While you certainly care about the future of our planet, you might not think of yourself as much of an eco-warrior. You don’t chain yourself to trees or use a composting toilet. But as it turns out, you don’t have to do those things to live a more sustainable life. With a few small eco-friendly habits, as you go about your everyday life, you can make a difference that, when multiplied by hundreds of times and millions of people, make a BIG difference.
Don’t know where to start? Here are 20 sustainable habits everybody can adopt. If all of us do make these changes day after day, the world will be a cleaner and greener place. You might find that there’s more of an eco-warrior in you than you suspected!
Bonus: You’ll notice that the majority of these tips will SAVE you money too! Good for your wallet and good for the environment!
Table of Contents
Eco-friendly Habits You Can Try Today
1. Use reusable grocery bags instead of plastic ones when shopping at the store
This is probably one of the easiest eco-friendly habits you can start that can have a lasting impact on our environment. Canvas bags last for years. Plastic bags last a long time as well… but not in a good way. Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to fully degrade, but they spend those years in a landfill or end up choking a sea turtle if the bag finds its way into the ocean (which a lot of them do).
Whereas a good canvas bag will cheerfully bring home your groceries time after time for many years to come! Not only that, you can find a reusable bag with the logo of your favorite sports team or cartoon character. These bags are both more earth-friendly and more fun.
2. Replace all your light bulbs with LED lights for energy efficiency and lower power bills
Sure, they cost more up-front, but this is a classic “pay more now but pay less later” scenario. It’s estimated that the average household could save $1,000 over 10 years with LEDs. Even if it were merely a break-even proposition, LEDs are a better and safer source of light. Put your fingers on an incandescent bulb (if you dare) and feel how much electricity is burned up as heat rather than light.
3. Turn off the lights when you’re not using them
If someone said, “I’m going to give you a tiny amount of money each time you leave a room,” would you turn it down? Of course not!
So why not make it one of your eco-friendly habits to flip off a switch when you walk through a doorway? The majority of the time when you leave a room, you will be walking RIGHT PAST the light switch anyway! If you’re going to be gone only a few minutes, the savings may be small, but it’s absolutely free and there’s no disadvantage to doing it. Except maybe the wear and tear on your finger!
4. Unplug electronics when not in use (Slay the energy vampires!)
You would be surprised how much energy your devices use when you simply leave them plugged in or turned on. It might take a few days, but you’ll soon fall into the habit of unplugging or turning off electronics when you’re not using them. This is a great eco-friendly habit to start with your children and encourage sustainability for kids in your family.
Also for computers, gaming consoles, and laptops, think about turning them completely off rather than using standby or sleep mode. Your laptop doesn’t stop gobbling electricity just because you stop using it. It continues to consume about a third of what it did when it was “live.” Do the math: if your work your computer six hours a day and leave it on standby for 18, you’re burning twice as much juice (and emitting twice as much CO2!) as you have to. Also, shut off your printer except to print, and unplug your modem while you’re sleeping.
5. Buy organic produce and products from local farmers when you can
Organic farming eliminates the use of pesticides that harm the environment. Buying local reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation. But the best reason for buying from local markets is taste. You can get produce at the peak of its season grown by people who care what it tastes like. You support the local economy as well. I believe that’s a win-win-win-win situation!
6. Use reusable water bottles instead of bottled water.
This one’s easy for me, because few things infuriate me more than forking over money for something you can get from a fountain or a tap for free! Some vendors are doing a better job of making these with less disposable plastic, but why have any? Get a bicycle water bottle, an insulated metal bottle, or a sippy cup: there are lots of good choices. If somebody hands you bottled water, at least hold on to the container and use it more than once.
7. Cut out single-use items
Saying no to bottled water is a good start, but there are plenty more one-use items to avoid. Bring your own cup to the coffee shop, avoid plastic bags, and use rubber containers for leftovers rather than plastic wrap. Carry a glass or metal straw to the restaurant. There are so many easy switches you can make that will not only help the environment but save you money!
8. Only use your washer and dryer with a full load
This is one of the EASIEST eco-friendly habits to start. Try not to run your washer or dryer unless you have a full load.
If you have a new washer, many (not all!) do a better job of reducing water usage to match a light load. But you’re still burning more electricity than necessary, and probably using more detergent. Your dryer is generating heat you don’t need. Besides, it’s annoying to listen to clothes knock around in an underloaded washer, and it unbalances the machine in its spin cycle.
9. Dry your clothes on a line
Go a step further. Don’t use your dryer at all! People pay a lot of money to put panels on their roofs and take advantage of solar power, why not use solar energy to help with your laundry too?
When you use a clothesline, solar power is free with no specialized equipment required. More than that, clothes dried in the sun smell better and last longer.
10. Wash clothes in cold water
Sometimes hot water is necessary for truly grungy clothes if you’ve been sweating in them or digging in the dirt. But for most of us, our clothes don’t need that. Heating water costs money and burns energy. Cold water is better for the clothes. It’s easier on fibers and less likely to make colors fade. Also, sometimes hot water causes stains to set.
