18 Ways You Can Be More Environmentally Friendly

  • Keep an open mind. Because we have gotten so used to the convenience that comes with one time use items and plastic packaging, I think that the biggest thing you can do to start becoming more environmentally friendly is to keep an open mind as you start this process. Some of the swaps I mention further down may take some getting used to, and, in some cases, they may even take up a little bit more of your time or money. Also, you may try some of these more eco-friendly options and not like the first product or two that you try, but you have to keep an open mind and keep experimenting until you find a sustainable option that works for you. I truly believe it’s all worth it for a happier and healthier planet, which is an indirect way to choose happiness in my book.
  • Bring your own reusable bags to stores and use them in place of plastic bags (including plastic produce bags). Now I know that these can take some extra planning on your part, and extra time or money if you don’t already have them on hand already, but once you get used to bringing them, I promise it’s really not that bad! My husband and I have been using these fairly regularly for several years now, and I cannot tell you how many plastic bags they have saved! More recently, we started trying to use these even in quick runs into places like the pharmacy or a convenience store (although admittedly we haven’t been making a lot of those quick trips much lately), rather than just at the grocery store, and we also started using smaller reusable bags in place of the plastic produce bags as well. Now with this, I feel like there can be two major issues for people wanting to transition to these. First, the potential cost of them, and second, leaving them in your car on your shopping trips and not realizing it until you’re already in the store. I struggled with both of these issues when I first began trying to use them, and I have a few pieces of advice to pass on that (I hope) will alleviate your worries and help you move past those issues. As far as cost, there are homemade options you can go with from things like homemade t-shirts like this. There are all kinds of options out there, some of which might require a sewing machine, and some that are no-sew. Lots of businesses also give out bags as promotional items that are literally perfect for reusable grocery bags too, so although there probably aren’t a lot of expo type of events happening right now, you may already have some bags from things like that in the past that could work. You also probably don’t need as many reusable bags as you think you may because they fit WAY more than plastic or even paper bags normally do, and if you still need a few, rather than buying new ones from whatever grocery store you normally shop at, you could also check at your local thrift store for some first (or even for cheap t-shirts you could turn into bags yourself). And for the second issue, which I feel like is dealing with forgetting the bags in your car (something I did all the time when I first started), you can try these collapsible bags from Earthhero that fit on your keychain. You can also try putting them somewhere you’ll remember them, like your passenger seat, or writing a note to remember your bags on your list (whether it’s paper or electronic). I also got to where I made myself go back and get the bags out of my car if I ever did forget them, just so I could get into the habit of using them, and so it would help to serve as a reminder for the next time I used them.
I tried my hand at my own reusable bag made from an old t-shirt, and I think it turned out pretty well!
  • Using a reusable water bottle (and water filter if necessary). For the first year or so my husband and I were together we bought and drank bottled water instead of doing this. Every week when I went grocery shopping, I loaded up a giant pack of single-use plastic bottles (also covered in plastic mind you) into my grocery cart and spent $5-$10 depending on how many packs we bought, only for the half-empty and empty bottles to wind up all over our apartment. It felt like I was constantly picking up bottles of water. They were everywhere! And we were spending an incredible amount of money on it! At an average of $8 a week, we were spending over $400 a year, on something that we already paid for. One of the first things we did when we moved to a new town (and had to buy all the things that come with a move) was to buy a PUR filter and water bottles that could be reused. And while the filter and bottles were an up front investment and the filter does have to be replaced occasionally, we spend far less on this each year than we used to, and we save hundreds (if not potentially thousands) of plastic bottles every year. If you haven’t made this swap yet, I strongly encourage you to do so.
  • Recycle. This should be fairly obvious, but if I’m being completely honest, it was not something my husband and I did until about a year ago. We had always lived in rental properties where recycling was not readily available, and we weren’t always sure how to go about getting access to it. However, most, if not all, of the cities we have lived in have had a recycling center we could take our recycling to. It just wasn’t as easy to do as taking it out to a recycling bin in our driveway, but it was still possible. Regardless of your situation, I highly encourage you to look up what is available in your area and try to make some effort to recycle what you can. In the area I live in, I know not all the surrounding counties even have a recycling center, so it would be harder for residents of those counties to recycle. But batching their recycling where they take it once or twice a month when they might be going to a bigger city with a recycling center for another reason (even if everything doesn’t get recycled) would still be better than not recycling anything at all. I have also implemented this at my office at work because previously we weren’t recycling anything and did not have a bin. Now, we have a small bin indoors that I am in charge of and me or my husband take to the recycling center (usually with our recycling from home). Rather than just complaining about how we didn’t have recycling at work and not doing anything, I decided I wanted to do something, even if I can’t catch every piece of material that can be recycled coming in and out.
