It's easy to think about all the big changes you're going to make in the New Year as the old year comes to an end — but by the second week of January, most of us are already finding reasons to skip the gym or break the spending freeze. That's why we've come up with 10 green New Year's resolutions so easy you'll have no excuse not to keep them — and as they help you save money, cut your carbon footprint, decrease your home's waste stream, and improve the quality of the Earth, you'll be glad you did.
1. Never buy bottled water again
Trade your bottled water habit for an at-home filtering pitcher and you can help make a dent in the 17 million barrels of oil used to make plastic water bottles each year; pair it with a reusable bottle (like one made of glass, aluminum or recycled plastic), and you'll always be prepared to tackle your thirst. Bonus: With bottled water no longer on your shopping list, you could save as much as $1,400 this year.
2. Brew your own Fair Trade coffee
Carrying your own coffee in an insulated travel mug helps you reduce waste from cardboard cups and carrying sleeves — which are thrown away at a staggering rate of 58 billion each year. For greener at-home brewing, choose a Fair Trade blend that supports farmers; add organic milk instead of artificial creamers; and try a French press (instead of a traditional brewer) to save electricity.
3. Cut back on paper towels
If you're grabbing a paper towel for everything from wiping up spills and cleaning your counter to scrubbing the bathroom and keeping your hands clean at dinner, it's time to make a change. Instead, invest in a few cotton cloths and some fabric napkins; then drop them in the wash when you run a load of laundry. Using the cloth alternatives is just as easy as using the paper versions, and you only need to buy them once — plus you can help eliminate the 13 billion pounds of paper towels that end up landfills every day.
4. Remember your reusable bags
With more than 1 million plastic bags ending up in the trash every minute, taking reusable bags to the store is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint — but the hardest part about using them is simply remembering to take them with you.
5. Use a bike for short trips
It takes a certain amount of dedication to permanently give up a car in favor of a bike, but even an eco-slacker can make it work for short trips that don't require hauling a lot of stuff: picking up milk at the local grocery store, after-dinner ice cream at your favorite dessert spot, your morning yoga class, brunch with friends at the coffee shop. Ride your bike for trips shorter than 2 miles and you could cut your carbon footprint significantly, save money on gasoline and car maintenance, and increase your fitness level — all at the same time.
6. Eliminate phantom power
It takes approximately one second to unplug the charger for your cell phone, mp3 player, e-reader, or iPad — but if you really can't be bothered, then let nifty, energy-efficient gadgets do the work for you. Use power strips to turn off all your appliances at once; put your television, DVD player, game system, and stereo on a timer so they automatically shut off overnight; and invest in chargers that stop drawing current when the device's battery is full. You could cut your energy bill by as much as 10 percent annually — without lifting a finger.
7. Order from your local CSA
Going to the farmer's market always sounds like such a great idea — until Saturday morning rolls around and you realize you have to get up early, have enough cash and fight other customers for the best strawberries. Instead, have your local CSA program do the hard part for you by putting together a box of their best produce each week — and, if you're really feeling lazy, have it delivered right to your door so you get fresh, local fruits and vegetables without giving up your lazy coffee-and-crossword mornings.
8. Become a part-time vegetarian
Cutting your meat intake in half can decrease your carbon footprint by about a ton each year — and coming up with meat-free meals isn't as hard as it sounds. Try pancakes and fruit for breakfast; fresh salads or roasted vegetable sandwiches for lunch; and veggie pizza, bean soups, and creamy risottos for dinner. And since doubling a recipe rarely adds any time to your prep work, you can make extras to eat throughout the week (and trim your carbon footprint even more).
9. Switch to green power
Switching your home to run on green power sounds like a big job — installing solar panels, geothermal energy or a tankless hot water heater is not a job for the construction-impaired. But you can make this happen without getting out of your chair: Call your local energy company and see if they offer renewable options (most do). You might see a small jump in your bill, but it's an easy way to make a big change.
10. Replace your lightbulbs
Replacing your lightbulbs with compact fluorescent lights may be the ultimate change for the eco-slacker. Despite all the jokes, it takes only one person to change a lightbulb — and since CFLs last longer than traditional bulbs, you'll be saving time for years down the road while cutting your energy use by as much as 80 percent. Can't even face the hardware store? Order your bulbs online and have them come straight to your door.
This story was originally written for Treehugger. Copyright 2010.