Happy Belated Earth Day!
The older I get, the more I understand how important it is to take care of our planet. I choose to educate myself via documentaries, books, etc.; however, it’s easy to go about daily life and not think about how our actions affect the environment. The consequences of unsustainable habits aren’t always obvious, especially if you don’t know how to look. For example, now that I’ve watched the documentary Kiss the Ground, I understand that the dry, sandy dirt of the soybean and cornfields around me shouldn’t be normal.
I’m not perfect at sustainable living, and as a busy mom, I have to choose my battles. Sometimes that means using plastic bags at the store because I forgot to hand my reusable bags to the cashier in the midst of my son picking out a balloon. Also, I’m somewhat bound by the opportunities of my direct environment. I wish I could easily recycle plastics other than numbers 1 and 2, but unfortunately that’s not possible in my area.
There are certainly simple habits and product swaps to move the needle in the right direction without drastically changing your routine. While some of these products won’t work miracles, I think it’s important to support companies that are putting in effort to bring better options to the market and demonstrate that consumers care about sustainability. Beyond the direct environmental benefits that our choices make, we have purchasing power, which may be even more impactful on a larger scale. There are countless opportunities to lessen our environmental footprint, but I’ve listed 12 easy habits to get started.
12 Easy Ways to Increase Sustainability
- Be intentional about the toys you buy
- Stop buying paper plates and plastic storage bags
- Eliminate single-use plastic beverages
- Carry reusable bags with you
- Store cleaning products in reusable glass-bottles
- Purchase eco-friendly home products
- Limit coffee waste
- Take advantage of the library and use an e-reader instead of buying paper books
- Compost food scraps
- Incorporate plant-based protein and dairy alternatives
- Start a garden
- Incorporate cloth diapers
Each line item is broken down into a habit, its impact, and products that help foster it. For the sake of not making this post incredibly long and attempting to regurgitate scientific information, I will link articles about the environmental impact and let you explore the areas that interest you.
1. Be intentional about the toys you buy
Whenever I go into the toy aisle at the store, I feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of plastic. While my son does have numerous toys that are fully made of new materials, I try to be conscious of the quantity and quality of the toys that I buy. My parents are good about frequenting antique stores, and they’ve gotten him multiple toys from there that you wouldn’t know were used.
- Impact: “The toy industry uses 40 tons of plastic for every $1 million in revenues and is the most plastic-intensive industry in the world.”
2. Stop buying paper plates and plastic storage bags
If they are in my house, I’ll use them because yes, they are more convenient. I decided one day to stop buying them cold turkey, and I’ve never turned back.
3. Eliminate single-use plastic beverages
This habit is truly a win-win, as not buying bottled drinks saves both money and waste. Initial costs such as reusable water bottles and filters quickly pay themselves off, and I find that taking my water bottle with me on-the-go makes me feel like I have a slice of home with me.
- Impact: “U.S. landfills are overflowing with 2 million tons of discarded water bottles alone” – https://thewaterproject.org/bottled-water/bottled_water_wasteful
- Hydrojug- The 73oz HydroJug is perfect for new mamas that are always thirsty and have limited mobility. Plus, the bottles are BPA free and dishwasher safe. I have one of the carrying sleeves which is super handy, machine washable, and able to hold a phone. Since I bought my jug, Hydrojug sells stainless steel, glass, and different sized options.
- IronFlask- For a non-plastic option, I love my 64oz IronFlask. It comes with multiple spout options; however, I’ve only used the straw top, because my son can use it too. It’s nice to only have to bring one bottle for the both of us when going out. Mine is pretty large, but there are numerous sizes and colors available. I recommend buying the strap; it’s inexpensive and incredibly helpful.
4. Carry reusable bags with you
In my area, cashiers often look at you like you have three eyeballs if you bring your own bags, and plastic bags are still the norm. From my little travel experience, I know that we are definitely behind the times here. If I do forget reusable bags, I make sure to reuse them as trash can liners.
- Impact: Think about how many bags you use in one grocery trip and then think about how much space those bags would take up over a lifetime!
- Product: Bagpodz– These compact bags are easy to throw in your purse, diaper bag, or car. Plus, they are machine washable! Can’t recommend them enough!
5. Store cleaning products in reusable glass-bottles
We go through a lot of multi-purpose cleaner in this household, and it’s nice to both go through less plastic bottles and keep a more attractive bottle by the sink.
- Impact: Even if the bottles that household cleaners are in are recyclable, I find it’s hard to rinse them out enough to throw them in the recycle bin. It’s better to reduce the number of plastic bottles used than to use the same amount and recycle them.
