We are all at different stages of our sustainability journey, and have different goals for what our ideal eco-friendly lifestyle would look like. This month, we’re diving into the sustainability journey, and giving you tips, tricks, and suggestions on how to take the next step – no matter where you are.
We’re going to break it down in 3 categories: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. But please, don’t let these categories hold you back! Even if you are new to sustainable or zero waste living, but find something in the advanced category that interests you and can be implemented in your lifestyle…try it! These categories are simply our way of breaking down products and lifestyle shifts by the time and energy they usually require. Let’s start with some of our favorite simple changes below!
New to sustainable living? Here are some of our favorite ways to make your life more eco-friendly, without a major time commitment or huge lifestyle change. Many of these involve reducing single-use waste – so we suggest you start by doing a “waste audit” in your home, and analyzing where you create the most non-recyclable trash.
We love single-use swaps here at EarthHero. They’re a wonderful way to kickstart your sustainability journey, and to get you hooked on finding other ways you can live mindfully. The best way to start is by thinking about what kinds of single-use products you’re using in your home and life. If you go to a coffee shop every morning and are use a single-use cup, or rely on plastic wrap, those can be easily upgraded to reusable options! Although reusable options will have a larger upfront cost, over time they will save you money. There are way too many single-use swaps to count, but we’ll list some of our favorites here:
- Unpaper towels
- Food storage bags
- Food wraps
- Ear swabs
- Grocery bags
- Produce bags
- Water bottles
- Food storage containers
- Coffee filters
- And so much more. Check out our entire Zero Waste category for more inspiration!
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
We’ve all heard of this one – reduce, reuse, recycle! It sounds pretty simple, and it can be.
Let’s start with reducing. This means reducing, across the board, the amount of things you buy and use. If you already have 15 coffee mugs, don’t buy another! You don’t have to go full minimalism, but reducing the amount of clutter and impulse purchases in your life will reduce waste, and will probably help your space feel cleaner and more purposeful.
Next, let’s reuse! Very similar to our single-use swaps, reusing is all about extending the life of the products you use. Instead of using that plastic food storage container you got with takeout once, wash it and use it again and again! Same goes for that plastic spoon you accidentally got with your food delivery. You can also find creative ways to repurpose things that can’t be used for their original purpose. For example, toothbrush handles can easily become planter pot markers.
Last but not least, recycle! Most cities have recycling collection – so do a bit of research about what can and can’t be recycled in your area. Recycling gives used products a new life, and keeps waste out of our landfills! Check out the blog 7 Surprising Things You Can’t Recycle Curbside for more recycling tips and tricks.
Cleaning + Laundry Products
Cleaning and laundry probably aren’t something you think about a whole lot…but they can be incredibly wasteful with plastic packaging, and can contain potentially harmful toxins you definitely don’t want in your home. When it comes to cleaning products, look for dish soap that comes plastic-free and toxin-free, refillable glass spray bottles, toxin-free all-purpose sprays, and brushes, gloves, and tools that are made from eco-friendly materials. Swedish dishcloths are an awesome alternative to cleaning with paper towels, and we love these trash bags made from recycled materials for any waste! For laundry, swap out single-use dryer sheets (which can actually damage your clothes!) for reusable dryer balls. Look for laundry detergent or powder that has high quality, toxin-free ingredients. You can even use a plastic-free stain stick for spots! Check out all of our cleaning products, and all of our laundry products.
Personal Care Routine
Your personal care routine might be creating more waste than you think! Did you know that flexible plastic shampoo, conditioner, or body care bottles can’t be recycled? Take a look at the products you need for your hair, body, skin, and teeth – and find plastic-free alternatives with better, biodegradable ingredients! For oral care, we love a classic bamboo toothbrush, with some toothpaste tabs packaged in glass. Get an aluminum-free deodorant that comes in compostable or recyclable materials – not plastic – like these! For hair care, you can’t go wrong with shampoo and conditioner bars, or refillable options. For skin care, we love ethical brands that are packaged in glass – like Earth Harbor, Activist Collective, and so many more! It may take some getting used to when shifting your personal care routine, but the result will be better products in your life, and less waste!
These “intermediate” recommendations are for people who have already implemented common single-use swaps in their life, and are looking for things that require a bit more time, energy, or planning. Try what works for you!
