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Going green is more popular than ever before, and for good reason. As increasingly more people look for ways to support the planet and eliminate wasteful habits, sustainable practices are becoming the norm. But getting started can be a bit overwhelming. Which changes make the most difference – and which should you skip? How can you work towards sustainability every day?
Sustainability doesn’t require you to totally overhaul your lifestyle. You can make positive changes by starting with simple tweaks to your routine, then grow from there. By taking a closer look at what you’re buying, using and eating, you can opt for more eco-friendly swaps.
Here are six ways to hack your current habits and make them more sustainable.
1. Choose plants over meat as often as possible
You already know that opting for a plant-based diet is the best choice for the environment. It’s also incredibly beneficial for your own health. But the research keeps growing, making it increasingly more important to choose plants over meat as often as possible.
Just take a look at UCLA’s data. Making the switch from animal-based foods to plants could increase the global food supply by as much as 49 percent, without requiring additional land or resources. Plant-based foods slash our water consumption, requiring 50 percent less water than animal-based foods. And putting plants first also dramatically cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions.
On a personal level, reducing the amount of meat you eat is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Switching to a plant-based diet can cut down on emissions by as much as 70 percent.
However, you don’t have to go cold turkey on your current eating habits. You can absolutely go 100 percent plant-based if you want to make the biggest impact. But you can also ease into a plant-based way of eating and still make your diet more sustainable.
You can cut back on your meat consumption by adopting meatless Mondays, or even by incorporating a few days of meat-free meals into every week. Eating smaller servings of meat or limiting your meat-based meals to one per day are also great ways to ease into a more plant-centric diet. Then, when you’re ready, you can take your sustainability up a notch by increasing the frequency of your plant-based meals.
2. Cut back on cheese
Like meat, animal-based dairy products are terribly unfriendly to the environment. Research shows that dairy products are actually the second-biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Dairy cattle even emit the same greenhouse gases as cattle raised for consumption.
Cheese is a particularly bad offender when it comes to emissions. Because cheese requires a whole lot of milk, it’s one of the worst dairy products for the environment – it actually creates more greenhouse gas emissions than some meats.
So, you can easily lessen your contribution to these dangerous emissions by cutting back on the amount of cheese you’re eating. You can eliminate cheese from your diet entirely, but you can also make a difference by using it sparingly. Another option is to choose dairy-free cheese products or vegan cheeses. If you aren’t ready to completely eliminate cheese, you can also try mixing up your meals by alternating between dairy and non-dairy cheese products.
3. Ask for paper instead of plastic
You’re likely already bringing your reusable bags along with you when you visit the grocery store. This is one of the easiest eco-friendly swaps you can make. However, it isn’t always feasible – sometimes, those bags get forgotten at home. And in some cities or regions, stores might ban customers’ reusable bags due to health concerns.
If your reusable bags are out of the question, you don’t have to resort to plastic bags. Those bags are part of single-use plastic’s significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, ask your store if paper bags are available as an alternative.
Paper bags aren’t ideal, since they are still a disposable product that generates more waste. But they’re much kinder to the environment than plastic bags. Paper bags are able to be reused between one and three times – double the reuse options of plastic – and nearly 50 percent are recycled when consumers are finished with them. Overall, paper bags have lower emissions than plastic bags, even after they’ve been thrown away.
So, make sure to ask if you can switch to paper if you have to opt for a single-use bag. Many stores will automatically bag items in plastic, even if paper is available. If you don’t ask, you’ll miss out on a simple, more sustainable swap.
4. Opt for individual-sized products instead of buying in bulk
Buying bulk is typically assumed to be more eco-friendly than buying individually packaged items. After all, when you buy items in bulk, you’re getting a larger quantity packaged in one big container.
Unfortunately, many bulk items actually increase the amount of packaging you’re purchasing. If you’ve ever picked up a giant pack of paper towel or opened a bulk box of macaroni and cheese from a warehouse store, you’ve likely found that each individual item inside is also wrapped in packaging. That leads to more cardboard boxes and more plastic wrap than you’d get if you purchased each item individually.
Additionally, buying in bulk can increase the amount of waste you’re creating. According to research, those who buy food in bulk at warehouse stores throw out significantly more food than those who buy groceries in smaller quantities. Bulk shoppers tend to buy more in an effort to save money – and then they wind up throwing away what they can’t use.
To prevent these two different types of waste and create a more sustainable habit, try buying items in smaller quantities instead of in bulk. Purchase large quantities only if you know you’re going to use the food, or if you know the packaging is streamlined or reusable.
5. Choose sustainable seafood
Seafood might not immediately come to mind when you think about sustainable eating habits. But overfishing is a serious problem today – about 94 percent of fish stocks are overfished or maximally sustainably fished. Additionally, a number of seafood is farmed or fished without any consideration of habitat damage, pollution or using wild fish as feed.
So, when you’re choosing your seafood, it’s important to seek out varieties that are sustainable. This means you’ll want to purchase wild or farmed seafood that’s harvested in eco-friendly ways, with little impact on ocean ecosystems, other wildlife and the environment in general.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program offers a list of the best – and the worst – kinds of seafood you can eat. Some of the most sustainable varieties include arctic char, bass, clams, cod and halibut. Just make sure you’re opting for farmed fish in most cases or avoiding any of the non-sustainable catch options, which are likely to be more widely available at grocery stores.
6. Use your smartphone to find sustainable products
Locating and choosing sustainable products is getting even easier thanks to your smartphone. If you aren’t sure if the items you’re buying are actually sustainable or eco-friendly, you can turn to an app.
While plenty of foods and products are labeled as “green” or sustainable, it’s difficult to determine what actually lives up to that promise. However, with smartphone apps like Giki, you can scan a product’s barcode and immediately learn whether or not it’s ethical, sustainable or healthy. Giki helps you assess the real impact of what you’re buying, allowing you to make quick yet informed decisions while you shop.
And Giki is just one of these kinds of smartphone apps. There’s a Seafood Watch app available for download so you can carry the Seafood Watch best and worst list with you as you shop for fish. Others, like Think Dirty, help you find clean, eco-friendly beauty products so you can extend your green habits beyond the kitchen. With your smartphone in hand, you’ll be able to shop with more insight into what’s actually good for you and the environment.
To learn more about how you can adopt sustainable habits, keep reading: