We’re all aware that driving less and avoiding plastic straws are great ways to live sustainably.
But for those that would like a more concrete answer as to WHY avoiding those types of things are important, we put together a list of 75 ways to live sustainably and their real-world impacts.
Whether you’re a zero-waste pro, or just getting into the whole eco-friendly thing, this list is for you.
Cooling / Heating Systems
Save money and energy by installing a programmable thermostat.
On average it can save you $180 a year in energy costs. The energy saved is equivalent to driving from San Francisco, California to Columbus, Ohio!
For both new and old homes, having proper insulation can save on average 11% on total home costs (15% of heating and cooling costs).
Consider purchasing insulation made of recycled content. It is easy to find and cost-effective, plus you are giving life to all sorts of materials from wood pulp to recycled glass that would otherwise take up space in the landfill.
For example, cellulose insulation contains up to 85% recycled material, so for an average attic insulation install, you could give new life to about 3600 pounds of recycled materials.
Reworking your landscaping can reduce water consumption, save time, and can help ecosystems to thrive. Just by converting a small portion of lawn to native landscaping means the environment can provide for your plants, thus requiring less maintenance and resources.
Still want a green and pristine lawn? Consider mixing clover into your lawn, keeping it longer during dry months, and switching up the type of lawn equipment you use can make a big difference in local air quality.
Did you know, a 4-stroke gas-powered lawnmower will use the same amount of gas in 1 hour as the average car driving 100 miles. To reduce this pollution and the smell, consider switching to electric-powered equipment.
By switching just 10 bulbs to LEDs from 60W incandescent bulbs, you can save about $100 annually and about 750 kWh of electricity.
For comparison, the average US household uses about 914 kWh for their total electricity each month. That’s the energy equivalent to about 3,300 lit matches.
Can’t quite foot the bill for solar right now or you live in an apartment/rental?
Consider reaching out to your local energy provider to see if they have a renewable energy investment program like the BlueSky Program, they add a few dollars to your utility bill to invest in creating renewable energy projects for your power grid.
In the U.S. alone, about 1 billion trees’ worth of paper is thrown away each year — that’s enough to heat 50,000,000 homes for twenty years!
Consider donating or recycling your unwanted books. Using your local library or downloading audiobooks are also great ways to cut down on this consumption on the front end.
About 30 million US households get newspapers delivered. That’s enough newspaper to make a stack 76 miles high!
You can save resources and reduce pollution by choosing to subscribe to newspapers online rather than having the paper delivered to your home. Newspaper carriers have to travel several miles for their routes, even farther for rural deliveries.
80 billion pounds of food finds its way into landfills every year in the United States alone.
That is — quite literally — the equivalent of 256,000 Statues of Liberty!
Be mindful when eating out; look for lighter portions, take home any leftovers to enjoy later, and for extra bonus points, bring your own to-go containers. With this step alone, you can help reduce the amount of plastic waste entering landfills.
In 2019, the US produced 14.4 million tons of electronic waste (e-waste) but only responsibly recycled about 9% of that. That is equivalent to nearly 15 Golden Gate Bridges being sent to the landfill!
If you have an unwanted or broken TV consider repairing it through a service, donating to a local thrift store, or recycling it through its manufacturer to help reduce environmental impacts, save resources, and save energy.
With the average American using about 680 pounds of paper every year, which is the average weight of an adult grizzly bear, the opportunities to reduce our environmental impact in regards to paper waste are plentiful.
Many event tickets are printed on glossy paper, which is not recyclable. Consider using e-tickets when going out to a concert or to the movies, and many airlines offer electronic plane tickets and boarding passes.
Health and Beauty
At the Gym
Wanting to break fat but not fossil fuels? Consider using only manually powered cardio workouts versus those that use an external power source.
For comparison, a treadmill uses about 200 watts per hour while a person pedaling on a stationary bike produces 100 watts per hour.
Consider hitting the gym around the time you normally shower, so that you only have to shower once a day.