  • Carry a reusable straw with you (and preferably a to-go silverware kit too), so you don’t have to use the single use alternatives. I will admit that this is something I fail at sometimes, but it is still better to try and fail than to never try at all. I created our to-go silverware kits with some extra silverware and reusable straws we had and hand-sewn cloth napkins that I tied with ribbon and keep in my purse. We generally have a reusable straw on us because of those, but I also came across retractable straws that attach to your keychain as well.
  • Reduce your plastic consumption. I know this is easier said than done, but choosing a glass bottle instead of a plastic one or paper bags instead of plastic (if you forget your reusables) is so much better for the environment. While a lot of plastics you might buy at the grocery store can be recycled, they are downgraded every time they’re recycled. The same is not true of glass or aluminum, making them the better option. Ultimately, even if plastic can be recycled, it will eventually still end up in a landfill (or worse, the ocean) where it will essentially stay forever. Even if it breaks down into smaller pieces, those pieces will exist somewhere (most likely eaten by a fish, which we will then eat), which is not good for us overall. So if you can buy olive oil or pasta sauce in a glass bottle or jar instead of plastic, choose that option. Even if the glass doesn’t get recycled, it doesn’t break down into toxic micro plastics.
  • Make coffee at home and use a reusable coffee cup if you do buy it from a coffee shop. The good thing about some of these eco-friendly options is that they can actually be cheaper, and I think making your coffee at home is a great example of that. When I was in college, I was an avid Starbuck’s drinker. Like literally, everyday, I went through the drive-thru and got a $5 or $6 drink in a single use plastic cup with a plastic straw. My initial motivation to stop doing this was more because of the insane amount of money I was spending on coffee, so I invested in a Mr. Coffee espresso maker to make espresso like I ordered at Starbuck’s at home. And while this has saved me a lot of money over the year’s, it has also saved countless plastic cups, lids, and straws as well. While I think it is fine to treat yourself with a nice coffee out every once in a while, I think it’s also nice to treat the environment by bringing your own cup ☺
  • Give up single use things. So technically water bottles, straws, coffee cups, and plastic grocery bags all really fall into this category, but I wanted to go a little broader with this. Those are really the biggest things you can tackle that will have the most impact, but there are other single use items that you should seriously consider giving up or scaling back on, both to help the environment and to save money. Paper plates, to me, are an easy one to give up, although paper is a much more sustainable option than plastic or Styrofoam plates, but you can easily use and just wash the plates you already have. Once you get used to it, it really doesn’t take that much extra time, and you’ll definitely notice how much you are saving on not buying paper plates any longer. If you’re having a large party and really feel you need disposables, definitely choose paper over plastic or Styrofoam, or better yet, look for certified compostable plates and utensils online or in your local store. Paper towels or paper napkins are another one that I think that can easily be cut out. Ron and I have been mostly going without these for nearly a year now, and I really don’t miss them. I will still use them if I have chicken or something like that out on the counter that I feel really needs to be cleaned up and then disposed of quickly, but that’s really about it. Recently, I made a big batch of very simple cloth napkins, but for a long time, we just used a couple packs of white tea towels that I cut in half and hung on a nail near our sink. We are also making the transition soon from using Ziploc bags to the Stasher silicone bags, but for now, I try to use glass storage as much as possible, and I do rinse out and reuse plastic bags as long as they haven’t had something like raw meat in them. Plastic utensils are another easy one to give up—just use the silverware you already have at home. If you get takeout, make a point of telling them you don’t need plastic silverware and use your silverware at home. And as restaurants start to open back up for dine in service, remember to bring your own take out container, rather than using their plastic or Styrofoam single-use container for your leftovers.You can also swap things like parchment paper for silicone baking mats and plastic wrap or tinfoil for beeswax wraps or silicone bowl lids.
