Let’s be real: When it comes to being eco-friendly, we’re all guilty of a few infractions. Maybe you keep the water running while brushing your teeth, or maybe you’re addicted to shopping at fast-fashion stores for things you don’t really want or need. Whatever the case, we all do it.
The good news is that—even if you’re not quite ready to commit to fully embracing a sustainable way of living, there are plenty of easy, practical habits you can adopt that’ll make a serious impact on the planet without drastically changing your lifestyle.
1. Take a fast fashion break.
As difficult as it may be, try taking a hiatus from fast fashion for a few months and consider investing in organic and/or sustainable garments. Elizabeth L. Cline, the author of last year’s buzzy book “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion” keeps a running list of stylish sustainable and ethical retailers on her website, which is a good place to start.
2. Cut down on all water use.
Turn off the faucet while you’re brushing your teeth; only wash full loads of laundry (in cold water—it saves energy); start to drink tap water instead of bottled; try washing dishes by hand a few days a week; scrape rather than rinse dishes before loading into the dishwasher; keep a pitcher of water in the fridge as opposed to letting the faucet run until it’s cold.
3. Ditch the coffee stirrer.
According to 50 Ways to Help, Americans toss 138 billion straws and stirrers yearly. A clever alternative: Put your sugar and milk in first, and then pour in the coffee— this should make it well mixed. Determined to stir your brewed-at-home coffee? Break off a piece of pasta from the cupboard. After you use it, you can dissolve it in water, or throw it away with less guilt
4. Repair your shoes and clothes.
Instead of tossing worn-in shoes, take them to a shoemaker to get them cleaned up, resoled, re-dyed, or re-heeled. Same goes for clothes—a good tailor can repair almost anything.
5. Check out Greenpeace’s Detox Fashion Manifesto.
Here’s something you might want to sign as a show of support for the organization’s Detox initiative, which urges consumers to challenge brands and demand that they create fashion free of toxins. (The good news: a number of companies, including H&M and British retailer Marks & Spencer are already at work pioneering green chemistry, and phasing out some majorly harmful substances).
6. Start biking or walking.
Even if it’s just to do a few errands on the weekends instead of driving, taking a taxi, or taking the subway. Most big cities have bicycle sharing programs for people who aren’t owners.
7. Shut off and unplug.
Simply shut off all the lights before you leave in the morning, and unplug electrical equipment that you aren’t using during the day and while you sleep—especially your work and home computers.
8. Need to give a gift?
Create unique wrapping by using glossy magazines you already have, newspaper, or brown paper grocery bags. Not only is this method environmentally friendly, but it looks way cooler than store-bought generic paper.
9. Not ready to go vegetarian?
Try committing to a meat-free diet one or two days a week to decrease the resources you use up. According to worldwildlife.org, it takes about 750 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of wheat, and it takes 100,000 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of beef. That’s a huge difference.
10. Start keeping your calendar digitally.
It uses less paper. And instead of Post-it notes, try using your Smartphone’s many reminders or list-making apps.
11. Replace your lightbulbs!
If every household in the United State replaced one regular lightbulb with one of those new compact fluorescent bulbs, the pollution reduction would be equivalent to removing one million cars from the road, according to 50 Ways to Help.
12. Try buying food from local farmers or farmers’ markets at least once a month.
This reduces the amount of greenhouse gas created when products are flown or trucked in.
13. Adjust the thermostat.
Go a few degrees higher in the summer and a few degrees lower in the winter.
14. Pour a dash of vodka into vase water.
This extends the life of your flowers—and it really works
15. Go secondhand for big stuff.
Consider buying gently-used big-ticket items like bikes, stereos, computers, TVs, or other large purchases. Craigslist is a good place to start.
16. No more wire hangers (sort of.)
Since wire hangers aren’t viable for all recycling programs, ask your dry cleaner to take them back when you’re done, so he or she can re-use them.
17. Pay all your bills online.
Guys, it’s so easy to sign up for paperless billing!
18. Look into the Slow Fashion movement.
This was originally intended to reject all mass-produced fashion, but has since evolved and can be practiced by buying trend-free quality garments that will last longer and can be repairable. Of course, it also might not hurt to start implementing the movement’s biggest precept: buy fewer clothes, and less often.
19. Invest in reusable cups and bags.
Use a reusable cup for your morning coffee, and one for the water you sip throughout the day. Same goes for bringing your own reusable grocery bag or tote to the supermarket.
