20 easy ways to be more sustainable while you’re stuck at home
You can stay green while staying at home
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Living sustainably is important, but with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, you’re likely living a little bit differently than usual. You’ve stocked up on paper goods and stopped frequenting your favorite local market, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop living sustainably.
I’ve written before about sustainability, but sustainability probably looks different for you right now. Some products are out of stock, some are increasingly expensive, and depending on your health, it may be against your best interest to do everything Earth-friendly. However, there are little opportunities hidden throughout each day that give you a chance to live greener and lessen your impact.
1. Skip the plastic utensils
When you’re ordering carryout or delivery, make sure to mention (or check the box) that you don’t need utensils. From the consumer perspective, you don’t really need the plastic fork and spoon—you’ve got a full drawer of silverware at home. And, I’m sure the restaurant will be thankful to save products that will go to waste for other customers.
If you’re picking up food on the go, you can always bring your reusables. There are cute utensil packs like the Snow Peak Titanium Silverware kit at REI. You’ll always have a fork and spoon on hand, so you can say no to the plastic set from the restaurant and still be set.
2. Restock with ‘cleaner’ brands
Paper goods are a hot commodity these days: toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, tissues, etc. Cleaning products like all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, hand soap, and laundry detergent are hard to find too. While you may only have a few options when you get to the aisle, I urge you to buy the more eco-friendly brand. Cleaning products are often made with harsh chemicals like bleach and ammonia, and when you clean, you’re breathing those in.
Instead of opting for Windex or Clorox, try a brand that has a lower toxin rating by the Environmental Waste Group. The EWG makes it easy to search individual products or brands in general; then, they rate products on a letter grade scale (A-F) based on how concerning the ingredients (including undisclosed substances) and environmental impact are. You can look for the EWG verified icon (a green “e” within a maze-like circle) or use the EWG app to find a brand that you feel safe using in your home. Try Dr. Bronners Pure Castille Soap or Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner—they both score an A.
- Get the Dr. Bronners Pure Castille Soap from Target for $10.79
- Get the Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner from Target for $2.99
3. DIY your own cleaning products
As the point above mentions, stores are out of stock of a lot of products and the importance of having a clean home has increased. While some stores by you may have what you need, you might also have to get a little creative. I’ve made my own all-purpose cleaner, and it’s cheap and easy!
There are hundreds of recipes and ideas online (and on Pinterest), but a simple recipe will get you through the next few months. And, you likely already have the ingredients in your pantry or linen closet. You can reuse an old spray bottle or buy new amber bottles from Amazon.
My go-to recipe is this:
- ¼ cup distilled vinegar
- ¼ cup Castille soap
- 25 drops of essential oils (I like lemon because it cuts through grease and smells bright! orange or lavender can also work well!)
- Fill the rest of the bottle with water
Whatever you use, make sure it ticks off the CDC’s recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting products.
4. Bike or walk
Most cities throughout the nation are under an effective shelter-in-place, so roads aren’t as busy—it’s likely that you haven’t gotten into your car in days or weeks. So far, I’ve only gone to and from the grocery store. While this break from carbon emissions is truly benefiting our environment, you can take it a step further.
If you have somewhere you need to go, try biking or walking there instead of driving. It saves you gas, you’re able to move your body and release endorphins, and you can soak up some Vitamin D. When biking, try to find roads that have bike lanes or large sidewalks—but since many other people aren’t driving either the roads are pretty clear! I love taking my bike to grab a latte to go, pick up prescriptions, or just out for an hour to destress.
5. Try out a menstrual cup
When I talk to my friends about wearing a menstrual cup instead of pads or tampons, they often say that one of their main concerns is how to change it in public. Now that we’ve been instructed to stay at home for the next few weeks, it’s a great time to test one out.
