Like most people, I am full of contradictions. I care about a better environment, try to support green businesses, and get onto my friends about recycling — yet, I also participate in fast fashion, buy packaged water bottles, and wouldn't think twice about devouring a juicy burger. On an eco-friendly scale of one to ten — one being a climate-change denier who eats steak three times a day; ten being this New York woman who can fit four years' of trash in a mason jar — I'm maybe a five or six. Lots of room to improve, am I right?

However, I'm also a huge proponent of taking baby steps. I admire those who are disciplined enough for plant-based diets and commuting via bicycle, but it's a standard that many — including myself — might have a hard time meeting. Though we could aspire to be more like those people, we should also focus more on making small, manageable changes to reduce our carbon footprint. On Earth Day this April 22, commit to incorporating these 13 minimal-effort behaviors in your daily life to keep this planet wild, beautiful, and well-preserved.  

1. Skip Meat Once a Week

Gone are the days when the words "meat-free" and "vegetarian" suggested wobbly tofu, soupy lentils, and sad salads. It's 2018, and we've upgraded to savory veggie toasts, hearty Buddha bowls, and plant-based burgers such as the Impossible Burger.

With vegetarian food more delicious and accessible than ever, it's high time to start eating more of it. Not convinced? Consider this: an average of 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce a single pound of beef, and 51% of greenhouse gas emissions — responsible for trapping radiation and warming the earth's surface — are caused by animal agriculture.

If you're an omnivore or carnivore, participating in Meatless Monday or having a "vegetarian day" each week can lead to a significantly better environment. Additionally, reducing the amount of red meat in diets also decrease the risk of premature death, cancer, and other diseases.

2. Don't Be Afraid to Buy Secondhand

Rebecca Fu

We live in a culture obsessed with shiny new things, but mass-producing new books, furniture, iPhones, cars, and clothing uses up a ton of resources. Next time you need to buy something, think about whether you can buy it secondhand. Some items, such as shoes, might be more unappealing to buy used, but you can wash thrifted clothing, read gently-used books, and invest in secondhand devices. Have doubts about the quality of a secondhand laptop or phone? Buying an item refurbished by a manufacturer ensures lower prices and quality control.

3. Switch to a Reusable Mug and Water Bottle

Apparently, national health experts recommend that the daily water intake of a woman my age should rival the amount fit for a small elephant, or 2.7 liters. I'm terrible about drinking water in general, and can't fill my Brita consistently to save my life, so I occasionally find myself grabbing a bottle of water from the neighborhood market.

Though I justify my purchase by recycling the bottle, producing one bottle of water still takes up a huge amount of the earth's resources (think: six times the water that goes in the final bottle and significant amounts of crude oil), not to mention packaging and shipping. By switching to reusable water bottles and requesting that your barista skip the single-use coffee cups and pour directly into your travel mug, you're eliminating waste without sacrificing convenience.

4. Drink Loose Leaf Tea

If you're a tea drinker, stop buying tea bags and start using a tea infuser, French press, or teapot to make loose leaf tea. On one hand, tea bags are usually made with the low-grade rejects of tea, if you will — stuff like dust and fannings that quickly lose the essential oils that make tea aromatic — while loose leaf tea expands in hot water, releasing minerals and flavors that make for a more delicious brew. On the other hand, drinking loose leaf tea is better environmentally, and can eliminate the oftentimes non-biodegradable packaging used in tea bags.

5. Save Your Unused Napkins From Eating Out

Did the guy at the drive-through window give you twelve too many napkins again? Don't let them go to the landfill — instead, save the napkins you haven't used in your glove department for future coffee spills and sauce stains. They'll come in handy, I promise. 

6. Take a Lyft Line or Uber Pool

Next time you decide to rideshare to dinner, do exactly that — if you're by yourself or with one other friend, opt for a Lyft Line or uberPool for a significantly discounted rate, and the app you're using will match you with riders headed in the same direction. Though these rides usually take a few minutes longer than a standard Lyft or Uber because they pick up multiple people, you'll save money on your ride, and fewer cars on the road and carbon emission will contribute to a better environment.

