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Ever feel like your small contributions toward an eco-friendly lifestyle are futile? You’re not alone.
Since April is National Earth Month, it’s a great time to reflect how our daily habits affect the world around us. Considering the earth’s current bleak state and all the conflicting information out there, though, it sometimes feels overwhelming to even try to make a difference.
As Christians, we are called to be good stewards of the earth God made us from. That statement holds true for every day of the year, not just during Earth Month!
Unfortunately, all our inventions and grandiose ideas over our short history have caused so much damage to our ecosystems. While in one way it is a bigger-than-you-and-me problem, on the other hand, it really isn’t.
I’m sure you’ve heard all the catchy slogans the past couple weeks. To name a few…
“There’s no planet B.”
“Make your Mother proud.”
“Be kind to your Mother.”
“Don’t be trashy.”
I’m an optimist. I like to believe most of us want to be good human beings who are considerate to our planet.
But the measures and methods we each take might vary. If you can only make a few changes, so be it! Never underestimate the great difference many small, daily improvements can make up over time.
We can’t all afford Teslas. In fact, quite a bit of evidence proves owning an electric car really doesn’t have a green impact in the long run. Yet, anyway.
And the answer isn't more paper straws, either. More on that later.
But there are simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint in your everyday life. These are only ideas, mere suggestions, to get you thinking about your daily actions from a fresh, “greener” perspective.
The best part? Not only are these sustainable improvements easy to implement, they're also inexpensive. Some are even free!
An Eco-Friendly Kitchen
If you are going to make any sustainable changes in your life, it's best to start where everyone tends to gather.
You may not be able to afford the most energy efficient appliances. You might not be able to keep only 4 forks in your drawer as a complete minimalist.
No one said you had to cut out your quality of life!
As a general rule, avoid harsh chemicals and stick to natural, long-lasting materials like glass, stainless steel, or wood.
Want to try a zero-waste life? Eat what you preach. Literally.
The average American wastes over 100 lbs. of food each year!
Think about the amount of money you'd save just by cleaning your plate, repurposing your leftovers, and not going out to eat as often.
Or, if you just can't stomach reheated food, simply buy and cook only what you need to avoid leftovers altogether.
Buy in Bulk
To avoid excess packaging, buy dry goods like rice, granola, cereal, and beans to store in reusable containers.
Bulk products are often much cheaper and if sealed properly will last just as long as packaged goods do.
Cloth Napkins and Towels
Most households burn through paper towels and napkins at an atrocious rate.
Using cloth napkins and rags for spills and greasy hands is more sustainable. Saving room in your weekly garbage pickup means just a bit less on the landfill pile.
The only tiny downside is more laundry. What's a few extra towels?
Sustainable Storage Containers and Seals
I can't stand a messy, overpacked fridge. I'm in my kitchen quite a bit, and not being able to find what I need is a big pet peeve.
Whenever I'm putting away leftovers, I prefer to use my Pyrex glass storage containers. Not only do they seal in flavors and pungent smells, they're also a cleaner and more strategical way to store food.
Additionally, reheating food in plastic containers can be harmful. Over time, plastics wear down and leach chemicals into food. Thick glass and ceramics, on the other hand, won't ever have that problem.
If your home is ready to take the plunge into plastic-free living, you will want silicone bags and lids as well as beeswax wrappers instead of Ziploc bags and plastic wrap.
These items are dishwasher safe, reusable, and just as convenient to use.
Grow a garden
A main goal for reducing our carbon footprint is to keep as much waste out of landfills as possible.
The Environmental Protection Agency strongly urges citizens and companies to follow a hierarchy when it comes to food waste.
Two of those options are to donate food scraps to local farms to feed livestock, or turn produce waste into compost.
While you might not own a farm or have one nearby, almost everyone has the ability to build their own compost pile.
Food scraps like vegetable peelings, eggshells, and even coffee grounds make for great compost soil. (See compostable coffee pods below). This rich mulch can then be donated or used for your own gardening needs!
Gardening might sound scary at first, especially if you live in the arid southwest like I do. But a raised herb bed in your window or in a small greenhouse on your patio will do just fine.
If you'd rather just grow pretty flowers, consider planting pollinator friendly flowers like lavender.
