Figuring out how to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle may seem overwhelming at first. Fortunately, there’s a whole new industry centered around sustainability and being environmentally responsible.
Now more than ever, people are making small changes to minimize their waste. But the question is, where do you start?
To help begin your journey to becoming more eco-friendly, we’ve gathered easy, eco-friendly swaps that you can implement this year.
Swap buying for borrowing
Although many consumers frequent the library as a place to borrow books, video games, films, and more, few of us extend the borrowing mindset to other areas. Borrowing preserves Earth’s precious (and finite) resources; it prevents our homes from being overwhelmed with clutter, too.
Need a fancy outfit for an upcoming wedding? Don’t spend money on a garment you will wear once or twice: borrow from a friend or rent from Rent the Runway.
Does your daughter need a softball glove? Borrow from someone in your community, then return when the season is done.
I enjoy spearheading formal borrowing events with my friends. I have hosted toy swaps in which participants brought toys, and our children decided which ones they would like to borrow. I have hosted an adults-only clothes swaps, too, in which my friends and I borrowed each others’ wardrobes.
Swap single-use products for zero-waste reusables
Although convenient, single-use products (napkins, tissues, Q-tips, dental floss, and much more) create excessive amounts of waste. Buying into single-use makes us constant consumers, too, which results in spending money unnecessarily every time we replace these items.
The absolute easiest zero-waste swaps are the following:
- Swap tissues for handkerchiefs
- Swap napkins for cloth napkins (cut up stained clothing or ripped sheets into squares, then finish the edges!)
- Swap liquid soap for bar soap (which is especially prevalent amid Coronavirus concerns)
- Swap a drip coffee maker with a disposable filter or a single-serve coffee pod machine with a French press
Swap supermarket staples for local food
Many consumers worry about GMOs and trace pesticides and herbicides in our meals, but few are concerned about food miles.
It is entirely possible to reconnect with our food sources. For 30 days, forego items grown thousands of miles away that travel for days (literally!) on refrigerated, diesel-burning trucks. Limit your food to a 200-mile radius instead by joining your local farm’s CSA program, frequenting the farmer’s market, and eating the foods in season for your climate. Find enjoyment in this swap by experimenting in the kitchen and making slow dinners the highlight of your days.
Sustainable Fashion and Lifestyle Blogger | Founder of Conscious Life & Style
It’s often assumed that moving to an eco-friendly or zero waste lifestyle is more expensive. And while in some cases you may be investing more in more sustainable alternatives, there are a lot of low waste swaps that will actually save you money (and time) in the long-run.
Why? Because they keep you from having to run to the store over and over again to keep buying more disposable single-use items.
Use reusable water bottle instead of plastic bottles
Take, for example, the reusable water bottle: the general health recommendation is to drink 2 liters of water per day, which would be 4 bottles. This means a 24-pack of 0.5L bottles would last you 6 days, and you’d have to buy 60 of those packs for a year. Even at $4 for a 24-pack (which is on the low end), you’d be spending $1,200 over 5 years.
- Compare that to a $15 or $20 reusable bottle. (Even if you invested in a $95 self-cleaning LARQ bottle, there would be significant savings.)
Use cloth towels instead of paper towels
If your family uses 1.5 paper towels per week at $10 for a pack of 6 large rolls, you’d be spending $130 per year. And that’s just for moderate use!
Heavy paper towel users may be racking up $250+ a year in paper towel spending.
- Compare that to investing in a set of 20 dish towels for around $25-$30 that you’ll use over and over again for many years.
Cloth napkins instead of paper napkins
If a person uses just 1 napkin per meal all year long, that would add up to 1,095 napkins. (4,380 for a family of 4.) At $5 for a pack of 250 napkins, a family of 4 would be spending $90 per year.
- Compare that to either investing in 20 cloth napkins for $25-$30 or even better, you can make your own cloth napkins with fabric scraps from old shirts and other textiles.
Sustainable Fashion Expert | Founder, The Fashion Business Coach
Shop with a sustainable fashion brand
Traditional fashion manufacture is hugely damaging to the environment and dangerous for workers. Making this swap would not only impact the one purchase that you make but can start a major change.
According to a study by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment, the production of recycled polyester fabric requires 59% less energy compared to traditional virgin polyester production. I’ve worked with a lot of brands that use recycled materials in their production, for example, WeAreNativ swimwear and Free Flow Active.