Feeling iffy about carpooling with strangers? Don't be — for all you know, you might leave the ride with a cutie's number and a dinner date set for the next Friday.

7. Skip Preheating Your Oven

My mom never took recipes too seriously and often skipped ingredients and instructions she deemed inconsequential, such as sprinkling "1 teaspoon salt" into cake batter or preheating the oven to "350° for 15 minutes before cooking". Like her, I also never got into the habit of preheating the oven before baking brownies or roasting vegetables. Turns out, my negligence comes with an environmentally-friendly upside — preheating an oven takes up massive amounts of energy, and it's becoming less necessary due to technologically-advanced ovens that heat up rapidly. 

8. Stash Reusable Grocery Bags in Your Car

I live in Austin, TX, one of the U.S. cities that bans single-use plastic bags, so I'm used to keeping reusable grocery bags in my car. However, for those living in cities that still offer plastic grocery bags at checkout, take the initiative to keep some cloth grocery bags at hand. If you forgot your bags at home, you can load the majority of your packaged grocery items (bags of chips, boxes of cereal, large fruits and vegetables) straight from the shopping cart to your car, and only use plastic bags to hold small, easy-to-lose items. 

9. Eat Local 

When you choose to eat local, you help reduce food shipping (right now, American food travels an average of 1,500 to 2,500 miles from farm to table), use less packaging, and support close-to-home farmers and restaurants who care a better environment. Additionally, you have a great excuse to wander lazily around your local farmer's market on weekends and fill your basket with heirloom tomatoes, fresh-cut blooms, and eggs that come in 5 different colors. 

10. Adjust Your Indoor Temperature

Adjusting the temperature in your home by one degree can save you 10% on your energy use over the year and dramatically cut down on your electric bill. When possible, turn off your heating or cooling system when you aren't home — and if you are, adjust your air conditioner a couple of degrees warmer and cooler than what you're usually used to relative to the outside temperature.

11. Go Paperless

I don't know about you, but I have too much going on in my life (like trying to keep my email inbox from spiraling out of control — who else is in the 100+ emails per day club?) to worry about all the physical junk mail, credit card offers, and precarious stacks of Yellow Pages taking up real estate on my kitchen counter. While you can go paperless by enabling electronic statements and paying your bills online, you can also control the amount of junk mail arriving at your door. 

Each year, over 100 million trees are cut down to produce junk mail, and the average American spends eight months of their lives dealing with annoying advertisements and offers. Free web services such as Catalog Choice gives you the freedom to go paperless by streamlining your mailbox and opting out of physical mail you don't want to receive. Though the service is free, you can also upgrade your account and gain access to a dashboard that allows you to see the direct environmental impacts of your actions, such as how many trees and gallons of water you saved.

12. Run Dishwashers and Laundry Machines Only When Full

Just did the laundry, but forgot to throw in the top you really wanted to wear tonight? Don't go for another load — you'd be using around 40 gallons of water to wash one flimsy piece of cloth. Instead, easily handwash the top with soap and detergent, then hang it out to dry. 

When it comes to the dishwasher as well, always make sure that you have a full load before running it. Americans are terrible at conserving water — if we were more conscious of the way we did laundry, we'd save enough water each year to fill 7 million swimming pools.

13. Use the Revolving Door

I've always avoided revolving doors because they make me feel like this guy trying to get in on the Double Dutch, but the clunky design of the revolving door actually serves to keep a building efficient and environmentally-friendly by regulating air pressure and temperature while minimizing cooling and heating costs. One study showed that if everybody used the revolving door of a building each time they entered, the building would save about 80,000 watts of energy — yet only 20-30% do when presented with the option. 

Earth Day is the one day where global environmental issues are discussed, yet it shouldn't just be that way. Instead of posting old vacation pics on Instagram as a tribute to our earth, we should commit to doing better in the future — even if they are small things such as not throwing away extra napkins and switching to a reusable coffee mug.