8 Simple Ways to Live Greener

I really love Earth Day. Over the past few years, Earth Day has become my favorite holiday because it makes me think about the world around me. Each April, I spend time evaluating how I am living my life and the impact that I have on the community around me. It’s always a great reminder to see how I can live in a more sustainable manner and do my part to ensure that I am creating a better planet for generations to come. 

I think most of us are bombarded on a constant basis with horror stories of the world around us changing: global warming, landfills piling up, animals losing their native homes. When I think about these things, it makes me feel helpless and overwhelmed. Then I always come back to the same defeated thought:  But, I’m just one person… how can I possibly make a difference?
 
When I was in my graduate program several years ago studying societal change and creating change within organizations, we always talked about the power of individuals and the community. Every change starts with one person wanting to make a difference. It certainly helps when you have community support, but change usually starts with one person who is willing to stand up and make different decisions. When I feel helpless about the state of our planet, I have to remind myself of this. Yes, I am just one person, but my decisions matter and they make an impact.
 
In the spirit of Earth Day, I thought it would be fun to share some of my best tips for living a more sustainable lifestyle. I think we typically hear the same things again and again: drive less/bus more/commute by bike whenever possible, take shorter showers and use less water, buy used items instead of new, don’t leave lights on, etc. So, I wanted to share a few of my favorite ways to live greener that are easy enough for anyone to do and will help you to live healthier, save money, and reduce your impact on the planet.

#1 Buy local and eat seasonal

If you’re a regular reader here, I’m sure you know my mantra about eating locally and buying seasonally as much as possible. Not only does this give you the opportunity to connect with the seasons and the local climate, but buying locally also reduces your “food miles” and means the food is fresher (since it’s not coming from across the country or around the world), has more nutrients, and tastes better.  It’s a win-win!
 
More grocery stores are carrying local produce (depending on where you live) and you can also buy locally by shopping at the farmers market or joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. (And, if you need a little inspiration for seasonal recipes, check out my recipes page.)

 

 #2 Clean without chemicals

There are tons of natural cleaning products on the market and it’s getting easier to ditch the chemical-laden varieties. Buying natural cleaning products helped in the early transition of getting our home more “green,” but I now rely on a lot of DIY options.
I love a little baking soda for getting rid of tough grease on dishes or for removing stains on the bath tub. Vinegar is also fabulous for cleaning and it’s super easy to make your own DIY Citrus Vinegar Cleaner, which smells amazing and works for most surfaces in your home. I also love my DIY All-Purpose Cleaner which only uses 3 ingredients! (The Environmental Working Group has a great guide to natural cleaning if you’re just getting started.)

#3 Remove chemicals from your beauty routine

 
Of course, if we’re trying to get rid of chemicals in our homes, we can’t ignore the hundreds of chemicals that we (unfortunately) are putting on our skin. If you purchase beauty products, check the label for harmful ingredients. I always avoid buying anything with parabens, triclosan, and fragrance, and the EWG has a great guide that goes more in-depth on what to look for and avoid. 
 
I’m a big DIY gal so most of my beauty routine is products that I can create at home. Here’s my line-up: 
  • Coconut oil (for moisturizing skin and hair as needed)
I also love using Dr. Bronner’s soap (it has a ton of uses for cleaning the house too) and I rely on mineral makeup, which has a pretty low warning score in the EWG cosmetics database (this is a great tool for evaluating if your products are safe or not). The bottom line is that less chemicals on our skin means less toxins in our bodies and the planet. Woohoo!

#4 Buy in bulk

One of the best incentives to live greener is that it actually saves you money in a lot of ways. I highly recommend shopping in the bulk section of your local grocery store if you’re not already because it helps you to cut down on your plastic usage and it’s much more affordable than buying pre-packaged items. 

One of the big pro’s is that you can also try out a small amount of a new ingredient without committing to a large bag. If you want to try a new recipe that calls for one cup of almond flour, for example, you can simply buy exactly what you need! I tend to clear out our pantry on a pretty regular basis, but if you find yourself having to throw out a lot of flours or ingredients that have gone bad, shopping in bulk is great because you can buy exactly what you need = less waste and more savings.

If you do buy in bulk, some health food stores will also let you bring in your own reusable containers so you can avoid using the plastic bags. Check with your store first as they will usually weigh the container so they have the tare weight (before you start filling up your containers with goods). If your local store doesn’t allow you to bring in your own containers or if it’s not an option for you, you can also buy reusable cotton bulk bags for the bulk bins.  


#5 Avoid plastic

Okay, we all know that using plastic isn’t the greatest (for us and the planet), but it’s everywhere so I know this can be a hard habit to kick. One of my cats is obsessed with licking plastic bags so this has proven to be great incentive for me to avoid using plastic at all costs. Several years ago I switched to using cloth grocery bags and these actually make grocery shopping much easier than the old plastic and paper varieties. I also invested in some reusable produce bags and this cut out an amazing amount of our plastic usage. 

If you use sandwich or plastic baggies, there are a lot of great reusable options out there nowadays. One of my big sources of plastic used to be food storage containers for taking food to work or storing leftovers. Awhile back I upgraded to glass Snapware containers and found these to be much more convenient because you can reheat food in them (with no worries about BPA) and they don’t ever spill, even if you are transporting watery foods. (And, trust me, once you’ve had soup spill on you during your morning commute, you’ll never forget it!) 