The average shower uses up to 7 gallons of water per minute — that’s 105 gallons of water for a 15-minute shower. If you were to cut down to one shower a day at the gym instead of two, you could save over 27,000 gallons of water per year, which is enough to fill an 18’x40’ swimming pool!
In the Bathroom
Bath Salts / Bubble Bath
The cosmetics industry alone produces over 120 billion plastic containers annually, and with 18 billion pounds of plastic entering our waterways and oceans each year — the equivalent of five grocery bags full of plastic waste sitting on every single foot of coastline worldwide — curbing our plastic consumption is vital.
Consider ditching plastic by opting for products like solid bath bombs or refillable bath salt containers.
When buying deodorant, think fragrance, aluminum, and package free.
Though, the greenest option second to not using deodorant is to make your own! DIY’ing can help reduce pollution related to chemicals, packaging, and transportation.
Every year, the cosmetic industry produces more than 120 billion plastic containers, enough to give every single person on earth 16 containers. When shopping for body and hand lotions, consider buying products that come in reusable containers, or containers made from recycled materials
Consider switching to bar soap for washing your hands and body.
If every American household swapped just one hand soap to bar soap, 128.58 million plastic bottles could be diverted from our waste stream. Want to go the extra mile? DIY your own soap, that way you know what is in it and you can cut out packaging and transportation!
In the kitchen
Compostable food scraps and yard waste make up anywhere from 20 to 30% of the waste stream, and it’s estimated that roughly 50% of municipal waste is compostable.
If everyone in the U.S. alone composted, it would have the same effect as taking 7.8 million cars off the roads.
Have a dishwasher? Wait to run the washer until it is fully loaded. Dishwashers use around 6 gallons (or less with Energy Star Certified washers) per load. Additionally, scraping food off plates instead of pre-rinsing them can save 1-2 gallons of water per dish per minute of rinsing time.
If you are handwashing, turn off the tap while you scrub your dishes and use cold water while rinsing to save energy on water heating, then let dishes air dry on a rack. Have a dual basin sink? Half-fill one basin with soap water to wash and scrub and use the other basin for rising. Want to go the extra mile? Use the leftover rising water for watering plants!
Wasted food is a common problem in the United States, as 30-40% of food produced ends up as waste, often incinerated or landfilled.
That translates into 80 billion pounds of wasted food in the U.S. every year — the equivalent of 1,000 Empire State Buildings!
To help cut this down, be mindful of the quantity of food you buy, pay attention to best-by and expiration dates, freeze food that you can’t use right away, and compost your food scraps.
Nearly every household these days has a microwave oven because they are incredibly efficient cooking tools.
To help save energy, utilize a power strip or unplug your microwave when not in use as it can still pull energy from your outlet.
In The Backyard
Outdoor watering accounts for nearly 30% of the average household’s water consumption. The average garden hose can use up to 10 gallons of water per minute.
Easy ways to cut this consumption include fitting your garden hose with an automatic shut-off valve, using drip irrigation wherever possible, and using a rake or broom to clean off concrete surfaces rather than spraying it down with the hose.
American lawns are thirsty! The average American uses 9 billion gallons of water outdoors with 30-60% of that water just for irrigating lawns.
That is equivalent to 409 Las Vegas Bellagio fountains.
In the Bathroom
Upgrading to new, efficient toilets can also cut consumption quite heavily. While older models use between 5 and 7 gallons of water per flush, newer, low-flow models use around 1.5 gallons per flush. Upgrading to a new model can save over 13,000 gallons of water per year.
To put that number into perspective, that’s enough water to take over 430 baths!
In the Living Room
The average US household can save more than $50 annually on lighting costs (30 bulbs) when switching from CFLs, and more than $350 annually per 30 incandescent equivalent bulbs switched to LEDs.
That is 109 cups of coffee per light bulb! Additionally, most LEDs are rated to last longer than 10 years. No more annual light bulb changes, less air pollution from electricity generation, and less waste in the landfill.
