30 Earth Day Tips for Being Eco-Friendly From Sustainability Experts
These Earth Day tips from sustainability pros will help you help the planet.
With raging wildfires, plastic piling up in our oceans, and icebergs rapidly melting, there's officially no getting around the fact that our planet needs our help. And even though it's very easy to feel helpless, every step in the right direction counts. One person bringing a reusable cup to their coffee shop makes a difference. One person refusing a straw makes a difference. One person turning off the water while they brush their teeth makes a difference. Looking for more small but significant ways to help the environment? In honor of Earth Day on April 22, we consulted sustainability experts for simple tips to help you lead a more eco-friendly life.
Rent or borrow clothes instead of buying them.
All of us fall in love with the window displays at Zara and H&M from time to time. But while window shopping is perfectly harmless, buying brand-new clothes encourages the abuse that fast fashion puts on the planet.
"Borrowing instead of buying is beneficial for both the environment and your wallet," says Trisha Mishich, a sustainable fashion enthusiast and founder of online rental company Your Favourite Dresses. Renting an item, she says, "will spark joy for the occasion you intend to wear it, and for many more people after you return it!"
Some rental companies, like Rent the Runway, even have monthly plans so you can enjoy multiple new looks at a time.
Break out your bicycle.
Carpooling and using public transportation are great ways to cut your carbon footprint. However, nothing compares to breathing fresh air and burning some calories while riding your bike to work.
"Cycling is a convenient and fun option to ride when it comes to covering small miles and is great for your health and the environment," says Daniel Atlas, founder of Rydoze, a website for cycling enthusiasts. The next time you're going just a few blocks to visit a friend or exploring a new city, opt for two wheels instead of four.
Rent your tools.
Whether you're doing a major home improvement project or just need to do a minor repair, it's unnecessary to purchase a whole set of tools. "Borrowing not only saves money but reduces landfill waste, packaging waste, and shipping emissions by decreasing consumerism," says Grace Everitt, head of marketing for Tako Agency, which created an app called Sparetoolz for this very reason.
Not an app person? Ask your neighbor if they have a drill you can borrow!
Avoid buying new furniture.
From production to packaging to delivery, large furniture pieces like a table or a couch are really an environmental nightmare. "When buying furniture or décor, think thrift store, vintage, and antique to find some unique treasures while reducing your footprint," says Nora Bouz, founder of Lucida Well-Being Interior Design.
Switch to LED bulbs.
Swapping out your regular light bulbs for LED ones is one of the simplest changes you can make to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. "An LED bulb consumes 90 percent less energy than a traditional incandescent bulb," notes Bouz. "Plus, some contain technology that can mimic the sun's color temperature throughout the day, which can play an essential role in enhancing our moods and energy, and unwind us when we need to." It's a win-win! And for more ways to make your home smarter and more efficient, check out these 50 Genius Ways to Redo Your Home.
Turn down your water heater.
Most people don't even realize that it's possible to turn down their water heater. But if you're looking to be more eco-friendly, this is a great place to start. "Most us of rarely need tap water at its highest level, and turning it down will conserve energy, and might even lower your monthly bill," says Stephanie Seferian, host of The Sustainable Minimalists podcast.
Lower your heater to around 120 degrees or to "warm" if it doesn't display numbers; we guarantee your beloved hot showers won't be affected.
Unplug everything that's not in use.
Take a look around the room and try to figure out how many unused devices are plugged into an outlet. All of those are using energy for no reason! Bigger appliances like your stove, washing machine, AC unit, and fridge also count, and they require so much energy during peak hours. "The grid is stressed consistently from 7-8 p.m. on weeknights with so many people cooking and cleaning, at which point the back-up energy source is fossil fuel plants," says environmental and eco-anxiety expert Erica Dodds, PhD, who works for the Foundation for Climate Restoration. Besides, unplugging your fridge for one hour won't spoil any of your food!
Empty your fridge.
