I get it. Going waste-free and all-natural can feel impossible, and you’re not entirely wrong. Single-use plastic has become such a part of our daily lives, chances are you’ve already interacted with some today, whether in the iced coffee you picked up on your way into work or in a beauty product you used this morning (getting rid of it is really, really hard). And there isn’t a single person reading this who hasn’t wasted something edible at one point (or a lot of points) in their life. The good news is: There are a lot of simple swaps each of us can adopt to make our routines just a little bit more environmentally friendly. Over the course of a lifetime, those swaps can have a significant, lasting impact—and what better way to start making those changes than Earth Day?
Read on for 14 simple swaps to make every part of your day more environmentally friendly:
When you’re getting ready for your day
1. Replace your paper coffee filter with a reusable filter. If you’re anything like me, the first thing you do in the morning is brew yourself a cup of caffeinated something. If you currently use paper filters, consider swapping them out to a reusable metal cone. They’re compatible with most drip machines (and the cleanup is easier than you think—just rinse them out each morning!). If you get coffee on the go, be sure to bring your own cup and straw*! Most coffee shops, including Starbucks, will fill your reusable cup if you ask nicely. This mug is virtually leak-proof and keeps coffee steamy all morning.
*On that note… my workplace been working on making this swap ourselves! When our team went out for iced coffees a few months ago, several people rightly pointed out the damage we were doing by accepting single-use plastic cups. We’ve since switched to bringing our own!
2. Compost your coffee and food scraps. If you make your coffee at home, compost the used grounds (and all food scraps)! Think of it this way: You wouldn’t put a glass bottle in the trash, so you shouldn’t put food scraps there either. The microorganisms that thrive in compost and properly break down organic matter aren’t in landfills, so the food there ends up producing methane gas. And you don’t have to have a garden to compost! This “smart” trash bin has a built-in compost and recycling drawer. Many farmers markets also have a compost drop-off. A quick Google should be all you need to find a compost hub in your area.
3. Take public transportation, bike, or carpool. If you drive to work each day in a car that uses gas, the good news is there’s tons of room for improvement. The best option is obviously walking or biking to work. According to Slate, “an ordinary sedan’s carbon footprint is more than 10 times greater than a conventional bicycle on a mile-for-mile basis, assuming each survives 15 years and you ride the bike 2,000 miles per year (or slightly under eight miles per weekday).” The next best option is carpooling or using public transportation if you have it available to you. Even carpooling or biking a few times a week will make a dramatic impact over the course of a year!
Your beauty routine
4. Switch to products that come in recyclable materials whenever possible. A lot of beauty products are packaged in plastic, and going zero-plastic in beauty isn’t feasible for everyone (ourselves included). According to Trash is for Tossers, “In order to get totally package free makeup, you’d probably have to make it all yourself.” But, it’s still possible to make improvements: Buy products that come in glass bottles (glass is 100% recyclable, while plastic is, well, the worst), compostable materials (like Meow Meow tweet’s lip balm), and from brands that sell refillable inserts (like Kjaer Weis does). By the way, you can calculate your plastic consumption using this helpful tool.
5. Consider using bars over bottles. You can also avoid buying bottles at all by switching to bars that are wrapped in compostable paper, like this shampoo from Christophe Robin or this bar soap from Ursa Major (which smells amazing, by the way).
6. Reduce environmental pollution by purchasing natural brands. Remember microbeads in face washes? They were made out of plastic, so there was as much plastic inside those bottles as in the containers themselves. Hopefully we all know better now—microbeads are banned in the U.S. and Canada—but you can still find them for sale online unfortunately, and there are still countless products in makeup that harm the environment. According to Huffington Post, titanium dioxide (commonly found in skin tints and “mineral” makeup) stops phytoplankton from growing, and triclosan (a common ingredient in skincare products) shortens the lifespan on freshwater organisms. Long story short: It may be better for the Earth, and you, to switch to a natural beauty routine.
7. Cut down on single-use cotton pads and Q-tips. There’s really no great re-useable alternative to Q-tips (outside of not using them, which you may want to consider after you see this photo), but it’s so easy to use reusable cotton rounds. Once you start using them, you won’t even miss the toss-able alternative.
At the office
8. Go paperless if possible! Most work these days happens online via Google Docs and email anyways, but limit your printing as much as you can.
9. Bring your own lunch or be selective about where you go to lunch. The easiest way to cut down on waste is to bring lunch to work in a reusable container. I’m a big fan of this elevated ceramic to-go bowl but a simple mason jar or tiffin does the trick too! If you do eat out, be selective about where you go (you can even ask that restaurants use your own container, which can be awkward to ask for but makes a big difference!). Also, lots of restaurants like Sweetgreen use compostable bowls—but those bowls are only compostable if you actually put them in the compost.
When you’re cooking or buying dinner
10. Bring your own bags to the grocery store. An article on Quartz made waves earlier this month when it reported, “Considering all the other environmental impacts besides litter, a cotton tote or a paper bag may be worse for the environment than a plastic one.” But here’s the thing: We probably all have a reusable tote at home. And if you already do—use it, and then use it over and over and over again (and don’t buy a new one, if you can avoid it). When you forget your bags (it happens!), opt for paper over plastic. Again, plastic is the worst.
11. Vote with your fork. Every time you purchase groceries, you’re making a myriad of environmental and ethical choices: Meat or vegetables? Pasture-raised or cage-free? Grass-fed or organic? Local or imported? Michael Pollan famously referred to these decisions as “voting with your fork.” Every time you make a food purchase, you’re monetarily contributing to one “campaign” or another, if you will. Sometimes these decisions are confusing (as Pollan points out here with the nomenclature around eggs), but some are clear, like avoiding stores that plastic-wrap their bananas. Shopping at farmers markets is prohibitively expensive, but even a few swaps can help, like buying spinach there rather than in the large plastic bins and bags it’s usually available in, in grocery stores.
12. Reduce your food waste. Roughly one-third of edible food is wasted every year. One-third! A lot of this happens at the supermarket level (which is where subscribing to boxes like “Imperfect Produce” can help), but a lot of this happens in our own homes. There are so many ways to curb your food waste: Make careful shopping lists and stick to them, be diligent about proper food storage, and cook with food scraps (you can make the best hummus ever with chard stalks, and carrot tops make for excellent pesto). Using a compost bin is helpful because it helps you keep track about how much food you’re actually tossing each week, rather throwing it into a trash bin where you don’t really see it or have a visual reference.
13. Run full dishwashers. If it takes two minutes or less, you’re better off hand-washing your dishes (sinks spew about 2 to 5 gallons of water per minute), but if you have a full sink-load of dishes, run the dishwasher.
14. Go paper towel-less and plastic bag-less. Similar to reducing your use of single-use cotton rounds, you’ll hardly miss paper towels once you get rid of them. Invest in a ton of dish towels and keep them easily accessible in your kitchen for cooking and drying. Old t-shirts and flour sack tea towels are great options because 100% cotton is so absorbent and lasts forever. It’s also easier than you think to get rid of plastic zipper bags. Instead, use a reusable sandwich bag—I love this one from Stasher!
Happy Earth Day!
Build Your Own “Trash-Free” Starter Kit:
Iced coffee mug
Reusable water bottle
Reusable bags for vegetables
Tupperware for lunch and getting food to-do
Reusable zipper bag
Kitchen towels (as a paper towel replacement)