If you want to do your part in protecting our planet from pollution, climate change, and the general destructive nature of us humans, one of the first things you can do is take a honest look at your daily habits. When you sit down and really think about it, chances are you’ll realize you’re using up natural resources and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions more than you might think.
The habits below are a good place to start. It’s important to keep in mind: None of these habits are going to magically change the entire condition of our environment. There are lots of things much bigger than one person that are contributing to climate change and eating up our natural resources (and if you want to help make change on a bigger level, getting politically active is a great way to do that). But doing your part when you can to minimize your own carbon footprint in your daily life is a small, very worthwhile, step in the right direction.
1. Stop wasting food.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 30% to 40% of the food supply in the U.S. is wasted at the retail and consumer levels. That food could help feed people facing hunger. It’s a waste of money—and a huge waste of environmental resources. When food is wasted, the land, water, labor, and energy used to produce, process, transport, prepare, store, and dispose of the food is wasted too. On top of that, according to the USDA, food dumped in landfills emits a significant amount of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. When you grocery-shop, avoid buying more than you can eat before it goes bad. Move food from the fridge to the freezer when you know you won’t be able to eat it before it expires. Instead of throwing out leftovers, get creative and mix them with other fresh ingredients to give them new delicious life.
2. Buy fewer single-use plastics.
Have you ever stopped to think about how many items you buy that are packaged in or made of single-use plastics? Single-use plastics mean just that: Plastic items you use once and then throw out. The vast majority of single-use plastics end up in landfills or the environment, according to the National Resources Defense Council. Plastic bags are one example, but so are the plastic containers berries are sold in, plastic dinnerware, plastic condiment bottles, plastic water bottles, and pretty much any other plastic packaging item you don’t reuse. Make a conscious effort to buy items packaged in glass, a more environmentally friendly material. Bring your own glass jars to buy from the bulk section if your grocery store allows it. Carry around a reusable water bottle so you don’t need to buy plastic ones.
3. Eat more plant-based meals.
Research shows that out of all types of meat we farm and eat, beef production takes the biggest toll on the environment—more greenhouse gases are emitted and more land and water is negatively impacted than with any other type of animal product. And while dairy, poultry, pork, and eggs have a significantly lower environmental impact than beef, plant foods go one step further, having a twofold to sixfold smaller impact on land and greenhouse gas emissions than these nonbeef animal products. Cutting back on meat consumption can help reduce the environmental impact of your diet.
Sweet Earth Foods makes it easy to embrace Meatless Mondays with their lineup of sustainable, plant-based proteins. Swap the meat from your favorite dishes with Mindful Chik’n, Awesome Burger, and Awesome Grounds to get the same delicious meaty texture and flavor of chicken and beef without the meat. Each variety delivers on protein, and their Mindful Chik’n is a good source of fiber—another bonus of adding more plant-based foods to your menu.
4. Start composting.
Composting food scraps and organic household and yard waste—paper, leaves, sawdust, to name a few—is an easy way to keep these items out of landfills, where they contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. By composting them instead, you’ll lower your carbon footprint and end up with healthy, nutrient-rich soil. You can set up a compost at home (here’s how to do it properly), or check if your town or city offers a community composting program.
5. Buy secondhand clothes.
Reducing and reusing are the two most effective things you can do to protect natural resources, according to the EPA. That’s because it takes a lot of energy and materials to produce new items. Fast fashion makes it really tempting to buy new clothes constantly—they’re not expensive, and it’s easy to keep up with fashion fads. But new clothes require materials, energy, and countless resources to produce. Buying gently used clothes from thrift shops or resale websites is one way to keep your closet fresh without demanding more from the environment. On the flip side, make it a habit to resell or donate gently used clothing of your own instead of throwing it in the trash, where it will inevitably make its way to a landfill.
6. Research before you shop.
There are so many brands out there that are taking steps to be more eco-friendly. Many clothing and shoe brands are now using recycled, recyclable, or biodegradable materials in products and packaging and investing in eco-friendly processes to save energy and waste at every point in the chain of production. Before you shop, do some research into the company. Look at what they’re doing to reduce their environmental impact and offset their carbon footprint. It’s still best to cut back on buying new things in general, but if you are going to do it, buy from companies that are taking steps to do better. Check out 25 eco-conscious brands we like here.
7. Walk or bike to work.
Transportation is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. And according to the EPA, over half of transportation-related emissions come from passenger vehicles—cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans. By driving your vehicle less, and opting for more eco-friendly transportation like walking, biking, or even taking public transportation (if it’s safe to do so), you can cut back significantly on your personal carbon footprint. If you don’t own a bike, see if your city or town has a bike-share program you can sign up for and rent a bike to use during your commute.
8. Use water more consciously.
Water is a precious resource that many of us take for granted. According to the EPA, the average family can waste 180 gallons of water per week, or 9,400 gallons of water annually, simply from household leaks. To put it into context: That’s enough water for more than 300 loads of laundry. Conserving water is easy—it just requires some thought and the breaking of bad habits. Wait to run the dishwasher until it is totally full. If you’re hand-washing dishes, don’t just let the water run—turn it off when you’re not actively rinsing something clean. Same thing when you’re brushing your teeth. Check if your faucets, showers, and toilets leak, and replace old fixtures with water-efficient ones. Not only is conserving water more eco-friendly, it’s much friendlier on your bank account too.