Share on Facebook

20 Tiny Everyday Changes You Can Make to Help the Environment

Yes, big changes are needed, but little ones add up. These simple lifestyle choices can reduce your carbon footprint—and make a major impact.

1 / 21
Save the earth concept, Woman hands is holding mockup the global on tree leave background.K.D.P/Shutterstock

Earth is in trouble

Scientists around the world are in almost unanimous agreement that our planet is facing a catastrophic climate crisis. Carbon emissions and greenhouse gases are on the rise and wreaking havoc on the Earth’s atmosphere, and experts believe that human activity is largely responsible. While instituting changes on a grand scale would obviously help reverse the problem, the little things do add up. By making some small changes today to reduce your carbon footprint, you can help give the environment a fighting chance.

2 / 21
Bright yellow suitcase with hat and palm branches on light backgroundNew Africa/Shutterstock

Master the art of packing light

Dragging half your wardrobe around in an overstuffed suitcase doesn’t just wreck your back—it also takes a serious toll on the environment. Planes, trains, and automobiles burn massive amounts of fossil fuels to transport heavy baggage, bombarding the atmosphere with carbon emissions. In fact, the transportation sector is the single biggest culprit in this department, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Be a responsible traveller by packing only what you absolutely need and by choosing a smart carry-on, instead of a huge suitcase. Limiting your luggage to 33 pounds (15 kilograms) can save up to four gallons of fuel—and eliminate those hefty excess baggage fees.

Be sure to try these clever packing tips for your next trip!

3 / 21
Natural cosmetics and leaves on light backgroundAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Clean up your skin-care routine

The quest for a flawless complexion comes at an unfortunate price to the planet. Beauty-product packaging relies heavily on plastic, which has an enormous carbon footprint throughout its life cycle. Plastic’s production alone is projected to generate about 850 metric tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2019, according to the Centre for International Environmental Law. Luckily, there are lots of eco-conscious skin-care products out there, like reusable microfibre face wipes.

Here’s why you should never use microbeads again.

4 / 21
Coffee machine brewing a coffee espresso in home, two glass cupsOksana Shufrych/Shutterstock

Unplug your coffee machine

It might not occur to you to unplug electronic items like your coffee machine, microwave, and computer when they’re shut off or powered down. But they’re actually consuming “vampire energy” in their dormant states. Since most of the energy used to power homes is made of fossil fuels, little leaks add up to serious environmental damage. Vampire energy actually accounts for one per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, according to Harvard University. You can remedy this—and lower your utility bill—by unplugging your appliances.

5 / 21
filled mailboxangelstructure/Shutterstock

Prevent junk mail from piling up

Junk mail is a major nuisance, but did you know that it’s also predatory to the environment? The average adult gets 41 pounds of junk mail per year, which has a carbon footprint of about 48,000 cars, according to the Matador Network. Today is the day to end the madness.

Check out these facts that will make you use less paper.

6 / 21
Redwood trees in Muir Woods, CA.Shishka4/Shutterstock

Buy a tee, plant a tree

What if you could reduce your carbon footprint simply by taking the shirt off your back and replacing it with one that prevents deforestation? Amour Vert, a sustainable clothing manufacturer, plants one tree for each top you purchase from its inventory of chic basics. Slip on a super soft tee made of renewable fabrics like beechwood, mulberry silk, and organic cotton, and automatically contribute to the company’s partnership with American Forest. According to One Tree Planted, each new tree will eventually remove about 28 kilograms of carbon dioxide from the air, converting it into oxygen you can breathe for two years.

According to NASA, these are the best air-cleaning plants for your home.

7 / 21
Car Tire Tread Showing Minimal Wear Ramyr Dukin/Shutterstock

Fine-tune your driving skills

Carpooling and investing in hybrid cars aren’t the only things that can reduce your carbon footprint (though they do help). Making little adjustments to your driving style can also get you on the right environmental track. Things like accelerating slowly, obeying the speed limit, and trying to avoid stopping short can help scale back your car’s carbon emissions by up to 30 per cent, according to Carbon Fund. Making sure your car is running smoothly helps, too.

Don’t miss these ways to get better gas mileage—and pay less.

