Over the past decade, we’ve published nearly 200 articles on how to go green and live a low-waste lifestyle. Because some are hard to find, we’re rounding up all those articles on going green… plus giving you some tips right here on the most impactful ways to make a sustainable difference.
So, here’s where you’ll find everything from beginner (quitting the bottled water habit) to advanced (working toward a zero waste or low waste home) plus the 15 most important steps for creating less waste and using fewer resources.
WHY IS GOING GREEN IMPORTANT?
Sometimes it’s disheartening to look at the state of our planet. And it’s hard to know if our individual changes are making a difference. But the truth is that every positive action has a positive impact.
Embracing a low-waste lifestyle is important for many reasons. The obvious benefit is that it leads to less pollution and fewer resources used. But there are many other benefits like saving time and money, encouraging healthier eating, avoiding exposure to toxins, and challenging ourselves to be more resourceful.
It also sets a great example for your child.
You do your best to live lightly on the planet. You’re kind to Mother Nature and are grateful and careful with her resources. And you give your child plenty of opportunities to get outside and fall in love with their natural surroundings.
After all – we protect what we love.
HOW TO GO GREEN – 15 WAYS TO REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Going green means different things to different people. While some can completely embrace the zero-waste movement, it might feel unattainable or stressful to others. Our team discusses green guilt often, and we feel most balanced with a low-waste (rather than zero-waste) lifestyle.
We certainly make conscious decisions and choose to support companies that are ethical and sustainable. But we don’t stress out over the occasional fast food wrapper or the fact that our kids love LEGOs (though we’re pretty excited for their transition into plant-based bricks).
Here are some beginner, intermediate, and advanced green choices you can make in your home. Choose a few of these steps and add them to your green routine this year.
Of the 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) this one is the most important.
You might think you’re not contributing to ocean trash because you’d never litter at the beach, but have you looked at what’s floating around out there? It’s not just plastic bottles, toy beach shovels, and grocery bags. There are also laundry detergent bottles, balloons, large yogurt containers, and milk jugs.
Those thousands of items most likely fell off a barge on their way to China to be recycled. And who knows how long they’ve been there, because China recently stopped accepting our recycling. Placing an item in your recycling bin is no guarantee it actually gets recycled.
Reducing – or swapping your disposables for reusables – what you consume overall is the best solution. You’ll see echos of this in all of the tips below.
STOP BUYING BOTTLED WATER
Unless there’s some kind of contamination crisis, avoiding plastic water bottles is the simplest way to reduce waste. Bottled water has been found to contain contaminants and when analyzed, many brands are no better than tap water.
The production of plastic water bottles requires up to 17 million barrels of oil each year. Each bottle can take up to one thousand years to decompose, leaking dangerous and harmful chemicals during the process. Some toxins leaked could cause cancer and reproductive disabilities.
The argument of “but I recycle my water bottles” isn’t very convincing since only 12% of the annual thirty-five billion bottles used gets recycled, indicating that only half of what you place in a recycle bin actually gets recycled (source).
Avoiding plastic water bottles isn’t hard. In fact, humans did it for our entire existence up until the last few decades. All you have to do is drink water (filtered if you prefer) from a glass at home and keep a reusable bottle for when you’re on the go.
Even in many emergency situations, you don’t need to buy cases of plastic water bottles. Part of our team is in Florida, and during hurricane season we know our Big Berkey water filter is capable of filtering rain water, pool water, or water we’ve run in the bath tubs, buckets, pitchers, etc. prior to the storm.
BRING YOUR OWN REUSABLE SHOPPING BAGS
This tip is near the top of every list, because it makes a HUGE impact. Billions of plastic bags are used each year around the world. Plastic bags start out as fossil fuels and end up as deadly waste in landfills and the ocean. Birds often mistake shredded plastic bags for food, filling their stomachs with toxic debris.
For a hungry sea turtle, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish between a jellyfish and a floating plastic bag. Fish eat thousands of tons of plastic a year, transferring it up the food chain to bigger fish and marine mammals (source).
Reusable bags are often handed out at events or fundraisers. Sometimes they come with items you buy. You can probably create a collection of them without spending any money. That’s what we’ve done with the exception of our insulated bags. We bought one from Trader Joe’s and it has lasted for six years. You can find insulated grocery bags online.
