To live green at home is one thing. You control the environment there. You get to make decisions about how many lights go on in your home, what kinds of lightbulbs are in those lights, and even what kind of energy — renewable or non-renewable — is powering those lights. It’s deeply satisfying.
But then, you leave your domain and suddenly you’re confronted by a world that probably doesn’t share the same environmentalist values as you do. A world that you are not the boss of. So how do you live green in a society filled with disposable plastics, egregious water wastage and baffling ideas about the inexhaustability of the world’s resources? This guide will give you some practical tips for how to live green on the go.
Carry a reusable water bottle instead of buying water in plastic bottles. On the go and need to stay hydrated? Bring a reusable water bottle with you to avoid having to buy a bottle of water wherever you go. Even if you cannot find a water fountain, many coffee shops or and food service locations are happy to refill for you.
Even if you’d like pop or juice with a meal combo, for example, ask them to put it in your reusable water bottle instead of one of their non-recyclable cups. In addition to being good for the environment, you’ll potentially save money!
Use a reusable mug or thermos for coffee, tea, or other takeaway hot drinks. It’s easy to avoid using the single-use coffee cups that coffee shops provide — simply bring your own travel mug or thermos. If you often enjoy a hot beverage at work, consider keeping a regular mug at your desk and wash it out in the bathroom or office kitchen.
Carry a set of reusable cutlery. There are reusable cutlery sets available for purchase that are specifically for on-the-go, however this can be just as easy as putting a fork, spoon, and knife in a towel and rolling it up to keep in your lunch bag, briefcase, purse, backpack, or any other bag you choose to use. A set of bamboo cutlery may be particularly useful if you travel a lot and need to get through security or a metal detector on a regular basis.
Take your own reusable container when you’re getting takeaway or have leftovers at a restaurant. This one may feel a little awkward at first, but many restaurants are happy to save the use of one of their containers (they cost money for the restaurant!) and put your food in your own container.
If you ever get pushback about health regulations, just know that there is no regulation that prohibits a clean reusable container from entering a kitchen and you can choose to use this fact to push the matter or just choose to dine elsewhere in the future.
Keep separate containers for recycling and composting in your car. Rather than use a single bag to store the garbage that collects in your car, sort your waste, just like you would do at home. Then use the recycling facilities back at home, at work or at the restaurants or gas stations you visit to dispose of your waste properly.
For compost, choose a heavy-duty compostable bag and keep it inside a leakproof container. Have a plan to get rid of compost quickly — your passengers will not thank you if your half-eaten sandwich sticks around in your car for a couple of days.
Stop your waiter before they fill your glass. It’s customary for restaurant wait staff to automatically fill the glasses at a table and to keep them full, which can lead to a lot of water wasted (not just in terms of the amount in the glass, but the amount required to then wash that glass). If you’re not thirsty, tell your waiter rather than let them fill your glass up with water you know you’re not going to drink. It’s not weird or awkward. In fact, celebrated actor Don Cheadle said we should.
Put the leftover water from meetings in the office fridge to use later. The pitcher in the middle of the table isn’t likely to run dry, and there’s nothing wrong with the water that’s left in it. Keep it to drink later or use it to water the office plants.
Push for water-saving measures for the toilets at the office or your favourite local haunts. You absolutely can not “let it mellow” when you are at work or at a coffee shop. But you can inform your boss/the owner or manager of your favourite local hangout about how easy it is to reduce the amount of water used per toilet flush. Encourage them to put a brick or filled plastic bottle in each of their toilets. It’s an easy, low-cost fix that saves water and also cash.
Ask your boss, or the owner/manager of the places you eat regularly to install faucet aerators in the bathrooms. Not every establishment can afford to replace their regular faucets with high-tech ones that feature motion sensors, but faucet aerators are a cheap, easy installation that reduces water use by more than 50 percent.
Leave the car at home. Walk, bike or use public transportation as often as you can instead. For those trying to live green in places like the suburbs, which have historically relied on cars for transportation, consider living closer to where you work, shop and play. Urban neighbourhoods have an undeserved reputation for being worse environments for children to grow up in, but that’s only because we live in a culture that’s so classist.
If you do drive, don’t let your car idle. Modern vehicles don’t burn extra fuel turning on and off, nor do they need to warm up by idling first. If you’re going to be sitting for more than 10 seconds, it will be more fuel-efficient to turn the car off and then back on. And no, it won’t hurt the car battery.
Carpool everywhere. Carpooling to work is an obvious choice, but you can also save up your errands and go with a friend. Not only will that make getting your groceries more fun, you’ll quickly save money on gas.
You can also look into rideshare programs in your community. Often community programs will be looking for volunteer drivers to run errands for, or with, seniors and vulnerable people. Offering to get someone else’s groceries while you’re headed to the store anyway, or picking someone up along the way, builds community while reducing gas use.
Try charging some of your devices when you’re using your vehicle to run errands. It’s simple to charge a phone or tablet using the cigarette lighter power adapter in most, if not all, cars. If your car doesn’t have regular power outlets like some newer cars do, a power inverter can be purchased relatively cheap online to charge devices that need a regular electrical outlet, such as a laptop a battery charging bank, or other devices.
Switch your charger to solar. While you’re on the go, use the power of daylight to charge your phone or tablet. Solar chargers don’t need full sunlight to work, but if your car sits in a bright, sunny parking lot all day, that’s an easy way to cut down on some of the energy you use at home.
Bring lunches that don’t require heating up. While a hot lunch is a nice treat to have, enjoying a salad, sandwich or wrap, or a soup that’s meant to be cool, will cut down on your daily energy use at work. Even better, bring lunches that don’t require heating or refrigeration. Even better still, consider vegan lunches. Eating vegan is the biggest thing you can do to cut your carbon footprint.
Cleaning on the Go
Use an eco-friendly car wash. Find a car wash that uses biodegradable soaps and water-saving equipment. You might think you can give your car a more environmentally-friendly wash at home, but an eco-friendly car wash will (or should) have equipment that recycles and reuses water, which you will not have at home.
Plus, cleaning your car at the car wash ensures that the dirty water that comes off your car, water that’s likely to contain traces of harmful substances, will drain into a system where it will be treated, and not into the storm drain.
Make your own reusable cleaning wipes for the car and office. Instead of relying on packaged wipes, you can make your own and keep them in your desk or in the car. Cut some J-cloths or other reusable cloths (that aren’t too bulky) into a size that’s useful for you. Stack them in an airtight container that you can seal. Fill the container with a homemade cleaning solution until the cloths are level with the liquid.
Try some of our suggestions for non-toxic cleaners! You’ll need to wring these wipes out a bit before you use them, but that effort will be well worth it for the money you’ll save.
Stock your office kitchen with non-toxic, homemade cleaning supplies. You may not be able to control what the cleaning staff uses, but you can encourage your colleagues to use non-toxic cleaners to wipe up their messes during the day.
Having alternatives on hand makes it more likely that people will reach for them, rather than for standard chemicals. Since these cleaning supplies are so cheap, this won’t make much of a dent in your pocket.
These tips will give you some smart, easy ways to take your green lifestyle on the road and out into the world. With any luck, they’ll also inspire others to live green, too.
Special thanks to Eve Lampert, who wrote parts of this article. The better parts.