For years, I’ve presented myself as a friend to the environment. My social media profiles are littered with sustainability-based posts, and I’ve written dozens of articles on the subject. But that doesn’t mean that I’m any greener than the next person.
In fact, I’m probably worse. Sure, I drive a hybrid, but I also fly. A lot. I grow herbs and succulents, but I also take the longest showers known to man. At least twice a week, I forget clothes in the washing machine and have to rewash them because they turn mildewy. With a little positive spin, these are just the natural tradeoffs of “a guy doing his best” — but the fact is, I’ve known for a long time that I ought to do better. There’s nothing stopping me, no reasonable excuses… and yet, I haven’t ever truly made sustainability (on a personal, day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis) a priority.
With my home-state of California in the throes of a major drought (which is perpetual considering our population to rain ratio), I reached out to sustainability expert Evan Marks and his team at The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano. I asked them to throw as many water-related eco challenges at me as they dared. There was only one rule: They had to offer up changes that I could make in the matter of a day.
Here are the results, ranked by difficulty on a scale of 0-10:
Save one gallon per single use plastic bottle: Every 20 oz packaged water bottle takes six-times the volume of the bottle to manufacture and transport. Reduce plastic waste, save water, and protect our oceans by using a reusable bottle instead. Make a bigger impact by carrying all of your to-go food and beverages in reusable containers.
On its face, this seemed like a breeze. I work from home and drink out of glassware. I almost never buy plastic bottles. But as I read over this tip, I realized that the crew at The Ecology Center also wanted me to bring Tupperware to restaurants when I ordered to-go food. Difficult? Not really. Embarrassing? For sure. And herein lies another quandary: Will we take the extra step for the environment, even if it makes us feel like a weirdo?
I complied by bringing Tupperware to my favorite taco shop and having them drop my meal in that. Did I get raised eyebrows? Sure. But by my count, I saved aluminum from the wrapping, paper from the bag (and napkins, because I brought cloth), and all of the water that it takes to produce those items.
DIFFICULTY RATING: 3.5
Use a Bucket
Save five gallons every time you use a bucket: Keep precious drops from going down the drain. Capture and recycle water from your shower or dishwater as it heats up. Use this water to take wash linens, water household plants, rinse off your swimsuit, and more. Save five to 10 gallons with each fill.
Putting a bucket under your faucet every time you warm water up is a hassle in the most minor degree. This is actually something I’ve done intermittently for the past decade and given up because…as easy as it is to do, it’s even easier not to.
I put a bucket under the faucet before taking my shower and kept it in place while I took my shower. By the end of my shower, it was half-full — not bad considering the fact that I’d also taken a truncated shower. After going to the gym, I tried showering inside a tub, which was even more effective. I poured the water into a garden bed filled with succulents and thyme (the world’s most underrated herb, by the way).
DIFFICULTY RATING: 2.0
Eat Less Meat
Save 3,000 gallons per week: Take a step down the food chain and save. It takes water to feed, process, transport, and store meat; up to 1,600 gallons for one pound of beef. Swapping green for red just a couple times a week saves thousands of gallons of water.
This one didn’t give me much trouble. I think the key is drawing out those savory umami flavors that I love without help from meat. I used garlic, onions, mole seasoning, chili powder, vegetable stock, and paprika to draw those rich, savory flavors out of mushrooms and bell peppers to make veggie tacos. They were damn good, and I didn’t miss the beef.
DIFFICULTY RATING: 1.5
Save five gallons per day: Energy is water and water is energy, so flip the switch. Replace inefficient household bulbs with CFLs and LEDs, and turn off all electronics when not in use.
There’s no trick here — this is literally about turning off lights and appliances. I unplugged my microwave (which I use roughly once a decade), emphasized not leaving a room without flipping the lights off (insanely easy), and even turned the heat off (and compensated with an extra blanket).
The total effort involved was almost none — I just had to remind myself a few times.
DIFFICULTY RATING: 1.0
Turn Off the Tap
Save eight gallons per day: A typical faucet runs two to four gallons per minute. Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth, shaving, soaping up, or washing dishes. Simple habit changes make a big difference — see just how little water you need to get the job done.
FACT: If you can’t manage this, you just don’t care. Literally all that is involved here is not running water when you don’t need it. Mostly, when brushing your teeth. That means all you have to do is turn the faucet off while brushing, then back on when you spit. Two wrist rotations. I did the same while shaving, because I’m a f*cking national hero.
DIFFICULTY RATING: 0.5
Save two gallons per day: Toilets are the biggest water users inside the home. In addition to flushing less often, displacing the water in your toilet tank generates easy water savings. Put a brick or sand-filled bottle in your tank to save ¼ gallon with every flush.
Going green doesn’t get much easier than this. Your toilet tank holds too much water; this trick makes it hold less. I added a plastic bottle filled with sand into my tank to displace water, noticed absolutely no difference in my life, and was done in approximately two minutes. It was the easiest thing I’ve ever done.
DIFFICULTY RATING: 0.000000000001
**To see someone taking far bigger steps to change the world, check out this episode of Luminaries, an Uproxx original series.**