Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Living - 53 Ways to Reduce Waste and Carbon Footprint

 

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day is a reminder of how together, we can protect, preserve, and restore our beautiful planet.

This blog is an ultimate guide to reducing your carbon footprint and becoming more eco-friendly, according to your unique lifestyle.

Remember that you don’t have to implement everything in this list, but start with small, simple actions in the category where your largest carbon footprint comes from.

 
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1. Measure and Understand Your Carbon Footprint

Your lifestyle matters in how you can reduce your carbon footprint.

Although not 100 percent accurate, carbon footprint calculators can provide a broad perspective on where your carbon footprint comes from.

There are several different carbon footprint calculators out there, and each are slightly different in coverage and depth.

For example, the Global Footprint Network’s Footprint Calculator offers a wide coverage of both direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions including food, energy, water, waste, and travel. On the other hand, the EPA carbon footprint calculator for households is less comprehensive in coverage, but offers tips on how much money and carbon you can save through simple energy conservation actions and recycling.

 

MONEY – INVEST, GIVE, SPEND WITH AN ENVIRONMENTAL CONSCIOUS

2. Integrate ESG into your investments

Do you know where your 401(k) is invested in? What if you found out that it goes to support fossil fuels?

Luckily with sustainable investing becoming mainstream, we can now start making investments that align with our values.

Sustainable investing is investment that aims to achieve market-rate financial returns that generate a positive social and economic impact. In this form of investment, investors not only consider the financial performance of a company or fund, but also incorporates environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors or non-financial performance into investment decisions.

Align your investments with your values by talking to a financial advisor that specializes in sustainable investing. You can also start small by yourself with the help of robo advisors such as OpenInvest.

Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor and therefore, please consult one before you make any investment decisions.

 
Volunteering helps environmental nonprofits advance our environmental initiatives. It’s also a great way to meet likeminded people and expand your network!

Volunteering helps environmental nonprofits advance our environmental initiatives. It’s also a great way to meet likeminded people and expand your network!

3. Volunteer or make a charitable gift to environmental nonprofits

Environmental nonprofits tackle today’s most pressing environmental challenges. Yet, it is one of the most underfunded nonprofits.

We can help advance the initiatives of environmental nonprofits by making a charitable gift, or by giving our time and knowledge by volunteering.

 

4. Buy products that have less environmental impact

Be conscious of what you buy by choosing products and services that have less harmful environmental impact.

EWG offers a comprehensive overview of personal care and cleaning products that are better for the planet and safer for our health.

Some labeling to look for include compostable, reusable, biodegradable, packaging made with recycled materials, produced with renewable energy, plant-based, carbon neutral, recyclable, non-toxic, among others.

FOOD SYSTEM – CHANGING WHAT AND HOW YOU EAT

What we eat has a profound impact on our environment because it takes a lot of our planet’s land, water, and energy to produce food. A recent study indicate that our food system accounts for nearly a quarter of all GHG emissions.

The following offers tips on how we can change the way we eat to reduce our carbon footprint. And for more information on how to reduce your food waste, refer to my blog post on reducing food waste.

 

5. Eat mostly plants

Animal-based foods in particular make-up approximately two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions. By adopting a vegetarian diet, we can reduce GHG emissions by 63 percent and 70 percent with a vegan diet. You can also enjoy the co-benefits of becoming healthier and saving cash from purchasing less meat.

 

6. Buy local and seasonal

Purchasing food produced closer to home can reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to food transport. And don’t forget the better nutritional value of these produce.

Buy Local from Farmer's Market_Minnieveggie.jpg
 

7. Eat moderate, smaller portions

Sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomach.

Eating a moderate portion is not only better for your health, but can prevent unnecessary food waste that result from leftovers. One solution the Korean government offered to reduce food waste is to use smaller size plates and bowls.

Sometimes when your bowl is too big, you want to fill it up with food. For example, I use these 6-oz Corelle bowls as my rice bowl and it’s the perfect portion.

 

8. Avoid pre-packaged foods

Pre-cut and packaged foods add onto our carbon footprint because it creates more packaging waste, as well as processing waste.

I also understand that pre-packaged foods can sometimes be lifesavers for busy working wives and moms. And as a busy working wife, a tip that I can share is that I wash, chop, and freeze foods right after my grocery shopping. This method saves me time when I actually have to cook.

 
Bulk purchase options are eco-friendly and cost-efficient only if the food is non-perishable, such as this oatmeal.

Bulk purchase options are eco-friendly and cost-efficient only if the food is non-perishable, such as this oatmeal.

9. Only buy bulk for foods with longer shelf life

This would not apply if you do have a larger family, but for a household of two (or even three), buying bulk could result in unnecessary food waste. My only bulk purchase includes rice, beans, potatoes, onions, and other food items with a longer shelf life. For perishable foods such as produce and fruits, I purchase a small amount weekly.

