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18 simple ways to live green in LA

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Tips to make your home, neighborhood, and city more sustainable

Cicyclists cruise past the Westlake Theatre during a CicLAvia event.
CicLAvia 7 / Flickr creative commons

Climate change is such a profound threat, it’s easy to feel powerless. There’s no single solution, and individual actions can’t change the problem alone—but we aren’t totally helpless. There are easy approaches to living in Los Angeles in a way that’s more sustainable, so you can curtail your personal footprint.

With Earth Day just around the corner, we’ve compiled 18 ways to live greener daily, from asking your bartender not to put a straw in your Moscow Mule to picking up after your dog.

1. Stop using single-use straws, plastic water, bottles, coffee lids, and beverage cups. Santa Monica-based Health the Bay says drink-related trash accounts for 36 percent of all trash it picks up at beaches countywide. We’re using so much plastic worldwide that a recent study found that plastics in the ocean will outweigh fish pound for pound in 2050, according to the Washington Post.

2. Learn to compost—for free. On Saturday mornings, the city’s sanitation department hosts free workshops on backyard composting, smart gardening, worm composting, and grasscycling. Food scraps (and yard waste) make up as 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away, according the Environmental Protection Agency, and county residents generate enough waste to fill Dodger Stadium every two weeks, according to Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

3. Donate your surplus lemons and avocados. If your garden produces too much food for you to eat, don’t let the bounty go to waste. North Hollywood-based Food Forward collects fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, and nuts from from farmers markets, parks, and backyards. To donate or volunteer, go here.

4. Commute using the bus, subway, or train one day a week. Transportation is the fastest-growing contributor to the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Leave the car at home at least one day per week and be part of the solution. Plan your trip using or the nifty app Citymapper.

5. Sign up for a bike share near you. LA now has a half-dozen options for grabbing a bike to make short trips. Get an annual pass for Metro Bike or download the Social Bicycles app which works for many other local systems including Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Long Beach, and West Hollywood.

6. Use a neighborhood carwash. Heal the Bay says this is better than hosing down cars in a driveway, as most carwash businesses recycle water.

7. Plant a tree at home—for free. Trees provide shady canopies that not only provide habitats for birds and other animals, they also help reduce air temperatures. If you’re a resident of the city of Los Angeles, apply for a free tree for your yard, business, or parkway (that’s the space between the sidewalk and the street).

8. Help build an urban forest. Now that you know how important trees are, volunteer with TreePeople, a group that’s planting and caring for trees across the LA area. View its events calendar here.

9. Pick up after your dog. Storm drains carry rainwater—and everything else that lands in them—straight to the ocean, creeks and Los Angeles River. So when bacteria-laden animal waste is left on the ground, it can contaminate our local waterways.

10. Pick up trash from the beach. One of LA’s best resources/playground/treasures is its sparkling coastline. Help do your part to keep it clean by volunteering for one of the meany beach clean-ups hosted by Heal the Bay, Los Angeles Waterkeeper, Save Our Beach, and the Surfrider Foundation.

11. Purify with plants. No need to build a green wall, though that would be awesome. A decades-old study conducted by NASA found that certain plants like a snake plant or the monstera plant can remove carcinogens from the air in your home. NASA’s rule of thumb is to have one air-purifying plant for every 100 square feet of space.

petrunjela / Shutterstock

12. Shop local. If you buy food from your local farmers market, it helps local farmers stay in business and cut their costs and amount of pollution they create.

13. Buy second-hand. Before ordering apparel that’s brand-new, shop LA’s exceptional vintage shops, thrift stores, flea markets, and used clothing dens. As Racked LA says “our city knows how to pay tribute to style from the past, which is why tastemakers from around the globe flock here to visit the city's many buzz-worthy haunts.” Here’s a map of the best such shops in LA.

14. Draw a two-mile circle around your house and walk everywhere within it. You’ll not only realize how many places are an easy half-hour walk away, you’ll be able to eliminate unnecessary vehicle trips that make emissions and congestion worse.

Cafe Gratitude Arts District
Wonho Frank Lee

15. Eat vegan once a week. Cattle produce a lot of methane. A single cow can emit as much methane in a year as a car burning burning 235 gallons of gasoline, according to the Washington Post. So many groups fighting climate change encourage people to eat less beef. If you’re on board with trying curtail plant-warming emissions, our sister site, Eater LA, compiled a handy map of vegan restaurants.

16. Swap out your old appliances. Exchanging inefficient washing machines, refrigerators, dishwashers, and toilets for more eco-friendly models is a great way to conserve water, energy, and sometimes even money. The LADWP offers a number of rebates to customers who upgrade to green-friendly appliances and fixtures, which generally produce savings on your monthly bill as well.

17. Air dry your clothes. This is Southern California. Take advantage of the sunny weather, and let your clothes dry the old-fashioned way.

18. Get rid of junk mail. Yes, this is actually sort of possible. By visiting this website, you can opt out of receiving all those insurance or loan offers that take up valuable real estate in the recycling bin. And if catalogs keep filling your mailbox, Catalog Choice allows you to take your name off the mailing list. Also consider signing up for paperless billing with your banks and utility providers.

— Curbed editors Alissa Walker, Elijah Chiland, and Melissa Romero contributed to this post.