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6 Easy Ways to Live More Sustainably

Every year, Earth Day reminds us that we have only one planet and inspires us to live a little greener, if only for those 24 hours. But that one day of planting trees and celebrating the environment is often overshadowed by our not-so-sustainable habits on other days. Saving the world can feel like an impossible task, but little tweaks make a big difference. These small changes can help you save money, reduce waste, and lessen your environmental impact every day of the year.

Save Food Scraps for Broth

Three bowls of broth on a wooden cutting board with lots of vegetables
Credit: purebonebroth/ Unsplash

Fresh produce isn’t fresh for long, and when pushed to the back of the fridge or left on the counter, it can quickly become unappealing. Instead of tossing your latest grocery haul, reduce food waste by picking out parts that are still edible and using those scraps to make a customized vegetable broth. Peels from root vegetables (think carrots, onions, and garlic) combined with mushroom, celery, and green onion stalks can get a second chance in your stockpot, so long as they’re free from mold, slimy films, odor, or discoloration. Infrequent cooks can save scraps in a resealable container kept in the freezer; when it’s full, you’ll be ready to make fresh vegetable broth that can be used immediately or frozen for an upcoming culinary adventure. Afterward, your well-used scraps can be composted or added to a worm bin, creating a full-circle journey back to the earth.

Buy Refurbished or Open-Box Items

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There’s something satisfying about peeling the plastic from a brand new phone or laptop… but it feels just as good to save money and help the environment. Purchasing open-box items not only costs less, but also keeps products out of landfills, especially since most items sold this way are retail returns, have minor cosmetic flaws, or were used as floor models. Refurbished items (generally electronics) usually undergo cleaning and repair, and are offered at steep discounts to attract savvy shoppers. Brand-new electronics, conversely, have a big impact on your wallet and the environment, requiring massive amounts of energy and raw materials to produce. Buying pre-owned, revitalized electronics reduces both costs. Just don’t forget to find an environmentally friendly way to recycle any products you’re replacing, electronic or otherwise.

Curate a Capsule Wardrobe (and Wash It Less)

Clothing hanging on a clothing rack with a hat hanging on the corner
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Capsule wardrobes offer several benefits: fewer “What should I wear?” moments, a more organized closet, and a manageable laundry hamper. They’re also a tool to fight back against the fast-fashion industry, a major source of textile waste. Capsule wardrobes consist of basic clothing essentials paired with season-specific items and accessories; the goal is to reduce impulse shopping that crowds your closet with rarely worn clothes. Each season is a chance to re-evaluate and refresh with new items that complement your core clothing collection, meaning you won’t be swearing off shopping forever. And when thinking about sustainable apparel, consider washing your clothes less frequently. Underwear, socks, and close-fitting garments should be washed after every wear, but pajamas, jeans, and overshirts can endure more uses. Less frequent washing helps clothes last longer, cuts down on laundry greywater, and reduces the amount of plastic microfibers that leech from synthetic fibers during every washing.

Go Paperless, But Clear Out Cloud Storage

A laptop and smart phone with a notepad and glass of water on a wooden table
Credit: Bram Naus/ Unsplash

Switching to paperless statements and billing has become so popular that many services offer a discount to do it (or an upcharge to keep getting a monthly bill in your mailbox). The only downside? A reliance on cloud storage has its own impact on the environment. Even though your most recent credit card bill arrived digitally, it’s hosted on a physical server somewhere — potentially two servers if you save it to your own cloud-based storage service. Those servers require heating and cooling, using massive amounts of electricity and energy. Cloud services do help cut back on paper waste (plastic too, if you’ve replaced physical DVDs and CDs with streaming), but their growing use contributes to greenhouse gas emissions on par with the aviation industry. You can do your small part by deep cleaning your cloud storage, removing old bills, files, and documents you no longer need. (You can always download them to your hard drive.) Don’t forget to sort through data-heavy items such as photos or videos you don’t need to keep.

Install a Bidet to Save Trees

Aerial view of a forest
Credit: Brandon Montrone/ Pexels

Chances are you’ve been inundated with ads and commercials promoting newly popular bidets, and with the pandemic’s toilet paper shortages fresh in mind, you might be almost convinced. If you need another fresh-feeling reason, consider the environmental impact of toilet paper production. Because of its obvious purpose, toilet paper can’t be recycled; that means new rolls come from trees cut specifically for making fluffy, cotton-like squares. Even though many toilet paper producers replant trees, it takes years for them to mature and replace clear-cut forests. Producing one roll of traditional toilet paper also requires 37 gallons of water; in comparison, bidets use far less water and last for years. If you can’t get on board with a bidet, consider swapping your standard toilet paper roll for one from a sustainable supplier; look for labels that mention bamboo or post-consumer recycled paper.

Cut Back on Rush Shipping

An open cardboard box with packing tape and scissors
Credit: Karolina Grabowska/ Pexels

One-day delivery can be a lifesaver when you need something urgently, but rush shipping has long-term impacts on the planet. Retailers offering speedy shipping rely on local warehouses to fulfill your order, which does help reduce the need to ship items long distances. But free, no-minimum shipping still might not be the most eco-friendly or efficient delivery choice; shoppers are more likely to impulse order items one at a time instead of making one large order with multiple products. That means extra packaging, more delivery trucks on the road, and less efficiency overall. Reducing your delivery impact is easy: Pick a specific delivery day and bundle orders, or buy locally from a business that has what you urgently need. Either way, you’ll lug fewer boxes out to the recycling, and reduce your carbon footprint in a way that’s truly sustainable.

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