 

10. Have a grocery plan and budget

Having a food shopping budget and list can subdue impulse food purchases (Yes I have made impulse purchases not just for clothes, but for food as well!).

Supermarkets are so good at offering bundled packages and big sales that seem too good to miss. Stick to the grocery plan, and walk away from bundled options to prevent food waste.

 

11. Compost

Composting reduces methane emissions (one of the greenhouse gases that make up your carbon footprint) generated from food waste going into landfills.

If you live in the city, there may be a food scrap collection site nearby. For example, in NYC, most of the farmer’s markets offer food scrap drop-offs.

If you live in the suburbs, a backyard composter could be a better option. Learn more about composting from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and select the most optimal option for you.

 

12. Grow your own food

You don’t need a large backyard garden to grow you own food.

Even if you live in a small NYC apartment, as long as you have a window sill with some sunlight, you can easily grow herbs such as basil.

 

HOME ENERGY – CONSERVE AND SAVE MONEY ON ENERGY BILL

Energy consumption is related to the use of fossil fuels, which has a detrimental impact on our environment. It is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and releases about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into our atmosphere each year. Fossil fuel consumption also emits air pollutants and creates wastes that are harmful to the human health and the environment.

Because 63% of the electricity generation in the U.S. still comes from fossil fuels, we can help protect our environment through simple energy conservation and efficiency actions at home. And of course, we can also benefit financially from the lower energy costs.

13. Conduct a simple energy audit of your home

Similar to your carbon footprint, understanding your household’s energy consumption pattern can help you come up with a conservation strategy. Utility companies often offer easy energy self-audits online.

 

14. Eliminate energy vampires

Appliances plugged in, but not in use, create energy vampires.

Unplugging unused appliances can reduce your carbon footprint and reduce your energy cost. See how much you can save using the Duke Energy Energy Vampire Calculator.

 

16. Air dry almost everything

Using appliance for drying clothes and dishes increases your energy usage. Moreover, by simply air-drying your dishes you can save hundreds dollars on the energy bill.

 

17. Lower temperature of water heater

Water heater consumes 15 percent of home energy consumption and lowering the heat to the Department of Energy (DOE) recommends 120ºF can help lower energy consumption at home.

 
Install a Thermostat (NEST Learning Thermostat at my home) and save costs on your energy bill.

Install a Thermostat (NEST Learning Thermostat at my home) and save costs on your energy bill.

18. Install a programmable, smart thermostat

Smart thermostat saves energy use and cost by controlling your indoor air temperature and prevent unnecessary cooling and heating.

And choosing an Energy Star thermostat can ensure your energy savings and may even be eligible for a government rebate.

 

19. Do the dishes and laundry in the evening

If you have ever taken an introductory economics course, you many understand when demand (buyer’s willingness to pay) exceeds the supply of a good or service, price increases.

This can also be applied to our energy consumption. Utilities charge more per kilowatt-hour (kWh) during peak usage (when demand is high) and charge less during off-peak hours (when demand is low). And late hours of the day, weekends, and holidays are often considered off-peak hours.

 

20. Increase thermostat temperature in summer, decrease in winter

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) provides guidelines on which temperature settings can help conserve energy use.

 

21. Visit local utility website for energy saving tips

Every household is unique. Local utilities can help you further conserve energy at home through their energy savings programs.

 
This solar puff by Solight Design guides me throughout my house at night.

This solar puff by Solight Design guides me throughout my house at night.

22. Green your home energy with renewable energy

If you are a homeowner, installing solar panels is highly beneficial. By generating your own energy, your will be able to dramatically reduce and eliminate your home energy carbon footprint and electricity cost. Moreover, you may be eligible for hefty federal tax credit and state rebate for your investment in solar energy.

If you own or rent an apartment or condo, community solar or purchasing renewable energy credits to offset your home energy carbon footprint could be the solution.

Finally, if you want have some fun, you can also purchase these innovative solar lamps around your house to use it as night light at home.

WATER CONSERVATION – SAVE ENERGY AND RESOURCES

Water, especially freshwater, is essential in our daily lives. Yet, only 2.5 percent of water on earth is freshwater. More surprisingly, only 1 percent is easily accessible because the rest is trapped in the glaciers and ice.

And don’t forget that energy is required to treat and deliver clean water to our homes. So whenever you use less water, you are also helping save energy and reduce our carbon footprint.

 

23. Take shorter, less showers

For every minute of shower, 5 gallons of water is used (which is about 40 cups of water).

And some of us also like to take more than one shower a day. But if you would like to have glowing skin, as I mentioned on my blog post on Korean beauty tips, avoid washing too often. Because you may remove the good, natural oil of your skin, and make it more dry and irritated.

