There’s no denying that the environment is in crisis. The oceans are filled with over 150 million metric tons of plastic; dozens of species are going extinct every day; and hazardous toxins are saturating the planet (1, 2). World leaders and scientists alike are raising alarms about the major shift that is already underway.
“The environment will enter a new state,” explains Elizabeth Hadly, a professor at Stanford University, “and we don’t know exactly what that state will look like” (3). Similarly, the United Nations recently warned in a harrowing statement that the world’s environment is “nearing a critical point of no return” (4).
At this point, it’s everyone’s responsibility to take care of the planet. This doesn’t have to mean big changes to your lifestyle. Even small and simple changes can add up to produce profound results. Here are 10 simple ways you can live more sustainably and make a difference.
Ditching plastic water bottles is perhaps one of the most impactful changes you can make to live more sustainably. As of 2016, nearly one million plastic water bottles are bought every minute, a number that keeps rising (5).
The problem is, most of these bottles end up in landfills or the ocean. From here the plastic breaks down into tiny particles which make their way into drinking water and the food chain. These microplastics expose you to compounds like BPA, which have numerous negative health effects and are obesogenic, adding to weight gain (6).
Instead of plastic water bottles, get a reusable glass or metal water canister. And with a good water filter, you can refill each time with clean water.
Before you buy anything, read the ingredient list to make sure it doesn’t contain palm oil. Unless labeled as sustainably sourced, farmers destroyed countless acres of precious rainforest land for its production.
Not only is this land vital to the earth’s oxygen production, but much of it is also inhabited by orangutans. As such, the palm oil industry has robbed orangutans of up to 90% of their habitat (7).
Keep an eye out for common items that contain palm oil: bread, vegan cheese, soap, skincare products, ice cream, processed snacks, chocolate, packaged cookies, and peanut butter.
Purchasing organic food and products is a must if you want to avoid getting exposed to cancer-causing compounds like glyphosate. Eating organic has also been linked to a dramatically lower risk of some types of cancer.
But organic farming is incredibly beneficial for the environment as well. Organic farming doesn’t use the caustic chemicals that are sprayed on conventional crops, which contaminate the soil, water supply, and even the air (8).
Studies have also found that organic farming may help slow climate change by producing fewer carbon emissions compared to traditional farming (9). Every time you purchase organic, you support businesses that have a healthier environmental footprint.
Increasing the number of meals without meat you have each week can have a surprising impact on both your health and the environment.
Animal agriculture is responsible for approximately 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide (10). Concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs have a devastating impact on water and air quality, not to mention animal welfare (11).
Plastic bags are right up there with water bottles in terms of their environmental impact, killing an estimated 100,000 marine animals yearly (12). You can be a part of the solution by choosing reusable grocery bags.
You may even get a store discount when you use them instead of plastic bags. To make sure you don’t forget your reusable bags, simply keep them in the trunk of your car. That way you never have an excuse to use plastic bags.
Many cleaning products contain nasty chemicals that are toxic to you and the environment, making a clean up of your cleaning products a must.
Before you buy any cleaning or personal hygiene product, look it up on the EWG healthy living app. This convenient tool will tell you whether or not your favorite products contain ingredients that are toxic to you or the environment.
With the invention of wax-based food wraps, there’s no reason to continue using plastic wrap or what some people call cling film (13). Plastic wrap contaminates your food as chemicals leach from the plastic into the food.
Plastic wrap also doesn’t biodegrade, ending up in landfills or the oceans. Wax-based food wraps, on the contrary, are both reusable and biodegradable.
Have you ever paid attention to how much packaging is on the average food item at the grocery store? Not only is it usually an excessive amount of packaging, but it also is often made up of non-biodegradable plastics.
Buying from the bulk section whenever you can at the grocery store is a great way to reduce your environmental footprint. If your grocery store only offers plastic bags for their bulk items, simply bring your reusable grocery bag.
Coffee shops churn out a huge number of disposable plastic or Styrofoam cups and straws—most of which are not biodegradable. Instead, bring your own glass or ceramic travel mug for coffee shops to fill.
But coffee shops aren’t the only culprit. Over the past several years, single-serving coffee capsules have become widely popular, with billions of cups now sitting in landfills. For alternatives, try making your coffee with a French press or pour-over coffee maker.
You can also buy shade-grown coffee. Traditional forms of coffee require growers to clear cut thousands of acres of forest, while shade-grown coffee is more often grown organically, and preserves natural habitat.
Cutting down your electricity usage is another effective way to live more sustainably. One tip is to install programmable timers on your electrical outlets. With these timers, you can program them to shut off the power at specific times of the day.
For instance, many TVs draw power even when they’re not in use. With a programmable timer, you can tell it to cut off the power when you usually go to bed, and back on when needed.
Sustainability starts with awareness of the environment, and being empowered to effect change, even with small steps. Along with your recycling efforts, you can reduce the use of plastic, avoid ecologically damaging foods, and add in more plant-based meals, helping to make the world a better place.