


7. Junk the junk mail

We receive about 4 million tons of junk mail a year in the United States, and producing that much paper requires chewing up about 100 million trees. Maybe you already blue-box all those catalogs you neither want nor need, but better yet, stop getting most of them in the first place by registering with any of a number of opt-out services, such as dmachoice.org.

8. Use the microwave more

Somewhere along the line microwaves got a bad rap , yet for smaller meals they use 30 to 80 percent less energy than conventional ovens. They save you money, time, and don't heat up the kitchen, which could save you on cooling costs in the summer. With a regular oven, keep the door closed — you lose about 25 degrees of heat every time you crack it to peek inside.

9. Turn off the engine

Do you park your car and then just sit there staring at your phone with the engine running? Don't do that. Idling wastes gas and contributes to climate change — an idling car can create 10 pounds of carbon dioxide per hour. Modern automobile engines need only 30 seconds or so to warm up, contrary to the myths, and idling for more than 10 seconds uses up more gas than turning the car off and on.


10. Go out green

If you can't handle simple steps like these, you've still got one big last chance: Plan a green burial. Now legal in 41 states, including Massachusetts  (though rules vary by community ), "eco-burials" support more environmentally friendly burial practices, eschewing the cement, metal, and toxic chemicals used in traditional ones. Maybe using fewer napkins isn't asking too much, after all.

Related coverage:

- Opinion: Mass. can lead on greenhouse gas reduction

- A valentine for fossil fuels

- More from the Magazine

Phil Primack is a Medford-based freelance writer and editor. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.