- Product: I use the Grove glass bottles and cleaners, but once you have a bottle, I’m sure you could explore other brands of cleaning concentrates.
6. Purchase eco-friendly home products
- Impact: This is one of those habits where I think the bigger impact is purchasing power and swaying the environmental conversation. I wasn’t able to find much information on the benefits of these swaps, but I like to support companies that have positive missions.
- Products: I haven’t noticed a difference in using the products below, and I think that’s a positive thing.
7. Limit coffee waste
It’s true that you can recycle Nespresso aluminum pods, but it’s not always easy to keep them from molding before shipping them, and I’m not aware of recycling programs for other brands. Typically, my husband makes a pour-over in the morning (with my son’s “help”), and I almost always make a pod for an afternoon coffee. Recently, I searched for a non-aluminum pod option, and I’m happy with the brand I found below.
- Impact: https://perfectdailygrind.com/2022/02/can-coffee-capsules-be-sustainable/
- Product: Woken coffee– These pods are compostable and made of paper instead of aluminum. I’ve not noticed much of a difference from traditional pods, which is a compliment, and I plan to compost them in our own bin.These are available only for the Original Nespresso machines due to the patent, so either hold off on using your Vertuo line machine or cut back (like I have).
8. Take advantage of the library and use an e-reader instead of buying paper books
Again, this is a win-win, because it saves both money and paper in the long run. My local library has a large digital collection that I borrow books from and send directly to my e-reader. I encourage you to explore what options your library has to offer. If I do end up buying a book, I make sure that it has sentimental value, will be read multiple times, or can double as a home decoration when I’m done.
- Impact: Before assuming that an e-reader is the best option for you in terms of environmental impact, read the article link below that breaks down how many books it takes to make up for the resources to produce it.
- Product: Kindle Oasis– I’ve only replaced mine once since first getting a Kindle back in high school, so it’s well worth the initial environmental investment of its production.
9. Compost food scraps
My area doesn’t offer curbside compost pickup, so we keep our compost to use in our garden.
- Impact: 15 Benefits of Composting for the Environment, Economy, & Community (growensemble.com)
- Countertop compost bin– As long as the bin isn’t too full and the lid can securely close, it doesn’t smell.
- Outdoor compost bin- In full transparency, my husband is setting up the compost bin as I write this, so I can’t speak to if I recommend my particular one or not.
10. Incorporate plant-based protein and dairy alternatives
Personally, I don’t eat any meat as a vegetarian, but you don’t have to be all or nothing. There is value even in cutting back meat consumption. That is what I do with dairy, as I find it difficult to fully cut it out completely.
- Impact: https://www.ewg.org/sites/default/files/2022-04/EWG_TipSheet_Meat-Climate_C02.pdf
- Products: Instead of listing out all of the specific food products that I buy, here are the major categories: tofu, tempeh, meatless alternative products, soy curls, and non-dairy substitutes (see more here).
11. Start a garden
This is arguably the most time-intensive habit that I’ve listed, but it’s one of the most rewarding. I’ll expand more about our garden in a separate post. Here is what we have so far.
- Impact: I urge you to watch the documentary I mentioned above, Kiss the Ground on Netflix!
- This isn’t really a product; however, we planted some of the seeds inside a bell pepper from the grocery store, and I think it is awesome to see something that we would’ve thrown out grow.
- It’s hard to garden in the winter months where we live, so we love our AeroGarden too!
12. Incorporate cloth diapers
My motivation behind incorporating cloth diapers was actually to introduce a potty training stepping stone, as my mom said that helped me to realize when I needed a diaper change as a young kid. Right now, I only use them when we are at home, because it’s easier to change disposable diapers in public.
- Impact: The research on cloth diapering isn’t conclusive, so I think a mix of both disposable and cloth diapering helps to balance the benefits of each.
- Product: ALVABABY cloth diapers are surprisingly easy to use. All you have to do is slip a liner in the diaper pocket and it’s ready. I will likely use these earlier on for any future children because of how simple and adjustable they are. Plus, my son loves being able to pick out the color of his diaper!
Many of these habits bring more joy to my life than the convenience that they may take away. That said, taking care of the environment is worth effort and dedication, because it’s our home and the home for future generations. Sustainability can seem overwhelming and impossible to do perfectly, but I hope you can see by this post that every little bit counts and that it can be a journey of education and gradual progress.
Let me know if there are any habits or products that you find are helpful!