 

24. Turn off faucet when brushing teeth

Water scarcity is a global issue. In the U.S., 130 million people face water scarcity once a month. Reduce water consumption and help alleviate water scarcity by not running your water.

 

25. Turn off faucet when washing face

Instead of running your faucet, fill up a large bowl to wash your face. If you are like me and enjoy skincare regimens, you can add a drop of your favorite essential oil, or just 1 piece of kelp (dashima) in the water.

26. Wash only full loads of laundry and dishes

This will help reduce both your water and energy consumption, saving money on your energy and water bill.

 

27. Install WaterSense (water-efficient) appliances

WaterSense labeled products (shower heads, faucets, toilets, sprinklers, etc) are 20 percent more water efficient compared to its standard counterparts. Moreover, the government helps pay for WaterSense products through rebates for eligible buyers.

 

28. Fix water leaks

It is estimated that households leak about 270 loads of laundry worth of water every year. If you live in a state with high water rate, fixing the leak can help you save money on your water bill.

 

START A ZERO WASTE JOURNEY

Zero waste is not about fitting your waste into a tiny mason jar. It’s more about creating a circular economy, teaching us to use our resources wisely and diverting trash from going to landfills.

Start the zero waste journey on your own terms by being more conscious about what you purchase and how you manage its lifecycle. To learn more, read my blog on easy tips for starting a zero waste lifestyle.

 

29. Consume Less

Buying less is the best way to strive towards living a zero waste lifestyle. The word “reduce” comes first in “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” because when we purchase less, we are preventing any waste from being generated. Plus, you will save money in the long run.

 

30. Shop quality over quantity

Quality does not necessarily mean expensive. They are timeless, durable items that can last you for a very long time. Don’t make impulse purchases, avoid fast fashion, and shop wisely.

 

31. Sell, donate, reuse, upcycle before trashing

Think before discarding unwanted items as it could become a valuable item for someone else.

A seasonal cleaning is recommended to see what you have and what you don’t need. This will also gives a little nudge that you already have enough stuff and can help strive towards the zero waste lifestyle.

 

32. Recycle properly

The recycling rate in the U.S. was about 34.3 percent in 2013 according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Recycling is the last option to divert waste from going into our landfills.

Therefore, proper recycling is essential to helping our community achieve zero waste. Visit the local government website to find out more about how to recycle properly, and learn about the resources and training programs they offer.

And if you are really confused, use the help of TerraCycle’s recycling resources and zero waste boxes to ensure you are recycling properly.

 
My Zojirushi thermos and LOQI reusable bag are small enough to fit in my purse and I carry them everywhere with me. Did I mention that the LOQI bag can hold up to 44lbs?

My Zojirushi thermos and LOQI reusable bag are small enough to fit in my purse and I carry them everywhere with me. Did I mention that the LOQI bag can hold up to 44lbs?

33. Replace single-use disposable plastics with reusables

Plastic can take more than 400 years to biodegrade and also damage the human health. Plastic packaging in particular makes up 40% of our plastic waste and 60% of it ends up in the landfill.

By simply choosing reusables over disposables, we can easily prevent plastic from entering our ecosystem.

 

34. Opt-out of junk mail

GrowNYC estimates that if 100,000 people opt-out of junk mail, 150,000 trees could be saved annually.

Switching to e-billing, e-receipts, and online magazine subscriptions can help reduce paper trash. Moreover, with a small fee of $2, the Digital Marketing Association offers a way to stop junk mail from clogging up your mail box.

 

GREEN YOUR OFFICE

35. Keep reusables at the office

If your office has a common area with a kitchen, there is no excuse for not having reusable at the office. Althought there is the hassle of having to wash it every time you use it, but it also gives you a reason to get up from your chair.

 

36. Occassionally take the stairs

Not only are you helping your company save energy by not using the elevator, you can get a daily exercise!

 

37. Turn off your computer when you leave and when possible, request a smart power strip

Plugged in electronics consume energy even when not in use. Help your office save energy by turning off your electronics when you leave.

 

38. Decorate with plants

Instead of getting props for the office, why not beautify your office space with air-purifying plants tha are environmental and your health?

 

39. Join or start your own green team at the office

There may be limitation to what eco-friendly actions you can take individually. And doing it together will get much more done and of course, it’s also more fun!

Not only will you help advance your company’s sustainability initiatives, you can meet new colleagues and network with likeminded professionals.

 

REDUCE YOUR TRAVEL CARBON FOOTPRINT

In 2017, the U.S. transportation sector accounted for 28 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and 60 percent of this came from cars.

Because most transportation run on fossil fuels, taking simple actions to reduce the use of cars and use them more efficiently, can help reduce our carbon footprint. Moreover, smog from cars cause air pollution that can be harmful to our health.