Transitioning from regular cotton to an alternative material like bamboo
Traditional cotton production requires a considerable amount of chemicals and water. According to the BCI (Better Cotton Initiative), it can take around 10,000 liters of water to produce 1kg of cotton fabric. To put that into perspective, 1kg is enough for one pair of jeans and one t-shirt.
By contrast, bamboo doesn’t require fertilizers, and the production generally uses fewer chemicals than cotton. Plus, after it’s initial growth stage, bamboo requires very little water. Brands such as Bam and Komodo have some lovely sustainable options.
It’s worth noting that when making any purchase (fashion or otherwise), it’s essential to look out for greenwashing, which is becoming increasingly common across all categories of products. I believe that every purchase you make is a vote, by purchasing a sustainable fashion garment, you’re telling retailers that you’re not willing to support unsustainable practices.
CEO and Founder, Rise
Simply being aware of your everyday choices is the easiest way to start living more sustainably. We’ve all heard the 3 R’s of recycling: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. To go beyond this, consider the 5 R’s instead: Refuse, Reuse, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle.
Refuse single-use plastics with unnecessary packaging
This approach speaks to first refusing single-use plastics and products with unnecessary packaging. Pack reusable utensils in your lunch and bring your own coffee mug with you to work. If you do need to bring home take-out for dinner, ask for no utensils, and opt for places that use compostable or recyclable containers.
As for our home, it’s easy to swap out items that may impact our indoor air quality and opt for things like no-VOC paint, formaldehyde-free cabinets, and natural material furnishings.
Lower your water use with low-flow showerheads
Traditionally, showerheads used 5 to 8 gallons per minute (GPM). The standard for low flow showerheads is 2.5 GPM at 80 pounds per square inch (psi). Many new and exciting showerheads are engineered to use less than 2.5 GPM while providing a similar or better shower experience. This is done by reducing the water flow while maintaining or increasing water pressure (psi).
Opt for an in-home compost
Swap sending your food scraps to the landfill and opt for an in-home compost. Using your own compost from discarded fruit and vegetable scrap is an excellent way to create a min-circular economy in your own backyard. Plus, it saves you money, time, and energy spent buying retail compost or fertilizer.
If you don’t get squirmy when thinking of worms, try vermicomposting! Certain species of tiny red worms are the natural composters of nature and will be right at home in a bucket under your sink. The worms will quickly and efficiently turn kitchen waste into the topsoil and emit no smell.
Don’t have a garden? Donate your compost to a neighbor or your local community garden.
Say “no” to things you don’t need
Buy clothes and furniture second hand, or invest in high quality, sustainable items that will last for years. Oeko-Tex certification is a great one to look for as it applies to clothing and furniture, such as mattresses, curtains, and sofa covers.
It’s a uniform safety standard in order to assess harmful substances in textiles and fabrics. It bans harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde, pesticides, VOCs, and chlorinated phenols, for example, which are harmful to our health. If the certification isn’t available, opting for more natural fabrics such as cotton and wool are almost always a better option than synthetic materials.
Replace coffee-to-go with coffee-to-stay
Not only is it a more social experience to go for a coffee break -as the French and Italians would tell you- but it will only take about 5 minutes of your day. Disposable coffee cups are a recycling nightmare, because the truth is, most of them aren’t recyclable at all.
It’s a common misconception to think that coffee cups are made out of paper, and can be put in the paper recycling bin.
However, there is a nearly invisible layer of plastic film that helps keep the coffee from leaking. So the proper way to dispose of coffee cups is to actually put them in the garbage, where they will end up in a landfill. What’s worse than the cups themselves is the plastic lids and optional plastic straws. These are made out of solid plastic and should be avoided at all costs.
So one eco-friendly swap to make in 2020 is to drink your coffee on-site, out of a ceramic cup to avoid disposable cups.
If you must take coffee to go, avoid the plastic-lids and straws or bring your own mug if possible. Many cafes now allow you to refill your coffee. It’s a small change, but it goes a long way, and if more people avoided disposable coffee cups it could really help curb the tonnes of plastic that end up in the ocean every year.
Glass instead of plastic
This one is pretty straightforward, but every time you have the chance to buy in glass instead of plastic, do it. It might be a little bit more expensive, or your favorite brand might not be available, but glass is much more sustainable for the environment than plastic.
Plus, you can re-use the glass jars at home as they are great for drinking beer, smoothies and storing fermented vegetables. You can replace glass with plastic easily with most day-to-day goods such as ketchup, mayo, milk, and yogurt for example.
Founder & Editor-in-chief, Water-Pollution
Avoid excessive packaging
One eco-friendly swap anyone can add to their grocery routine is to never use plastic bags to carry loose fruits and vegetables. They already have a thick skin that protects them, and all you need to do is wash them when you get home.
Also, try to avoid shrink-wrapped or packaged fruits and veggies when you can buy them individually. It might take a bit more time to weigh-out all your produce, but you can really help the environment by avoiding excessive packaging at the grocery store.
Use Smart thermostats
Swap that average thermostat for a Smart Thermostat, like Google Nest. Smart thermostats monitor your energy use and behavior, and will automatically adjust its settings to make your home as energy-efficient as possible.
Smart thermostats can save you an average of 10%-12% on heating and 15% on cooling- that’s nearly $145 annually. Enabling homes to be smarter will allow people to control their energy usage–and their bills.
Use Smart plugs/smart power strips
Replace your home’s power plugs with smart plugs or smart power strips. These devices can actually turn your appliances off during those peak hours and turn them on before, during low-demand hours.
They’re also great at helping you overcome energy vampires, electronic devices that continue to draw electricity even when on standby. Devices like cable boxes/DVRs & game consoles, microwaves, coffee makers, space heaters, phone charges, and powered toothbrushes can account for 20% of your monthly electricity bill.
Managing these appliances with smart devices will not only save you money on your energy bill, but it will prevent damage to your appliance through an unexpected power surge.
Consider Energy Star appliances
Reduce your energy consumption in 2020 by replacing your old appliance with an Energy Star appliance.
- Energy Star refrigerators today use 50% less energy than refrigerators 15 years ago.
- Energy Star LED light bulbs use 90 % less energy and last 15 times longer than regular bulbs.
- Energy Star certified washing machines use 25 % less energy and 33 % less water than regular machines.
Swap an hour of energy use for an OhmHour
OhmConnect, California’s leading clean energy program, pays residents to lessen their energy consumption when the grid is stressed. Residents can join OhmConnect for free and receive a text message during an OhmHour (a time when the electrical grid is stressed, and their utility is about to switch to dirty fossil-fuel power).
When the user powers down during an OhmHour, they’re rewarded with cash and prizes (a resident can earn anywhere between $40-500/month). It’s that simple. If you have smart devices, OhmConnect will pair them and automatically turn off the device at the start of an OhmHour, then turn the device back on at the end of the OhmHour.
President of Next Stage Design
Take advantage of smart home technology solutions
Homeowners can swap the inefficient for the energy-saving, reduce their carbon footprint, and work their way toward a more environmentally-friendly home.
Where to start?
- We suggest the fridge, the water heater, washer and dryer, and of course, the lights; by addressing potential waste in these areas, you’ll quickly see where improvements can be made.
- Homeowners can further reduce their footprint by installing lights that operate on timers and motion-sensors, ensuring that electricity is utilized when needed, and not wasted when no one’s home.
- Explore solar panels and alternate options for running hot water and air conditioning units, they may qualify you for a tax credit. Also, look into local energy-choice programs – your local utility provider may allow you to opt-in to a CCA, or community choice aggregation, which allows you to get your energy from a more sustainable source, often for a lower price.
CEO, Plaine Products
Everyone is talking about sustainable living right now, but to be honest, it can get so overwhelming that it can seem easier to do nothing.
Some people do everything they can to live a life that is as eco-friendly as possible–from the food they eat to the clothes they buy, from the cars they drive to the household products they use. But so many more of us live someplace in the middle, trying here and there to adopt sustainable habits–and then throwing up our hands when we forget our reusable shopping bags in the car.
I spent ten days aboard a plastic research sailing vessel with eXXpedition, visiting ocean plastics hotspots around the world. According to research, 8 million metric tons of plastic make their way into the oceans each year.
The challenge to everyone for 2020 is to take small steps to break the plastic habit.
Plastics are everywhere in our homes: shopping bags, food packaging, kitchen packaging, bathroom products. It really can be overwhelming. That’s why we focus on plastic waste in the bathroom with natural, vegan products in reusable, aluminum bottles.
The bathroom is a small room in the home that uses a surprising amount of plastic. According to Earth 911, only 20% of Americans have a recycle bin in their bathrooms, compared to 70% who have them in the kitchen. Probably about 50% of all bathroom plastics go unrecycled, adding 552 million plastic bottles to landfills every year.
What can you do:
Take stock of your single-use plastic use in the bathroom to increase your awareness
Plastics can be found in bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash, but don’t forget your lotions and potions, razors, toothbrushes, and toothpaste. Lots of cosmetics may be made from glass, but their lids are plastic.
Use what you buy
We’re not suggesting that you throw away all of your bathroom plastics. Use up your products! And be sure to rinse and recycle.
Add a recycle bin to your bathroom and recycle everything you can
We think the first step in reducing plastic waste is to become a more conscientious consumer. Questions to ask yourself when shopping–do you need it? Will you use it? Where will it go when you’re done with it?
Come out of your comfort zone and try something new that allows you to take responsibility. There are lots of no-waste options you can try to make your bathroom more environmentally-friendly:
- Plaine Products provides shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in reusable aluminum containers. You can subscribe, so a new bottle will arrive before you run out. Then use that same packaging to send your empty bottle back to us to clean, refill, and send out again. The beauty of aluminum is when these bottles finally do hit the recycling bin, aluminum can be recycled again and again, without product degradation.
- Another option is to think about multiple uses for the same product, to reduce your consumption. Do you need a shaving cream in the shower? Lots of our customers repurpose our conditioner for a shaving gel, getting two uses out of one product.
- Look for waste-free cosmetics. We love Axiology lipstick that you can purchase on Amazon. Instead of the traditional plastic, the container is aluminum and can be sent back to the company to be recycled.
- Toothbrushes don’t have to be plastic. There are bamboo options available from several different companies. Instead of traditional toothpaste, you can try toothpaste tabs. There’s even recyclable dental floss.
- Cotton balls often come in a plastic bag. Replace them with washable cotton pads that come in recyclable packaging.
Amazon is a great option for eco-friendly shopping (we love the Package Free shop, too!). Many manufacturers sell directly from their websites and provide free shipping. Don’t forget to think about packaging and shipping when looking to adopt more sustainable products to your bathroom.
Our biggest tip is to pick one thing and master it.
Maybe start with a recycle bin in your bathroom. Then, think about plastic-free options for shampoo, conditioner, and soap. Once that’s a habit, work on a natural sponge and reusable makeup removers in your bathroom routine. Next, it’s time to integrate more waste-free cosmetics. But one step at a time.
If each and every one of us did a little in our daily routines, we really could make a difference. Remember, progress not perfection and commitment over convenience. Each one of us needs to do our part.
Franchise Owner and Coordinator of Special Projects, CertaPro Painters
Swap regular paint for No-VOC paint
Swapping regular paint for No-VOC paint will prevent off-gassing of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) that, when present, become vapors that negatively affect indoor air quality. It’s important to use No-VOC paint in the following settings where air quality is imperative:
- Baby nurseries/bedrooms
- Medical setting
- Food settings (the fumes from VOC paints could affect the atmosphere)
Why should you use low/No-VOC paint?
- VOCs in paint also off-gas and cause ozone deterioration.
- Low/No-VOC paint is getting better all the time but still doesn’t have the same level of coverage as paint that has VOCs in their formula. It may take an extra coat of paint to cover as thoroughly as regular paint.
- Every major paint brand has a low or no VOC paint in their lineup, and it is super-easy to find. Look for Sherwin Williams’ Harmony Interior paint and Benjamin Moore’s Aura paint to start.
You can identify the right paint by looking for “Green Seal Certification” it will be on all NO/Low VOC paints that meet their standards.
Use LED lights instead of traditional light bulbs
A simple, low-cost, and eco-friendly swap to make in any space is to swap out traditional light sources like incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, with LED lights.
Unlike traditional light bulbs, 95% of LEDs are recyclable and contain no mercury. The lifetime of an LED is about 50,000 hours, or over 10 years if you’re lights are on 10 hours a day. Not only do LEDs last longer, but they are much healthier to be around.
Combined with lighting control technology, such as occupancy sensors and daylight harvesting, it’s possible to sync lights to your circadian rhythm and further increase their efficiency by making sure lights are only powered when they need to be.
Co-owner, Lee Brothers Construction
Consider eco-friendly remodeling
Eco-friendly remodeling can be easy, inexpensive, and rewarding. Materials such as bamboo are in abundance and widely available due to how quickly it grows to maturity (5 years on average) compared to more traditional materials such as oak (20 to 30 years).
Bamboo is also extremely durable and looks great. It can be used in many locations, such as flooring or countertops. Who knew a grass product could rival wood?
Another option is to use locally salvaged wood. This has been done for years, but with the resurgence of farmhouse style homes, it is more popular than ever.
Need a sliding barn door for your bedroom entry? Instead of shelling out 800 dollars for a barn door online, find a salvage yard and pick up a well-made vintage door for a fraction of the cost. You can even have a local metal worker fabricate your barn door hardware from scrap metal.
The possibilities are endless when you think sustainably.
Founder and CEO, Asili Naturals
Transition your skincare routine to a clean-green routine
The products you put onto your skin should be just as safe and natural as what you put into your body.
We’re at a revolutionary time in skincare and beauty. There are so many fantastic clean options on the market that make it easy to opt for all-natural only products that still deliver results. Consider swapping your mega brands for a clean-green routine is below!
- Read the labels – be in control of what’s in your products down to ingredients, packaging, and more: the fewer products you put on your skin, the better.
More and more dermatologists are recommending we stay away from too many ingredients to protect our skin and total health. Perhaps the most significant benefit to come out of the vegan beauty movement is that it’s pushing consumers to evaluate ingredients.
- Look for companies using plant-based, responsibly sourced, and sustainable for the planet ingredients, vegan products – a bonus!
Many of the harsh chemicals found in non-vegan products, such as synthetic fragrance, parabens, petroleum, and artificial colorants, cause minor and major skin irritations. Even worse, these chemicals are often utilized as fillers, meaning they have no substance or purpose, irritating your skin and harming the environment for no reason.
- Shop for products that are not only healthy and safe but also helps cut down our carbon footprint using minimal packaging and safe containers.
- Recycle all of your containers or participate in the company’s refill programs to send back your containers and refill them.
- Use a clean washcloth every time you wash your face versus a disposable wipe. Not only does this cut down on waste, but it always protects your skin and ensures a clean canvas daily!
CEO and Founder, TreeBird
Opt for a biodegradable silk or charcoal floss
While it may seem like a small, throwaway item, that thin thread of floss you toss out each day is contributing to large scale waste around the world.
Millions of MILES of plastic floss are being sent to our oceans each year, tangling up in corals and ending up in the bellies of precious marine life. The plastic containers floss take hundreds of years to decompose.
An easy, eco-friendly swap for traditional floss is biodegradable silk or charcoal floss.
These inexpensive alternatives are typically packaged in reusable glass containers, so you don’t have to worry about contributing to further plastic waste in oceans and landfills. Numerous online vendors are selling eco-friendly floss; you just have to do a simple Google search to find them.
Pro-tip: look for a vendor that offers 100% compostable packaging and order directly from their website to minimize the possibility of added shipping materials.
CEO, Director and Founding Partner of Organic Initiative
Consider using organic cotton tampons or pads
97% of period products in the market are not sustainable or eco-friendly. They contain toxins, chemicals, and do not biodegrade.
If you are looking for an easy way to be more eco-friendly, then people with periods should consider comfortable and soft 100% certified organic cotton, tampons or pads, or a form-fitting cup.
Half the population gets periods for half our lives, and in our lifetime, each woman uses enough synthetic, chemical-based plastic products to scale the Golden Gate bridge multiple times. One box of pads has the same amount of plastic as four plastic grocery bags.
We say no plastic bags in supermarkets, no plastic straws in restaurants, and no plastic in our bodies.
Because Oi products are made from 100% certified organic cotton, with no chemicals, dyes or synthetics, these products will biodegrade within five years in the right environment. Our packaging is also earth-friendly and made with vegetable-based inks and biodegradable packaging.
CEO of Mailbird
Encourage your team to use public transportation
Spring-type weather has already arrived or is quickly approaching in others. So, it’s time to start thinking about ideas that you can incorporate that aren’t so easy to do during the winter months.
For example, consider encouraging your team to use public transportation to and from the office, or when members of your teamwork nearby, cycling can even help get you in summer shape. With the weather so encouraging, perhaps you may want to think about allowing employees to work remotely a day or two each week as well.
Both of these tips can cut down on energy use and vehicle emissions.
Today’s business environment has made drastic measures toward going green, but what may start off as a good initiative can quickly dwindle in intensity. That’s why it is imperative to implement incentives for keeping with the eco-friendly incentive.
Offer an office plant to the green employee of the month or give them a gift card. Going green and STAYING green can be two entirely different things.