The choice is entirely up to you, and you know your body best, but there are some benefits that are specific to the cup. First, you only buy it once! Total up how much you spend each month on period products, and compare that to the $20-40 you’ll spend on the cup. Second, it’s made from silicone and brands generally disclose any additional ingredients or treatments, whereas tampons and pads are not regulated by the FDA and are not required to disclose what they use in what they label “fragrance.”
Finally, you can leave a cup in for 8-12 hours, which means you can live your life as normal without having to excuse yourself often or plan your day around tampon switches. And—bonus—there’s no throwaway waste with a cup!
6. Adjust your electricity
If you’re working from home but you used to go into the office, you may notice a difference in your electricity bill. Maybe you’re plugged in all day, charging your laptop and AirPods at night, having a desk lap lit more than usual, etc. To counter the spike in your bill (and usage!) try turning lights off that you aren’t actively using—for me this is always the kitchen or a salt lamp that I forgot I lit.
Then, try and stick to your work hours. By containing your workday between 8 and 4 (for example) you can stay focused on your work instead of having the tv on in the background, bouncing between rooms “cleaning up,” and surfing the web instead of doing work.
Giving yourself the boundary of workday hours and personal free time helps you lessen the distractions during your day. And my favorite part about splitting my day in two parts—work and personal—is that by the time I wrap up work I don’t want to be looking at screens anymore. So instead of turning on Hulu or the Wii, I shut everything down, unplug, and go outside for fresh air or read on rainy days. It helps my electricity usage stay in a normal range and gives my mental health a boost from having clear boundaries.
7. Make coffee at home
I wanted to list first because coffee is so important to me. I know a lot of people who are still leaving their houses on a daily basis to get coffee. Don’t do that! Make it at home! It fills your kitchen with sweet aromas and you don’t have to put on real clothes or shoes to go and get it.
You can buy beans online, and it’s a fantastic way to support your local coffee shops during this time of uncertainty for small businesses. My favorite Ohio coffees are Staufs (try their “Bourbon Pecan”) and Coffee Emporium (try their “Autumn Fest”) and they both ship, so you don’t have to live here to drink good coffee. I recommend using a French Press since you don’t need filters, so there is very little waste. You can save the coffee grounds and add them to your compost or use them to fertilize your house plants!
8. Start composting
Composting is one of my favorite parts about warmer weather coming back. I love being able to reuse scraps from produce, and the end result is clean, nutritious dirt. It may sound funny (and my roommate is often laughing at my excitement for food scraps), but it’s an effective way to reduce your waste and give back to the soil.
I didn’t realize how much science was involved with breaking down foods; you need warm enough weather, a balance of carbon and nitrogen, and you absolutely need to remember to turn the bin to cycle airflow and moisture.
I could go on and on about compost, but the main point is that right now, while you’re social distancing, it’s a great time to learn how to start your own compost bin or pile and you’ll have soil come fall! If you live in an apartment or don’t have enough outdoor space, consider a local compost pick-up collective or service.
9. Learn a new skill
With all the free time I now have due to canceled events and closed cafes/bookshops/bars, I’ve been doing a lot of online shopping. Though having things delivered is better than going in person and potentially spreading germs, the shipping still negatively impacts carbon emissions and the environment. If you do need to shop try to support companies that ship 100% compostable packaging and offset their carbon footprint.
But a better option is to use what you already have to learn something new! You can try new crafts without going to the store or placing an Amazon order. Try origami with scrap paper and Youtube tutorials. Or, you could learn to juggle with apples or lime or wool dryer balls.
10. Wear your glasses
Wearing your glasses instead of your contacts may seem like an insignificant switch, but consider where your contacts go when you flush them or throw them away. And, what do you do with the foil cases they come in?
Contacts are made of plastic, so if you wear dailies every day for a year and throw them out—that’s 730 little circles of plastic in the landfill or ocean. Instead, save your contacts in a jar (one from Lush or an old salsa jar will work just fine) and save them up. You can mail your used contacts and their foil cases to the recycling program at Bausch & Lomb. This is all to say, any day you wear your glasses is one less day of contacts waste.
