With Earth Month just around the corner, it is a great time to reflect on your individual habits and identify steps you can take to minimize your personal ecological impact (and even invest in some regenerative practices!).
One of my favorite things about this type of personal “eco audit” is that it forces me to slow down, be more mindful about my actions, and cognizant of the broader implications of my actions. This way of thinking now only improves the planet, but actually leads to fuller, more enjoyable days!
To help you get started, here are 20 steps you can take (many of them can be taken right away) to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
- Repurpose glass jars and other food packaging: Everything from jars of marinara sauce to yogurt containers can be reused for food leftovers and general home storage. Don’t let Instagram make you feel like Zero Waste means perfectly matched storage containers! These containers may not look as beautiful but they sure are eco-friendly.
- Invest in a pressure cooker! Not only are pressure cookers a great cooking tool to get more whole foods into your diet, they also reduce your cooking time and energy used by 70%!
- Donate used and unwanted products: Consider donating beauty and skincare products to organizations like Project Beauty Share, and sending clothes to a local GoodWill or Dress For Success. Or work with ThredUp. Be thoughtful about what you donate. These items are going to people who also want to feel great about how they dress and present themselves to the world. Donate goods that are quality and truly usable, not items that will simply end up in the landfill in the end.
- Hang dry clothes when you can: After your fridge and your washing machine, your dryer is likely your most energy intensive appliance. Hanging clothes in sunshine is a natural alternative. Check out these awesome hang drying tips!
- Stop doing so much laundry! Erin Rhoads’ Waste Not Everyday highlights that despite how much fast fashion contributes to environmental damage, “the majority of the environmental burden caused by fashion [actually] happens after we take the clothing home: 82% of the energy a garment will use is in the washing and drying we do each week”. Skip all of that laundry! Neutralize smells with lemon juice, vodka, a steamer, or white distilled vinegar.
- Clean your HVAC filters every three months: Dirty filters on your air conditioner or heater make your systems work harder and end up wasting unnecessary energy.
- Switch from bottles to bars: Look at your bottles of liquid soap, shampoo, conditioner and lotion and consider how much extra water had to be used (and shipped!) and packaging had to be used. Switching to bars is a more eco-friendly approach.
- Make your own dish and hand towels (and stop using paper towels and napkins!): Paper towels are the easiest and cheapest items to switch out for zero waste alternatives. Cut up old shirts and other fabric you have at home.
- Make your own accessories: Feeling even more creative? Take your old clothes and household goods and see if you can turn them into accessories - headbands, scarves, earrings, belts, handkerchiefs and more.
- Reconsider your flours and grains: Some crops are highly degenerative, others can actually replenish soils. Rye is a particularly valuable crop, as it replaces nitrogen lost to other commodity gains. Rye flour is a great alternative to wheat flour!
- Monitor your water use and find ways to reduce it: Companies like Flume can detect leaks, give you reports on your water usage, and recommend ways to reduce your water consumption. Or skip the monitoring and switch to a low flow or aerated shower head or a water efficient toilet.
- Add vegetation to your yard: While the beautiful, neat, Instagram-worthy garden is certainly something to aspire to, remember that the rule of carbon farming is -- the more and fuller the planting, the more carbon is locked up in your garden.
- Turn your heat down in the winter, turn your air conditioning down in the summer: It may seem difficult to do in the daytime, but consider dropping your temperature 5-10 degrees lower while you sleep. You’ll use 1 percent less energy for each lowered degree overnight.
- Skip the travel sized bottles! I know, they are cute! But, what an unnecessary amount of packaging (not to mention the excessive costs). Invest in some refillable packaging for your travel needs. And if you find yourself with too many travel items, minis left over from flights and hotel stays that you won’t use them all, donate them to a local shelter.
- Establish a low impact lawn that builds biodiversity: Switch from monocrop buffalo grass to a lawn with more diverse plants - clover, moss, wildflowers, daffodils and thyme.
- Go reusable with feminine (and baby) products: There may be an initial ick factor when considering cloth diapers, menstrual cups or reusable pads. But, once that is behind you, you might be surprised how quickly reusable alternatives become second nature.
- DIY your kitchen staples: If you go through a lot of granola, energy bars, kombucha or similar types of items, consider DIYing these items, using ingredients purchased in bulk.
- Eat your stems (and other food waste): Minimizing food waste by shopping smarter is probably already on your radar. But don’t forget to get creative with the parts to your fruits and vegetables you typically compost or throw out. Your beet tops can be cooked up and eaten. Your leftover herbs can be pureed to be frozen. Your browned bananas and fruits can go into smoothies, pies and baked goods!
- “Ignore” those best buy dates: Don’t throw a food item out just because it has hit its best buy date! Look at the food, smell it, and if it passes the test, get a plan to eat it quickly!
- Establish questions to help guide your purchases: Set some rules for yourself to help you make purchasing decisions more thoughtfully. Ideas -- “Will I wear this item at least 20 times?” “Do I have a plan for using this food item?” “Can I do two things during this drive that I would otherwise do in two drives?”