Money and Finance
Electronic Tax Refunds
In 2019, 68.6 million tax fillings returns and other forms are still done on paper. That is enough paper to stack up to the height of Mt. Everest 1.6 times!
Reduce paper consumption and save time by filing online. When filing online, you don’t have to wait for the mail to arrive to receive your check or spend time and money to mail any payments.
Buying new school supplies every year leads to a lot of waste and costs a lot of money — almost $700 a year for families with k-12 students.
Reusing last year’s binders (and other school supplies) saves money and keeps plastic out of landfills. Win-win! If reusing your old binder isn’t an option, look for binders made from recycled materials such as cardboard, steel, etc. and use them year after year going forward.
School just wouldn’t be school without all of the paper, right? Unsurprisingly, paper makes up 40-50% of the average school’s waste stream.
When buying paper for a new school year, look for post-consumer recycled products, which take about 70% less energy to produce than paper made from virgin materials. For every ton of paper that is recycled, 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water is saved — enough to provide 1,750 people with their daily drinking water.
If a new pair of scissors is on the back-to-school shopping list, look for scissors made from recycled stainless steel. Steel is the most recycled material in the United States with nearly 70% of the steel that enters the waste stream being recycled.
Recycling steel also takes about 72% less energy than producing new steel from iron ore — annually, this is enough energy to power 18 million homes for a full year.
In 2017 alone the US generated 14.5 million tons of plastic waste from packaging with only 13% of that recycled. That is equivalent to the weight of 40 Empire State Buildings.
Buying in bulk is one of the easiest ways to slash plastic waste. Not only that, the average savings per produce when buying in bulk range from 20 up to 83 percent!
Canned goods are a staple in many kitchens, and they can be quite the environmentally friendly option, too. The steel used for canned goods is readily recyclable — in fact, steel is the most recycled material in the world, with nearly 70% of the steel that enters the waste stream being recycled in the United States every year.
If you’re buying multiple cans of the same product, live sustainably by buying fewer large cans of that product (for example, one 28 oz. can instead of two 14.5 oz. cans).
Humanity produces about 300 million tonnes of plastic every year — nearly the weight of the entire human population.
When buying cheese at the grocery store, skip the individually-wrapped varieties. Consider buying block cheese instead; you’ll get more bang for your buck and you’ll avoid all of the plastic waste generated by the individually-wrapped cheeses.
When buying ground or whole bean coffee at the grocery store, look for organic, Fair Trade, Bird Friendly, and/or Rainforest Alliance certified products, which indicates that the farms producing these products are committed to sustainable agriculture and sound environmental and social practices.
By buying and supporting sustainable coffee, you are helping protect forests. Protecting forests from clear-cutting could save about 7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere every year — the equivalent of removing every car worldwide.
On average, meals in the United States travel 1,500 miles to get to your table. That is nearly the entire length of the US East Coast.
Purchasing locally-produced food is 27 times more energy-efficient than most of the food you find at the supermarket, and you’re helping to reduce fossil fuel consumption and emissions. Not to mention, farmer’s markets are a great way to get familiar with your community and local farmers.
When you’re at the grocery store shopping for meat, consider buying from the butcher counter and buy only what will be used.
If a family of 4 skipped the beef once a week for a year, it would be like saving the emissions equivalent of a road trip from New Hampshire to Tampa, Florida.
To reduce the number of plastic bags in your life, consider switching to a natural fiber bag like 100% organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp as they are great, long-lasting alternatives that are more sustainably made. Want to go the extra mile, try making your own bag out of scrap or thrift cloth instead of buying new!
Poultry makes up about ⅓ of all meat eaten worldwide annually, and over 20% of what is produced ends up in the trash.
If you were to eat one less pound of chicken per week for a year, you’d save nearly 27,000 gallons of water — the equivalent of 67 full hot tubs.
Over 920 thousand tons of trash bags entered landfills in 2017 alone, the weight equivalent of about 30 yellow school buses.
Throwing something moist in the bin – can it be composted Aluminum, glass, or paper – can it be recycled? How many bags do you think you could cut out this year?
