My Environmentally Friendly Living Tips

Photo by Sylvie Tittel

Did you know we have 10 years left to reverse the damage we've done to the planet?

In just one decade, the planet and resources and creatures we know could be lost to us. Greta Thunberg said it best when she said, "Our house is on fire".

As we head into 2020 and we reminisce on the past decade, let's also turn our attention to the next one. Because in only ten years' time, we may have made our planet inhospitable. What's worse? We all have the power to change it.

I agree with Greta—we should be panicking. And I'd argue that if you talk to any Gen Z, you'd realize they are panicking. Kids, younger than you and I, are desperately trying to clean up the planet. They are trying to fix the mistakes that have been made by the generations before them. But now is not the time for blame or guilt. It is time for change.

There is a general anxiety that surrounds topics about the environment and it can be easy to get lost in that panic. It can be easy to feel like your drowning under the responsibility and not know where to start. It can be easy to turn a blind eye and pray that things get better. It's a big problem and we are just little people—it can be easy to forget that we are one of many.

Changing our habits is difficult. For so long we've been selfish. We've purchased things because they are cheap or they are convenient or simply because we wanted them. I'd argue that it's time for us to get a bit uncomfortable. Sure, it might be easier to purchase pre-packaged food, but it's time that we acknowledge the effects that packaging, plastics, and waste is having on the environment. Sure, you might love your shampoo or your body wash, but the ingredients could be killing our water.

It is not hard to purchase package-free or to eat in instead of out, but habits can be difficult to change, especially when they are habits of convenience.

I am not exempt. I am far from perfect, but I'm genuinely trying. I'm learning about changes I can make. I'm getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. I'm changing my habits.

Below are some things that I've been doing to try and make a change. And some things I need to work on. Check them out and let me know yours—the more we know, the better.

Tips for Minimizing Your Carbon Footprint

Shop at Bulk Stores and Markets

Bonus points if they are local. I make a distinct effort to visit my local bulk store, Zero Waste Bulk, to refill anything from laundry detergent to cleaning supplies to toothpaste to spices to kombucha.

Even if you don't live near a specialized zero-waste store like I do, you can still stop by Bulk Barn or the bulk section of the grocery store with your own containers and bags and make a difference that way. It might take a bit more planning, but you'll notice a positive difference in the amount of garbage you throw out.

Swap to Package-Free Products

Or at least plastic-free/refillable.

Currently, I use shampoo bars and solid conditioners for my hair. I opt for bars of soap over bottles of body wash or shaving cream. My foundation comes in a refillable metal tin. I make my own moisturizers. My deodorant comes in a glass jar. 

Every time I purchase a new product, I think about the impact I am making with that purchase. I avoid plastic as much as I possibly can, and if I can't, I try to think about what else I could use that bottle for when I'm done with it.

Sure, there are products that I used to buy that I don't anymore because of the packaging. I miss them sometimes but for the most part, I've been able to replace everything with a plastic-free or minimal waste alternative. Plus, even if I was to purchase one of those products, it just doesn't feel the same. I know too much. You can't un-learn about the damage that plastic packaging is causing.

Spend More Money on the Good Stuff

This is where I think people get hung up on making the switch to zero-waste/natural, ethical companies. A shampoo bar is probably around $15, whereas the shampoo you buy from the drug store is closer to $5. The detergent from the grocery store costs $5, but refilling that same container with a greener option is $18. Natural, refillable makeup and skincare are typically more expensive than drug store brands. Ethical, organic companies are often more expensive than unethical sweatshops and toxic chemicals. Local shops have higher margins than Amazon.

I am not rich. I struggle with my finances the same as any millennial does. But I choose to vote with my dollar and ensure I am supporting companies and causes that matter to me. At the end of the day, the products I choose to spend my money on are not only better for the environment, but they are also better for me, my household and my community. Is that not worth the extra five or ten dollars?

Don't Forget your Bags

I still struggle with this, but I try to keep reusable grocery bags in my car and if I forget them, I actually make myself purchase reusable ones as punishment. If I happen to forget my produce bags, then I put my produce in my cart, sans-bag. You should wash your veggies anyway, right?

Also, if you happen to order your groceries online and pick them up like I do, some grocery stores will actually store your bags for you so the next time you make an order, they will simply pack them up in your reusable bags!

Use a Water Filter

I live in an area with hard water. It's a pain in the butt in more ways than one, but it also means that my tap water isn't the best for drinking. Instead of purchasing plastic water bottles, we invested in a water filter jug—we have a Brita—and refill it every chance we get so that we have access to clean water without the waste.

Use Glass, Stainless Steel or Wood Food Containers

Don't go and throw out your existing Tupperware or anything, but make an effort to purchase reusable food containers that aren't plastic. Plastic is not only bad for the environment, but it actually leaches into our food as well, which disrupts your body's natural hormones. As your Tupperware lives out its last days, replace it with a non-toxic alternative like glass or stainless steel.

Use a Refillable Cup or Bottle

Always have a refillable water bottle with you so you can stay hydrated. I couldn't tell you the last time I purchased a bottle of water. Not to mention most take-out places will fill it for free (if you're okay with tap water). I also have a reusable tumbler mug that I use when I am getting a tea or coffee. I just let the cashier know I brought my own cup (this works in drive-thru's as well) and they will make your drink in it instead of a single-use cup.

As you can see, a lot of these tips are simple. They may take some getting used to if you aren't in the habit of bringing your own grocery bags are reaching for soap instead of body wash but, eventually, you won't think twice about them. Trust me, if I can make these changes, so can you. 

Now onto some things that I need to improve.

Ways I Want to Improve

Cut Back on Food Waste

I am notorious for forgetting about a bag of spinach until it's too far gone. I am embarrassed about the amount of food waste I throw out each week, especially because it's likely due to my lack of organization and preparation—and my tendency to want quick, fast meals (aka junk food) when I'm busy. Which leads me to my second point...

Cut Back on Junk and Fast Food

Everything from the way the animals are treated to the way the food is manufactured to the packaging it comes in, there really is nothing good about fast food. Not to mention the awful effects it can have on our bodies. I know all this and yet I still visit fast food places or order take out regularly because it is convenient. You know what that tells me? That my schedule and my priorities need to shift to allow me more time to cook and eat at home. 

Shop Local

I, like every other person I know, shop online far too often. I love the convenience, I love having the selection and I love that it doesn't take a lot of time to find what I want. That said, with the amount of packaging used for shipping materials and emissions caused by delivery vehicles, I am trying to focus more on shopping locally. I probably won't stop shopping online because there are some things that stores don't carry, but for everyday items like skincare, clothing, food or gifts, I shouldn't have a problem finding them locally.

That said, for things I do purchase online I always click the "Wait and Ship it Together" button if it's available (rather than having multiple shipments in order to get the items to me faster).

Buy Less Stuff

As I've chatted about before, I am in the midst of a shopping ban which is beneficial for my wallet but also for the environment because I am not buying things I don't need. I am being more mindful of the number of items I buy and make sure that I only buy things that I won't end up throwing away. This is especially true for clothing since textile waste is another big contributor to landfills.

That said, I still have a tendency to leave pretty heavily on retail therapy in times of stress or boredom. I'm working on it but there has been more than one occasion that I've purchased something and immediately regretted it because I didn't even like it that much.

Recycle and Compost More Carefully

It wasn't until recently that I found out that you can't recycle the bottom of pizza boxes because of food contamination. And that you can't recycle cans that still have remnants of food in them. Maybe this was common sense to other people, but I genuinely had no idea. Which is problematic because of the number of cans of dog and cat food I go through in a week. I've been making a more concerted effort to wash all recyclable items before they hit the blue bin, but there are still moments where I choose to throw them in the garbage over washing them.

Similarly with tossing out food scraps. I need to be better about throwing food into the compost and not the garbage can.

And that's that! Being friendlier to our environment isn't just critical—it's also simple. If you've got tips (especially about anything I haven't mentioned or about the things I am currently struggling with), please share them with me. The more we help each other the easier this can be!