At the end of 2018, the U.S. Climate Assessment Report was released. The report included years of research conducted by the country’s top scientists on a range of topics from waste and water to global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. For many of us— including myself— it was a call to action to begin the journey toward a greener lifestyle in 2019.
Greener living and low-waste lifestyles are easier to achieve than you might think, so we’ve rounded up our best tips to start living a more sustainable life this year.
Start With A Deep Clean
As I began my journey into green and low-waste living, I started to realize the reason I hadn’t done it sooner was because it seemed too overwhelming and complex to tackle. The thing is, getting to a completely green lifestyle is a big change, but it’s one that can be done by making lots of smaller, more manageable changes in your home over time.
Begin by slimming down to the essentials of what you want and need in your home. Donate any old items that aren’t of use to you anymore and reduce on things that are simply taking up too much space. Starting with a clean slate will give you the mental space you need to start making greener decisions. In Bea Johnson’s book Zero Waste Home, Johnson found that when she started reducing the amount of furniture and horizontal surfaces in her house, there were less places and objects in her home collecting dust and thus— less surfaces that needed cleaning all around.
Work With What You’ve Got
When I began to update my home into a low-waste oasis, I started to notice how many items I already owned that could be transformed into tools toward greener living. I had about 6 different pairs of pants I was ready to toss out simply because I didn’t like them anymore, but instead I decided to have them tailored into new styles that I was excited to wear for longer, and I gave tons of clothes to friends before dumping them at a donation station. Similarly, I had stacks of old, worn t-shirts that we’re ready to hit the donate pile. Instead of getting rid of them, I cut them up to use as cleaning rags around the house.
Look For Biodegradable Options
We’ll be straight here: Making the switch to greener living can be a little tough to jump start. There are always going to be items that you might find don’t have a direct green-living- approved replacement at hand. It might be a little bit more expensive at first, but looking for biodegradable options and investing in wooden and natural fiber brushes, or bamboo-based items will be more economical and low-waste in the long run.
Thankfully, greener living is a concept that lots of companies have gotten with the past few years, and many of them have started offering home items in materials like hemp, wool, and bamboo— all options that are biodegradable and earth friendly.
Ditch Single-Use Plasticware
Go ahead and take a moment to mourn your cabinet full of mismatched tupperware, because one of the easiest and most helpful ways to begin living a greener life is by getting rid of plasticware. Sure, maybe you reuse your plastic tupperware, but eventually you’ll throw it away, adding to one of the most damaging culprits of our environment. According to EcoWatch, the average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year, and we currently recover only 5% of the plastic we use.
Instead of plastic tupperware, start using glass jars and other glass containers for storing food and drinks. Ridding your home of plastic moves beyond your kitchen alone. Almost all of the cleaning products we buy for our homes come in non-biodegradable plastic bottles. Simplify your cleaning supplies by making your own cleaning agents with vinegar, water, and all-natural concentrates.
Another plastic use reduction tip we can’t stress enough is to bring your own cloth bags to ALL types of stores. Bring them to the grocery store, bring them to the mall, bring them to a picnic. Leave them somewhere convenient like in your car or near the front door to get in the habit of using reusable bags. Opt to use real dishes and cloth napkins instead of paper. It might be a lot to keep up with at first— but it’s about getting into a mindset of greener living that slowly transforms into a consistent, low-waste lifestyle.
Reduce Water Use
This is a green living hack that seems obvious, but it’s somehow overlooked pretty often. An easy way to cut back on water use at home is to wait until your dishwasher is completely full before running a load of dishes. Similarly, aim to do loads of laundry when your basket is completely full of clothes. The Environmental Protection Agency claims that a standard washing machine uses 41 gallons of water per load. They suggest washing all of your clothes in cold water only, as hot water heating accounts for about 90% of the energy your machine uses to wash all of your laundry.
Buy It In Bulk
Another easy way to make the transition into greener living is by buying certain food and bath items in bulk. Items like flour, sugar, oats, granola, wheat, and other grains come in bins at lots of grocery stores and farmers markets.
Bring your handy jar along to the store and fill up there instead of buying throw-away boxes. This is an easy fix with bath products as well. Consider buying a bar of soap (they make bars for shampoo now, too) or buying a bulk size of soap and shampoo that can be decanted into bottles over time.
A lot of us are already on top of this one, but if you haven’t yet, aim to cancel all paper bills and choose to pay bills electronically. If you don’t care much for physical books and magazines, then make the switch to online subscriptions and e-books.
We get it, the word “composting” can make even the most determined of green-living newbies run for the hills, but there are some simple ways to begin composting at home without feeling like you just cracked open Pandora’s super eco-friendly and biodegradable box.
Good Housekeeping suggests you begin by getting a bucket, keep it somewhere convenient in your kitchen, and simply start tossing anything green (food scraps like vegetables and fruit) and anything brown (wood shavings, newspapers, dry leaves) into the bucket. Let it sit for a few weeks, add some water in every so often, mix it every now and then, and before you know it you’ll have fresh soil for your garden. This is simplified, but this is the true foundation of composting!
We’re all pretty quick to throw out items that don’t work well, when a little fiddling with them might be all we need to fix it. Buying new items or replacing ones that are broken really comes down to convenience and saving time in our busy schedules.
Take stock of the items you’re ready to toss, and consider fixing it yourself or finding someone who might be able to help you repair it before it goes in the trash.
Get A High-Efficiency Shower Head
High-Efficiency Shower Heads save up to 3000 gallons of water per person per year. They’ll also help you save $50 in energy costs and 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per person per year. High-Efficiency shower heads are specifically designed to cut back on water waste and carbon dioxide, but still deliver on water pressure. They aren’t pricy, and are great for people who take longer showers.
When I started to live a more sustainable lifestyle it didn’t come without its bumps in the road. I can’t count how many times I arrived at the grocery store, only to realize I left all of my reusable bags at home.
Living low-waste and getting into the habit of bulk buying, cutting back on unnecessary items, and simply being more aware of what I use in my daily life took work. It is completely manageable, though, and once you learn some basics of green living, you’ll find that you’re not only being less wasteful, but genuinely giving back to the earth what it’s given to you.