Although we used tea towels cut in half as replacements for paper towels for a while, I recently decided to try my hand at making some cloth napkins with fabric I got from my parents’ house.
  • Buy second hand products. By buying second hand, you are not creating a demand for something new, and therefore, new resources don’t have to be used on a new product when perfectly good used products are available. The bonus is, this is almost always cheaper for you as the consumer! This is something I have done with clothing for a while, really even since I was a child. I can remember going to Goodwill with my Mom and scanning the bottom of the pants racks for jeans that would be long enough for my legs. I have embraced this concept even more recently though, with online shops like ThredUP, Mercari, and Poshmark. While I still love a good browse through Goodwill every now and then, I like these sites because you can search for something specific, so they’re good if you have a particular item you’re looking for. I also really like ThredUp because they were specifically founded with the idea of helping the environment.
  • When you do buy new, buying from sustainable companies that are really trying to do the right thing when it comes to packaging, labor, sourcing, and type of material. The downside to this is that it usually more expensive than buying from a company like Walmart or Amazon, but to me personally, it is worth it. Also, if you are doing your best to buy things second hand first and only resorting to buying things new if you really have to, it will be fairly rare that you have to do this. Some companies that I have ordered from recently that I think fit this criteria are: Earthhero, the Package Free Shop, Patagonia, House of Marley, The Very Good Bra (which I highly recommend), and Nothing New.
One of my first orders from The Package Free Shop, which contained some bamboo toothbrushes, a soap bar, shampoo bars, a conditioner bars, a natural sponge, two large beeswax wrap, tooth powder, compostable silk floss, and dissolvable mouth wash tablets in a glass jar. You may also notice that there is no plastic packaging in sight, and you can’t really see it, but all over the box, there are reminders to either compost or recycle your cardboard and paper.
  • Rethink gift giving. I know, I know. You’re probably calling me Scrooge under your breath right now, but hear me out. When it comes to gifts, I think that we should just be sure that we are really getting someone something that they either genuinely need or want, rather than checking their name off a list. I am a big believer in gift exchanges rather than having to get a gift for everyone on your list that ends up (most likely) not being that meaningful. I also think that when you do give someone a gift, it should either be handmade, bought from a local artisan or local business, bought secondhand, or bought from a sustainable company. I put this into practice with my husband’s birthday gifts recently (a pair of shoes from Nothing New and a pair of wireless headphones from House of Marley) and my brother’s birthday presents (which I’m not going to mention in case he’s reading this because I haven’t given them to him quite yet).
  • Rethink cleaning products. Whether you realize it or not, a lot of the cleaning products you may have in your home may be both toxic to you and toxic to the environment. I have recently started trying a lot of DIY cleaning products, like homemade laundry detergent, homemade dishwasher detergent, and all purpose cleaner that’s just vinegar, water, and citrus. The materials for these DIY products come in paper, glass or cardboard, which is easily recycled, so it’s much better than the plastic containers that a lot of cleaning products come in. If doing some sort of DIY is not up your alley, or you know you genuinely don’t have time, there are other alternatives like Dropps, Earth Breeze, and Earthhero.
