In an ideal world, we would all just go completely green just like that — right? But if we’re being honest, the eco-friendly options don’t always seem exactly friendly. Sometimes it feels almost impossible to say no to disposable one-use items — especially when they’re still considered the norm — but the truth is, we all need to do our part to help save our planet. And, it’s not as hard as it may seem.
As an environmental advocate for the last seven years, I have been shocked by the malpractices the average person performs, simply out of habit. But with a few lifestyle changes, we could all start to make a difference. Aside from the obvious taking our own bags to the grocery store and using reusable straws, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, here are some easy swaps that will make you a more eco-conscious consumer today and beyond.
1. If you forget your reusable bag, be mindful of the cashier’s bagging practices.
OK, you forgot your bag today or you bought more than your bag can fit. So bag your own items to judge for yourself how many you truly need, or let your cashier know not to double bag and that each item doesn’t need its own bag, then hand-carry anything you can.
2. Purify your own water (but not with a Brita).
Of course there are times when we’re traveling or in a bind and a plastic water bottle is the only option, but you should never rely on plastic bottled water for regular consumption — especially at home. Not only are we doing a disservice to the planet, it’s a waste of money.
If you don’t want to drink tap water, use a water filter. Everyone knows Brita, but they are made from plastic that is currently not recyclable, and are supposed to be replaced every three months or so. Plus, they need constant refilling, not to mention are prone to messy accidents (I have had entire pitchers spill open while pouring before).
A gravity filter is a long-lasting, highly effective alternative. The canister’s are made of recyclable aluminum or stainless steel and can last a lifetime, and the filters can last over a year depending on usage and household size. They aren’t cheap, but after the initial purchase, you’ll be saving money. The only maintenance is washing the basin about once a month.
3. Find the water bottle that works for YOU.
There are glass, plastic, silicone, aluminum, small, medium, and large. Some have spouts some have straws, some just have twist off caps. Some even have lights to alert you to drink more water! It took me a long time to find the one that works for me (some were hard to clean, or the plastic would scratch, or the glass felt too delicate), but after many tries, I settled on an aluminum insulated bottle ($26.97, Nike), because it keeps my water cold for hours and is still OK after I drop it multiple times throughout the day
4. Since we’re on the subject of water…
The average American wastes almost 900 cups of water by not turning off the tap when brushing our teeth. What?! By simply turning it off, you can help save up to 64 glasses of water every time you brush! Learn more at The Colgate Save Water campaign and sign up to take the pledge.
An easy way to do this without having to think too much is by installing a simple faucet aerator with an on/off switch ($11.99, Amazon). Take it a step further and install a low flow shower head ($8, Amazon). You don’t have to do it just for the environment — do it for your water bills!
5. Choose single-use cans and glass over plastic.
Aluminum and glass are 100 percent recyclable, and can be recycled an endless amount of times. Factoring in mining and transportation costs, recycled aluminum cans are the most eco-friendly option, but glass is a good alternative. Even if plastic bottles are recyclable, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be. According to the Environmental Protection Agency only 9.4 percent of plastic is actually recycled. So, always grab a canned or glass beverage over a plastic bottle.
6. Separate — and clean — your trash and recyclables.
Most of us separate our recyclables, but you may not know that have to clean them, too. Dirty containers are NOT recyclable. It’s also a good idea to separate your garbage, yes, your garbage.
Smell and/or attracting bugs is typically the main motivator for taking out your trash, and the main culprit is rotting food. If you separate your wet food/organic scraps you can let your trash bag actually fill up with dry trash, instead of having to be emptied based on smell — which will mean less trash in general.
If you have a garbage disposal that is an easy way to dispose of food scraps but since I do not, I compost. I keep my scraps in a compostable bag in the freezer, but you can also use a compost bin or whatever works best for you.
7. Reevaluate your trash bags.
Swap out your Glad garbage bags with bags you’ve accumulated (paper or plastic grocery bags, shopping bags), compostable bags ($12.75, Amazon), or trash bags made with recycled ocean plastic ($13.48, Amazon). If you’re following tip #6, you can take it a step further and dump your trash directly into the outside bin and reuse the bag, or don’t even use a bag at all and empty straight from your bin (if your disposal situation allows).
8. Convert to LED bulbs.
LED lights ($22.99, Amazon) are up to 80 percent more efficient than fluorescent and incandescent lights because 95 percent of their energy is converted to light, and they draw less power than traditional lights. Less energy means a reduction in the demand from power plants, which means less greenhouse gas emissions. If that isn’t enough, they don’t contain any toxic elements, have better quality of light distribution, and have a longer life span!
9. Do a basic kitchen swap overhaul.
There’s no reason to rely on single-use throwaway products anymore. Swap out paper napkins for cloth napkins and paper towels for reusable micro clothes ($9.99, Amazon). Invest in silicone storage containers ($11.99, Amazon) and try wax paper wraps ($14.99, Amazon) in lieu of saran wrap. This is just a basic list, but I assure you there are eco-friendly options for just about everything we use. The best part is they last much longer — and we don’t have to constantly replace them!
10. Choose your materials wisely.
Whether it’s cutting boards, ice cube trays, cupcake liners, dish scrubbers, cooking utensils, or storage containers, opt for materials that are high quality and better for the environment (recyclable, biodegradable, non-toxic) because you will use it again and again. Look for silicone because it lasts longer, is endlessly reusable, and is more durable — but it also breaks down without releasing pollutants back into the environment. Wood is biodegradable and even quality plastic (if you must) can last a long time.
11. Break up with single-use plastics — even if it’s a slow burn.
Every small choice we make creates an impact. For example: if you have a Keurig, you can use a refillable pod. Or, use a French press. If you order takeout, specify that you don’t need plasticware.
Slowly incorporating such changes, as well as anything from this list above, will create an impact. And it doesn’t have to be all at once — it’s a re-learning and re-training ourselves process. So even if it’s a challenge to forgo the creature comforts of convenience all together, just making a conscious effort to reconsider their impact will help us make more eco-friendly choices moving forward.