Becoming eco-friendly has turned into some sort of weird hipster-ish trend. But it’s something so important, does it even matter what the reasons behind protecting the environment are? Sadly, we live in a society that has become so consumed with spending money on commodities that keep people inside their comfort zone, we fail to see the bigger picture and understand that it’s our duty to protect the planet that is our home.
Turning to an environmentally-friendly lifestyle is hard. It involves a lot of self-education and the desire to really change for the better. Most people aren’t even fully aware of how something as trivial as throwing away plastic shampoo bottles in the trash can impact the environment. How about we learn a thing or two together, about what being eco-friendly actually means?
What Does Being Eco-Friendly Mean?
If you’re turned on the TV at least once in the past couple of years, then you already know about the fuss going around the destruction of our planet. More and more people are turning to an eco-friendly type of lifestyle, mostly because caring about the environment is pretty much the same as looking after the home you live in. But what exactly does an eco-friendly lifestyle involve?
When you decide to follow the path of the righteous and lead an eco-friendly life, it means that you will perform no action that could be a potential for harm to the environment. Even more, people, who are environmentally friendly will do whatever they can to prevent practices that could damage the ecosystem.
Some people like to think that they are protecting the planet simply because they turn off the TV off before they go to bed. Truth is, a person that’s truly committed to saving the environment will make a drastic lifestyle change.
How to Be Eco-Friendly
Being eco-friendly requires a lot of prioritization. It involves adopting a series of practices and a change of daily habits that are focused on the three Rs of waste hierarchy: reduce, reuse, and recycle.
What Is a Carbon Footprint?
The carbon footprint is a series of greenhouse gas emissions that an individual person produces in order to perform a single action. When we think of a person’s carbon footprint, it’s actually the amount of carbon dioxide that’s required for an individual task.
For example, even something as trivial as doing your groceries has a carbon footprint that can have a negative impact on the environment. When you decide to become an eco-friendly person and adopt this specific lifestyle, then one of your main concerns is reducing your carbon footprint by taking a series of actions to do so.
Let’s go back to the groceries example. The food that you buy from a supermarket takes resources to grow, harvest, manufacture, and then be delivered to your local convenience store. The car fuel that you consume to go and do grocery shopping also has its carbon footprint.
The supermarket where you buy your food from also has its own carbon footprint (which is a total of the energy the store consumes to run, plus the carbon footprint of every worker in the supermarket). To all of this, add the energy it takes to cook the food, which is also part of your grocery shopping carbon footprint.
But, if you decide to swap supermarket products with local produce, then you would significantly reduce your carbon footprint. People that live an eco-friendly lifestyle like to buy organic foods because they are not made with any chemicals that could negatively impact the environment. On the same note, vegetables and fruit have a much smaller carbon footprint compared to meat and canned or packaged goods.
There are also specific home items that you can buy to help you live more sustainably, including using water filters instead of water bottles, coffee pour-overs instead of machines, and eco-friendly food containers like glass and stainless steel.
How to Reduce
Reducing is one of the three main steps that a person looking to live an eco-friendly lifestyle has to follow. The easiest way to prevent waste is to try and reduce purchasing and energy consumption as much as possible.
The ultimate goal is zero waste. However, that’s very hard to achieve considering the modern pace of society and how much time you would have to invest in order to become truly efficient and creates as less waste as possible.
Of course, there are people who have made this possible. There are ways for you to change your daily habits, and carefully plan the rate at which you buy and consume things. If you want to be able to create as less waste as possible, then you’re going to have to simplify your life.
- Don’t buy in excess: People that are looking to go zero waste are making an effort to reduce the number of goods they buy, and educate themselves in purchasing only the things they need. Reducing your purchases may seem a little bit out of reach right now, but it is possible if you really set your mind to it.
- Only buy what you need: If you’re in the supermarket and you’re tempted to put a product in your basket, stop and consider if you really need it. People that are truly passionate about saving the environment will try to analyze the impact the production of each product has on our planet, and if there are any means to dispose of it once it’s no longer needed.
- No to Impulse Buying: A good way to educate yourself to purchase only products that you need is to consider the 30-day rule. This rule implies waiting for a full month before actually purchasing a product. During this reflection period, your brain will eliminate impulse buying, and there are great chances of you not buying that product anymore.
- Regulate your energy use: If you want to reduce the amount of energy that you consume, don’t just turn off all the electricity inside your home and stand there in pitch black darkness. Instead, try to gradually reduce energy consumption. You can first experiment with doing so hours one hour per week. During this hour, avoid using any electronics, and instead just try to read a book or enjoy a walk in the park. A great way to reduce the number of things that you buy and consume is the purchase of reusable products. For example, you can switch from disposable batteries to rechargeable ones, you can refill your empty ink cartridges, and you can buy reusable coffee filters.
