When it comes to making eco-friendly changes, there’s no need to get overwhelmed at the thought of doing a complete lifestyle overhaul. Sometimes all it takes are little swaps to your routine or tiny tweaks to a daily habit to reduce your carbon footprint, protect against toxins, and leave the Earth a little better than you found it. It’s all about baby steps, right? Here are a few things you can do at home that require minimal time, effort, or money, but really add up to make a difference in the long run. Read up on some of the best, lowest-lift ways you can make your home a little greener—for you, your family, and the environment.
Go Easy on the Plastic
Whether you switch from buying plastic water bottles to using a filtered water pitcher; ditch single-use plastic sandwich and shopping bags; or get serious about recycling properly, changing your household habits around plastic consumption and disposal can make a huge difference. Going completely plastic-free is not easy—and not always an option. But start with something small that you can stick to that helps cut down on plastic waste and pollution. For example, maybe you start carrying around a refillable water bottle or bring your own reusable totes to the grocery store.
Shop for Sustainably-Raised Meat
While sustainable isn’t a term certified by the USDA like “organic” is, it generally means that the animal was given ample room to roam, fed grass instead of feed, and wasn’t treated with hormones or antibiotics. Look for labels like free-range and USDA organic, which means the animals were raised in accordance with federal guidelines, “in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100 percent organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones,” according to the USDA.
Go Meatless on Mondays
Enjoying a hearty pasta dish or warming vegetarian soup on Mondays might not seem like a big deal, but adding one meat-free meal per week can reduce your meat consumption by about 15 percent, helping to do your part in cutting down on the associated environmental impact of meat farming, production, and distribution. One environmental impact analysis from 2017 found that an omnivore’s diet had the greatest impact in terms of three different factors: carbon footprint (greenhouse gas emissions), the water footprint (consumption of water resources), and the ecological footprint (amount of biologically productive land/sea needed to produce a unit of food product). Raising livestock requires immense amounts of water and land consumption, and produces a large amount of greenhouse gases. Going meat-free, even one night per week, can make a difference.
Swap Household Cleaners
Switching to green cleaners reduces air pollution both indoors and out, minimizing exposure to both asthma and allergy triggers, as well as chemicals that can be harmful to your health. Look for all-natural or plant-based products from companies that have a complete list of ingredients on their labels and are stamped with eco-friendly certifications (here’s how to decode green cleaning labels so you can buy the best products).
Upgrade Your Insulation
Adding proper insulation to prevent leaky ducts, walls, windows, and doors can improve your home’s energy draw, save you a few hundred bucks on your energy bill, and also up your home’s value. If totally redoing your insulation isn’t in your budget, try thermal shades, which block the sun in the summer and retain heat in the winter, or even something as low-tech as a draft guard on your outside doors.
Leave Your Shoes at the Door
Think of removing your shoes when you enter a home as the equivalent of washing your hands. First, it couldn’t be easier. And second, it prevents the outside gunk like car exhaust, chemicals, and pesticides from being tracked all over your home. Adopting this daily habit is about as painless as it gets.
Microwave Glass, Never Plastic
Heating plastics can cause leaching into food and many contain hormone-disrupting compounds (not just the much maligned versions made with bisphenol-A or BPA). Plastics that are labeled “microwave-safe” can simply withstand a higher temperature before losing their shape. So when popping anything in the microwave, opt for glass or microwave-safe ceramics.
Donate, Don’t Toss
Donating clothing reduces waste, prevents greenhouse gas emissions from clothing that would sit in a landfill, and gives your goods a second life with someone who’ll appreciate them. When you can, take gently used items to a thrift store, local donation drop site, or other charity that accepts contributions. Here are the best ways to declutter and donate still-usable items.
Choose Safe Pots and Pans
The materials you cook with do have an impact on your food. The three safest options are cast iron, enamel-coated cast iron, and stainless steel. Non-stick pans, while convenient, can be problematic if you scrape the coating and it gets into your food. If you do use non-stick cookware (because, let’s be real, it takes all the hassle out of omelettes and stir-fry), follow these tips for safe, toxin-free cooking.
Select Fragrance-Free Products
Conventional fragrances often contain synthetically-derived compounds and chemicals believed to disrupt hormones and be hazardous to the environment. If you like scented soaps, cleaning products, or cosmetics, read labels to find those scented naturally with essential oils. Otherwise, check the labels. Look for products labeled “fragrance-free”; avoid products that have “fragrance,” “scent,” “parfum,” or even “unscented” (which may still contain synthetic masking or neutralizing scents) on the ingredient labels. You can also look for the Safer Choice label, which verifies that it complies with the EPA’s standards for fragrance-free products.
Reduce Use of Bug Sprays and Pesticides
To control pests, prevention is your best bet. Keeping your kitchen crumb-free and sealing any holes in the walls or cracks in the foundation means you won’t have to use harmful chemicals in your home. If you do require pest control, reach for greener alternatives or home remedies first.
Alexandra Zissu, Real Simple