Updated October 2, 2023
Resolving to live a more sustainable lifestyle can be overwhelming. It's hard to know where to start. Whether you want to reduce plastic use, make less waste, decrease your energy consumption or lower your carbon footprint, the task can seem daunting (and expensive!). The truth is, you're not going to have a zero waste lifestyle overnight, but you can make a handful of swaps that will really move the needle (and sometimes even save money!). These eco friendly tips are designed to be accessible. Pick one, or try them all! Remember, every little bit helps.
Sustainable Tips for the Kitchen
Save Your Scraps
Did you know that about 20% of ALL landfill is food waste? Pretty shocking statistic when you think about it. Of course, it’s not all edible food. Things like banana peels and avocado pits aren’t going to be turned into anything delicious no matter how hard you try (although if you've got a green thumb, growing your own avocado plant is an easy way to keep that seed out of the trash and get some free plants for your space!).
But that doesn’t mean that your food waste can’t be useful. It's easy (and a lot less smelly than you might think) compost food scraps and other organic waste and use them for garden composting. It's not only a great way to re-use your scraps, but you reduce your carbon footprint at the same time. That’s because food that goes to landfill doesn’t have any oxygen to “breathe” as it decomposes. As a result it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that's about 20- to 150-times more potent than carbon dioxide. And saving your scraps enriches the soil and makes your herb or veggie garden healthier. This is a great example of a sustainable swap that can save you money in the end. Win-win!
No garden? No problem. Store your food scraps in the freezer or a bin on the counter and donate them to a local compost collection. Here in NYC they recently added sidewalk compost collection bins. I like to save produce bags from the grocery store and collect my scraps in them, dropping them in a bin when the bag is full (I was surprised to see they actually request you to bag your scraps!). If you're having trouble finding a local collection where you live, try your local farmer's market or contact your municipal government or your local trash removal service for more information.
Reusable Storage Containers
One of the biggest sources of preventable waste in a house, not just a kitchen, is the overuse of plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and single-use plastic bags and containers.
When it comes to storage containers, a sustainable change you can make is to opt for reusable storage containers. Go for glass over plastic, which is potentially toxic and will degrade as it heats and cools. Metal and silicone are other options to consider, as well. Using less cling wrap and foil that takes decades to decompose (if at all) multiplied by millions of households can have a big positive impact on our planet. Some products we love that have made the switch easy:
- A literal hero in our kitchen! They’re a great ziploc bag replacement, but they’re more than just a bag for packing snacks and leftovers. You can use them for everything from popping popcorn, making rice or to sous vide your favorite protein. While this sustainable swap may seem expensive up front, over the long term they quickly earn their keep. Opt for 1 to start or get my favorite value pack and experience the full extent of the magic that comes from this seemingly ordinary storage bag.
- These are our second most-used sustainable swap in the kitchen. These silicone caps are a great alternative to plastic wrap and aluminum foil, perfect for half-used cans or unfinished fruits or veggies like onions or even avocados!
- Another great sustainable alternative to aluminum foil and cyran wrap, these organic cotton food wraps are coated to make them waterproof (read: easy to clean). A little heat from your hand is all that’s needed to mold them to whatever you’re covering (but you can also use a rubberband to keep it tight).
An up-front investment in these reusable products will save you tons down the road.
Keep That Cup
This is probably no surprise, and you’ve probably joined the millions of reusable coffee cup users already. But if you haven’t, now is the right time to jump in. Think of reusable coffee cups as a fashion accessory, the same as a necklace or phone cover. There are minimal styles, collapsable colorful options, Scandinavian-inspired, you name it. Just find one that fits your style and ditch the single-use cup.
When I first heard about Reusable Paper Towels I thought, “no way could these work.” But the proof is in the spilled pudding, as they say. This simple sustainable swap is an incredible way to ditch single-use paper towels for spills and clean up in your house. They can be washed, they feel like paper towels, and they do the job they are made to do: cleaning stuff up! They even stick together so you can apply them on top of an old paper roll and they'll feel just like their paper counterparts! Don't want to invest in a new product? Tattered clothes that might not have any resale value or old towels will also do the trick.
Is there such a thing as sustainable cookware? You bet there is! While we don’t recommend tossing your current collection- after all, the most sustainable item is the one you already own-the next time you're in the market for pots or pans, we recommend switching to cast iron if you can. Heavy cast iron pans heat up slowly and thoroughly, allowing the food you cook to infuse with flavor as you prepare it. You know what’s even better? They last longer. They’re easier to clean. They don’t need to be replaced nearly as often (properly cared for cast irons can last generations), which means less landfill waste. Like all good things, for a little investment up front, you end up saving a lot more over the life of the product.
Sustainable Tips for the Closet
Okay, so you've ditched single-use plastics in the kitchen and are wondering, what's next? From the kitchen we'll take to you to the closet, where some simple sustainable swaps will help you further your journey toward a more sustainable future. From shopping second-hand to shopping smartly, we've got 3 main suggestions to keep your closet conscious.
Read Your Labels
When you shop for groceries, do you ever read the Nutritional Facts on the box while you're choosing which food to buy? Perhaps you're comparing one cereal to the next, looking for the smart choice. Every garment, unless it was hand-made or altered, contains a label listing the ingredients, just like our foods. And while this label is most commonly looked at for care instructions, it can also teach you a lot about how sustainable a garment is with just a little bit of effort.
When you're reading the label on a garment there's a few things that make it more sustainable:
1. Choose natural materials vs synthetics
Though not all cottons are created equally and some "natural" fibers like bamboo require a lot of processing that make them almost as harmful as their synthetic counterparts, as a general rule of thumb natural fibers are better for the planet. They're not all perfect when it comes to land + water use and some are better than others, but they're degradable, and they don't deplete nonrenewable resources. And if you're unsure, check the company's website! Brands like HYER GOODS list all their materials and the reasons behind them.
2. Ready for recycling
While most people have gotten the hang of recycling their plastic and glass, recycling clothing is far from being mainstream. In fact, even if clothes are sent to a recycling center, most are not able to be recycled and end up being burned or sent to third world countries, overpowering the local markets or polluting their landscapes. Choosing clothing that is ready to be recycled will help ensure those clothes are kept in circulation and out of landfills. With today's infrastructure, that means choosing fibers that are not blended together, since we don't currently have the technology to separate mixed fibers in garments. Choosing clothing that is made from recycled materials is great, too, but remember if that recycled polyester is blended with cotton, that item won't be able to be recycled again and instead will be destined for a landfill.
3. Quality over quantity
One of the best things you can do is to buy less. The less we consume, the less demand there will be, which sends a message to companies to produce less, creating less strain on the planet. The easiest way to help yourself buy fewer things is to buy better quality things that will last longer. Intimidated by price? Try shopping second-hand! Whether you shop from your local Salvation Army or thrift store, directly from other peoples' closets on Poshmark or consigned luxury on The Real Real, access to secondhand clothes has never been so easy to find. You can also consider selling items in your wardrobe that no longer work for you, in order to ensure they stay in circulation, too.
When trying to make your closet more conscious, just remember, the most sustainable item is the one you already own! We suggest following all the rules above only when you're looking to add a little something to your wardrobe.
We’re certain that one of our sustainability tips (or a few) will be the swap that works for you. And remember, you don’t need to try them all today. Start small and once you’ve mastered one, move on to the next.
Images courtesy of Unsplash.