How to Reuse
Throughout the years, the field of marketing has studied consumer psychology up to a point where sales have risen to the rank of art. Understanding what drives a person to buy certain products involves underlining the benefits that a person can obtain when spending money on something new.
Most advertising and marketing claims talk about these new and amazing benefits that a product brings, but then fail to mention the impact that these products have on the environment. While manufacturers are becoming more aware of sustainability issues and the environmental impact of production, the carbon footprint of making a certain product is not getting any lower.
Reusing is the second step towards becoming an eco-friendly person, and it’s based on the idea that the things people collectively own can help them survive without the need for purchasing for any new products (except for consumables, of course). The first step is understanding which of the products that you currently own can be reused up to the point of saturation.
Here is a list of things you can reuse, to significantly reduce the amount of waste created:
- If you switch packets of condiments, pasta, cereal, or whatever else is in your kitchen and purchase glass jars for future bulk purchases, you basically have reusable containers for your herbs, spices, and such.
- Don’t throw away old clothes, towels, or bedding items you no longer use. Donate your old clothes or, if they are no longer wearable, convert them into cleaning rags. Do the same with old towels and bedding items. Just because you don’t use a towel to dry your skin, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it when you wash your car.
- If you still like to read newspapers and magazines the old fashioned way, know that you can also put that paper to good use once you don’t need it anymore. From creative collage project that you can do together with your kids, to creating unique gift wrappers, don’t be afraid to repurpose paper.
- You can reuse plastic bag for a multitude of purposes, but it’s best if you just buy reusable tote bags from the get-go. They are available in all sorts of sizes, shapes, colors, and patterns, and some love to use them even as handbags.
- Reusing old furniture is just good for the environment, but it can also be a really cool DIY home project. How about turning that ugly old nightstand into a new coffee table for your patio?
Recycling DOs and DONTs
According to Susan Robinson, senior director of sustainability and policy for Waste Management, the main concern of today’s recycling habits is that a lot of the waste is contaminated due to improper recycling practices. Here are some of the things that you may be doing wrong, and how you can make them right:
- Most people have the habit of throwing away they trash by placing it in plastic bags. These bags are made from a very thin film, which often clogs up recycling machines. According to Robinson, workers have to stop the recycling machines about three times each day, and manually cut the plastic bags that are wrapped around the pipes. To prevent this from happening, people are encouraged to take their plastic bags to local grocery stores, as a lot of them have special collection bins for these types of items. If your plastic bag ends up in a curbside recycling facility, their equipment is not meant to handle them and gets stuck.
- Another common mistake is crushing cartons and cans. When they are compact, they are also harder to sort out, so it’s best to throw them away in their natural form.
- Medicine, syringes, and used diapers also end up in recycling facilities that are not meant to tackle these kinds of products.
- When waste ends up in recycling facilities with traces and scraps of food, they are prone to attracting pests and rodents. Try to rinse your containers before throwing them into the trash. Not every can or bottle has to be absolutely spotless, but a quick throw under the running faucet can go a long way in helping the entire recycling process.
- Trying to recycle paper products that have significant food traces is futile, as paper is very hard to recycle once it’s really greasy. It would be better to compost a greasy food carton container rather than trying to recycle it.
- When you throw away plastic containers, feel free to put the lid back on. But when you throw away containers with lids made from different materials, make sure you separate them (like glass jars closed with metal lids).
Even if reusing is one of the key steps towards living an eco-friendly lifestyle, with home appliances that may not be the case. Owning old electronics and appliances can consume more energy and water compared to newer models, in which case investment in new appliances may be a better idea.
Thanks to the US Department of Energy, major home appliances manufacturers need to have their products tested and labeled, for every customer to know the energy efficiency. The results are printed on labels and given an estimate of the annual operating costs.
If you purchase an appliance that has an Energy Star rating, it will probably cost you more than products that are less energy efficient. However, you will save money in the long run by paying lower utility bills.
Fifteen percent of the energy you consume at home is centered in the kitchen. Refrigerators are amongst the major home appliance consumers, so it’s best if you just limit yourself to one.
Considering that special refrigeration units, such as those made for wine or meat, will consume extra amounts of electricity, it might be a better choice to opt for a larger main refrigerator in the kitchen. While everybody loves a fridge packed with features such as water dispensers or ice makers, these consume more electricity.
Washing machines that have Energy Star labels are more efficient in terms of water consumed, and they also cut down the energy costs with about 40 percent compared to a washing machine that doesn’t bear this label. Machines that lack a central agitator generally use less water to spin and rub your clothes.