 

40. Set your meeting times to be 10 minutes earlier

Are you always rushing to get to a meeting? This not only creates stress, you may find yourself driving more aggressively. And driving aggressively can lower the gas mileage by 15 percent to 30 percent.

By leaving early for a meeting, you can save money on gas and lower your stress level.

 

41. Walk, bike more, and use public transporation whenever possible

Walking and biking are the best way to reduce your transportation carbon footprint. Plus, you also get the daily exercise to stay healthy.

My Rothy’s are comfortable, washable and made with recycled plastic. It is my go-to shoes for everywhere from the mall, the streets to the beach!

My Rothy’s are comfortable, washable and made with recycled plastic. It is my go-to shoes for everywhere from the mall, the streets to the beach!

 

42. Take care of your car

Similar to your home, cars require maintenance. Better maintained cars use less energy and run more efficiently.

 

43. If possible, drive hybrid or electric vehicles

Hybrid cars have better mileage and therefore, uses less fossil fuels.

Electric Vehicles (EV) draw energy from the grid and if you live in a state like California where in 2017, 32 percent of energy came from renewable sources, driving an EV will drastically reduce your carbon footprint. Moreover, you can be eligible for a hefty state rebate and federal tax credit for purchasing an electric vehicle.

 

44. Avoid traffic by using smart navigations apps

If you are stuck in traffic, you may be driving for 2 hours for a 40-minute journey, wasting gas and emitting more greenhouse gas emissions. Using smart navigation apps (e.g. WAZE) that help you avoid traffic can help you get to your destination faster and reduce carbon footprint at the same time.

REDUCE YOUR TRAVEL CARBON FOOTPRINT

This one is my largest footprint and unfortunately, it is impossible for me avoid traveling because of my work and family (of course unless in the future a technology is developed where we can teleport to different countries with zero carbon footprint!)

But for now, I can take the following simple actions to reduce my travel carbon footprint. And if you are interested in a more detailed version, refer to my blog post on how to reduce your travel carbon footprint.

 

45. Fly nonstop, economy

Because landing and take-off account for 25 percent of emissions of the airplane, flying nonstop will help reduce your air travel carbon footprint.

And by flying economy, your share of carbon footprint among passengers will be smaller compared to flying business class.

 

46. Choose airlines with better sustainability initiatives

Similar to how we as individuals strive to reduce our carbon footprint, companies do the same through their sustainability initiatives.

Visit the airline’s website to find out whether or not the airline you frequently fly with have a strong intiative to reduce their carbon footprint.

 

47. Stay at certified green hotels and buildings

Green hotels and lodgings are more energy and resource efficient, and have a lower impact on our environment. An easy way to distinguish greener hotels is to look for green building certifications including LEED certification, Energy Star, and WELL Certification. Large hospitality groups such as the Marriott, conveniently share their LEED-certified hotels on its website. For smaller hotels, airbnb, and other lodgings, check their individual website or call to ask about the lodging’s green and eco-friendly initiatives.

Choose greener, more eco-friendly hotels (e.g. LEED-Certified) for your travel.

Choose greener, more eco-friendly hotels (e.g. LEED-Certified) for your travel.

 

48. Help your hotel reduce energy and resources

If you are an energy and resource saver at home, do the same at the hotels by reusing towels and sheets, bringing your own toiletries, and turning off lights & electronics when leaving the room.

 

49. Choose memories over souvenirs

Unnecessary purchase of souvenirs such as keychains are likely to become waste. Instead, spend on eco-tourisms and cultural experiences. This will help reduce your carbon footprint, help the local economy and its natural environment.

 

50. Always carry your own reusable bottle and bag

Plastic does not only ruin our marine life and contaminate the soil when discarded, the production of plastic also requires the use of fossil fuels. By carrying a reusable bottle and bag on your travels, you are also helping the destination city reduce their waste and carbon footprint.

 

51. Support local restaurants and markets

Similar to buying from the farmer’s market at home, eating from local restaurants and markets helps reduce carbon footprint and also may be cheaper.

 

52. Be the tourist you want to see at your own city

Spend couple of hours researching your travel destination before you leave. With this research, you will be prepared to interact sustainably and be in harmony with the local environment.

 

BECOME A CLIMATE ADVOCATE

53. Take action to lead and inspire your family, friends, and community to be more eco-friendly and climate conscious

Lead by example and inspire others to choose the option that is better for the environment.

And if you want to get inspired, join a local climate action group such as the Climate Reality Project, or connect with liked-minded people through networking channels such as Shapr and MeetUp.

There is always an option that is better for the environment and doing it together is always much more fun.

Do you have any simple tips that has helped you become more eco-friendly, reducing your carbon footprint? Please do share with us in the comments.