In this day and age, it can be challenging to live a zero-waste lifestyle. While we may not be able to control the big things, we can create change in the choices we make in our homes. All the little sustainable changes we can make add up and create a huge difference over time. Here are seven small changes you can make to help reduce waste and live a little more eco-friendly.
Easy steps to reduce your environmental footprint
1. Ditch the Plastic Bottle
Plastic has a multitude of adverse effects on our planet and our pocketbooks. According to Sierra Club, consumers trash a whopping 50 billion on these bottles each year. It takes about 1,000 years for a plastic water bottle to decompose, so it’s no small problem.
Not only are they bad for the environment, but each plastic bottle of water is also significantly more expensive than simply refilling a reusable container. Plastic water bottles require petroleum to both make and transport plastic products.
Plastic bottles can contain BPA and other toxic chemicals that can expose us to unwanted health risks. Synthetic chemicals such as phthalates and antimony used in the manufacture of plastic have been known to leach into the water the longer it sits in the plastic bottle.
There is a water bottle for every taste and style on the market. According to Penn State’s Mathematics for Sustainability, the use of a $20 reusable water bottle could save the average American over $6,000 after five years of use, which is the bare minimum life expectancy of a reusable water bottle.
2. Kick the Can
If you’re like me, you can’t make it through the day without a nice, frosty can of sparkling water, but aluminum cans have their own negative caveats. Mining and smelting aluminum requires massive amounts of energy and water while creating immense air, water, and soil pollution. The process emits greenhouse gases and toxins including carbon dioxide, fluoride, sulfur dioxide, dust, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, and toxic effluents which is harmful to the environment and the people who live near mining, refining, or smelting operations.
But there is some good news. According to the Aluminum Association, aluminum cans are the most sustainable beverage package. They have a higher recycling rate and more recycled content than competing package types. Because they are lightweight, stackable and strong, companies can package and transport more beverages using less material. Cans are far more valuable than glass or plastic, helping make municipal recycling programs financially viable and effectively subsidizing the recycling of less valuable materials in the bin.
3. Rock a Reusable Grocery Bag
Plastic grocery bags have a detrimental effect on our wildlife, and our landscapes. According to Waste Management, worldwide, people discard between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags a year. Figures show that only 1% of all plastic bags are recycled, with most heading for landfill, or worse, our oceans. A 2016 report in the The New Yorker stated; “In 2014, plastic grocery bags were the seventh most common item collected during the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, behind smaller debris such as cigarette butts, plastic straws, and bottle caps.”
Don’t make the mistake of thinking paper shopping bags are any better, they may break down and degrade faster but they still take massive amounts of energy to create and ship. Some states have already banned the plastic and imposed fees on the usage of paper bags.
A super easy way to reduce waste from grocery bags is to snag some reusable shopping bags. There are tons of options available, including smaller options for collecting fruits and vegetables, and more stylish options to take to the mall or your other favorite retailers.
4. Recycle or Reuse Packaging Whenever Possible
Almost everything we purchase comes in some kind of packaging. It can’t be done with everything, but reusing packaging whenever possible is a great way to reduce waste. Glass jars and plastic packaging can often serve multiple uses before ever hitting the recycle bin if they ever do. Recycle empty jelly jars as glasses, or to organize small items. There are all kinds of clever ideas for wine bottles, baby food jars, Pringles cans and so much more. With a little imagination, almost everything can be given a second life and new uses.
Most municipalities offer recycling services for their residents. Check the guidelines at your local recycling center for what you can recycle and can’t. You may not be able to recycle unwanted furniture, appliances or other materials, but there are programs and donation centers available for these items as well.
5. Start a Compost Heap
According to the U.S, Environmental Protection Agency all our extra food scraps and yard waste make up 20-30 percent of what we throw away and are the largest category of municipal solid waste going into landfills and incinerators. Food scraps in landfills take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In 2011, Americans alone generated an estimated 36 million tons of food waste.
Reducing food waste can begin in our own homes by starting a compost heap. A large amount of food waste including egg shells, coffee grinds, tea bags and food scraps can be composted, leading to amazing benefits for your garden.
Small space? No problem, you can start a small compost bin anywhere! It’s super easy and can be ready to go in just a few steps! Excess food won’t go to waste, your garden will be nutrient rich and you can feel better about your impact on the planet.
6. Cancel the Junk Mail
Every day Americans alone receive an average of 6 pieces of junk mail per day in the mailbox. Over 2.6 million trees are felled annually to create mail that most people toss directly in the trash. The production, distribution, and disposal of all these unwanted advertisements, catalogs, credit offers and other pieces of mail, create over 51 million metric tons of greenhouses gases each year, the emissions equivalent of more than 9.3 million cars.
Fortunately, there is an easy way to end the madness, at least in your home. Websites like CatalogChoice.org allow users to opt-out or change the frequency of the catalogs that come to their address. Other sites like dmachoice.org and optoutprescreen.com can stop the mass of unwanted credit offers, solicitations, and coupons that flood our mailboxes.
Bonus Tip! Don’t Ditch it, Fix it!
We’re all guilty of tossing out things that could have used just some super glue or a little extra love. Make your dollar last longer by fixing things rather than tossing them out. Give old furniture new life with a fresh coat of paint or strain.