Microplastic pollution is quickly becoming a mounting crisis, with our oceans and waterways becoming filled with tiny (or even microscopic) plastic particles formed by larger plastic pieces breaking down, or by things like microbeads from personal care products. Microplastics can be ingested by animals, and cause rippling impacts across the food chain. So how can you help? To start, don’t purchase products that contain microbeads – mainly in some personal care products (oftentimes scrubs). When it comes to purchasing clothing, look for clothes made from natural fibers, not synthetic ones like nylon, which can wash off plastic microthreads in the wash. For synthetic clothing you do have, use a laundry microfiber catching device – either the Cora Ball or the Guppyfriend. These items let you capture microthreads before they enter our waterways, allowing them to be disposed of properly. For any small waste pieces you may use in your life (like bread ties), when you need to toss them, make an “eco brick” by containing it in something with a lid – like a plastic bottle – so they don’t float away when disposed of.
What does your grocery routine look like? Do you just show up and start shopping? With a little bit of pre-planning and a few key products, you can transform your routine into something compatible with your sustainability journey. To start, invest in reusable grocery bags and reusable produce bags to replace plastic bags. In terms of the items you purchase, look for items packaged in paper, cardboard, metal, or glass – instead of plastic. If possible, get certain items in bulk, and bring your own containers to take your bulk items home! Buying local, organic produce that’s in season and going to your local farmer’s market are some other great options for healthy food that’s healthier for the planet.
Fast fashion is an incredibly wasteful industry, producing eight percent of the world’s carbon emissions. To combat this, reduce the amount of cheaply produced clothing you purchase – especially clothing made from nylon, spandex, or other synthetic fibers, which are usually based from petroleum. If you do need to buy new clothes, look for ethical companies, or shop secondhand clothing. We also recommend buying clothing in classic cuts and colors – so it never goes out of style! And if something in your wardrobe breaks or tears, try to repair it – not replace it. If you buy high quality items that will last a lifetime instead of fast fashion, your wardrobe will be a lot more sustainable!
Menstrual Care Routine
If you menstruate, it’s time to rethink your routine! And the good news is that there’s a sustainable swap for a variety of menstrual products. If you use tampons, swap for organic cotton tampons that won’t potentially leach harmful chemicals into your body. You can get some with a cardboard (not plastic) applicator, or go applicator free. If you use pads or liners you can get organic cotton ones, or even reusable ones! If you want to go completely zero waste with your routine, we love menstrual cups. They’re reusable, zero waste, and plastic free – and are an awesome product for your sustainability journey.
Although we’re calling this stage “advanced,” it really just means that these eco-friendly lifestyle choices might take a fair amount of time, energy, or planning – but don’t let that stop you from trying them! Once you start a sustainable habit, it will get easier and more natural over time – and soon it’ll just be part of your everyday routine.
Let’s talk about composting! There’s two ways to make it part of your journey: home composting, or industrial composting. Home composting means you’ll have to have your own compost pile in your backyard or in a compost turner, both which require a bit of space. For industrial composting, you’ll have to have access to an industrial facility through your city – and they will either pick up your compost, or allow you to drop it off. Find out which way is accessible to you, and dive in! If you’re home composting, find some of our favorite tips here. If you’re composting through your city, do some research to see what they will accept. Either way you’ll likely want to invest in a countertop compost bin, which makes it easy to move your compost either to the backyard pile or a larger bin. Composting at home can be a bit tricky, so utilize knowledge from pros on the internet (including yours truly!) or people in your community.
Going 100 percent zero waste is nearly impossible, since there will always be a few things in your life that can’t be recycled or composted. For anything you absolutely need in your life but can’t curbside recycle or compost, check out TerraCycle Boxes! TerraCycle collects hard-to-recycle items and does it for you. They have some free take-back programs (find those here), but also have boxes you can purchase and fill in your home. Buy it, fill it, and mail it to them, and feel good about diverting your waste from our landfills!
Americans toss out approximately 133 billion tons of food every year, most of which sits in our landfills creating greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing food waste can be tricky, but it is worth it! To start, invest in plastic-free food storage that will extend the life of your produce, leftovers, etc. For food scraps that can’t be consumed like banana peels, look for ways to compost them! For most veggie food scraps, we love making vegetable broth. Check out how to do that here! Working on portion control, meal prepping, and of course, actually eating those leftovers will all help as well.
You can save money and resources by trying DIY projects! DIY aka “do it yourself” is making or creating something you would otherwise have to purchase. There are a million ways to DIY, but some of our favorites are making your own nut milk with a nut milk bag, making homemade tortillas with a tortilla press, or baking your own bread and storing it in a bread bag! You can also DIY furniture, crafts, cleaning supplies, and so much more. It can be fun for friends and family to do together as well!
Living sustainably looks different for everyone. The important thing is that you’re trying, and taking steps each day to be mindful of your impact on the planet. We hope these beginner, intermediate, and advanced tips have sparked some ideas about the next steps in your sustainability journey. What’s an action or habit that you’re hoping to implement this year? Comment below!