  • Rethink beauty products and toiletries. This could be a whole post in itself, but there are a lot of soap bar type options for things like shampoo, conditioner, and face wash that can replace those products that come in plastic containers. In that same vein, if you’re using body wash instead of a bar of soap, that’s an easy switch to make that’s a lot better for the environment as the cardboard packaging can easily be composted or recycled. I have also recently started using coconut oil (which I bought in a glass jar) as a makeup remover. It works better than any product I’ve ever bought, and I think it’s probably cheaper than all of them too, considering how long it will last me. We’ve also swapped to a natural loofa, rather than the cheap, synthetic, plastic ones that always come apart anyway, bamboo tooth brushes, dissolvable mouthwash in a glass jar, “the last ear swab,” and who gives a crap toilet paper. I am also trying out Elate Cosmetics, which is a sustainable makeup company, for the first time soon. All the makeup come without plastic packaging, and all the makeup itself comes in containers that either can be refilled or can be composted. A safety razor is also usually included on these as well, and I gave a regular safety razor a really fair shake last year and even into this year, but I kept having issues with it. I swapped back to a disposable head razor, although it’s made from recycled plastic, but I am planning on trying a new safety razor from the brand Leaf. This razor is supposed to be different from other safety razors in that it has an adjustable head and the option for multiple blades, more like a traditional disposable razor. I decided to try this one out because, as I reminded y’all in the beginning, you have to keep an open mind on this journey ☺, so I’m excited to see how that goes. This is also delving a little bit deeper, but I also tried Thinx period panties fairly recently and am a huge fan of them. For anyone who is on the fence, I would highly recommend ordering at least one pair and trying them out. This is another swap that will end up saving you money in the long run too ☺
“The last ear swab”
  • Consume less. We are constantly being advertised and marketed too and told we need more and more. We need the newest phone or the newest fad in fashion, but this just isn’t true. We just have to resist these messages. Until recently, I still had an iPhone 5, and when I did upgrade, I opted for the newer version of the iPhone SE, rather than the supped up iPhone 11 that was $300 more. I think the idea of consuming less is especially relevant when it comes to both electronics and fashion because there is constantly being something new released in both of those sectors, but it applies to nearly everything in our lives too. In most situations, we can probably get by with what we have, or by mending something we already have, or borrowing something from someone we know, rather than buying something new. I really encourage you to do this. Rather than buying new things, learn to repair your gadgets or mend your clothing, or find someone locally who does that. It’s much better for the environment, and it can be empowering for you too. It can also save you money in the long run!
My first order from Elate Cosmetics, which I’ll admit, I haven’t tried out yet. I ordered a blush/bronzer, some sample kits of powder and foundation, and eyeliner.
  • Consider going meatless a day or two a week. While I am not a vegetarian or vegan currently and don’t know that I ever will be, my husband and I do regularly have at least a night or two a week where we don’t have meat. This has made some of the meat shortages due to COVID-19 a little easier on us, and it has also helped us to save money on grocery bills even before all this hit. But in addition to that, we are not helping to create as much of a demand for meat and in turn, a demand for the intense amount of resources it takes to produce that meat.
  • Eating food grown/produced locally. When you do eat meat, I strongly encourage you to get it from your local producers, rather than your grocery stores whenever possible. This is good for your local economy, and it also doesn’t produce unnecessary CO2 to have your meat (and food in general) transported from all over the country to your local grocery store. You can also check out your local farms and farmer’s markets for fresh fruits and vegetables, honey, and other local products as well.
One weekend’s haul from our local farmer’s market.
  • Pick up trash you see around and properly dispose of it. Whenever my husband and I go out for a walk or a bike ride, it’s pretty much a guarantee that I’m going to stop and pick up trash on the ground and bring it back to either rinse it out and put it in recycling, or if it can’t be recycled, throw it in our regular trash. Although we don’t think about it, trash that is thrown on the ground will likely end up in some sort of waterway through rain wash off, which means that eventually, it will end up in our ocean, endangering our marine wildlife. This is also a great way to help beautify your local neighborhood in community, and it might make you think twice before you litter yourself or witness a friend or family member littering too.
My trash “haul” from a short bike ride around our neighborhood last week.
  • Recycle your food scraps. To take your recycling a little farther, recycle your food scraps. Not literally of course, but make sure they don’t just wind up in the landfill. The two main things I do are use scraps of vegetables and bones from meat for stock. I usually just keep some reused Ziploc bags going in my freezer with these scraps and once they’re full, I’ll take them out, and maybe if I have some carrots or celery that’s about to go bad in the fridge, I’ll add that in with the scraps to a big pot. Then literally just fill it with water and let it simmer on the stove until you can tell that the water is turning into more of broth by the color. Then drain off all the scraps, season the broth itself, and I usually freeze it in an ice tray, so that I have small portions of the broth readily available for whatever I might be making. You can also compost a lot of different food scraps, and this was something I resisted for a long time because we live in an apartment. I wasn’t really sure how I would make that work, and I thought it would be smelly. But I recently found out that a community garden here in Tifton has a compost, so I have started freezing my compostable material and taking it there when the bin is full.

What do you think of my list? Is there anything you feel like I left off? Do you have any questions about the products or any of the other things I’ve tried so far?

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