If you are making the switch from plastic to glass food containers, instead of throwing out your old plastic ones, be sure to look for ways to re-purpose them around your home. I’ve found the plastic ones to be great for storing office items or as drawer organizers. And, if you buy bottled water, this is one of the easiest ways to reduce plastic usage because there are a ton of great reusable water bottle options out there. I personally like the stainless steel ones and the glass varieties

#6 Unplug chargers and use power strips

I think we frequently hear the message about turning off lights and being conscious about turning appliances off, but we don’t often think about “phantom power,” or the fact that electronics still use power when they are turned off. (How Stuff Works has a great article explaining this.) One of the easiest ways to counter this is to use power strips in your home and turn the strip off when the electronics aren’t in use. I also make sure to unplug laptop and phone chargers as those are especially big consumers of electricity, even if the computer or phone isn’t plugged into the cord. 

#7 Don’t let food go to waste


This may seem like a silly tip, but I often hear from people how much food they end up throwing out due to spoilage because it didn’t get eaten in time (especially for produce). This is a huge waste of food and money. 

Here are some handy tips I follow to make sure we use everything that I purchase:
  • Line the bottom crisper drawer with paper towels. This helps to absorb extra moisture, which means produce stays fresh for longer. It’s also helpful to not wash produce until you’re ready to eat it as extra moisture means it tends to spoil quicker.
  • Store herbs in your fridge in a small jar of water to help them stay fresh and perky. If you know that you won’t be able to use them in time, you can make pesto at home and freeze it for later use, or simply mix the herbs with a little oil and freeze it to use later in stir fries and soups. 
  • Only buy enough produce for a few days to make sure that you can consume it in time. If you tend to forget about it hidden away in the produce drawer, then place the produce front and center in your refrigerator to remind you to use it. 

 

#8 Recycle, compost, and start a worm bin

Most of us are pretty familiar with recycling and composting. In Seattle, we’re pretty lucky to have a food and yard compost program that makes it easy for apartment folks without yard space to take part in composting. If your city doesn’t have a compost program and you can’t or don’t want to start your own compost bin, a worm bin is a great option. I had one for several years and was surprised at how easy it was to set-up and how little maintenance it took.

I followed Seattle Tilth’s guidelines to create my bin, bought some worms at a local gardening store, and then just added in our food scraps. It took several months for the worms to multiply so I couldn’t add all of our food scraps right away, but as the worms multiplied, it was a great way to get rid of kitchen scraps and create amazing fertilizer for the garden. If you’re looking to get started with a worm bin, this is a great guide

And after all that hard work of eating healthier, living a little more sustainably, and saving money, you certainly deserve a treat. Might I suggest this incredible raw chocolate superfood pudding? It’s one of my favorite desserts and I love adding a fresh sprig of mint to it as a fun “Earth Day” dessert.

What are your best tips for living greener and more sustainably?

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Comments

  1. says

    This is a great guide – I think you covered all the major aspects of living greener.

    EWG.org is a fantastic resource and it helped me to get rid of all the toxic beauty products and cleaning supplies I had around the house.

    My biggest issue is plastic waste; as a European, I am a lot more conscious of how much plastic is being wasted, especially in the US. We always carry reusable bags and I refuse accept plastic bags in stores, as a matter of principle. Also, buying canning jars to store food in (even to freeze food in!) is a very affordable alternative to using plastic containers. Most people don’t seem to be aware of the impact of plastic waste on the environment.

    • steeleigh says

      Thanks Rose, I forgot that you can freeze the canning jars. I use mine for everything! They have become my drinking cup of choice as they can be used for cold or boiling beverages. They are much cheaper than drinking glasses & are pretty. I use them to store dry bulk items, I love that I can see what is in at a glance. But now I’m going to use some to freeze items. I’m not sure about freezing with liquid as I don’t know how much the ice will expand, but I will try with leaving an inch space and see if it works. But I have other things I could freeze, so Yeah!!!

  2. says

    Hi Sonnet, I just found your site through Pinterest. I just Had to click on the Cauliflower Fennel soup : ) Very happy to have found your site and love this post. I’m going to make some citrus vinegar cleaner. What a great and simple idea and probably much better than vinegar alone. Glad to have found you! Debbie

  3. says

    Hey Sonnet – fantastic post, really lovely suggestions. I’m a huge fan of #2 and #3 but can definitely work a little harder on #7 and #8!

    Especially food going to waste – I think it’s a huge issue in the Western world. Here in Australia I recently saw a campaign likening food waste to water waste during the huge Aussie drought we had during the past 8 years. Aussie’s really made it part of our collective consciousness that you simply do NOT waste water. How about’s let’s approach food in the same way?

    I’m certainly far from perfect…but I’ll keep on keeping on improving :)

  4. Shanti Wilby says

    Thanks for these tips.

    I’ve also found, that buying a small plant of fresh herbs or a small plant of kale/spinach every fortnight is great, because as it grows, I use it as I need it, which also prevents waste! I hate wasting food. I also meal plan, which means that normally by the end of the week we have used up almost all of our fruit and veg, ready for the next food shop! :)

    This is a beautiful website. Glad I discovered it!

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