Food production is responsible for over a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and yes, that includes veggies.
In addition to the emissions impact, pesticides and fertilizers used on conventionally-farmed produce runoff into streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans which results in algal blooms and dead spots.
When shopping for vegetables, consider buying fresh, organic produce, which is more sustainably farmed and without the harsh chemical fertilizers and pesticides. If at all possible, frequent your local farmer’s market, where you’ll find locally grown produce without the carbon baggage.
The average t-shirt uses about 4 to 6 gallons of water during the dying process and just 1 pair of jeans uses nearly 1000 gallons of water, so it is no wonder that around 20% of the world’s waste water comes from fabric dyeing and treatment.
If just 100 Americans instead chose one outfit (shirt and pants) made from undyed or naturally derived dyes and pigments they could avoid pollution of enough water to supply over 100,000 thousand people’s drinking water for the day.
When purchasing clothes, natural and organic fibers are best as they use less chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers. It is estimated one t-shirt made of conventionally produced cotton requires a 1/4 pound of harmful chemicals. Additionally, they often have a lower carbon and waste footprint being biodegradable.
If the average American each owned only 20 t-shirts, that is over 1.6 billion pounds of chemicals equivalent to the weight of 8.2 Washington Monuments.
When shopping for a new computer, be sure to look for Energy Star rated brands, which use up to 40% less energy than conventional brands. Also, be sure to dispose of your old computers responsibly so that the precious metals can be recycled, and completely shut off computers when not in use.
If all of America’s 164 million computer owners shut off their computers when not using them, over 12 billion kilowatts would be saved per year — enough to power over 1 million homes for a year!
Video Game Consoles
Globally, PC gamers use about 75 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, equivalent to the power generated by 25 electric power plants (not including console games), they emit about 12 million tons of CO2, the equivalent of 2.3 million cars.
When shopping for candles, opt for non-paraffin (produced with petroleum) alternatives, like soy wax or beeswax candles, both of which are fossil fuel-free, come from renewable sources, and burn much cleaner and longer than traditional candles.
If you’re part of the 95 million American households who celebrate Christmas by setting up and decorating a Christmas tree, you’re probably familiar with the “real vs. fake” tree debate.
This year, consider buying the real tree to lessen your impact on the environment. Though it may seem counterintuitive to cut down trees for decoration while artificial trees can be used over and over, real trees are harvested from farms that provide carbon sequestration and wildlife habitat and are totally biodegradable.
Artificial trees, on the other hand, are made of plastic, shipped thousands of miles, and will still end up in landfills where they will sit for centuries. In fact, enough oxygen is produced by just one acre of a tree farm to provide for the daily requirement of 18 people!
Deck the halls!
Do you buy new holiday decorations every year when the season rolls around? Consider reusing your old holiday decorations instead of buying new and you’ll save tons of plastic waste from going to the landfill. Antique shops are also a good way to avoid new products — you can get vintage items that will stand out and have already outlived their carbon footprint!
When it comes to lighting, go with LED lights, which use up to 95% less energy than traditional holiday lights. If all 95 million American households decorating for the holiday season opted for LED lights over traditional lights, the collective energy savings would be over 1.6 billion dollars — the cost of 22 F-35 fighter jets!
Every year, Americans produce 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day when compared with the rest of the year. That’s a whopping 1 million tons of waste every week — including enough ribbon to wrap around the entire Earth and then some!
When gift shopping for your friends and loved ones this holiday season, consider skipping the crowds and giving homemade items, or buying package-free gifts like concert tickets, movie vouchers, or restaurant gift certificates instead.
In the U.S. alone, 2.3 million pounds of gift wrap end up in landfills each year — the equivalent of 95 school busses — and even worse, most gift wraps cannot be recycled.
So this year, consider skipping the gift wrap. Instead, use old newspapers, fabric scraps, or keep and reuse the old gift bags from years past.
On average, the US purchases around 6.5 billion cards — equivalent to the weight of about 7 yellow school busses.