11. Buy e-giftcards
I’m not sure if everyone’s mom is like this, but mine is already holiday shopping. She loves getting just the right gift, which is typically something I mention early in the year then forget all about. But this year, I see the value in shopping early.
For one, I want to support businesses that are local and small and truly give back to the community. Many of them have had to shut their doors or significantly cut their operations due to COVID-19. So I’ve started buying their products online and purchasing e-gift cards. Things like books, candles, salon certificates, and artwork will last until later this year and will help businesses that are facing shutting down for good.
E-gfit cards are also great for big-name stores like Home Depot, Madewell, Pottery Barn, Allbirds, and Nordstrom because you can send them immediately through email, shop online, and avoid going to and from the post office!
12. Replace paper goods with reusables
It can be really hard to find paper goods at your local stores. I’m talking paper towels, tissues, napkins, and especially toilet paper. While we wait for the US to switch to bidets, I recommend switching your kitchen and cleaning single-use paper goods to dish towels.
Paper towels are only somewhat absorbent, and I found that they would “flake off” on things as I cleaned. Napkins seem wasteful when you can switch to cloth napkins made from pretty patterns and softer fabrics. I keep one in my purse and one with my reusable utensils at all times.
Dishtowels are great for drying freshly washed produce, drying dishes, cleaning windows, and cleaning most surfaces. They’re softer than paper towels, and they’re larger so you can clean more surface area without having to switch one out for another. The best part is that you can throw them in the laundry to wash and dry and use again. I like to have 10-15 in my kitchen for all-purpose cleaning and drying.
- Get the Golden Buffet Napkins (Set of 6) from World Market for $9.99
- Get the Vibrawipe Microfiber Dishtowels (Set of 8) from Amazon for $22.99
13. Be mindful of your water consumption
I’ll admit that being home 24/7 has me using water more than ever. I’m washing my produce, watering my plants and garden, doing SO much laundry, and drinking water to stay hydrated. None of these are bad things on their own, but I’ve been trying to think of ways to be mindful of how much water I’m using because it’s a valuable resource (and my landlord doesn’t pay for it—I do).
So far I’ve made a few changes. I leave my watering can and a 5-gallon bucket outside so they fill with rainwater. This decreases how much tap water I use when watering my plants. I try to only run a load of laundry when I have a full load and when it’s needed. (I’m cycling through sweatpants so I don’t have as many clothes to wash as usual.) I’m still washing my produce, as we all should, but I’m also using that water for plants and compost.
14. Use a water bottle
This tip remains true at all times. Don’t drink from disposable, plastic water bottles when you can have a good water bottle. The flimsy plastic leaches into your water, and it’s wasteful to toss in the trash when you’re done.
Even if you recycle them, it’s always better to reduce your waste first. Water bottles make a great companion when traveling, playing sports, and generally staying hydrated at work or at home. Since we’re home now, you have access to your cupboards of mugs and cups. But consider getting a sturdy water bottle that’ll serve you well for years.
15. Learn what you can recycle
Each city has its own recycling standards, so it’s important that you investigate what the rules are where you live. Most places accept paper and cardboard. Plastics are a different game. Where I live, the plastics have to have a bottleneck—like condiments and laundry detergent—so I can’t recycle yogurt or butter containers. It doesn’t matter what number is on the container, in Ohio it’s about the shape.
When it comes to the lids, it differs. Some recycling centers want you to keep the lids on to avoid contamination, but others ask you to take them off, especially for metal canisters like cooking oil spray or dry shampoo.
Once you know what to do with different household products, I recommend you set out a bin (or create a whole system) for recycling and disposal and make sure your roommates or family is on board. The Brabantia Sort & Go Bin is modern and sleek, and I love that you can hang it on the wall to keep floors clear. I prefer it to other options because it has a lid, and I try to keep my kitchen aesthetic clean.