All too often people forget about the food that's in their fridge and end up throwing it out. So if you want to help the planet, "whip up an amazing stir fry or soup out of the food that's about to go bad and help stop the massive global food waste," says Dodds. Challenge yourself to completely empty one shelf before heading to the grocery store.
Cook in residual heat.
"You can turn your oven off a few minutes early—without opening the door—and let your dish finish cooking while saving a little electricity," says Seferian. Better yet, meal prep for the week to use the oven only one time.
Opt for an electric kettle.
Whoever said that a watched pot never boils clearly didn't have an electric kettle. An electric kettle is twice as efficient at boiling water, and using it to pre-boil water for pasta or rice is a great way to get a jumpstart on the process, says Kate Heyhoe, author of Cooking Green: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen. Just make sure to unplug it when you're finished!
Ditch plastic wrap.
Replacing your plastic wrap with something more sustainable is an easy way to be more eco-friendly. "Wrap made of beeswax is an affordable swap that you can easily clean to reuse. You can even find it in cute designs," says Emily Waddell, founder of The Honest Consumer.
Similarly, plastic ziplock bags are another kitchen evil, so opt for a silicone one instead.
Cut the confetti.
This favorite at kids' birthday parties and other celebratory events is a wasteful (and even sometimes hazardous) decoration. Dried flower petals or biodegradable paper are great confetti alternatives that won't add waste to your bash, and you won't have to worry about cleaning them up when outdoors, says Waddell. An eco-friendly party trick that cleans itself? Yes, please!
Plant trees with each click.
You're surfing the web anyways, so you might as well help the planet while you do so. "Ecosia is a search engine that plants trees with its ad revenue, so use it instead of Google when surfing the web," says Seferian. To date, they've already planted more than 85.5 million trees!
Add native plants to your yard.
Avoid planting exotic trees in your backyard. Not only do they cost more, but they also require more fertilizer and more water to survive than a local tree would. "Insects and birds depend on the native plants they coevolved with, so a tree from the area won't disrupt the flow of nature," says Michael Reinemer of The Wilderness Society.
Reach for a shampoo bar.
The amount of plastic in your shower is probably something you've never given thought to, especially since there aren't many shower-safe alternatives for bath packaging. What you can do to cut back on your plastic use in the bathroom, though, is replace your several different kinds of shampoo with a single shampoo bar. "The bars are plastic-free and are used just like bar soap. Lather up, put the suds in your hair, and rinse," explains Waddell.
Use recycled toilet paper.
According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), most toilet paper is made from pulp that comes from the Canadian boreal forest. The problem? "Every year, the Canadian boreal region removes carbon dioxide equivalent to the annual emissions of 24 million passenger vehicles," the NRDC notes.
When those trees are logged for paper, all of that stored carbon is released into the air. Creating alternatives such as paper made from wheat straw or bamboo uses half the amount of water and emits just one-third of the greenhouse gases. Brands like Green Forest, Natural Value, and Seventh Generation are all 100 percent recycled.
Put the "clean" back in cleaning supplies.
Bulky packaging and harsh chemicals fill the cleaning aisle, but you can concoct your own supplies with simple ingredients already in your pantry. "Leave the Windex at the store and instead use a mixture of 1 part distilled white vinegar and 1 part water for streak-free surfaces," says Kait Schulhof, author of the sustainable lifestyle website A Clean Bee. Pour your mixes into glass spray bottles for sustainable storing.
Wash your laundry with cold water.
"GE Appliances estimates that 75 to 90 percent of all the energy your washer uses goes to warming up the water, so switching to colder water can lower your gas or electric bill,"says Matthias Alleckna, an energy analyst at EnergyRates.ca. Your clothes will get just as clean when you use cold water—we promise!
Hang-dry your clothing.
On the topic of laundry, skipping the dryer can also save energy and the quality of your clothes. "Hang-drying your clothes keeps the fibers intact, maintaining both the shape and color longer," says Waddell. Stick your drying rack near the window to let the sun speed up the process.
Filter your fabrics.
