Have you ever seen those YouTube videos where people embark on a zero-waste challenge for a whole week? Some hardcore YouTubers practice this every day and stick to it for years. They will avoid plastic and paper waste like the plague, but if they can’t avoid it (e.g., they’re given a receipt at the store or produce has stickers on it), they will store the plastic in a large mason jar to track their waste.
This challenge, while good for the environment, is incredibly difficult to sustain for long periods of time. Luckily, there are other changes you can make in your life to be more eco-friendly.
Don’t Waste Food
You know how it goes. At the grocery store, you’ll buy tons of fruits and vegetables because you’re a little too optimistic that you will cook a healthy dinner every night. You end up throwing away most of the vegetables because they go bad before you can use them. (Also, you may be ordering DoorDash a bit too much.)
To avoid wasting your groceries, plan out your meals for the whole week. Make a list of everything that you will eat—breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and desserts—and write down every ingredient you will need. Check the stock of your fridge, freezer, and pantry to make sure you won’t be mid-recipe and realize you’re out of eggs. Planning your meals will ensure that you use (most) every ingredient that you purchase, so you also won’t waste money.
Stop Using Plastic
Plastic straws, single-use water bottles, and disposable grocery bags can take almost 500 years to decompose. If we all try to use permanent (reusable) products, or at least biodegradable ones, we can reduce the amount of plastic waste that will pollute our planet.
There are many reusable alternatives, such as metal straws, Hydro Flasks, and fabric grocery bags, so you can avoid the hassle of buying things more than once. Want to take your plastic-free journey one step further? Use bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic ones, menstrual cups instead of tampons, or choose the bare produce that doesn’t come prepackaged.
Turn off Lights and Faucets
Not only is conserving electricity better for the environment, it’s also better for your wallet. Make it a conscious habit to turn off the lights as soon as you leave the room and keep the lights off during the day when the sun’s natural light can fill the house. You may want to switch out your incandescent or fluorescent lightbulbs to LED lightbulbs, which use less energy to emit light and decrease the amount of greenhouse emissions from power plants. After you make these simple changes, you may be pleased to see your power bill decrease compared to past months.
Are you still leaving the faucet running while you brush your teeth? It’s pointless and wasteful, so let’s just leave it at that.
Take Quick Showers
I know, there’s nothing better than a long bubble bath (especially after a long day at work), filled nearly to the brim with steaming water. The average bathtub-soaking session uses about 30 gallons, which adds up to a lot of water and money down the drain. Giving up a relaxing bath can be difficult, so try to keep it to no more than once a week and fill up the tub no more than half full.
While taking a shower typically uses less water than a bath, it still can use tons of water if you’re taking your time shaving, exfoliating, singing, and winning fake arguments in your head. Keep the shower to no more than 10 minutes, and your wallet will thank you for saving water. Plus, a shorter shower means more time you can sleep in each morning!
This is the oldest eco-friendly tip in the book, but are you recycling correctly? A good rule of thumb is to pretend that you’re going to be eating out of the container again, so clean it out as best as you can. Make sure you’re completely rinsing out your plastic food containers and letting them dry before they get picked up by recycling. Items such as juice cartons, soda cans, shampoo bottles, and more can easily be broken down and made into recycled plastic instead of piling up in the landfills.
Don’t Drive Everywhere
The temperate spring weather is the perfect time to exercise outside, and that might mean going on a simple walk to a friend's house, a store, or work instead of driving each time. Because you may live in area that is difficult to walk everywhere, try to be more intentional with your driving habits. Driving in a typical gas-powered vehicle can emit around 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, and even more if you drive a lot. Try to limit your grocery shopping trips to once a week, and plan your day specifically so that you can run all your errands in one trip rather than running around everywhere.
Grow Your Own Food
Not everyone has the time, money, and sufficient land to grow all of their fruits and vegetables, but making a small effort can become an eco-friendly and cost-efficient hobby. Whether you can plant several acres of produce or just small pots of herbs, you will be saving money and decreasing the pollution that comes with transporting produce from farms to grocery stores.
New to gardening? A few easy plants that you could grow on your patio include tomatoes, peppers, basil, and strawberries. After experimenting with simple potted plants, you may become ready to transition to planting in raised garden beds, where you could grow a variety of produce that you likely already eat everyday.
If you're deciding to take up gardening, you might as well try composting, too! Composting is nutrient-dense decomposed organic matter (basically, natural fertilizer). You can make your own compost by letting old scraps like fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, eggshells, lawn clippings, and leaves decompose into a fine, dirt-like material that will nourish your plants and leave you with a thriving garden.
You can learn more about DIY composting here.
Eat Locally and In Season
If you can't grow your own food in your backyard, no problem. It could fun to explore your local farmer's market every week and stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables that are native to your region. Supporting your community farmers by buying in-season produce keeps them in business and reduces carbon emissions and energy used to transport the food long distances. Plus, checking out your farmer's market is a great way to get outside, connect with your community, and take your significant other or a couple friends on a fun outing.
Not everyone wants to (or can) transition to a completely vegan lifestyle, but slightly reducing our overall meat intake can positively impact the environment. Did you know it takes about 1,799 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef? Forgoing that drive-through hamburger saves tons of water and energy and avoids harmful carbon emissions.
If you don't want to quit eating meat cold turkey, then challenge yourself to one day or even just one meal without meat. It will be tastier and easier than you think! There are a variety of pastas, soups, sandwiches, and salads that are completely vegetarian but still packed full of nutrients to power you through your day.