I’m not an eco-warrior. I don’t live a zero waste lifestyle or make much effort to wear ethically sourced, vegan clothing. I’m not even a vegetarian, though I have cutback on the amount of meat I consume as I’ve increased my vegetable intake. But I do care about the planet and I’m trying to reduce the overall amount of waste I produce. And, as it turns out, there are a lot of easy swaps and lifestyle changes. I’ve been implementing them over the last year or so.
I’ve already written to you guys about my tips for reducing food waste. If you’re not prepared to go full on green with product swaps, just changing your behavior in the kitchen can make a big dent. It can also save you a lot of money and help you eat healthier. Since I’m on a budget, trying to stay healthy, and not a fan of watching my money get chucked into the trash, meal planning was the very first lifestyle change I made and making this switch has drastically reduced the amount of wasted food leaving my kitchen. I like to joke that at the end of the week my fridge is basically barren except for condiments and alcohol. But this is how it should look if, like me, you only buy exactly what you need. I’d much rather make a second trip to the store than toss out something I didn’t have a chance to eat before it went bad.
About a year ago, I also made a conscious choice to stop shopping at fast fashion retailers. I could write a dozen blog posts about why this is a good idea, but there are already a ton of people out there talking about it. As a result of this choice, I can count the new items I’ve purchased on one hand: a bridesmaid dress, a pair of athletic pants, a pair of shorts, and two Cashmere sweaters. The rest of the “new” pieces in my wardrobe have come from closet swaps with friends and consignment shops and I love that I’ve been able to give some clothing new life. I haven’t waded into the world of ethically sourced vegan clothing yet because I’ve been doing well with just secondhand for the most part, but at some point I will probably venture out into that domain. I just haven’t needed to yet. After only a year, most of the clothing I already own is still in very good shape. (Bonus tip: hanging your clothes to dry will help them last longer, as will reading the care instructions on the label.)
I know it isn’t an option for everyone, but where possible I recommend switching to public transportation or carpools. I live in a city and I don’t know how to drive so this is a must as well as a no brainer for me. Still, anything we can do to reduce our carbon footprint is worthwhile and even if I could drive, I would probably still try and find a mass transit option. I just feel better about it. So if you live near enough to your grocery store to walk or there’s a train you can take to work instead of driving in, try it out. Every little bit counts.
Quit using plastic bags at the grocery store and start using reusable totes. They’re incredibly accessible these days and it’s easy to just keep a few in the car or one in your backpack for that unexpected trip to the store. I’ve slipped up once or twice of course, but ultimately I prefer the totes. They’re sturdier, they hold more, and they’re way easier to carry over my shoulder when hauling groceries several blocks down the road (for those of us who don’t drive). They even fit nicely into my pushcart without falling all over each other. Plus, they don’t end up in a landfill or clogging up a river. There are even some nice DIY tutorials online that will show you how to make your own tote from old T-shirts if you don’t feel like buying one.
Switch to a reusable water bottle. Most people know how terrible plastic bottles are and I think a good number of people have already come around to the idea of carrying a refillable one. Still, there are some holdouts so I feel like I should mention it because it’s an incredibly easy swap with a really big impact. The same goes for coffee cups too; try a refillable thermos or mug instead of a disposable cup. Especially if you drink multiple cups a day.
Ditch the plastic sandwich bags in your lunch. I still keep a box of snack size ones handy in the house for an emergency, but when I’m packing my lunch I use various sizes of Tupperware or Snapware. And if I do use a plastic bag, then I generally reuse it a few times. You can always put more cheerios into the same bag they just came from, you know? Plus, I’ve found that the Tupperware keeps my lunch from getting crushed, especially since I’m eating a lot more fruits and veggies now. Similarly, I advise keeping reusable utensils or an old set of silverware at your desk to use at lunchtime. Why use a fork once, when you can just wash one over and over?
Try reusable dryer balls instead of dryer sheets. If you can’t line dry all of your clothing (which is the most eco-friendly option) then the dryer balls will still take out the static, without wearing down your clothing in the high heat or adding access chemicals. Plus, they’re reusable. Which means no more single use sheets that you have to buy over and over again. It’s a money saver and a greener alternative. And I know for a fact that they come in cute shapes.
Switch to reusable mesh produce bags. As I mentioned above, I’ve been eating a lot more fruits and veggies. Which also means that until recently I was using a lot more of those plastic produce bags at the store. And not only am I not thrilled with the idea of wrapping my food in plastic, but I also felt like it negated the work I did switching out the plastic grocery bags for totes. So I bought a set of produce bags that are made of recycled plastic bottles and I absolutely love them. They allow the produce to breathe and you can toss them right into the washing machine if they get dirty!
I’m going to be making a couple of other changes soon, too. This has been an ongoing process for me and there are plenty of other swaps and lifestyle changes that I’m working up to. For instance, I have a set of reusable metal drinking straws in my Amazon cart that will replace plastic ones restaurants and bars like to give out, as well as a set of microfiber cleaning cloths I hope to use instead of paper towels. I’m also researching different options for sustainable period products, though I haven’t yet made a switch. (But I definitely will now that I know how long it takes for the single use products to decompose.) So there’s more work to be done, but it helps that I’m not trying to crash course my way through it. In my experience, if you want the habit to stick then you have to take it a little bit at a time. That said, if you know of any other swaps or can recommend any other ways to become more sustainable please let me know.*
*Unfortunately my county doesn’t have compost pickup yet (some of the neighboring ones pick up at the local farmers markets), but I do recycle and try to reduce the amount of overall trash I produce. I can do better, but I think it will take a little more creativity on my part. Ultimately though, I would like to start composting since most of my “trash” is odds and ends of food that can’t go down my disposal rather than actual packaging.