By Mary Mazzoni on Apr 4, 2011

How Much Your Green Habits Really Save


Small habit, big savings: Turning off the water while brushing your teeth can save 8 gallons of water per day. Photo: Flickr/Gabriel Rocha (a.k.a. BRIEL)

Just how much plastic are you saving by toting that stainless steel water bottle around all the time? Did switching to paperless billing really save a tree, or just save you some hassle?

Let’s break it down by numbers. Check out this list of little green habits to try. By the end you’ll be convinced that every little bit does count!

1. Turning off the faucet

About 75 percent of the water used in the average home is used in the bathroom, according to the California Energy Commission. Leaving the water running while we brush our teeth or wash our faces only increases that number. It can be a tough habit to break, but here’s how much you’re really using.

The numbers: The average bathroom faucet flows at a rate of two gallons per minute. Turning off the tap while brushing your teeth in the morning and at night can save a whopping 8 gallons of water per day, according to the EPA. That’s 240 gallons of water every month!

Read: Save 27,412 Gallons of Water This Year

2. Unsubscribing from junk mail

Junk mail is seriously annoying, but how much paper is really being wasted by the endless flow of circulars, promotional fliers and copies of the same bill? The answer is – a whole lot. You can cut back on the junk mail on your doorstep by switching to paperless billing.

The numbers: The amount of junk mail Americans receive every day could heat 250,000 homes, according to the National Park Service. And the EPA says we each use approximately one 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree in paper each year – that’s bigger than the Rockefeller Christmas Tree.

Read: The Best DIY Paper Projects

3. Switching to CFLs

Not to knock Thomas Edison, but those incandescent light bulbs just have to go. Making the switch to compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs is a super-simple way to green up your home, but how much energy do they really save?

The numbers: CFLs use only 32 watts of electricity – that’s one-third the wattage of their incandescent counterparts. Making the simple switch in your home will cut out 300 pounds of carbon emissions every year, according to CutCO2.org.

Read: The Phase-out of Incandescents: What You Need to Know

4. Fixing that leak

A leaky faucet or a running toilet may not seem like a big deal, but repairing your leaks right away actually saves loads of water.

If you can’t figure out how to fix a leaky faucet without a plumber, put a bowl under the leak to catch the dripping water, and use it in the kitchen or to water your house plants. For a running toilet, simply turn the water valve off until you can get it repaired.

The numbers: A leaky faucet can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water every year, and a running toilet wastes about 200 gallons a day, according to the EPA.

5. Skipping polystyrene foam

Polystyrene cups and plates are commonplace at many family gatherings and neighborhood barbeques, and foam to-go boxes at restaurants are almost impossible to avoid. But these products are difficult to recycle, especially once they’ve been contaminated with food residue.

The numbers: Each year, Americans throw away 25 million polystyrene foam cups. That’s enough to circle the earth 436 times, according to the Oberlin College Resource Conservation Team.

Read: 360 Recycling Plastic #6

6. Taking shorter showers

It’s easy to zone out for a few extra minutes during a morning shower, but you can save way more water than you think by cutting a few minutes off your tub time.

The numbers: Depending on your showerhead, you use 10-25 gallons of water every five minutes you spend in the shower, according to the EPA. So, you could be saving up to 5 gallons for every minute you shave off your shower time!

7. Using the microwave

Don’t worry. We’re not suggesting you nuke grandma’s blue ribbon casserole. But when it comes to reheating or defrosting small amounts of food, it can be tricky to tell if opting for the microwave actually saves energy over using a stove or oven.

The numbers: According to EPA estimates, if you’re reheating or thawing a small amount of food, you’ll use 50 percent less energy by putting it in the microwave over a conventional stove or oven.

Read: Where Your Home is Losing Money

8. Choosing reusable food storage

It’s easy to throw some plastic wrap on some leftovers and stick them in the fridge. Storing them in a reusable container you’ll have to wash later may seem like more trouble than it’s worth, especially when that piece of plastic wrap looks so small and insignificant, but the numbers add up.

The numbers: According to the National Park Service, America produces more than 250,000 square miles of plastic wrap every year – enough to shrink wrap the state of Texas.

9. Ditching plastic water bottles

Plastic water bottles are super convenient, and it can be tough to completely eliminate them from your daily routine. But cutting back on how many you use and remembering to recycle your plastics every time can make a sizeable dent in U.S. plastic consumption.

Use a stainless steel water bottle to cut back on your need for plastics, and keep a designated place in your car or desk for plastic bottles you’re finished with but have no place to recycle. Take them home at the end of the day, and throw them in your curbside bin.

The numbers: Americans use 25 billion plastic bottles every year, according to the Oberlin College Resource Conservation Team. If every American household eliminated or recycled just one out of every 10 plastic bottles they used, it would keep 200 million pounds of plastic out of landfills each year.

Read: Recycling Plastic Bottles

10. Giving the dryer a break

Most of us don’t think too much about using the dryer. It’s quick and easy, and depending on where you call home, you can’t very well use a clothesline in the winter without getting your garments in a pretty stiff situation. Even if you use an energy efficient dryer, giving it a rest from time to time will seriously cut back on your energy use.

The numbers: If you air dry your clothes for only six months out of the year, you can cut down 700 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, according to CutCO2.org.


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      • Jimnp72

        Thanks for the article.

        I want us to reach a point where nothing gets thrown out,

        garbage is too dumb to continue

      • Laura

        Nice to see the small things matter. One point about drying clothes – I hang mine on hangers and hang the hangers on the shower curtain rod or in the empty closet in the guest room until they are dry – usually overnight is more than enough time.

      • Linda Eatenson

        Restaurant take-home boxes are easy to avoid. I keep several glass containers in my trunk (with the cloth shopping bags) and take one in when I go to a restaurant. Leftovers go in a nice container, available in several sizes, with lids that seal securely.
        Even the small ones (mine are about 4″ x 6″ and 1 1/2″ deep) hold a lot more than you’d think. No spills in the car, won’t dry out in the frig, and most can be heated in the micro or toaster oven. And, unlike plastic reusable containers, are safe in the dishwasher.,

      • Gillian Wackowski

        you can use a close line in the winter, your clothes do dry, just not as fast and they come in the house colder. If it is snowing when the clothes are on the line, they will not dry but if its not snowing and its just cold, the water will leave the clothes and instead try to make the air less CRAZY winter dry.

      • Ania MItros

        Mary, that’s a really nice way to consolidate a lot of information. One thing I’d like to see is how some of those numbers compare to a household’s total impact. Like, you say that replacing incandescents with CFLs will cut 300 pounds of carbon emissions; what fraction of my usage is that? Would I be better off replacing my desktop computer with a laptop? Unplugging unused electronics? Turning the heat down by 1 degree in the winter? I guess what I’d love is a pie chart that shows how energy and water are used in a typical household, to give context to all those numbers, and a way of prioritizing lifestyle changes.

      • http://www.earthbongo.com Stephanie

        @Ania and others: Your comment about seeing your total impact is a good one. I’m working on this new project sharing website called earthbongo where we’re working to do just that. I invite you to go and check it out. I think I’ll use one of these suggestions as a project on the site! Thanks Mary for posting this article!

      • Guillermo Ospina

        Well done, good article, keep on going to make all these news so more and more people be more concious of the planet…