Prefer printed? Try sustainable forestry certified paper, recycled content paper, or alternative fiber (tree-free) paper. These methods can support sustainable paper production and reduce end of life waste. Additionally, try to avoid heavily inked designs and glossy finishes as they often cannot be recycled, and cost more money and resources.
On average, a single string of large incandescent holiday lights can use 175 watts of electricity, which costs about $15 per string of lights.
By switching to LED string lights, especially those that are Energy Star Certified, you can reduce about 75% of energy.
Additionally, many certified products have replacement warranties. Want to reduce more energy? Consider utilizing power stips, automatic timers, and having reflective decorations to further amplify your lights.
While much is known about the environmental impact of growing food and getting it to the table, many people don’t even think to consider the environmental impact that baby food has. While the impacts vary depending on the specific food in question, the biggest impact baby food has is from its packaging.
Recycled or reused glass containers require less energy, produce far fewer emissions, and can save over 1,300 pounds of sand, 410 pounds of soda ash, and 380 pounds of limestone per ton!
Lawn and Garden
Americans love their grass lawns, and residential lawns in the United States make up the land equivalent of Greece.
Consider downsizing your lawn and mulching the grass cuttings. Mulching alone returns a quarter of your lawn’s yearly nitrogen requirement, reducing the need to use chemical fertilizers, while also supporting healthy soil communities.
One broken sprinkler head could waste as much as 1,000 gallons of water per week — enough to fill 24 bathtubs.
If you’re in the market for an upgrade, consider an automated sprinkler system (like WaterSense smart controller) with rain or weather detecting capabilities, or switch out sprinklers to WaterSense label sprinklers.
The average home can save 5,600 gallons of water annually just by switching out their irrigation system controller to a WaterSense label system. That is enough water to fill nearly 181 bathtubs!
If you’re the type of person who loves gold and fancy jewelry, consider buying used and refurbished jewelry from pawn shops or antique stores.
Mining virgin gold has an environmental impact 111 times bigger than recycled and refurbished gold. In fact, 20 tons of resources are used to produce just one gold wedding ring — the weight of a whale shark!
To cut down on wasting water, use the wastewater from cleaning your tank to water houseplants or use it out in the garden — the water is full of natural fertilizers.
If the owners of the 7.4 million fish tanks conserved half of their tanks’ wastewater in this way, over 55 million gallons of water would be saved, which is enough to fill 111 Olympic swimming pools.
When shopping for a new bike, are there any recycled steel alternatives available?
Wine and Beer
Maybe it’s game day, maybe you’re gearing up for a barbecue, or maybe you just like to crack open a cold beer after a long day.
Whatever the occasion, it’s important to keep in mind the environmental impact of the products you buy — beer included. If you can find it, buy your next six-pack in 100% recycled aluminum cans, which require a mere 5% of the energy to produce than aluminum from virgin resources. Glass is next up, which takes 70% less energy to recycle than create.
Recycling just one glass bottle saves enough energy to run a 100 watt light bulb for 4 hours!
Consider planning your travels with sustainability in mind. If it is outdoor traveling, practice “pack-in, pack-out” or “leave no trace” meaning anything you bring with you must leave with you including trash.
If traveling to developing countries, consider what happens to the trash you leave there, much of it is burned. To reduce your waste impact on the community you are visiting, bringing reusable durable goods like a water bottle help reduce plastic waste.
If you’re a traveler, you’re probably familiar with the paper luggage tags airlines use to track your luggage. While a good chunk of the paper stock used every year in the U.S. is recyclable, over 36 billion pounds still end up in landfills.
That’s like throwing 180 Washington Monuments into landfills each year.
If you’re a frequent traveler, live sustainably by utilizing reusable luggage tags that come with luggage.
At the Hotel
Many of us forget to think about our energy footprints while staying in a hotel. We’re not paying the power bill, right? However, our carbon footprint follows us everywhere.
Matter of fact, lighting makes up a quarter of the energy used in hotel rooms despite the average hotel room being empty for an average of 12 hours per day.
