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For the first time in 40 years, Earth’s emissions held steady. Great news! But we need to do more. Here are small changes that add up to BIG impact!

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In March, the news reported that, for the first time in my whole lifetime, over 40 years, the planet’s greenhouse emissions held steady in 2014, despite industry and population increasing.

While this is incredible news, it won’t stop the warming of the planet. That ship has sailed, but we can still prevent it from increasing at untenable rates. For that, every bit we do will count to help keep the planet off the precipice of no return.

Here are the little things you can do to help save the world.

Napkins for the win

Paper towels and paper napkins are forever popular with people, but we’re using 254 million tons of paper towel every year. If my math is uncharacteristically right, that works out to 508,000,000,000 pounds of waste. Ouch. Every 2,000 pounds of that requires 17 full-grown trees to be harvested and 20,000 gallons of water to get polluted.

On the flipside, you could make a dent in those numbers by keeping a stash of cloth napkins around to use. I love my cloth napkins. Don’t get fancy ones, just buy everyday use with simple neutral colors and patterns.

Go green for cleaners

Making your own cleaner isn’t just safer for the environment. It means you’ve taken another product out of the retail cycle. There’s no transporting it to stores, no oil to create yet another plastic spray bottle, no firing up the recycling plant to process it when you’re done, and no need to manufacture any part of it. It’s not just about what goes down the drain, even though that’s important too — it’s about what doesn’t have to happen when you opt out of the Industrial Cleaning Complex.

My house is cleaned with vinegar and water, that’s it. A 50-50 mix, spray and go. Sometimes, baking soda comes into the mix (scours the tub great). Now and then I use Javex. This is the cleaning regimen my professional housecleaner got me onto, and I have to tell you, I never have allergic reactions to any of it. I seldom even see bugs around in my house anymore, since they don’t like vinegar. A half-hour after cleaning, my house just smells “clean.” The vinegar evaporates, and that’s that.

Not for nothing, but you’ll find it costs a fraction of what cleaning products will cost you, too.

Make better choices

What you’re buying from whom makes a big difference in how quickly businesses are prepared to adopt green policies. I make a note who I get takeout food from and how they package it. Styrofoam? It might “technically” be recyclable, but the facilities that will do it are few and many regions don’t offer this. Instead, if you have to get takeout, get it from places with reusable or recyclable products, especially containers made from post-consumer recycled papers. Better yet, eat in restaurants when you can, and you’ll put even more money into the local economy.

Outside of takeout, simply buy fewer things, because eventually everything we get turns up in a landfill, and the only way to stop the cycle is to simply stop buying things we do not need. When you’re opting out of products or businesses because they’re not green enough, letting the company know why you’re buying differently is a great way to put pressure on them to change.

Skip bags & use creative new products

When it comes to convenience foods, be aware that buying a raw onion versus a pre-chopped onion means you save on waste, emissions, and more.

Turn down bags where you can, even when they’re paper, because that’s a carbon-chomping tree cut down to be your bag. Look into buying nylon shopping bags you can ball up and stuff in your glovebox or carry in your purse or knapsack for when you’re out shopping.

Instead of plastic wrap, consider some of the incredible new natural options out there, like the Abeego beeswax food wrappers that you can easily clean and reuse for months on end.

Eat a variety, and eat more local food

Opting to have more vegetarian meals is a big help. We’re fast learning that all the animals that are served up in our stores are part of global warming. Cows, however, are responsible for more emissions than any other livestock. Lamb produces 50% less carbon dioxide than cows, and pork produces 80% less than beef, and chicken a little less than pork. It will be a cold day in hell before I become vegetarian, but I do my part to eat less meat weekly, and I save beef for special occasions rather than making it a regular feature.

Buying local food is also another choice that has big impact. Between the processing of products, the refrigerated transport needed for imported foods, and the packaging of imported items, there’s a lot of environmental reward when you choose local. Another plus is that it keeps the your region with a better urban-to-rural ratio, important for the “carbon sink” storage of C02 in your region.

Don’t stop learning

We learn new, game-changing things about the environment on a regular basis. What we know now will expand and change in the coming years. Products will be innovated, new services offered, and you’ll need to stay informed for opportunities to further cut your emissions, maybe save money, and definitely save the planet.

We’re all a part of this solution. Each of us doing a bit adds up to massive change. We’ve made a lot of mistakes in the last 40 years, but bit by bit, we’re making up for it by being smarter and more involved in changing our habits collectively. We’re proving one day at a time that every bit really does count. Thanks for being a part of helping to change the climate for the better.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.