Earth Day 2015: Easy ways to go green

Rain barrel
Go green by using a barrel to collect rain water for watering plants or washing cars.
Kieran | Creative Commons via Flickr

It's not easy being green — or is it?

Wednesday marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. It was founded in 1970 by Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson as a day of education about environmental issues. Nelson was inspired by anti-Vietnam War protests taking place at the time and wanted to draw attention to pollution and green awareness by holding a national teach-in on environmental issues.

The first Earth Day drew more than 20 million Americans to rallies across the nation. Today, more than a billion people participate in Earth Day activities annually, making it the largest civic observance in the world, according to the Earth Day Network.

Interested in going green but don't have the resources for a massive overhaul? Here are a few relatively simple ideas from the Environmental Protection Agency for saving energy and reducing waste on Earth Day — or any day.

At home

Wash clothes in cold water and only when there is a full load. The average household can also save as much as $40 annually by making the switch from hot to cold water in the laundry, the EPA says.

Automatic thermostat
Using an automatic thermostat can help conserve energy.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2009

• Before leaving home or when you're sleeping, adjust the thermostat to conserve energy. Or, use a programmable thermostat.

Replace your five most frequently used lights with energy efficient bulbs. Here's a room-by-room guide from Consumer Reports.

Reduce food waste by buying only what you need and use leftovers wisely: Take them to work, freeze chicken and vegetable scraps and use them for stock, etc.

The EPA says the average family throws away $1,600 a year in wasted food. Minnesotans alone threw out 517,000 tons of food waste in 2012, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. And that doesn't count food left in the fields — that's only what gets thrown away and ends up in landfills or waste energy facilities.

Here are additional tips for reducing food waste at home.

When washing dishes by hand, plug up the sink or use a wash basin. If you have a dishwasher, use it only when fully loaded.

Outdoors and in your car

Put down the hose. Instead, sweep driveways, sidewalks and steps.

Use barrels to collect rainwater for watering plants or washing cars. Learn how to build one here.

Composting food and yard waste can reduce the amount of garbage sent to landfills. Need a hand getting started? Check out this how-to guide.

Train arrives in downtown Minneapolis
The light rail arrives at a station in downtown Minneapolis on May 16, 2014.
Caroline Yang | For MPR News 2014

Composting will get simpler for Minneapolis residents soon. In January, the city announced it will launch the first phase of a citywide curbside composting program late this summer.

Avoid idling and instead turn off vehicles when parked. Idling can use up a quarter- to a half-gallon of fuel per hour, depending on engine size and air conditioner use, according to

Telecommute, walk, bike or use public transportation. The EPA says leaving your car at home for two days a week can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by an average of two tons per year.

At work

• Designate someone to turn off all lights and equipment at the end of the work day.

Print only what you need — and use two-sided printing and copying.

Recycle paper products, batteries and used printer cartridges.

Donate used equipment to schools or other organizations.

Reuse file folders by sticking new labels over old ones, or fold files in the reverse direction.

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