Keeping plants in your home will help fight pollution as well. As you know, green plants expel oxygen. In other words, plants will, quite literally, give your home a breath of fresh air.
Reducing Energy and Waste Around the Home
Unfortunately, less than 10% of the plastic we put in our recycle bins actually gets recycled. The process really isn't perfect, making the idea of recycling super discouraging.
Since most of us probably have old laundry detergent containers, glass jars, and plastic beverage bottles laying around, a simple way to reduce your carbon footprint is to repurpose these items.
Don't bother buying something new and sustainable if you already have reusable materials at your disposal. (Yes, the pun was intended).
Turn them into food storage. Make your own cleaning agents with ingredients like essential oils, vinegar, and lemon and reuse your old spray bottles. Refill detergent and softener containers with natural, chemical-free powders instead.
Most modern washers have an option for cold or tap cold water.
Selecting the latter option as opposed to the hot will save energy. It could keep your clothes looking newer for longer as well.
When you're ready to dry, throw in reusable dryer balls instead of dryer sheets. You can't even fathom how toxic dryer sheets are, trust me.
Like dryer sheets, dryer balls reduce static, but that's about as far as their similarities go. They are 100% organic, reusable, eco-friendly, and can absorb essential oils if you want to give your clothes an extra splash of scent.
Or, one step up, you can try air-drying your clothes on a clothesline. We did this outside often when I was a child. Thankfully, now they have convenient, discreet, indoor clotheslines for the savvy homemaker.
Home Energy Saving Tactics
Some simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint in your own home take little to no cost or hassle at all.
When not in use, turn off lights and unplug high energy-draining appliances. Yes, there is such a thing as phantom energy! Even when a device is not on or in use, it can still draw electricity.
Of course, small devices like coffeepots might not have a significant impact. But phone chargers, modems, and monitors suck energy at a high rate no matter if they're being used or not.
Plugging high energy-draining devices into a power strip that you can flip on and off can help reduce energy and your time, too.
If you have funds for a small investment, get smart home appliances and smart plugs. These plugs are set with timers and will automatically switch appliances off for you.
Additionally, CFL or LED light bulbs burn less hot and draw less electricity when installed in your home. They also create a crisper light in your home!
Be mindful of your shower time! Drought isn't just something that affects the desert. Fresh water really is a first-world luxury.
One way to conserve water is to challenge yourself to cut your shower time by just 5 minutes. If you really want to test the waters (sorry, I just can't help it), turn the water off while you lather up or shave and turn it back on to rinse.
Lastly, you can get a water efficient shower head that monitors the water flow and pressure.
Another way to reduce water usage in your home is to not only install water efficient toilets, but to flush less and use less toilet paper.
Better yet, try using biodegradable, sustainable toilet paper like this brand below. I've personally tried bamboo TP and it just doesn't have the same...feel.
Need more free ways to save money and energy?
- Cut back on screen time
- Properly seal and insulate your walls and attic
- Keep windows and doors open to reduce AC consumption
- Use matches to reduce plastic lighters ending up in landfills
Out and About
Many people find it easy to reduce their carbon footprint at home. Implementing eco-friendly habits while out and about, however, is a different story.
Dining out is a fun experience, especially in an urban spot like Phoenix. But depending on the restaurant, sustainability might not be a priority.
In general, try to carpool when possible. Whether you're going out with friends, have a regular routine schedule, or need to run errands, consolidate into one car and keep your route efficient.
As you've heard by now, the more locally-sourced your groceries are, the better.
Shopping at your local farmers’ market or choosing local, organic options at the store reduces gas emissions, shipping costs, keeps local farms in business, and is a fresher way to enjoy your produce!
Don't forget your cloth shopping bags! Reusable bags can be washed and even mended if they happen to get too worn.
Arizona summers don't mess around. I use my insulated bags at self-checkout to keep frozen and fresh groceries in the right state for the drive home.
Besides, these fun designs are cuter and more durable to haul around than plastic bags, anyway.
Reusable Meal and Drink Items
If you are still heading into the office during the week, pack your own reusable cutlery set.
Yeah, they take a bit of time to wash. But they're dishwasher friendly and more durable than plasticware. More importantly, they're eco-friendly and won't add another ounce to a landfill somewhere.