The average household with just one 60W incandescent bulb left on over a 72 hour period (3 days) uses 4.32 kWh…the energy equivalent to moderately pedaling a bike for nearly 43.2 hours!
Still want a porch light on while on vacation? Consider switching to LEDs and adding a 12-hour timer to shrink that energy consumption over 3 days to about 3.6 hours of pedaling per bulb.
Sightseeing / Getting Around
Many of us use hiking trails to get out and enjoy all that nature has to offer. While doing so, having as little impact on the environment as possible is crucial in ensuring these trails, and the benefits of using them, are available to future generations.
By recognizing proper trail etiquette, staying on the marked trails, and leaving no trace, we protect vulnerable plant species and prevent trail erosion.
In our increasingly digitized world, more and more of us are working remotely from home, and that number is only expected to increase over time (especially since Covid-19). In addition to the benefits of improved mental health, increased productivity, and reduced commutes (which gives you more time in the day and saves you money on gas), telecommuting also has a positive effect on the environment.
Telecommuting actively reduces carbon emissions by taking cars off the roads. If 50% of American workers telecommuted just half of the time, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54,000,000 metric tons annually.
In the Break Room
In the United States, over 500 million plastic straws and stirrers are used daily Placed end-to-end, this amount of plastic would stretch from the Earth to Neptune and nearly all the way back!
While in the office, live sustainably by ditching the plastic straws and stirrers, and instead opt for the reusable spoon while mixing that much-needed cup of joe.
Over 40,000,000,000 single-use plastic cutlery pieces are thrown out every year. That’s 269,000 tons, or just over 4 Statues of Liberty worth of plastic!
It’s a relatively simple switch. Just say “fork-off” to the single-use plastics and bring those reusables.
Need some inspiration? Join Habits of Waste‘s #CutOutCutlery campaign.
Approximately 4.5 trillion cigarette butts, the world’s most littered item, enter the environment every year — a dizzying 5,769 butts for every person on Earth.
If each American used 1 less paper napkin per day, paper waste the weight of about 23 Seattle Space Needles could be diverted from the waste stream.
In the Supply Room
Paper products make up to 70% of the waste in offices — about 2 pounds of paper a day for each person in the office!
When ordering envelopes for the office, look for envelopes made from post-consumer recycled paper, and always try to recycle as much waste paper as possible.
If you can, consider skipping the labels and stickers.
Most, if not all, can’t be recycled due to the sticky adhesives used. Need a label? consider labels and stickers that are made from recycled materials.
Recycle your ink/toner cartridges by sending them back to the manufacturer or asking your local office supplies store.
About 350 million cartridges are set to the landfill each year — more than the entire population of the United States — despite the majority of them being recyclable and refillable.
What you can and cannot recycle varies greatly across the US as can the cost to recycle.
Recycling contamination, putting non-recyclables in your recycling bin, is also a major factor in the cost of recycling, therefore it is important to contact your local recycling facilities/municipality for rules on recycling. However, as a general rule of thumb is to stick to the basics, no complex or combined materials, and “when it doubt, throw it out!”
Though staples may seem like a small waste, they can add up fast. If the average office uses 200 staples a day for a year, that adds up to nearly 14 pounds of metal!
At your Desk
Temperatures in the office always seem to be in flux — it’s either too cold or too hot — the “just right” temperature always out of reach. In addition to the back-and-forth, office buildings use more electricity for air conditioning than any other building type, a whopping 25% of all energy used for air conditioning nationwide.
Consider using a personal space fan to control the temperature in your space rather than relying on the shared air conditioning and save some energy at the same time.
In addition to working from home, many of us are getting used to virtual meetings. Virtual meetings reduce commutes, saving you both time in the day and money on gas, and also has a positive effect on the environment.
By skipping a business trip of even 400 miles in lieu of a virtual meeting, you would avoid putting the annual carbon emissions of the average person living in Uganda into the atmosphere.
From our community of perfectly imperfect eco-warriors, just remember these words by Anne-Marie Bonneau “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”