Another way to conserve energy when washing clothes is to avoid using the dryer. Clothes dryers are not Energy Star rated, mostly because none of the brands are actually energy-efficient. Line drying is the best option if you’re looking to go appliance eco-friendly.
Purchasing a dishwasher with an Energy Star rating means that you’ll be consuming 41 percent less electricity compared to standard dishwashers. They function with less water, which isn’t heated up that much.
Eco-Friendly Makeup & Cosmetics
Eco-friendly cosmetics and makeup products are focusing on delivering natural items that are environmentally safe from start to finish. Some of the characteristics of eco-friendly makeup and cosmetics are:
- None of the products or ingredients used in making said products is tested on animal. Animal rights movements are focused intensely on eliminating animal cruelty through lab test performed by some cosmetic companies.
- Brands that are focused on delivering eco-friendly cosmetics and makeup products will package their goods in recyclable containers. Some brands even go as far as creating packaging that dissolves in water.
- Products that are made with bamboo tend to avoid plastic components in their composition. Pay close attention for cosmetics packed in bamboo containers, they’re awesome!
- Organic products don’t have ingredients such as parabens or preservatives. If you see any suspicious chemical products on the label, it’s best to avoid those items altogether.
- You can also purchase vegan makeup, which doesn’t contain any animal-derived ingredients.
Sustainable clothing is creating without putting the environment or the workers in danger. Some brands have even created clothes made from reused or recycled fibers. Whatever the case, here is what you should know if you want to turn your clothing purchases into a more environmentally-focused option:
- Avoid clothing items that are colored with dyes. Dyes are typically filled with toxins (unless specified otherwise), which are not just bad for the environment, they’re also something too sketchy to come in contact with your skin. Even more, dye washes out when you clean your clothes and guess where it ends up? Yeah, in rivers.
- At this point, it’s important not to fall into the trap of thinking that all-white clothing items are natural and eco-safe. In fact, a lot of white fabrics are treated with chlorine, which releases dioxin, a cancerous chemical.
- Apart from that people neglect when looking into eco-friendly brands is how they treat their workers. When a clothing brand is truly eco-friendly, they provide a safe working space for their employees, meeting all safety factory standards. A good idea would be to look for clothes that bear the Fair Trade label. This label is given to brands that offer fair living wages to their workers, while also ensuring factory safety standards and friendly production processes.
- Never be afraid to turn to thrift stores when you’re looking to buy or sell some of your old clothes. In a thrift shop, a clothing item can cost as little as $1.
In order to shop for eco-friendly clothing, you need to be informed about the materials that are most environmentally sustainable, such as:
- Bamboo is, by far, one of the top choices for organic and eco-friendly fabric sources. Bamboo grows really fast and doesn’t require any pesticides. The fabric is easy to care for, and quite durable in the long run. The downside is that some manufacturer uses toxic chemical to turn the bamboo fibers into actual fabrics. If you don’t want to risk it, look for bamboo linen products.
- Linen is a conveniently-priced fabric which is made from flax – a plant that requires little water and pesticides to grow, but also less energy to be turned into fabric. Linen is also well-known as being a highly recyclable fabric.
- Hemp is another type of crop that’s easy to grow and which can be converted into a multitude of fabrics. Sadly, hemp growth is illegal in the US, which means extra import taxes, and a higher carbon footprint.
- Organic wool comes from sheep that are not exposed to chemically-filled environments. If a sheep consumes grass that has been sprayed with pesticides, its wool won’t be organic, nor eco-friendly. Organic wool comes from sheep that are kept away from such harmful products.
- What you may know as Tencel, is actually lyocell, a fabric made from eucalyptus wood pulp. It’s a tree that requires little water and no chemicals to grow.
- Silk comes from silkworms, and it’s a durable fabric that naturally breaks down at the end of its lifespan. Some people question whether silk can be considered eco-friendly since the process involves killing the silkworms.
The main thing to keep in mind after having read this article is that going eco-friendly is not easy. It may be “hip”, it may be “cool”, but it’s something that also requires a lot of initial sacrifices. In order for a person to turn to such a lifestyle, one must get out of their comfort zone and be willing to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
The three Rs are all important for protecting the environment. We need to stop buying products we don’t need or try to replace old products that we can still use. Instead, we can focus on replacing one-time product with others that we can use multiple times, and then dispose of properly.
If you want to start doing something right now, how about going with something simple? Purchase separate trash bins and label them for plastic, bottles, metal, and paper disposal. This way, you won’t have to give up something important right away. Baby steps are the surest way to changing your daily habits.