8 / 21
Planting flowers in the garden home gkrphoto/Shutterstock

Breathe life into your backyard

The concept of photosynthesis is simple: Plants “inhale” carbon dioxide and “exhale” oxygen. Since this natural conversion process helps pull excess carbon emissions out of the atmosphere, planting a garden is an easy way to do your part. Pro tip: Try an edible garden. Not only will you be growing your own “organic” food, but if you replace 20 per cent of your store-bought food with home-grown food, you’ll also generate about 68 fewer pounds of carbon emissions per year, according to the Climate Action Business Association.

9 / 21
Cauliflower fields in the highlandsChristian Vinces/Shutterstock

Swap supermarket sweets for fair-trade treats

Opting to bypass major manufacturers and shop fair trade whenever possible is a carbon-footprint game-changer. Not only does the industry support the economies of developing countries, but it also holds product suppliers to rigorous environmental standards. To sell fair-trade products like chocolate, coffee, and produce, farmers must diligently monitor and cut back on their greenhouse-gas emissions. Plenty of companies have gotten in on the fair-trade game, which ensures that farmers earn a fair wage and that education is accessible to children in local communities.

Use these tips to get the most out of farmers’ markets year-round.

10 / 21
trash artTon Kung/Shutterstock

Make treasures from trash

One pretty effortless way to reduce your carbon footprint is by upcycling: the creative and cost-saving art of reinventing things you no longer use instead of trashing them. The benefits are hard to dispute. Just ask the EPA, which coined the term sustainable materials management to describe the plight of consumerism. Allegedly, the phenomenon contributes to about 42 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are the places around the world have been ruined by pollution.

11 / 21
Zero waste, plastic free recycled textile produce bag for carrying fruit (apple, orange, pear and a banana) or vegetables, a wooden surface. Bags are made with a sewing machine out of old curtains.SpelaG91/Shutterstock

Trade plastic produce bags for renewable mesh

Plastic may be one of the most ingenious inventions of our time, but it’s also become one of the biggest threats to our environment. Plastic is made up almost entirely of fossil fuels, meaning that its carbon footprint is off the charts. Want to start eliminating plastic from your life? Start small by ditching those little produce bags you usually get at the supermarket. Instead, keep your kale in reusable mesh produce bags, which are often ethically manufactured using raw, organic, unbleached cotton. You can also use these multitasking satchels for laundering delicates, carrying toiletries, or stashing office supplies.

Don’t miss these facts that will make you stop using plastic.

12 / 21
Recyclable garbage of glass and plastic bottles in rubbish binBignai/Shutterstock

Swap single-use plastic water bottles for cans and glass

It happens to the best of us. You forget your reusable water bottle at home, and now you have to figure out a way to hydrate responsibly on the go. Thankfully, some resourceful product manufacturers have finally put water in a can instead of a plastic bottle. Switch to water bottles that you can reuse because you should never refill your plastic bottles.

13 / 21
Children sit on a high bridge. Photo below. you can See the soles of their shoes. A very dangerous pastime. The opportunity to earn a fall and injury. Moscow, Gorky parkMakDill/Shutterstock

Walk the walk

The average pair of running shoes is responsible for about 30 pounds of carbon emissions, according to one study from MIT. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of that pollution comes from the manufacturing process. But traditional packaging and delivery methods aren’t great for the environment either. Opt for sustainably made local footwear to decrease the footprint of your footwear.

14 / 21
second hand shopDavid MG/Shutterstock

Put the brakes on fast fashion

The low cost and convenience of fast fashion come at an enormous price to the planet. When major retailers scramble to manufacture massive amounts of disposable clothing—much of which is made with synthetic fabrics—carbon emissions go through the roof. In fact, the textile industry is the second largest contributor to pollution after the oil industry, according to the journal Nature Climate Change. The next time you need some retail therapy, skip the mall and head to a secondhand store or local designer instead. Odds are, you’ll get your paws on some longer-lasting threads, to boot.

Here’s what 14 iconic skylines would look like without air pollution.

