This is Part 7 in my "100 Sustainable Swaps for a Greener Life" series.
Two and a half years ago I started slowly and systematically changing my behaviors to live a less environmentally-impactful life. I'm proud to say that I now have a list of 100 sustainable swaps that I have personally implemented. Read on to see if you can apply any to your life!
Click here for part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
61. Drive an Electric Car (or a PHEV)
Electric vehicles (EVs) use battery technology rather than gasoline-powered internal combustion engines to operate. In general, EVs are more efficient and "cleaner" to operate than traditional cars because they do not produce direct tailpipe emissions from burning gasoline. However, the electricity used to charge the EVs battery still produces emissions - the exact amount depends on the makeup of your local electric grid. There are also waste considerations when you think about the manufacturing and eventual disposal of the car and battery.
Regardless, EVs are on the rise because of the overall trend towards infrastructure electrification and grid decarbonization. In simple terms, this means a world where all cars, homes, and industries are powered by the electric grid and the electric grid is fed by only renewable, non-greenhouse gas-emitting energy sources.
Since I recently relocated from New York City to New Jersey, I needed to buy a car. I did not want to go full-electric because the driving ranges of the best EVs on the market top out at about 300 miles, and sometimes I go on long trips! Instead, I opted to purchase a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or PHEV.
My PHEV goes 20 miles in electric-only mode, and then switches to a traditional gasoline-electric hybrid driving mode. My commute to work is only 5 miles, so I'm able to do all of my weekday commuting on electric power as long as I remember to charge my car regularly.
62. Hand wash Your Dishes/Use Solid Dish Soap
You may think hand washing dishes is less water-intensive than using a dishwasher, but like most things, it's actually completely situation-dependent. If you have an efficient dishwasher, it may use less water than if you let the faucet run while hand washing dishes; however, if you always run your dishwasher half empty, it may be better to wash your dishes by hand.
Bottom line is - I don't have a dishwasher (lol) so I hand wash all of my dishes using as little water as I can. I also use a block of all-natural, solid dish soap rather than chemical-laden soaps sold in disposable plastic bottles. Find it on my products page.
(I personally also believe it's better to wash plastic dishes by hand because the high temperatures of the dishwasher could leach toxic chemicals out of the plastic and into your air/food)
63. Use What You Have Before Buying Anything New
For the first time in my life I live COMPLETELY ALONE. I also have my own private office at work. Suddenly I found myself with four empty rooms to fill however I wanted - not to mention tons of empty wall space just begging to be decorated. I felt very tempted to buy new furniture/plants/artwork to fill my new home and office.
Instead of going shopping at a store, I went shopping at my parents' house and my own closet! I took an old desk set, table, and artwork that had been occupying my childhood bedroom for years. My mom gave me plants she didn't need. I got creative with photographs I already had printed and artwork I hadn't previously hung up (I also sourced all of my office furniture from my school's surplus department).
The point is - next time you go to buy something new, get creative and see if you or someone you know already owns an item that you could use instead!
64. Buy Items from Ebay/Craigslist etc.
But no matter how hard we try, there's always going to be a time when we need something that we don't have access to. A great way to do this in both an environmentally- and wallet-friendly way is to shop secondhand.
I used to only shop in physical secondhand stores but recently I have a lot of success both buying and selling items on websites such as Craigslist, Ebay, Facebook Marketplace, and Poshmark (my closet is linked - check it out!). Don't be scared about meeting up with strangers to buy/sell things in person - ask the person questions via email or text beforehand until you feel comfortable with the situation, meet in a public place if possible, and take a friend with you if you want backup!
65. Brew Low-Waste Coffee
You don't need disposable coffee filters or plastic k-cups to brew a good cup o' joe. Here are some low waste ways to brew coffee:
Don't forget to compost your coffee grounds!
66. Avoid (Unsustainable) Palm Oil
This article from One Green Planet explains in detail the reasons you should avoid palm oil:
Palm oil heavily contributes to deforestation
Palm oil is driving species toward extinction
The palm oil industry is riddled with human rights abuses
Palm oil is not good for you
Palm oil is found not only in food products, but also cleaning supplies, soap, and cosmetics. Reading product labels is a good first step to avoiding palm oil, but it can also be hidden in ingredient lists under other names.
Try to buy products that don't contain palm oil or look for products that use Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO).
67. Join a Food Co-Op
Cooperatives, or co-ops, are owned and run by the people that shop there. Since decisions about how to run a co-op are not made by outside shareholders, they often exhibit a higher degree of social responsibility than their corporate analogues. Co-ops also actively contribute to local communities by hosting events, fundraisers, and educational opportunities.
I was a member of the Bushwick Food Co-op in Brooklyn and now I'm a member of the George Street Co-op in New Brunswick. Both are health-focused grocery stores that are owned and operated by their members. As a co-op member I have a say in what products are sold, how the business is operated, and what events are put on. I also receive a discount based on how many hours I volunteer per month.
I love shopping at the co-op because it allows me to put my money directly into a local business that I believe in and am a part of. It's also a great way to meet like-minded people and build community.
68. Use LED Light Bulbs
Light emitting diode (LED) bulbs require much less wattage than compact fluorescent (CFL) or incandescent light bulbs, which is why LEDs are more energy-efficient and longer lasting than their competitors. When LEDs were first developed, they could only produce colored light in a single direction and cost too much for everyday consumers. Today, LEDs can produce diffuse white light and actually cost less to operate than CFLs and incandescent bulbs over their lifetime.
LED bulbs are available for almost all lighting applications so next time you need light bulbs, opt for LEDs!
69. Use Reusable Pads
In Part 4 of this series, I mentioned that the average menstruating person will use over 10,000 tampons in their lifetime. To reduce trash generation from single-use period products, I proposed a reusable silicon menstrual cup as a low-waste alternative.
I personally love using a menstrual cup, but they do not work for everyone. Another low-waste period option that you can try is reusable cloth pads. Reusable pads are made from several layers of absorbent material and work just like normal pads - except that instead of throwing them out, you wash them in cold water, hang them to dry, and reuse them again and again!
Find both a menstrual cup and reusable pads on my products page.
70. Limit Flying
Flying is one of the most carbon-intensive activities that the average person will ever take part in. Take one round-trip flight between New York and California, and you’ve generated about 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that your car emits over an entire year. For most people (myself included!) eliminating flying from your life is not a realistic option, but there are some ways to limit the amount and duration of flights that you take:
Take a train instead of a plane to get to your destination if possible
Opt for non-stop flights over a multi-leg trips (most of the fuel used by a plane is burned during takeoff, so less flight legs = less emissions for the same distance!)
Take longer vacations less often rather than more regular short-duration trips
If you're flying somewhere for work, try turning it into a vacation by flying out a few days early or staying a few days after your work is done
Purchase carbon offsets (but do your research first)
Stay tuned for the next installment of 100 Sustainable Swaps!
Click here to go back to Part 6