MAKE OTHER SIMPLE SUSTAINABLE SWAPS
While plastic water bottles and grocery bags are the biggest offenders, there are other swaps that make a huge difference. Every room in your home has opportunities to stop using disposables and switch to reusables.
Straws – Whether at home or when you’re ordering a drink at a restaurant, plastic straws are an unnecessary single-use item. Do without, or buy a set of glass or stainless steel for home and use the carrying case for travel. Find glass straws on Etsy or Amazon.
Coffee or tea cups – Some paper coffee cups have plastic lining and most have plastic lids. We’ve been using the Joco glass cups with silicone lids and sleeves for about 6 years now. Most restaurants will refill them without any issues, but it’s cheaper (and usually healthier) to make your own coffee or tea at home.
Coffee pods – There are enough of these in landfills to circle the globe numerous times. Even the creator of the k-cup regrets their environmental impact (source). If you still use a Keurig, get a reusable stainless steel pod replacement. Or make your coffee the old-fashioned way and use an organic hemp coffee filter or with a Chemex pour over coffeemaker and your tea on the stovetop with a safe kettle.
Cleaning products – The conventional home’s collection of cleaning products is expensive, takes up a lot of space, and can have some serious health implications for a child’s developing body. Don’t throw them out, but once you’ve used them, save the bottles and make your own cleaners.
Soap & shampoo – Switching from bottles of body wash to bar soap is easy and affordable. Do it and don’t look back. Switching from bottled shampoo to shampoo bars might feel scary but it’s not so bad. We’ve had good luck with Lush (they do have a foaming agent) and Ethique shampoo and conditioner bars which can now be found at Target.
Paper towels & napkins – Swap disposable versions of these for cloth napkins (buy them affordably or used or make your own) and un-paper towels.
Toothpaste – You can go plastic-free with your oral care items by choosing tooth tabs (packaged in cardboard or glass) or dental lace instead of floss. If you use mouthwash, make your own and store it in a mason jar or glass bottle. And of course, start using bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic.
Diapers – Conventional diapers will sit in landfills for up to 5 generations. While some “natural” diapers may be better for baby’s skin than plastic, they’re no easier on the environment. Cloth is definitely the greenest choice. You can find out more about how to get started with cloth diapers here and the basics of how to use cloth diapers here.
Menstrual products – Another way to reduce your waste and cost is to go reusable for your period. This calculator from Period Nirvana takes your age and flow to come up with how many disposables you can save from the landfill every year by switching to a reusable option. Menstrual cups are effective and safe. We’ve used them for nearly a decade, and our favorites are the Lena Cup and the Saalt Soft Menstrual Cup. Other standbys or backups for your cycle are period underwear and reusable menstrual pads. Find more about the health and environmental benefits of cloth menstrual pads here.
Gift wrap – While not an everyday item, gift wrap and gift bags can really pile up during the holidays. There are so many creative and low waste ways to wrap gifts or make your own fabric gift bags with this tutorial.
CHOOSE CARDBOARD OVER PLASTIC WHEN POSSIBLE
Generally speaking, it’s easier to recycle cardboard than plastic. Plus paper products tend to break down more easily without adding a lot of weight to the product the way glass or aluminum can.
When you have the choice, pick pasta in the box instead of pasta in a bag, or laundry detergent in a box instead of the bottle. Even better – check for companies that source their cardboard sustainably or take a strong stance on deforestation.
EAT AT HOME & RECONSIDER YOUR FOOD STORAGE
Cooking at home with fresh ingredients is a huge way to reduce your impact. Buying food at your local farmers market or CSA typically means no packaging waste, plus you’re supporting the community.
Eating more vegetables and fewer factory-farmed meats helps reduce greenhouse gases. If your family eats meat, try decreasing your serving sizes and letting the vegetables take center stage on your plate. When you purchase meat, be sure to buy it from a reputable grass-fed source without hormones or antibiotics.
Not only is eating at home healthier and more affordable, fast food and take away containers add to tons of single-use waste. Often they are plastic or styrofoam and can contain endocrine disruptors – namely phthalates.
