22 Sustainable Swaps to Make at Home

These simple switches can help you reduce your carbon footprint and save money.

Putting veggie scraps in kitchen compost bin

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In order to build a sustainable future, the world needs both systemic and individual change. Making sustainable changes at home is an easy way to get started.

While organic cotton PJs and biodegradable sneakers may be great investments, you don’t have to spend a ton of cash to lower your carbon footprint. An eco-conscious lifestyle is less about what you buy and more about what you don’t. By reducing your overall consumption, you not only cultivate a sustainable lifestyle, but you also do more with less—saving you money and treading lightly on the planet. 

Here are 22 simple and sustainable swaps to get you started.

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Trade Beef for Beans (and Veggies)

Chili Sin Carne

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You don’t have to go vegan to lower your carbon footprint. Switching just one pound of beef for a plant-based protein, such as beans, uses up to 99% less water.

Plus, your reduced meat intake could save you some cash: Data from 2021 revealed that a vegan meal in the UK is less than half the cost of a meal containing meat (including fish).

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Buy Local Instead of Commercial

Young woman buying groceries at farmer's market

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The transportation of food from farm to consumer accounts for nearly 20% of all food-systems carbon emissions. Thanks to the increasing cost of transportation, foods that travel shorter distances may ultimately be less expensive than their commercial counterparts.

Choosing locally grown food might just turn you into a locavore and encourage a habit of seasonal eating.

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Prepare Your Own Meals Instead of Ordering Out

Midsection of man cutting vegetables
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Making your own food not only costs less than eating out, but it also wastes less in transportation and packaging. You can properly store food you don't consume and eat it later. You can see firsthand which parts of your food process (packaging, scraps, spoilage) end up in the landfill.

Plus, learning to cook is a free skill you can easily practice and a gift you can share with loved ones any day of the year.

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Turn Your Food Waste Into More Food

Growing food from scraps

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By some estimates, over 30% of all food is wasted. This is a great reason to transform your food scraps instead of tossing them.

Use the ends of fruits and veggies to make broth, or regrow food from scraps on your windowsill. Reduce your food waste further by meal planning to reduce overall spoilage and compost any remaining food bits.

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Trade Disposables for a Zero-Waste Kit

zero waste kit

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Your zero-waste kit should contain a reusable water bottle, coffee mug, shopping bag, metal utensils and straw, and a container you use as your go-to doggy bag. Stash it in your trunk, backpack, or the cargo bay of your bike so wherever you go, you can pass on single-use plastics.

Bonus points for becoming your own barista. Making coffee at home is cheaper than coffee out, reduces landfill waste, and ensures your coffee is fair trade-certified.

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Select Experiences Over Things

Group Of Friends Paddling Down River Together
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When we choose time together instead of material things, we embrace the idea that presence is the best present. This is of special interest to families wanting to raise eco-minded children. The best part is that there’s no awkward regifting or any possibility of an unwanted item eventually ending up in the landfill, and you’ve still shown your loved one you care.

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Get Your Shopping Fix Secondhand

Woman looking at dress hanging on rack while standing at store
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Bidding goodbye to fast fashion is easier when there’s an extensive market of secondhand clothes just a click away. Shop secondhand for home decor or even refurbished electronics, many of which have warranties that rival new items but with prices that entice the thrifty shopper. And give yourself a pat on the back for rescuing something from the landfill.

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Invest in Quality Instead of Buying Cheap

Worker Sewing Clothing in Garment Factory

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If you’re going to buy anything new, such as clothes or couches, invest in well-made items that will last for years. An eco-friendly life prioritizes quality over quantity and novelty—what’s known as a “use it up” mentality. Even if your initial investment is a bit steeper, the durability will pay off in the long run.

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Make Your Own Cleaning Supplies

Eco friendly natural cleaners, jar with baking soda, dish brush, lemon, soap on white marble table background.

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The cabinet beneath the kitchen sink is notorious for accumulating a host of cleaning products—many of which contain toxic chemicals, not to mention expensive price tags and single-use plastic bottles. Luckily, there are effective alternatives you can make yourself for pennies on the dollar. No matter your household need, there’s a green cleaning recipe for it.

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Trade Plastic Cleaning Tools for Natural Alternatives

Set of eco friendly kitchen cleaning essentials

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While you’re swapping cleaning supplies, switch to plastic-free cleaning tools as well. Conventional sponges, scrubbers, and wipes are made from synthetic materials that eventually break down into microplastics that pollute our drinking water. These natural tools get the job done without leaving burdensome plastic waste behind.

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Choose Reusable Cloths Over Paper Towels

Wiping the kitchen counter with a Swedish dish cloth

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Say goodbye to bleached paper towels that contribute to deforestation and congest landfills, often just seconds after being pulled from single-use plastic packaging. Reach instead for Swedish dishtowels, repurposed hand towels, or other cloths made from natural materials. Once they’ve worn through, they can be composted with your food scraps.

