We’re constantly told ways that we can be greener and help the environment. That’s great and all, but which ones really do help?

These eight changes really do help our planet. And here’s why:

Switching to reusable bags

You’re at the grocery story check out and they ask you: “paper or plastic?” The correct answer? Neither one. The dangers of plastic bags to our environment is one that we often hear. About 90 billion plastic bags were used in the US just last year… And even though it takes about 12 million barrels of oil to make them, that’s not even the half of it. It takes about four times the energy to make paper bags.

Instead, choose reusable shopping bags. Store one in your purse, a few in your car, and the rest by the front door.

Using a reusable water bottle

We sure love our H2O. But the fact that it takes about 25 bottles of water to produce the plastic for a one-litre bottle doesn’t really help the environment. Terrible. The simple solution to to stop buying bottled water. Purchase a stainless steel or aluminum bottle instead, filling it up at home, in the office, at fountains and where ever you can. If you leave it at home and have to opt for a plastic bottle, choose ones that are numbered 1,2,4 or 5.

Say goodbye to paper towels

Paper towels are handy, sure, but not exactly great for the environment. For cleaning, use microfibre towels–they do a better job and you can easily through them in the washer to use them over and over.

When paper towels are a must, look for “green” or “recycled” varieties. Although these in terms of toilet paper might not be the most pleasant, they’re great for paper towels. If every household in the US used recycled ones instead, almost 550,000 trees would be saved per roll.

Stop washing on hot

Washing machines are powered by about 10 percent to run the motor. So where does the rest come from? Heating that water. The bad news isn’t just your energy supply, but your wallet, too.

Choose to wash on cold water by a simple swap on your washing machine’s temperature setting. If you have very heavy soiled towels, socks, or similar, use warm if you absolutely need to. Most new, high-efficiency washers and driers are designed to work better on cold water, too.

And stop drying altogether

How necessary is it to run that dryer? Not really at all. In fact, dryers are the second largest energy user in the average house (first being the fridge). If it’s necessary (like a large load of socks and underwear, be sure to clean the lint filter and only dry full loads of clothes.

The rest of the time, opt for outdoor drying on a clothesline, or indoor on a clothes rack.

Turn down the heater or air conditioner

Yep, it’s chilly. The answer? Put on another layer and get under a blanket. Similarly, a fan, shorts and a tank-top will keep you pretty darn cool in the heat of summer. Save some money–and some energy–by setting your thermostat a few degrees cooler in the winter and a few degrees warmer in the summer. Better yet, nix the air conditioning altogether.

Run that dishwasher when it’s full

Dishwashers are cost-efficient, especially newer ones. They often use less water than handwashing, and save you a lot of time. For the most part, they use about a third less water than washing the dishes by hand, which can save up to 20 gallons of water a day. Click the heat-dry setting “off”, and let them air-dry until you’re ready to unload.

Recycle and compost

By now, if you haven’t started recycling and composting, we wonder where you’ve been all these years. Most paper, plastic, aluminum, food scraps, and cardboard doesn’t have to go in the trash. If you’re community hasn’t started a program, use the compost in your garden, and contact the city to find out what you can do with your recyclable goods.

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