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Recently, a major United Nations report came out saying how quickly climate change is accelerating. Considered a “code red for humanity,” this is a drastic reminder of the necessity to look for ways we can live more sustainably on a daily basis.

Perhaps, like me, you did not grow up in a family with a strong, conscious intention of sustainability. I learned about recycling in school, and taking the recycling out was a rotating chore on my mom’s weekly chore list. In school science classes, we briefly discussed things like global warming, changing weather patterns, and the importance of taking care of the environment. But I never really gave it much attention beyond that.

As an adult, I’ve learned much more about the extent to which human activity affects climate change (in particular, activities contributing to heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions in the earth's atmosphere)—and could affect generations to come. Such knowledge has led me to consider more deeply the practical ways I can live a sustainable life.

The possibilities are endless, but we all have to start somewhere. These ideas are some simple ways to get started on contributing to a healthier environment.

Start recycling

Yes, it is that easy. Just simply begin, even if you don’t always do it perfectly, It is always better to have started than not at all. Many cities today have local recycling programs you can opt into, and some even require it.

Maybe you learned about recycling in elementary school, but you might even be surprised that many Americans do not know much about what can actually be recycled (greasy pizza boxes cannot be, for instance). Meanwhile, recycling aluminum saves 90 percent of the energy it would take to create new aluminum, making it one of the most cost-effective materials to recycle (don’t be surprised if you start seeing water sold in aluminum cans these days). Wherever you are in your recycling journey, today you can take one step further.

Minimize overall waste

Disposable kitchen products are some of the biggest offenders when it comes to unnecessary waste. Work to eliminate things like disposable plates, napkins, cups, paper towels, and silverware from your kitchen. Be creative and look to see where you can replace items with more sustainable choices.

Invest in cloth napkins (try Home Goods or Etsy) and reusable paper towels. Buy food in bulk when possible. Meal planning can also help minimize how much food you throw away.

Conserve energy

Simple actions like turning out lights when you don’t really need them or opting for cold water when washing laundry can add up. Unplug appliances like your blender or phone charger when not actually using them (they are still using energy, even when they’re off!). Schedule your heating system to be used only when you are home, and think about energy-free solutions like leaving the heat a few degrees cooler in winter.

Buy local whenever possible

The environmental impact of getting food from one place hundreds of miles from another is significant. Buying local products is also a great way to support community businesses. More often than not, local farmers are committed to raising animals and crops in eco-friendly ways. For you as a consumer, that means cleaner food and cleaner land and water for the surrounding areas.

Buy smart

Buying smart can look like lots of different things. You might use thrift store shopping as a cost-effective way to shop for clothes and home decor. If you are preparing to buy a home or car, consider energy-efficient options. While they tend to cost more upfront, the savings come afterward, and it could be worth it in the long run. Depending on the product or service, there is usually an option to use your purchasing power in smart, sustainable ways if you look for it.

Sustainable living is not something any of us will do perfectly. However, with more awareness and dedication to small and intentional changes, our daily efforts can make a difference for years to come.