Headed to lunch with coworkers? Turn down straws when offered. Most cutlery packs come with metal or glass ones so you can bring it with you if you have to have a straw.
Got leftovers? Consider that takeout often means Styrofoam containers and to-go boxes. You may want to rethink your dinner options.
Or, just go on and be that person who brings in reusable food containers into the restaurant to pack home. The embarrassment won't last long.
Lastly, if get yourself a cute, personalized stainless or ceramic mug to tote around.
Many eco-conscious cafes will fill up your personal mug with brew to avoid wasting a disposable cup.
If you are a camping fanatic or want to try using solar energy around your home without investing in solar panels, rechargeable batteries and solar powered generators are a good thing to have on hand.
Be prepared in case of an emergency or power outage.
Reducing, Reusing, and Repurposing Waste
By now you have a good understanding of simple ways you can reduce your carbon footprint in your kitchen, home, and while out.
But what about cutting out or finding better uses for excess and unnecessary waste?
For hazardous materials like car batteries, paint cans and high-pressurized sprays, and fluorescent light bulbs, contact your city. They'll explain how and where to dispose of hazardous materials appropriately.
Some places like Habitat for Humanity's ReStore locations take gently used furniture and half-empty paint cans. They'll even come tear out your own cabinets and fixtures for free if you plan on renovating!
Even companies like American Eagle are supporting a sustainable movement with their campaign this year. Right now you can bring in an old pair of jeans (any brand), and receive $10 toward AE store credit!
At any other time of the year, donate used clothing and household items to your local thrift store.
There are also quite a few companies that encourage and actively incorporate environmentally friendly measures in their packing processes.
To name just a few (some of which I've mentioned in prior blog posts)...
Pro tip! If you don’t think your used clothes are worthy of donating, turn them into household rags instead.
Paperless Bills & Mail
Say no to paper junk mail with PaperKarma. For $4 a month they'll keep those pesky credit card offers, cheap marketing ploys, and prior occupant envelopes at bay.
Only get what you need or will use. Whether it’s food, clothing, or other material goods, the less surplus and consumerist impulse buys, the better!
Buy or borrow used books and textbooks. These are some of the few items I always check out on my Goodwill, Savers, or Deseret Industries thrifting haul. Check out this post for more thrift store tips and tricks!
Reuse Materials and Containers
Pinterest is stocked with all sorts of creative ways to upcycle used household items.
For example, instead of buying wrapping paper and tissue, wrap gifts in newspaper, fabric, or other recyclable materials for a unique look!
Join a community trash pickup crew!
Organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Keep Nature Wild partner with several local groups to pick up trash at illegal dumpsites. There's one happening tomorrow in Scottsdale if you want to register here.
In the very least, pick up trash and recyclables if they’re in your walking path or around your campsite.
Use Ecosia as your browsing engine. Their ad revenue plants trees worldwide!
Never feel guilty for not doing enough. Do what you can. Change what is feasible and within your control.
OK - so you forgot your cloth shopping bag and ended up with plastic ones on your last grocery trip. Find a way to recycle or reuse them! Make a strategy to always keep your cloth ones on hand!
Since they cannot be placed in our city recycle bins, my local Fry's stores have a bin to collect old plastic grocery bags located right inside the entrance.
As long as you are open to learning about eco-friendly habits and products and have the right intentions, you're headed in the right direction.
Remember, every small action counts. Share your knowledge and encourage (not guilt trip) others to join you.
Oh, and for my fellow local Phoenicians, this is where you can find every farmers' market in the valley. If Saturday mornings aren't doable for you, consider a local co-op like Bountiful Baskets, Produce on Wheels With Out Waste, or Blue Sky Organic Farms.
- Anthem Farmers' Market at 42101 N 41st Dr Suite 156
- Pinnacle Peak Farmers' Market located at 2805 W Agua Fria Fwy
- Arrowhead Farmers' Market at 7780 W. Arrowhead Towne Center
- Old Town Scottsdale Market located at 3806 N. Brown Ave. Scottsdale, AZ 85251
- Downtown Phoenix Market at 721 N Central Avenue
- Tempe Farmers' Market at 805 S. Farmer Ave. (also open daily!!)
- Roadrunner Park Farmers' Market 3502 E. Cactus Rd