You read the labels of the foods that go into your body, so why don't you find out what's going on your body? "Take a look at the ingredient labels on your clothing and figure out how much of your closet is made with fabrics like polyester or nylon. Those will still shed microplastics into your water when washed," explains Mary Bemis, founder of plant-based workout clothing company Reprise Activewear. Keep your eye out for materials like organic cotton, linen, and Tencel to ensure a green garment.
Shop with brands that give back.
"Taking part in a socially responsible lifestyle can be as easy as supporting socially responsible brands," says Waddell. Whether they donate a portion of their proceeds or have a buy-one-give-one model, you can have the peace of mind that you are shopping for good.
Bring your own reusable baggies to the bulk goods part of your grocery store to stock up on staples like rice, flour, and oats. "Avoid taking a number tag—more unnecessary waste—and instead type bulk bin codes in the notes section of your phone to recite to the cashier at checkout," says Schulhof.
Don't order just one item at a time online.
There's always last-minute things you need to order and receive ASAP. But a big box filled with one tiny thing is a huge waste of packaging and paper. The amount of cardboard needed for one year of deliveries in New York City is enough cardboard to wrap the Empire State Building 50,000 times, says Returnity CEO Mike Newman. Try to get multiple items delivered in one go to get the most use of each box. (Amazon does a great job of showing you what can arrive together!)
Properly dispose of your electronics.
Tossing unwanted electronics in the trash can be dangerous, and it's actually illegal in many cities. "Retailers like Best Buy and Staples have take-back programs where they take most things for free like TVs, printers, computers, old cell phones, and even DVDs with their plastic cases," explains Danny Seo, sustainable living expert and editor-in-chief of Naturally, Danny Seo.
If you're tech-savvy enough, you could even attempt to sell the item for its working parts.
Use reef-safe sunscreen.
Though it's supposed to protect us, sunscreen is actually full of chemicals like oxybenzone that can enter the blood stream and harm coral reefs. "Up to 6,000 tons of sunscreen are estimated to wash into coral reefs around the globe each year, creating an oil-slick-type situation that suffocates, bleaches, and kills reefs," says Ashlee Piper, sustainability expert and author of Give a ****: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet. Search for ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to ensure you're using mineral, rather than chemical, sunscreens.
"Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world. It helps absorb greenhouse gases, and it's grown organically, making it the most sustainable option to recreate many different household products," says Lennart Meijer, co-founder of The Other Straw, an Australian company that makes reusable straws out of the plant. Bamboo sponges, toothbrushes, and even towels are just a few of the eco-friendly options on the market.
Eat less meat.
We know you've heard it before, but it's still true: Eating fewer animal products is one of the fastest ways to lower your carbon footprint. The greenhouse gases that come from commercial beef and pork farming are the worst, but poultry and dairy industries are a close second. Start by participating in a few Meatless Mondays to test out plant-based versions of your favorite recipes. "Convincing meat substitutes like Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat are easy ways to replace your favorite cheeseburger without giving up that taste you love," says Shel Horowitz, author of Painless Green.
Kiss your K-Cups goodbye.
So long, single-use coffee pods! "Stop your plastic consumption by getting reusable K-Cups that you can fill with the coffee grounds of your choice," says Danielle Pientka, lifestyle blogger at DIY Danielle. This also allows you to bring out your inner barista and mix flavors for a unique taste.
Your food scraps shouldn't be going in the garbage. Items like fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds can be composted into fertilizer instead. This "controlled breakdown of organic material into a nutrient-rich soil amendment … fights climate change by avoiding methane emissions caused by food scraps rotting in landfills," says Kat Nigro, vice president of experience for CompostNow. Just keep your at-home compost bin in the fridge to keep odors at bay!
And if you don't have the space to compost, many cities have weekly drop-off locations to collect your scraps to take to a composting facility.
Make your period waste free.
Reusable period products—from lined underwear to pads—have the power to greatly decrease the amount of plastic we use and decrease our landfill contribution. It can take up to 800 years for a sanitary pad or tampon to degrade, and something as natural as a period shouldn't leave you with a forced feeling of contributing to the planet's waste, says Lauren Derrett, founder of Wear 'Em Out reusable pads.