Over the past few years, I have been making transitions to live more sustainably and include more eco-friendly choices in my daily life. While living on a teacher budget, shopping at thrift stores has always been my first go-to for clothing, classroom library books, and some art supplies. But I've made other small changes that are not only better for our planet but have financial benefits too. I'd love to share some of the changes in mindset that I have made, as well as some easy eco-friendly swaps.
First of all, the terms sustainable and eco-friendly sometimes get intermixed. If someone says that they want to live "sustainably" it means they want to make lifestyle choices that do not harm the earth's natural resources. The term "eco-friendly" is most commonly associated with consumer products that are safe for the environment.
Finish What You Have On Hand First
Small changes all add up over time. You might already be making many sustainable living choices or buying eco-friendly items that you don't even realize. One easy place to start is to simply make the choice to use the rest of the half-empty shampoo or lotion bottles or finish using products sitting on your storage shelf. Maybe you choose to wear clothes from the back of your closet before buying more. All of these are simple lifestyle decisions that actually save you money in the long run.
Freezer Fun Fridays
When our budget was particularly tight, my husband came up with "Freezer Fun Fridays." We decided every Friday we would eat food that had been sitting in the freezer. This meant that we ate leftover soup that I had thrown in the freezer six months before, or packaged foods that were buried in the bottom of the freezer. We found some interesting things and made some funky dinner combinations, but it was a way to save money. The food in your freezer is already paid for. You already spent the money on that discounted turkey during the holidays, so it makes sense to make dinners out of the food you already have on hand before they get freezer-burn.
Food Storage Swaps
Food waste is hard on the wallet. I hate throwing away food that has gone bad, and veggies are one of the first I end up tossing. Instead of using plastic baggies to store onions, peppers, or half an avocado, I switched to silicone food huggers. I've found that my veggies last much longer. Bell peppers in particular are no longer slimy and stay fresh significantly longer. Plus, I don't waste plastic baggies anymore--which I also switched out for reusable plastic bags. Also, the great thing about food huggers is that they can also come in handy as the lid on a jar.
I store salad greens, cilantro, and fresh fruits like strawberries in glass jars. I just take an old pickle jar rather than buy a new jar at the store to use for storage. Add a small piece of cloth to the bottom of the jar, fill it up with your fresh produce, and then add a small piece of cloth to the top of the jar and add the lid. The cloth absorbs moisture so that your produce lasts much longer. I no longer have issues with soggy lettuce in the bottom of a plastic container. For cilantro, I make sure to cut off the stems and chop the cilantro before placing it in the jar.
I also made the switch from plastic cling to beeswax wrap. Use up what plastic wrap you already have and then consider the switch. These covers work great for glass Pyrex pans or wrapping up items like bread. They don't have a super strong hold, so I also use glass containers with lids too.
Switch from Paper to Cloth Napkins & Towels
Over the past couple of years, I have focused on making more sustainable choices in the kitchen and with household items. I no longer buy paper napkins or sponges. We use cloth napkins and dish rags that we can throw in the wash. I also have old hand towels that are used for cleaning up messes rather than buying paper towels. It's so much easier to just throw them in a load of laundry. When people visit, they often think we are super fancy for using cloth napkins, but honestly, it's just a more sustainable option.
Recycling & Composting
At our home, we live out of town and don't have regular garbage pick-up. This means that we must haul our own garbage to the dump. We prioritize recycling because it's free to drop off glass, plastics, and cardboard at the recycling center. We also bought a small compost container that fits on the inside of the door to the kitchen sink. We have a small compost bin on our property for things like eggshells, food scraps, and lawn clippings. At first, I would just scrape plates into the garbage. It took some thinking and a mindset shift to get into the habit of using the compost bin.
Your Style or Just Trendy?
We live in a society that pushes out the latest trendy clothes every season. Companies like Shein are notorious for creating low-quality knock-offs using cheap labor. I made a personal choice years ago not to buy fast fashion. Instead, I always start by shopping at thrift stores. I look for high-quality items that I know will last. I also buy clothing that I know is comfortable and that I feel confident in rather than buying something simply because it's trendy.
No Plastic Jug Detergent
Sometimes we think we need to immediately make swaps to products that are better for the environment to become eco-conscious consumers. Maybe you've seen the ads for plastic-free laundry detergent. Instead of buying laundry detergent in those big plastic jugs, companies such as Earth Breeze and Tru Earth sell dissolvable detergent sheets. Not only does this save storage space, but the plastic sheets are better for the environment.
Here's the thing though, before jumping online to purchase laundry detergent sheets, start by using the detergent you already have sitting on the shelf. Then make sure to recycle the plastic jug so that it doesn't end up in a landfill. Maybe you purchased detergent that you don't particularly like or doesn't work for your family. Post it on your local Facebook Buy/Sell/Trade community page. Someone in your local area may use that particular brand or be in need of resources, and you can do good by passing it along for for free.
I hope this post encourages and inspires you to take the next small step toward more sustainable and eco-friendly living.
Want to teach your students about Sustainable Communities around the world? Check out this Sustainable Communities Virtual Field Trip.
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