Earth Day: Expert tips for going green

Riding a bike is one way to go green.
Riding a bike is one way to go green. Photo Credit: iStock

Earth Day is a call to action to go green. But if you don’t know where to start, try these simple steps for an eco-friendly lifestyle from some of New York’s greenest.

Reduce your energy use

“On really hot days (especially during the week) turn off your window units and close your blinds when you go to work. There is no reason to come home to a cool apartment when you are at work all day. The energy demand on the grid is keeping you cool at work and the largest demand on the grid is in the afternoon. Of course if you have pets you have to be concerned about their safety, and if this is the case turn your AC to the highest setting until you return home.” — Mark Cupkovic

Compost in the kitchen

“Collect your food scraps. Composting is a great thing to do and we all create organic waste every day. Take them to one of the greenmarkets in New York. There’s commuter compost that you can drop off as you get on the train. The food becomes soil and the soil is very rich for the next generation.” — Wendy Brawer

Eat less meat

“Meat consumption has a notoriously high carbon footprint. So high, in fact, that experts say that switching to a vegetarian diet can reduce your carbon footprint more than abandoning your car would! For Earth Day, consider swapping out some of your meat-centric meals for vegetarian ones.” — Sophia Ruan Gushee

Buy organic produce

“While pesticides help farmers produce more saleable products at lower costs, they also pose unintentional risks to the health of plants, animals, and humans. In honor of Earth Day, purchase organic produce to reduce our collective demand for harmful pesticides. Prioritize your budget to buy organic for produce that have the highest residual amounts of pesticides: strawberries, apples, peaches, celery, spinach and tomatoes, according to the Environmental Working Group’s 2016 Dirty Dozen list.” — Gushee

Properly recycle

“Did you know that lightbulbs, ceramics, pyrex, and broken glass cannot be recycled at home? That pizza boxes can only be recycled when the spots with grease residue have been discarded? Or that it is perfectly fine to add glossy paper, like junk mail and magazines, to your paper recycling bin? These are just some of the rules of recycling that are not common knowledge. To learn more, double-check the recycling practices that are accepted by your neighborhood, and make sure to adhere to the rules! Material that is not recycled correctly may simply be discarded during processing.” — Gushee

“It drives me nuts when people take a plastic bag to put their recycling in because it counteracts recycling. They often don’t have time to empty the bag and sort and it just gets put in the garbage. The plastic bag often gets stuck in the truck, too. Sort your own recycling, it makes a huge difference.” — Jessica Semmel

Ride a bike

“Use a bike instead of a car. Shop at a place like Recycle-A-Bicycle.” — Brawer

Use a reusable bag

“Cut the plastic at markets. Many customers bring reusable shopping bags but there’s still a fair amount of plastic that goes through the market with produce bags. We are selling reusable produce bags, less than $2 per bag. They come in small and large and they are machine washable.” — Laura McDonald

More ways to cut out plastic

“Say no to plastic straws at bars and restaurants. Use a reusable coffee cup — you can save money doing that, some places offer discounts and it really adds up. Make your own coffee out of a French press instead of K-Cups. Have your own silverware and use your own mug at work. Invest in a bamboo toothbrush instead of a plastic toothbrush, get something compostable.” — Lauren Singer

Avoid products with synthetic fragrances

“Over 300 chemicals [might be included] under the word‘fragrance.’ Anything that we’re putting on our body, it’s all going back into our waste water, our water supply. The website EWG.org rates all skin care products, makeup and cleaning supplies [based on their contents].” — Semmel

Buy biodegradable cleaning products

“As a general rule of thumb, if the environment has trouble naturally breaking the ingredients in a product, then you don’t want to use it in your home. Go for plant-based cleaning products; they’re biodegradable and safer for your home and family.” — Jake Madoff

Or make your own cleaners

“Conventional cleaning products are often made with a toxic cocktail of chemicals that pollute our environment, some of which are linked to adverse health effects in humans and wildlife. Begin detoxing your cleaning products by swapping out conventional varieties for more natural options. For instance, I clean my home with baking soda, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, castile soap and water. Those ingredients have a long track record of safety.” — Gushee

(With Meredith Deliso)

Our experts

  • Wendy Brawer, founder and director of Green Map System, which connects people with local green living and nature resources in 65 countries.
  • Mark Cupkovic, vice president for security and operations at the New York Botanical Garden
  • Sophia Ruan Gushee, author of “A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Our Toxic Exposures”
  • Jake Madoff, founder of Agreeableco.com, an online marketplace devoted to socially-conscious goods.
  • Laura McDonald, communications specialist for GrowNYC, which runs greenmarkets and gardens throughout the city as well as hosts programs in environmental issues like recycling
  • Jessica Semmel, founder of Living Green NYC, which creates personalized plans for green, non-toxic homes
  • Lauren Singer, founder of the zero-waste website Trash is for Tossers; CEO of The Simply Co., a brand of organic, vegan cleaning products