16. Propagate your plants
Propagating plants is simple and joyful. The best plants to do this with (in my experience) are pothos, jade plants, dieffenbachia, and bamboo. You simply take a cutting of the plant and place it in a glass bottle of water. After a few weeks, you’ll notice roots growing from the stem. You can then take the plant from the water and plant in soil and watch it take off!
Propagating is fun because you can double your plant family without purchasing new plants, and it helps to add more natural air purification to your home. As the plants grow roots, they don’t need as much sun so they’re perfect for decor! You can find plenty of fun propagation stations online.
17. Open your windows
This idea comes from how my dad would methodically move through the house opening and closing windows when I was a child. Back then I would laugh at him, but boy oh boy now that I pay my own bills I get it. I live in an old house that doesn’t have any heat or air vents on the second floor. So the warmer weather means more to me than sunshine and pools—it also helps me cut my gas bill way back.
On warmer days, I open all my doors and windows to let the air naturally heat my house. I also enjoy the added bonus of a fresh cross-breeze. Then, before the sun goes down I shut everything up to keep the warm air in. You can also apply this tactic in the summer to cool your house at dawn and dusk and keep it cool throughout the day.
This isn’t revolutionary by any means, but my gas bill went from $90 to $30 the last two months by doing this each day—and the less energy and gas I use the better my carbon footprint! If you do this, don’t forget to turn your thermostat off so it isn’t working double.
18. Plan a clothing swap
Just because we’re social distancing doesn’t mean we’re not feeling the effects of spring cleaning. Yesterday I wiped down my kitchen cabinets and the day before I washed all my summer sheets. I haven’t tackled my closet yet because I wasn’t sure where to put all the items that don’t make the cut. I usually drop them off at consignment stores, thrift stores, and donation centers. But since many of those are closed in my area I thought of planning a clothing swap.
I’ve texted a handful of my friends and planned a swap (date to be decided at a later time). We’re all cleaning out our drawers and piling up what we no longer need and love. Then, come June (or whenever) we’ll all meet up with wine and cheeses and a good playlist and trade clothes. If you’re looking for a larger event, try partnering with a local vendor to create a ticketed swap to raise funds for charity!
19. Swap your yoga mat
I’ve been doing tons of yoga in my free time, and I’ve realized not all props are created equally. A yoga mat is a big investment, and how well it holds you up is a huge factor. I’ve had plenty of practice on mats by popular brands, but I notice that they lose their “stickiness” quickly. I’ve been told you aren’t supposed to wash a Lululemon mat, but with the pandemic going on, I needed a mat I could wipe down.
I’ve been using the E.C.O Yoga Mat from Prana for the last few months, and I love it! It’s thick enough to provide support and comfort, and it’s “sticky” enough to not slide around my floor as I flow through salutations. It’s super grippy on the bottom, so you can hold balancing poses without worry. And best of all, you can wipe it down without damaging the material which is 100% Thermoplastic Elastomer and is in itself germ-resistant.
20. Keep meal prepping
You may not be going to the office, but meal prepping helps you utilize your produce before it rots and consolidates cooking time. Just because you can make an extensive lunch doesn’t mean you should do it every day. I’ve found planning my meals for the week to be helpful.
I buy only the produce I need so it doesn’t go bad. (You saw the banana bread trend after two weeks of quarantine…) I’ve also started freezing extra portions of chili or baked ziti so I have it on hand once I’ve used all my fresh groceries.
While it can be boring to cook all your meals in one day at the beginning of the week, it does save you from using every burner or the oven every day. I’d recommend doing two “big cooks” each week to reduce energy and still have fresh meals on hand. Or, try out some recipes that don’t need the stovetop or oven: fresh green salads and chickpea sandwiches are my faves. It can also be a fun time to get reusables that aren’t plastic! I hate the taste of food microwaved in tupperware (and the plastic leaches chemicals into your food), so I’ve begun swapping to these precious lunch containers instead.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.