Have you ever tried Googling “How can I help the environment?” Many easy lifestyle changes might not appear at the top of the list because they are bad for business. Most companies don’t want you to consume less. They want you to buy their products!
Lucky for you, there are many simple, cost-effective changes you can make to dive into a low-waste, environmentally-conscious lifestyle. Zero Waste doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. There are tons of “quick wins” that will support a healthy climate and potentially save your wallet.
The three industries that pollute the most are Agriculture, Oil and Gas, and Fashion (especially fast fashion). The most powerful way we can make a difference individually is to alter how we interact with these industries.
Your diet is probably the most carbon-expensive part of your lifestyle. Did you know that the food and agriculture industry emits over one-third of all human-created greenhouse gasses?
If all Americans went vegan, we could cut agricultural-related carbon by 28%, reducing annual emissions by over 175 million tons! If the entire world went vegan, we could cut food-related carbon by 70%!
Rather than making a complete switch, which can be daunting and somewhat tricky, why not make a commitment to yourself to opt for more “eco-friendly” nutrition? Simply opting for a meatless Monday, shopping at the local farmer’s market, or eating one more vegetarian/vegan meal per day can significantly reduce your carbon footprint.
If you’re asking, how can I help the environment by altering my diet, the easiest way to consider your diet in terms of carbon is to place the food you’re eating on a spectrum:
The most “expensive” foods will be animals and fish that consume many calories or other animals (i.e., tuna or salmon). The “cheapest” nutrients are locally sourced, plant-based foods because they require less water, land, time, and transportation.
Eating foods grown close to home that are fresh and unpackaged will cut down on your waste creation, lower the amount of carbon that’s attributed to your consumption patterns, and be undeniably healthier than all the preservatives added into our meals today. Check out these simple tips:
- Eat Lower on the Food Chain
- (plants > animals)
- Befriend Your Beans
- Eat a diet high in lean proteins and minerals. Beans are cheap and easy to transport.
- Meet Your Meat
- Shop local and know where your food comes from. You probably can’t afford to take a vacation to Peru every week. Our climate can’t either! There’s no reason your food should come from around the world if there’s a farmer nearby.
- Eat Outside the Box
- Boxed and processed foods require more resources and time to make and are generally less nutritious. They also come with lots of packaging that is harmful to our environment.
- Eat in Season
- Align your foods with what’s in season! This helps keep farmers’ bills low because there’s no need to recreate “optimal growing conditions.”
- Eat Stem-to-Stem
- There are tons of articles online about how to cut food waste and use every bit. For example, you can store onion skins and carrot peels to make veggie stock or use carrot greens to make pesto! The possibilities are endless.
It has never been a better time to ask your boss for the ability to telecommute! The transportation sector accounts for the largest share of US energy-related CO2 emissions, but that doesn’t mean you need to sell your car!
Though studies show that a car-free lifestyle can reduce your total carbon emissions by over 50%, most Americans rely on their vehicles because our cities and suburbs were not built to be walkable.
Fortunately, you can cut the same amount by reconsidering your household purchases and insulating your home! There are other ways to make your lifestyle more energy efficient. The things you buy must be manufactured, and in the age of globalism and online shopping, you likely purchase a lot online. You might not think about where your products are made and how they are transported.
Your house or apartment itself can also be an energy suck. Simple things like unplugging small appliances can save big bucks on your energy bill and reduce greenhouse gases! There’s more! Check out these easy ways to lower your overall carbon footprint:
- Replace bulbs with high-efficiency options.
- Install UV screens on your windows to prevent the sun from heating your house in the summer.
- Invest in a set of thick curtains or window covers to keep the chill out.
- Insulate your shingles next time you re-do your roof (we lose up to 50% of our heat in the winter through the ceiling!)
- Unplug appliances when you aren’t using them.
- Consider adding dimmer switches to rooms. If you don’t need all the light, why use it?
- Defrost your freezer. If you have extra room, consider filling it with bottles of tap water. The less space it has, the less energy it takes to keep it cool (same with your fridge)
- Wash your clothes less frequently, and try to use cooler water. If you can, air dry them. This will also reduce microplastics in our water system!
- Purchase used whenever possible, be it cars, bicycles, plants (propagations), furniture, or dishware.
- Purchase in bulk and avoid single-use when you can.
- Pack a bag or bin in your car with reusable bags, utensils, to-go mugs and containers, and other things you might need while you are out. It’s easy to say no to to-go containers if you have your own!
- Replace disposables with renewables (i.e., swap your razor for a safety razor)
The Fashion industry is the second-largest environmental polluter worldwide. The first step you can take to reduce your participation is by not purchasing fast fashion. Though Americans might not see the damage that fast fashion has on our local environment, every item you purchase potentially damages somebody’s land or water. Your average outfit has a water “footprint” of around 20,000 liters.
It’s important to remember that the clothing you wear has been crafted by somebody else’s fingers, on somebody else’s land. We cannot continue to treat our wardrobes as disposable when they make such an impact on our environment.
Thrift stores are having a moment right now, and there are many great options to expand your wardrobe if you choose. People, who ask themselves “How can I help the environment” don’t always think about the fashion industry. But, clearly, they should.
- Purchase used leather goods (which takes demand away from agriculture).
- Sell your gently used items online through eBay, Poshmark, Facebook Marketplace, Mercari, or other peer-to-peer marketplaces.
- Purchase “evergreen” pieces that are less likely to go out of style.
- Participate in a “clothing swap” with friends.
- Refresh items with dye or repurpose worn-out clothing into other useful goods.
- Purchase items that come from circular fashion companies and research the brands before committing.
From practical home decisions to wardrobe design and dietary considerations, there are so many different ways we can heal our planet together. Need some ideas? Here are another 10 Simple Ways to Live Greener Without Sacrificing. What other ways do you help reduce your carbon footprint?
Check out this article to learn about 15 Apps to help you live a Zero-Waste Lifestyle.