Even though phthalates can be found all around us, diet is now considered a major cause of exposure to this chemical — especially when that diet is mostly comprised of fast food. People who eat out more often were found to have phthalate levels 35% higher than people who eat meals prepared at home.
Plastic baggies, plastic wrap, and plastic storage containers aren’t ideal from a food safety standpoint, and they’re certainly not good for the planet. There are plenty of great glass storage containers, beeswax wraps, and silicone bags and containers that are food-safe and reusable. And you might be surprised at all the ways you can use (and reuse) mason jars in the fridge and pantry.
CONSERVE ENERGY & WATER
As the World Wildlife Fund explains, many of the ways we get our energy—whether we’re supplying power to our homes or fuel to our cars—are dirty and wasteful. One way to cut back on your family’s carbon footprint is to make energy conservation a priority.
Kids can help with conservation too. Playing outside instead of watching TV or playing video games, always turning lights off when leaving a room, and more—are easy habits for kids to develop and great ways for them to contribute to making the family, as a whole, more environmentally friendly.
Here’s also how to talk with your kids about climate change without overwhelming or scaring them.
Running a few laundry loads a day can very quickly add up to a lot of wasted water (plus a lot of money for the water bill). It’s helpful to make it a rule not to run the washing machine until it gets full.
Choose energy star rated replacements when one of your appliances can’t be repaired. Check online to see if renewable energy is available from your local utility provider. Some states offer solar energy incentives.
Your state and local representatives are hearing from special interest groups and big businesses with big money. They need to hear from YOU. While there are several steps you can take in your home, you can’t possibly pollute or waste resources on the same scale as a large factory or corporation.
Here are a few ways you can voice your concerns and ask that corporations are held to sustainability standards that protect our planet and keep our environment clean and safe:
- Write a letter to the editor of your local paper
- Attend the city council meeting
- Find your representatives at CallMyCongress.com. Go to their websites, join their newsletters, find out where they stand on issues you care about.
- See the Get Involved: Index of Organizations list of nonprofit organizations, by topic, that are working to create fundamental change by educating the public and engaging citizens in grassroots initiatives.
BORROW OR BUY USED
Need an item for a one-time project? Don’t buy it brand new. Find a way to rent, borrow, or buy it used. If you know your neighbors, consider going in on items like tools and lawn equipment to share. Check online sharing platforms for a variety of items, use websites like Rent the Runway for clothing.
And of course, get books from your local library. If you set up an account online, you can request books and only make the trip when they notify you the book is available. Or try the Overdrive app to listen to thousands of audiobooks or borrow ebooks for free with your library card.
If there’s a stigma in your mind about borrowing or buying secondhand, let it go. You can find practically brand new clothes at consignment stores because loads of people don’t want to be seen wearing the same thing twice in their social media feed. We buy most of our furniture secondhand with the exception of mattresses (because yuck) and couches (because pets can usually smell previous pets and might try to mark their territory).
PLANT A GARDEN
“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even on a small scale, in our own gardens,” said Bill Mollison known as the father of permaculture. “If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone.”
Try your hand at gardening with the 10 Easiest Vegetables to Grow from Seeds. You won’t have to make as many frequent trips to the grocery store if you plant vegetables and fruit trees in your very own backyard.
And your family will love all those freshly grown organic foods!
COMPOST YOUR FOOD WASTE
According to the EPA, nearly 22% of solid waste that enters the landfill is food. Composting your food waste is easier than you think. Collect your scraps in an old container or bowl on your countertop and then set up a compost pile.
OPT OUT OF JUNK MAIL
In the book Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, Edward Humes states that the energy used to create and distribute junk mail in the U.S. for one day could heat 250,000 homes.
There’s so much waste involved in the printing and transportation involved in getting it to you. It’s also mentally taxing to deal with it – especially once you’ve let it pile up. And it can be tricky to recycle because you probably don’t want credit card offers sitting in the top of your recycling bin on the street.
To opt out of most junk mail, go to dmachoice.org, or optoutprescreen.com (scroll down to select opt out) to reduce how much that gets sent to you. You can also try to contact the company sending the mail and ask them to to remove you from their list.