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Store Food in Glass or Beeswax in Lieu of Plastic

hands wrapping sandwiches in beeswax

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Ditch single-use plastics by buying in bulk and storing your food in plastic-free containers. Proper storage can save you money on both dry goods and produce by keeping your food edible for longer and reducing food waste. Invest the money you’d otherwise spend on plastic to buy glass containers or beeswax wraps, which can be recycled or composted. 

Treehugger Tip

Freeze batch-cooked meals in single-serving portions in reused glass jars that can be reheated later for a quick bite. Remember, however, to leave room for liquids to expand as they freeze. Otherwise, the buildup of pressure could cause your glass container to break.

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Reuse (Don’t Toss) Your Old Water

rain barrel in the garden

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Grey water—drainage water from your washing machine, sinks, and tubs—can be used to water your garden. Depending on the rules of your area, you can also harvest rainwater for many of the same uses.

Water reuse not only lowers your water bill but also reflects a drought-adaptive lifestyle—a reality for many communities around the world who live under water restrictions.

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Wash Your Clothes in Cold Water

Woman loading washing machine

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Your washing machine uses up to 90% of its carbon footprint heating the water. Turning on the cold setting saves the power needed to heat the water and can reduce your hot water costs. After treating a spill with any of these natural stain removers, simply add a detergent specially designed for cold washing.

Earn bonus points for swapping your dryer for hang drying to reduce even more carbon expenditure. Washing and drying without heat is also much easier on your clothes, which means they’ll last longer—all part of the altruistic, sustainable cycle.

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Flush Less

Water flushes down toilet bowl

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Follow the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” motto to flush less water (and money) down the toilet. At up to seven gallons per flush, a year’s worth of conventional toilet usage amounts to 12,775 gallons of water. Compare that to a low-flow model, which uses just under 1.3 gallons of water per flush—a savings of $140 a year for the average family.

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Switch to a Sustainable Toilet Paper

recycled toilet paper in a zero waste store

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Consider what the Natural Resources Defense Council calls the “tree-to-toilet pipeline”—how conventional toilet paper contributes to deforestation in areas of the world with the largest carbon reserves. Not only does the logging destroy wildlife habitats, but it can also release carbon that had been stored in the soil into the atmosphere.

Eco-friendly replacements like bamboo and recycled paper are gentle on your bum, but they can rub a little on your pocketbook. Still, for the small cost increase, the alternatives are absolutely worth it.

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Swap Incandescents for LEDs

Woman Holds LED Light Bulb

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LED bulbs are clusters of tiny, high-efficiency light-emitting diodes. They topple traditional lightbulbs by using as much as 75% less energy and function for up to 25 times longer than other bulbs.

Consumers saved $14.7 billion in 2018 alone thanks to LED adoption. As LEDs gained popularity, not only for their green credentials but also because of the versatile and expressive nature of the technology, prices became more affordable. LEDs are also safer than compact fluorescent bulbs because they don’t contain mercury.

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Control the Temperature Outside of the Thermostat

Woman using home automation device on wall

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A smart thermostat is a worthwhile and relatively inexpensive investment in long-term saving on your energy bills. But even if you’re a renter, there are plenty of low-tech ways to stay warm or keep cool.

In the summer, set the thermostat to 78 degrees, draw the shades, and hydrate. To warm things up, pull up your shades to let in more light, and don’t forget to wear socks. You can also find and address drafts to better seal your living space and reduce your heating and cooling costs.

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Unplug Electricals

Don’t Just Turn Off – Unplug

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Any investment you made in toilet paper or A/C will come back to you in savings when you slay your energy vampires—any electronics plugged into the wall, whether they’re active or not.

This “idle load electricity” makes up nearly a quarter of the average household’s electric bill and around 23% of total power consumed, according to a study from the NRDC. Pull the plug or invest in power strips to lower your energy usage.

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Switch to Renewable Energy

Solar panels and wind turbines

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Household energy consumption is one of the biggest components of your overall carbon footprint. Making the switch to green energy ensures your electricity comes from natural, renewable resources like wind, solar, or geothermal heat. You may even want to install your own solar panels.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, over 60% of renewables that came online in 2020 were less expensive than the cheapest fossil fuel—twice the percentage for 2019. As the cost of solar and wind technologies decreases, renewables will become more accessible and offer consumers operational costs.

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Bike to Work

Midsection of businessman using smart phone while walking with bicycle on bridge in city
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Depending on where you live, some sustainable forms of commuting may actually be faster than trying to get somewhere by car. These alternatives could also save you money, given the rising cost of gasoline and the high price of parking in urban areas.

If you walk or bike to work, you’re saving time by combining exercise with your commute—multi-tasking in the best sense. If driving is your only option, try ridesharing or a carpool—you might meet some new and interesting folks.

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Trade Travel Emissions for Staycations

family putting on string lights on the tent in their backyard

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You don’t need to fly across the globe to satisfy your travel itch: Become a tourist in your own backyard. Discover the local wildlife, get to know your bioregion, or experiment with a new form of transportation (like an e-scooter or bus). Don’t forget your zero-waste kit for purchases on the go.

View Article Sources
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