11. Take showers instead of baths
More than half of your water usage happens in the bathroom. A bath uses about three times as much water as a 10-minute shower. Now I’ve been guilty of taking more than 10 minutes; it’s nice to just stand there and feel the water cascade. Yes, baths are relaxing, but maybe you can save them for those days that you really need to destress and opt for a quick shower the rest of the time instead.
12. Reduce your food waste by composting or freezing leftovers
How many times have you put leftovers in your refrigerator and then forgotten about them? Your intention to not waste food is great, but if you still end up throwing the food away a few days later, then that’s not helping the environment or your budget. You could try to refrigerate what you’re going to eat in the next few days and freeze the rest.
If you don’t ever want to see that food again, put it in a compost heap. Home composting is very easy and gives you free compost that you can use for your veggie garden or even your houseplants! Some counties even run a program where they offer residents a free composting bin or collect food waste and compost it themselves.
13. Cut back on meat products
Meat production is one of the leading causes of climate change. It takes water, energy, and pesticides to grow crops, and then those crops are fed to animals. If we just ate the crops ourselves, we would effectively cut out the middle-man (or “middle-cow”) and save a LOT of energy, water, and pollution.
People have always eaten some meat, but now world consumption is increasing at an unsustainable rate. 80% of tropical deforestation (like the Amazon rainforest) is due to clearing land to raise cattle. If you don’t want to give it up entirely, reduce your portions and have the occasional meatless meal.
14. Walk, bike or take public transport if you can
Cars expel hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide. This noxious stew threatens our health and contributes to global warming. Then there’s the environmental impact of oil extraction, auto manufacturing, and building roadways.
Now, I’m not going to give up my car any time soon, so I can’t expect you to do so. But let’s all try to drive a little less and use some of the alternatives. Also, remember how much it really costs to drive. It’s not just gas; you have to buy tires, repair brakes, buy car insurance, and eventually shell out a small fortune for another car.
15. Use homemade or non-toxic cleaning products
Indoor pollution is nothing to take lightly. The EPA ranks it among the top environmental dangers, and much of it comes from commercial cleaning products. Try cleaning with non-toxic products you may already have. The heroes of this effort are vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, and castile soap. Different combinations work in toilets, tubs, showers, and countertops and can be used as air fresheners, disinfectants and even hand soap.
Using homemade cleaners is one of the eco-friendly habits that I’ve done for many years. Not only is it better for the environment, but it’s also better for my family’s health and our budget! Check out these articles with recipes for making your own homemade cleaners:
16. Put a recycle bin next to your trash can
Some of us are lucky enough to live in a community where they provide us with a recycle bin, and it’s picked up from the curb the same as our garbage. Still, we have to get the recyclables from the kitchen to the bin.
Make it simple by strategically locating a recycle bin next to your regular trash can. Making it easy to recycle instead of throwing things away makes it more likely you’ll do the right thing.
For many years I used an old plastic laundry hamper for my recycling. This was the perfect solution for us. It’s large, easy to wipe or rinse clean, and had handles to easily carry it to our outside recycle can. We recently upgraded to a double trash can with two compartments – one for recycling and one for trash.
17. Don’t use paper towels – use a dishcloth
There are a few eco-friendly habits that have been around for many, many years, and this is one of them! I remember my mother always used dishcloths instead of paper towels (Growing up I don’t actually remember us having paper towels in our kitchen).
Dishcloths can be used again and again. Every paper towel used comes with a cost in terms of harvesting, transporting, and processing trees. Be discerning about which dishcloth you use. Some are heavily processed and contain added chemicals. Get a biodegradable one that can be composted when it reaches the inevitable end of its useful life.
18. Save water by only running your faucet when necessary
When you brush your teeth, there’s no reason to leave the water running. Turn it on only when you wet the toothbrush. The same with shaving at a sink: you don’t need the background music of running water to get a close shave. This is a really small eco-friendly habit, but when we change our attitude about the little things, we’re in a better mind to do the big ones.
19. Use a smart thermostat like Nest
Smart thermostats of a sort were around even before the internet, but now that they can be controlled remotely they’re even smarter. Set them in the winter to be cooler when you’re sleeping. Tell Alexa to turn them down when you leave the house. Crank them up with your phone a few minutes before you get home. You get to reduce your consumer footprint with a device that over time will pay for itself.
20. Optimize your refrigerator’s temperature to save energy.
Between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature to run your refrigerator most efficiently while keeping food fresh and safe. Its freezer should be around five degrees. Standalone freezers can go as low as zero. Spend a few dollars for a refrigerator thermometer, or set a regular thermometer in a glass of water on a middle shelf and read it after 24 hours.
Small Eco-Friendly Habits = Big Change
When reading through this list, you might think that these small changes couldn’t possibly make a difference to a problem as large as climate change. But if everyone made just one of two small changes, it would have a massive effect.
Our government and corporations have shown that they are not willing to make the big changes necessary to combat our changing climate, but maybe we can show THEM how it’s done instead!
Lead by example! Talk to your friends, family, and especially children (check out my article about sustainable activities for kids), about the small eco-friendly habits that we can all make to help protect our world for future generations.