GREEN YOUR TRANSPORTATION
The Union of Concerned Scientists points out that our cars and trucks make up “nearly one-fifth of all U.S. emissions.” Naturally, one of the best ways to cut down on your family’s contributions to this pollution is to park the car and walk or ride a bike whenever the option is viable.
If your kids are old enough and you live in a safe area, KidsHealth.org suggests allowing your children to walk or bike to school or to friends’ houses. That way, they’ll get some much-needed exercise and you can keep the car in the garage.
Take public transportation when possible, and when the time comes to buy a new vehicle, buy the most efficient car you can afford.
DON’T USE LAWN CHEMICALS
The EPA considers runoff from lawn chemicals a non-point source of water pollution. When it rains, the excess chemicals run off into streams and lakes. These chemicals can get into our drinking water. The nutrients that promote grass growth also cause algae and pond weeds to grow. It creates a cycle that can affect food quality and the habitat for fish and other organisms.
There are ways to get a green lawn without chemicals or pesticides. Don’t go overboard worrying about weeds. Plant trees and landscape with native plants that don’t require a lot of extra water and fertilizing for your area.
CONNECT WITH NATURE
As we mentioned above – we protect what we love. Connect with nature so you’re fully aware of WHY you’re going green. Walking barefoot in the grass helps offset our exposure to technology. Looking up at the stars or standing at the edge of the sea reminds us of the wonders and vastness of the universe. Hiking into a forest allows us to breathe deeply and forget about the busy-ness of life.
Spending more time outdoors nurtures our “nature neurons” and our natural creativity. For example, at the University of Michigan, researchers demonstrated that, after just an hour interacting with nature, memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent. In workplaces designed with Vitamin N or nature in mind, employees are more productive and take less sick time.
Another study of nearly one million Danish people taken across three decades found that “children who grew up with the lowest levels of green space had up to 55% higher risk of developing a psychiatric disorder independent from effects of other known risk factors.” (source)
ARTICLES TO HELP YOU GO GREEN
Here are our most popular articles to help you along your green living journey:
30 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Impact on the Environment
10 Ways to Reduce E-Waste
Kids Who Spend More Time in Nature Become Happier Adults
The Dangers of Endocrine Disruptors & How to Avoid Them
Top Tips for Green Travel with Kids
10 Things You Can Recycle at Home
The 2019 Dirty Dozen List
Bringing Environmental Issues into the Classroom
10 Reasons Children Need Vitamin N
Why & How to Raise Earth-Conscious Kids
10 Ideas for Celebrating Earth Day Outside
Etsy’s Zero Waste Shop
How to Host an Eco-Friendly Birthday Party
How to Wrap Gifts Sustainably
10 Eco-Friendly School Fundraising Ideas
How to Find Safe Plastic Toys
Plastic Seas and a New Generation of Problem Solvers
The Environmental Benefits of Remote Work
Plastic in Tea Bags & How to Avoid It
The Connection Economy: Why You Should Rent Out Your Stuff
How to Protect Your Family from Pesticide Exposure
SUSTAINABLE SWAPS FOR HOUSEHOLD ITEMS
We’re fully aware – more stuff isn’t the answer. But when you’re moving from disposable to reusable, it’s worth buying something once rather than throwing the alternative away for the rest of your life. So, here are some of our top picks for green products.
Big Berkey Water Filter
Multi-purpose non-toxic cookware
Stainless Countertop Compost Bin with charcoal filter
Glass water bottles with silicone sleeves
Glass coffee or tea mugs with silicone sleeves & lids
Organic Hemp reusable coffee filter
Beeswax Reusable Food Wraps
Wean Green Glass Food Storage Containers
XL Organic Wool Dryer Balls
Happsy affordable nontoxic mattress
Naturepedic safe nontoxic crib mattress
Annmarie Organic Skincare
Ethique Shampoo & Conditioner Bars
Reusable Round Cotton Pads (for cosmetics application & makeup removal)
100% Cotton Un-Sponge
All Natural Tooth Powder
Lena Menstrual Cup
Glad Rags Cloth Menstrual Pads
Whew! This has been a long one, but we’d love to hear from you. What steps have you taken or are you planning to take to make your home a little greener?