Even the most dedicated environmentally minded person in the world still has to pack their kid’s lunch. We get it. We are all really trying our best here, but sometimes, “ease” is the most important factor in what we use and when. For those of us on a journey toward eco-friendly living, here are some of the easiest ways to swap products you use every day for ones that do less harm to the environment.
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1. Ditch Plastic Straws
The right choice isn’t always the easiest, but with small efforts, we can make big strides to reduce our dependence on plastic. Juice boxes make quenching your kids’ thirst fast and easy, but a simple swap with a reusable water bottle or metal straw is a minimal amount of work. Juice boxes exist; and yes, we know that cleaning metal straws is not easy. But nearly 7.5 million plastic straws have been collected from U.S. shorelines in the last five years, and most recycling machines can’t recycle straws. This is a small but prevalent form of single-use plastic that plagues our oceans and undermines environmental efforts. The swap is not hard: just phase it out.
- Pay attention to plastic straw use at restaurants and bars, asking for paper if they have it, or simply not using a straw.
- Buy reusable cups and straws for your kids, then teach them how to clean the straws themselves with the fun, skinny brush.
CA, OR, NY, VT, and Washington, D.C., are among the places that have already banned plastic straw use. Many more states will follow suit, so this shift is one you’d have to make soon anyway.
2. Don’t Use Plastic Produce Bags
Most of us are already free of single-use plastic grocery bags, opting for reusable totes or even boxes instead. But produce is a tricky area: it often needs to be handled carefully, and you may not feel comfortable stacking it in a cart. This is a super easy fix: you can buy reusable produce bags almost anywhere. They’re often made of mesh or all-natural fabrics (although check the tag to be sure). Just tuck them in with your other reusable grocery bags, and then get in the habit of pulling them out to cover your mangoes, grapes, cucumbers, carrots, and more.
3. Use Fewer Paper Towels
Don’t use multiple paper towels (or any paper towels at all) after washing your hands. An oldie but a goodie, R.P. Joe Smith did a TED Talk in Portland in 2012 in which he very elegantly and simply explained that (at that time) 571,230,000 pounds of paper towels were used by Americans every year. He illustrated how, if that number could be reduced even down to one paper towel after hand washing, it would save immensely on waste. His recommendation is to simply shake your hands 12 times, at which point your hands will be dry enough to dry with a single paper towel.
4. Bring Your Own Coffee Cup
So many of the steps we can take to live more sustainably are really just about amending our habits. You may be committed to your local fair-trade coffee shop: but do you bring your own cup for coffee or tea? Do it! Buy ones that you know are sustainably produced, and put it in a visible spot so you’re sure to remember. This simple swap, and little habit adjustment, can reduce the 2.5 billion single-use coffee cups that are thrown away every year.
5. Stop Using Plastic Wrap
Yes, plastic wrap is easy, and yes, they use it on every baking show you’ve ever seen: but plastic wrap alternatives have improved a lot. Beeswax wrap actually preserves fresh fruits/veg or leftovers longer, making it a really simple choice for food. You can buy colorful, very thin beeswax wrap sheets to replace plastic wrap. Considering the fact that about 38.14 million tons of plastic wrap are used per person per year, this is a worthy swap.
6. Start Using Green Cleaners
A lot of options have been developed over the past five years that make breaking up with Lysol and Clorox an easy decision. Grove Collaborative, Blueland, Branch Basics: plenty of brands are now offering home cleaning products that are free from contaminants and chemicals. This has two huge benefits: it’s good for your own health and it’s good for the environment. Add a couple of drops of essential oils if you want a floral or citrus lingering scent.
7. Change Out Soaps and Shampoos
Did you know that most detergents don’t completely biodegrade? This makes them a regular source of contamination for oceans, rivers, and water supplies. The environmental impact of soap consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic was measured by researchers, who found that increased waste in waterways posed an escalated environmental challenge. There are a few things to look for as you start swapping out detergents and soaps:
- Is the packaging biodegradable?
- Is the product made with sustainable, raw materials for all agents (especially the soap)?
- Is the product biodegradable?
It takes a little research, but this is a swap well worth making.
8. Fix Things Instead of Buying New
Remember the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle? As consumers, a lot of times we think that when something breaks down, we just need to get a new one. We buy appliances, household items, and lifestyle products reactively, not really considering whether we really need them, or whether what we have could be fixed. We live in a consumer culture that values the newest, shiniest thing as the best. There is a mentality here that directly relates to our personal impact on the environment. Use YouTube, use FB Marketplace, buy used, and make an effort to invest in things that last.
9. Buy Local
During the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us became keenly aware of the value local merchants bring to our communities. Many of us made an extra effort to eat local to support struggling restaurants, or pay a little more to buy locally grown produce, or hire local service providers. This is an exchange: often, it costs a little more to buy locally. But the exchange is a positive one, because you not only invest in your local community, you reduce gas-guzzling trucks on the road and don’t support giant retailers with questionable ethical practices.
10. Use Natural Materials
Textiles get tricky. Even for natural fibers, the amount of chemicals and water it takes to produce simple things like T-shirts, sheets, and towels would surprise you. The best way to implement this eco-friendly swap is to start reading labels (and blogs … and listening to podcasts …). Educate yourself a little on what it takes to produce the fabrics you use and whether you can start strategically shifting your buying power toward more natural materials.
Steps to Becoming More Environmentally Conscious
Living an environmentally conscious lifestyle is just that: a conscious decision. It may feel easier to do things by default, consuming how, when, and where you want. But taking a step into this consciousness, connecting yourself to a broader purpose on this glorious earth, is deeply rewarding. You will soon find that the little habits you change leave you hungry for more. What more can be done?
We want to make a difference, too. Our part is ridding the oceans of plastic and sending our revenue to missions that matter: To shop for sustainable beach towels, tap or click here now.