15 / 21
Baby cute clothes hanging on the clothesline outdoor. Child laundry hanging on line in garden on green background. Baby accessories.Natalia Deriabina/Shutterstock

Put your clothesline to use

Modern conveniences have their downsides, and tumble dryers are no exception. More than three-quarters of your laundry’s carbon footprint comes from using dryers, not washers. But air-drying your clothes can reduce your household’s carbon footprint by 2,400 pounds a year, according to Green America. If it’s been a while since you gave your clothesline a workout, you might be in need of new clothespins.

16 / 21
Low angle view of wicker basket with overflowing pile of blue and black clothing against white wall (selective focus)Natalie Board/Shutterstock

Launder your clothes in cold water

While washers emit significantly fewer carbon emissions than their tumble-drying counterparts, they still contribute to the crisis. An easy way to clean up your domestic routine is to wash your clothes on a cold cycle. Many of the greenhouse gases generated by a washer are released when the water is being heated. Simply choosing cold temperatures can reduce the appliance’s carbon emissions by 75 percent. It can also save you money in the process.

A single load of laundry causes major water pollution—here’s the solution.

17 / 21
Dripping organic natural fresh honey from glass pot on a gray stone background, place under text. Traditional useful sweetness.artjazz/Shutterstock

Get sweet on ethically sourced honey

Despite all of its hard work pollinating fruits and vegetables, the average bee will produce only about one teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. The production, processing, packaging, and shipping of such a delicacy generate a dangerous amount of greenhouse gases. As a result, ethically sourced honey farms led by balanced beekeepers are cropping up everywhere, so making the switch should be pretty painless.

18 / 21
Red and black Holstein cows are grazing on a cold autumn morning on a meadow in SwitzerlandFredy Thuerig/Shutterstock

Give beef the boot

Good news, meat lovers: You don’t have to go full vegetarian to substantially shrink your carbon footprint. But cutting beef from your diet can have a big impact. That’s partially because whenever a cow passes gas, it emits atmosphere-destroying methane, a greenhouse gas, into the air. And, of course, a higher demand for meat equals more cows utilized by the meat industry. Eliminating beef from your diet for just one year can reduce your carbon footprint by 882 pounds, according to the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems. Food production already contributes to about a quarter of the Earth’s greenhouse gases, but it’s the beef industry that packs one of the biggest punches.

19 / 21
Three cyclists on road bikes ride in distance on carbon bicycles during vacation in spain, healthy lifestyle, friendship and summertimeDe Repente/Shutterstock

Swap four wheels for two

The typical car produces up to 4.6 metric tonnes of carbon per year, according to the EPA. A bicycle, on the other hand, doesn’t directly produce any carbon dioxide at all. Bicycles are fueled by humans, and humans are fueled by food. So, for those of you keeping track, bikes indirectly generate carbon emissions because of their link to the food industry. Still, this is a big improvement. Experts say that riding a bike instead of driving a car can make your carbon footprint ten times smaller.

20 / 21
Water running from shower head and faucet in modern bathroom. Rain Shower turned, ceiling shower head closeup in the shower stall. Masarik/Shutterstock

Shave one minute off your shower time

A hot shower is one of life’s pleasures, but it’s also a major carbon-emission culprit. The average showerhead produces 9.5 litres of water per minute, and water heaters work hard to heat up all the H2O. As a result, hot showers generate a quarter pound of carbon each minute. If we all decided to cut our clean routines by just one minute each day, we could save a shocking 9.5 billion kilogram of carbon emissions each year, according to Mother Jones.

Here’s what you need to know about energy conservation.

21 / 21
Farmer giving granulated fertilizer to young tomato plants. Gardening in vegetable gardenencierro/Shutterstock

Switch to eco-friendly fertilizer

Fertilizer may be crucial to healthy lawns and gardens, but the synthetic store-bought kind, which is filled with nutrient-enhancing nitrogen, dumps loads of nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. How does this affect your carbon footprint? Brace yourself: Nitrous oxide is about 300 times as harmful to the environment as carbon dioxide, and it can linger for more than a century. While eco-friendly fertilizers are still in their infancy, a viable alternative is a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer. It emits less nitrous oxide into the air, since much of the nitrogen leaks slowly into the soil.

These are the everyday items that take the longest to decompose.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest