8 Simple Changes to Make Your Daily Life More Environmentally Friendly

 

I think it’s fair to say that people would like to be more environmentally friendly.  Unfortunately, that concept is often seen as something that is out of reach financially or culturally.  Installing a solar roof, buying an electric car, or going vegan aren’t viable for the majority of the population.  But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be more environmentally friendly through simple changes.  Sure, the impact one individual has on the environment is relatively small.  However, that’s no reason to avoid reducing that impact.  Here are 8 simple changes to make your daily life more environmentally friendly:

 

Shop with Reusable Grocery Bags

Did you know that one of a sea turtle’s favorite foods is jellyfish?  Do you know what looks like a jellyfish to a sea turtle but is killing them instead of nourishing them?  Plastic bags.

Baby sea turtle on a beach in Sri Lanka

Let’s give this little guy a chance to grow up. Stop using plastic grocery & produce bags!

Plastic bags are some of the worst contributors to pollution.  They’re petroleum-based, so that means that they will not biodegrade and will continue to pollute land and sea for countless years.  So what’s the alternative?  Paper bags?  They’re better for the environment since they’re biodegradable.  But paper bags aren’t the most convenient to carry, are useless if they get wet, and require more trees to be cut down.

Instead, the next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up a few of their reusable grocery bags.  Most supermarkets carry them and they can be found next to the checkout aisle.  These bags also (essentially) last “forever”, but they’re not single-use throwaway bags; instead they’re used over and over.

 

Bonus Points

If you want to take it one step further, and I absolutely suggest you do so, pick up some reusable produce bags as well! I’ve been using these flip & tumble bags for a while now and absolutely love them.  Keep them in the car in one of your reusable grocery bags and help save some sea turtles!

 

Skip Individually Packaged Items

Individually wrapped or packaged items are extremely convenient.  Whether you’re heading out on a hike and taking snacks with you or are packing your kids’ lunch for school, individually packaged items make this task quick and easy.  But at what cost?  Most packaging for these items is non-biodegradable and therefore end up polluting the planet.

Justin with candy bars in a tea house in Nepal

Try to limit (or eliminate) purchasing individually wrapped items, like candy bars. Maybe only buy them when you’re hiking…up 5000 meter mountains…in the Himalayas.

Candy wrappers, applesauce or yogurt cups, and bottled water are all items that come neatly packaged for convenience at the expense of the environment.  As an alternative, choose items that aren’t individually packaged.

Replace your Snickers bar with a big bag of M&Ms.  Buy a large (preferably glass) jar of applesauce and scoop it into a reusable container for your child’s lunchbox.  Do the same for yogurt, instead of the individual cups, buy one big container (that you can reuse – I’ll touch on that in a later section).

 

 

 

 

Reuse Glass Jars, Plastic Containers & Bags

Another simple and cost-saving way to be more environmentally friendly is to reuse items you already have in your home.  Whether they’re plastic or glass, many containers your food comes in can be re-purposed rather than thrown away or recycled.  Instead of buying more plastic containers to store your food in, use the packaging from other items to store food.

Made some homemade soup?  Store it in a large plastic yogurt container.  Glass pasta sauce jars are a great substitute for Mason jars (unless you’re using them for canning) and other store bought containers for things like flour, rice, and other grains that you’d prefer not to keep in the bag they came in.  Finding creative ways to utilize the packaging you have in your home is a rewarding way to reduce waste.

 

A Note on Plastic Recycling

Sadly, only a small percentage of recyclable items actually get recycled.  This is especially true for plastics.  You’ll notice there is a number on the bottom on most plastic containers that indicates the type of plastic from which the container is made.  You’ll need to check with your local recycling center’s website to see which numbers they take.  Any pieces you send them with numbers they don’t recycle likely end up going to a landfill.

 

Swap Out Your Plastic Toothbrush for Bamboo

Baby sea turtles surrounded by plastic waste

Our oceans deserve better. More sea turtles, less plastic waste.

This environmental change is really easy and actually has the potential to be cheaper than your current setup.  Bamboo toothbrushes are a fantastic, eco-friendly substitute for the standard plastic options.  I’ve been using this Panda Bambu bamboo toothbrush since early 2019 and absolutely love it.

Once again, the sea turtles encouraged me to make this change.  While I was volunteering at our partner rescue center in Sri Lanka, I picked up dozens of toothbrushes on the beach.  They’ll float around forever until they’re ingested by some unsuspecting animal.

 

 

 

Avoid Using Straws

Justin holding plastic waste on a beach in Sri Lanka

We cleaned the beach of most of the larger pieces of waste that washed up (micro-plastics are more of a challenge). The next day, it looked like we hadn’t cleaned it at all.

Eliminating your use of straws is another easy fix.  If you’re reading this, you’re probably an adult who can consume beverages without spilling on yourself.  Ergo, you don’t need a straw to consume your drink.  Plastic straws are another one of those single-use, straight to the landfill or ocean pieces of waste that cause harm and produce very little benefit.  Need something more substantial to convince you to stop using straws?  Do a Google image search for “sea turtles and straws” (warning: disturbing content).

So, it’s time to ditch the straw!  You’ll look much cooler drinking your cocktail without one.  It’s also easy to tell the person at the drive-thru that you don’t need a straw.

If you absolutely must have a straw, consider one of the many reusable options: stainless steel, bamboo, or silicone.

 

Cultivate a Wardrobe of Quality Clothing

Clothing and footwear are two things that many of us overload our homes with while ignoring the environmental impact of our wardrobe.  Obviously, naturally-source textiles like cotton, wool, and leather are biodegradable.  However, many of the synthetic clothing, like polyester, is not and is very harmful to the environment.  Microfibers also make up a significant portion of the microplastics pollution in bodies of water of all sizes.

Personally, I don’t wear flip-flops.  I’m not a fan of having something wedged between my toes.  Foam flip-flops are essentially a form of “throwaway footwear”.  They are good for a season or two and then thrown away, only to eventually make their way into the ocean.  I was amazed (and not in a good way) at how many of them had washed ashore when I was cleaning the beach in Sri Lanka.

The solution here is simple: buy quality clothing and footwear.  Buy items that will last and are made of sustainable materials.  These items will likely be more expensive, but in the long-run, they’ll end up costing you less in replacement costs.  Plus, as a bonus, natural fibers tend to look and feel better too!

 

Use Silicone Storage Bags Instead of Resealable (Ziploc®) Bags

Beetles in a plastic bag in the Sahara desert

Desert beetles apparently love plastic Ziploc bags. Skip the plastic and the beetles, use silicone bags!

Resealable, Ziploc® bags are some of the most convenient and useful items in your pantry.  Unfortunately, most people use them and just throw them out rather than using them repeatedly.  Single-use equals excessive waste.

Silicone bags are an excellent alternative to plastic, resealable bags.  They’re durable, washable, freezer-safe, and aren’t going to end up on a sea turtle’s dinner plate.

My current setup includes these extra-large Homelux Theory bags and this multi-size, 6-piece sungwoo set.  I haven’t tried using them to cook via sous vide yet, but they’re perfect for freezing meat and vegetables.  I’ve even packed one of the sandwich bags with homemade trail mix for hiking Mt. Bierstadt in Colorado.

 

Switch to Environment Friendly Cleaning Products

My final tip for making your daily life more environmentally friendly is one that’s also good for your health at home.  Consider using natural/plant-based products, rather than buying the big name cleaning products that are often made from chemicals.  Brands like Mrs. Meyer’s, Seventh Generation, and Ecos give you the ability to clean your hands, home, and clothing without chemicals that most of us can’t even pronounce.

For those of you, like me, who hand-wash dishes rather than using a dishwasher, sponges are often the go-to tool for removing food particles.  Most sponges are made from Polyurethane foam…and yup, you guessed it, not biodegradable.  A great, eco-friendly alternative is to use a simple wash cloth for most dishes and a Skoy Scrub for those tough “burnt on” situations.  Combined, this duo will clean all of your dishes, last longer, and produce less waste than a foam sponge.

 

Final Thoughts

Being more environmentally friendly doesn’t have to be expensive or challenging.  Simple changes to how you live your daily life make an impact.  Are any of these tips I’ve mentioned going to clean the oceans of plastic, improve air quality, and reduce landfills?  Not by any measurable amount.  But if one person makes a change…and then another…and another; that’s how progress is made.  We need a healthy planet to live healthy lives.  If you have children or grandchildren, do it for them or do it for your friends’ kids.  Don’t let the mess we made be one the future generations have to clean up.

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