20. Consider replacing your shower head with a low-flow version.
It saves water, and today’s versions offer just as much pressure.
21. Decorate differently.
Adorn your apartment with plants to improve air quality, or use old blankets, silk scarves or old garments to reupholster couch pillows.
22. Don’t grab as many napkins.
When you’re at a coffee shop or take-out restaurant, make it a point to grab paper napkins as needed, instead of a huge chunk all at once.
23. Read online.
Your favorite newspapers, magazines, and books are all available online or on your tablet, people. And it’s cheaper that way, too.
24. Get off junk mail lists.
Head to dmachoice.org to be removed from pesky junk lists.
25. Sell or swap clothes online.
Using cool sites and apps like Bib & Tuck and Poshmark. Here’s a guide to the 9 best places to sell your clothes online.
26. Cut cotton pads, makeup sponges, Q-tips, and face wipes in half.
Not only will you cut down on waste, but you’ll double your stash!
27. Treat yo’self.
If you know you’re a bag, coat, or boot person, why not invest one on really good piece that’ll last you years to come instead of a bunch of cheap ones you’ll only wear a few times and toss?
28. Use your laptop instead of a desktop while at home.
It runs on batteries, so it’ll save energy since it’s not always plugged in.
29. Google “how to make your own cleaning supplies.”
Seriously, do it now.
30. Wash on cold rather than hot or warm water.
This makes a big difference, and most modern washers do an equally fine job of getting clothes spic and span in cold. Likewise, try to hang dry items when you can—skipping the tumble dryer can nix around 60% of energy used on laundry.
31. Make DIY heating pads.
Looking for uses for all the single socks you’ve amassed while doing laundry? When you’ve got aches or pains, fill a sock with dry beans or rice and pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Voila, an (and free) heating pad.
32. Rent (or buy) a hybrid car
If you need to rent a car while on vacation, or you’re looking to buy one for good make it a hybrid. Here’s why.
34. Create a book and magazine swap in your building.
If you live in an apartment building with a laundry room, start an area for already-read books and magazines.
35. Dispose of batteries better.
Did you know there’s a right way to recycle batteries? Find out how here.
39. Buy digital tickets.
To anything from movies and shows to airline tickets.
40. Use sites like Freecycle.
The Freecycle Network is a grassroots (and entirely nonprofit!) movement of people who are giving and getting stuff for free in their own towns, os they don’t end up in landfills.
41. Turn old fashion into new fashion.
Before you toss that pair of dated jeans, consider turning them into cool, perfectly distressed cutoff shorts. Likewise, have a tailor shorten a tee into a cool crop-top, or a long skirt into a mini.
42. Use non-toxic nail polish.
Brands like Zoya, Butter London, and Aquarella make polish free of things like formaldehyde, ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, nitrocellulose, acetone, and heavy metals.
43. Whiten with banana peels!
It might sound odd, but used banana peels can whiten your teeth! Rub the inside of a peel along your top and bottom teeth for about a minute each, and let sit for around 10 minutes. From there, grab a dry toothbrush and start brushing. Doing this a few times a week can significantly lighten teeth as well as any whitening kit.
44. Double up on oil uses.
Did you know that cold-pressed coconut oil and avocado oil are both amazing skin and hair moisturizers? You probably have a bottle already, so why not give them a try instead of buying another plastic container of face cream or hair masks? Oh, and don’t forget about coconut oil’s amazing health properties when you practice oil pulling.
45. Re-use dryer sheets.
Not only will these effortlessly remove static from your hair or your clothes, but a damp used dryer sheet can remove soap build-up and mineral deposits in your shower or tub, too.
46. Buy a fan for the winter.
Circulating hot hair can help save on heating bills.
47. Always recycle and/or donate clothes.
Donating unwanted clothes in good condition can keep them out of landfills.
48. Raise eco-friendly pets.
For your cat, use biodegradable litter made from pine, corn, or newspaper. For dogs, replace nylon and plastic leashes with those made rom canvas or hemp.
49. Buy a plant for your home.
Plants can remove toxins from the air, increase humidity, improve and health, and more. Here are 7 that are a breeze to take care of.
50. Buy one less new thing a month.
The more stuff we accumulate, the more stuff ends up in landfills, in rivers, and cluttering our homes.