It wasn't until I watched "An Inconvenient Truth" that I felt my attitude about the world's state change. It went from "I can't make that much of a difference" to "Even if it starts at just me, it's starting somewhere." Others see by your example and change their own behaviors. Even if they don't, know that you are living in a way that is gentle on the earth. And don't you want to care for things you find valuable?
Lifestyle changes are hard though, especially if you're not in the right mindset. So don't do it because "everyone tells you to" or you feel obligated to. Do it because you want to make a difference, and you want to care for the earth. Do it because you want to. Because without that mindset, you're not going to do anything wholeheartedly.
I read in Organic Housekeeping that it takes 21 days for someone to form a new habit or break a habit. So if you're willing, try to change little things for 21 days in a row. Here are some great and easy ways to start if you don't know where to start!
Recycling is one of the easier ways to lessen your impact. Instead of contributing to landfills, you're allowing something to become something new and reused. Most major cities have a lot of recycling programs out there, Earth 911 is a great way to start finding recycling locations near your area.
Luckily for us, we have recycling bins near our trash bins in the complex (although it irritates me to no end when I see recyclable things in the trash!!). If you don't have a recycling program in your area, try and find out how you can implement one in your neighborhood - people will recycle more because it'll be more convenient for them.
I know in California, they raised the return money for recycling this past year, for you get 10 cents for large containers and 5 cents for small ones. You can find more information at bottlesandcans.com. We currently keep all bottles and cans and plastics in plastic bins and everything else (paper, cardboard) goes into the neighborhood recycling bins. We also recycle the plastic grocery bags we get, I know the Ralph's supermarket in our neighborhood takes used plastic bags for recycling - check your neighborhood store if they do too.
(Our dog, Gromit, not included)
This one is a little more costly, since I know a lot of people re-use plastic bags as trash bags (*ahem* like my parents.. and most Asian families). But recycle those bags, and use biodegradable bags instead! I get a satisfying feeling when I know that I'm using something that wasn't from non-renewable sources, and that they biodegrade.
They cost about $5 a box, and you can find them at most Whole Foods or natural food store. I have yet to see them at Trader Joe's though! The only problem is that you can't really throw out food in the bags because well... they biodegrade. Well you probably could if you took out the trash more regularly than we do... :P
Yes, buying organic does cost more. But I think of it this way - I'd rather be spending more out of my own pocket, than harming the earth and my health. Same goes for buying things like Bio Bags. Also, supply and demand. The more demand in organic foods, the lower the prices will get. Spend your money where your mouth is.
Two things to look out for when buying organic:
Look for the USDA label. This means that the product is certified organic, because really, anyone could label their stuff "organic." This was only recently implemented in 2002.
When buying produce, look at the number stickers. If there's a "9" in front of a 4-digit number, then it was grown organically. If there's a "8" in front of it, it means that it was genetically modified (STAY AWAY!) If there are only 4 digits, then it was grown conventionally.
Also, pay attention to where it was grown! Try buying local - farmers markets are great, and read the signs and labels to see where it came from. The closer they are, they less energy it took to bring it to you. And that's better for the planet, yes?
Again, buying recycled does cost more, but you're reusing, yes? Make sure you check the label and read the percentage of POST-COMSUMER waste that was used. Meaning, people already used it, rather than pre-consumer, which means that it could be from things like wood shavings on a mill floor or something. The higher the post-consumer, the better.
Using cloth bags is one thing that I have a hard time remembering to do because when I want to go to the store, it's on a whim, and I don't have my bags with me. So sometimes I have to grudgingly get a bag, or just carry without bags. But when you can, use reusable bags! Some stores give discounts, or put you in a raffle when you use your own bag. Apparently, IKEA is starting to charge for plastic bags. I know many places in the UK and overseas do this, and I'm so glad SOMEONE is starting this in the US.
You can get bags at many stores - Trader Joe's has the canvas ones for $3, and there are many great ones you can buy at reusablebags.com.
Looking back, that's all a lot of information, and it may be a lot to take in - but you can always start small! Recycle for a bit first, then move onto something else. But all these things are good to keep in your mind when shopping at the grocery store. What helped me in the beginning because I felt very overwhelmed with ideas, is to jot things down. Make a list of all the things you want to change, and cross them off when you accomplish them - it was easy for me after that, cause I constantly thought about it. Your mileage may vary :)