garbage can. sustainable living tips

More sustainable living can mean going off grid, giving up your car, and other drastic measures, but it doesn’t have to. You can go a long way toward protecting the environment by reducing waste at home. That can include buying less, buying different things, or just using less water and electricity.

Here are some simple sustainable living tips. I’m sure you’re practicing some of them already. You may find others impractical. But I hope you’ll find some new ideas here that you can build into your lifestyle. And be sure to share this article with friends.

1. Use the library

Instead of buying a book that you’ll only use once, check it out from the library. If you’re not sure what you want to read, go to the library and browse. (As I write this, libraries are closed or operating with greatly reduced services because of the pandemic. It can’t last forever!)

It’s not just books, either. Libraries nowadays have huge audiovisual collections. And if you don’t have a machine to play some of it, the library can probably lend you one.

While you’re there, take a look at its collection of newspapers and magazines. There’s no point in subscribing to everything that looks interesting, is there? And your tax dollars are paying for everything you can get from the library. There’s no room here to describe everything you might be able to borrow instead of buy. You can live more sustainably and not have to find somewhere to put stuff.

2. Try to get stuff repaired before buying a replacement

This way of living more sustainably can be difficult. Manufacturers today don’t want stuff fixed. They want everyone to buy new stuff. They even plan that after a certain time that shiny new whatever it is will be obsolete. A computer, for example, might work beautifully, but the latest update of some important software won’t run on it anymore.

But don’t despair. It’s still possible to get plenty of stuff fixed. That’s always a better alternative than junking it and buying something new with all the embedded energy and water it represents. 

(If you’re not familiar with the idea of embedded energy and water, it’s everything required to obtain raw materials, manufacture items, and transport everything you buy. Including all the packaging. It counts against your personal carbon footprint.)

3. Shop at thrift stores

Americans are addicted to stuff. The best way to recover from that addiction is to buy less stuff in the first place. That’s what my first two sustainable living tips are about. but we can’t stop buying entirely, can we? 

So the next best way is to buy from thrift stores. You can get some very nice things such as clothing, furniture, small appliances, and so on. They’re still in good condition. The original owner has bought all the embedded energy and water and disposed of all the original packaging. 

Plus, when you buy from a thrift store, you’re providing operating expenses for a charity. Used items for you can help someone else start a new  life. 

4. Buy recycled products

Of course, no one can buy used things unless someone bought it new in the first place. And you can’t buy used toilet paper, used office paper, or other disposables. But you can live more sustainably if you look for remanufactured or refurbished products or products made of recycled waste. 

So participate in your recycling program and carefully follow its rules about what and what not to put out at the curb. Then buy recycled products


BPA Free Dinner Plates Made from Recycled Plastic in the USA, Set of 6

Seventh Generation Unbleached Paper
Towels, 100% Recycled Paper, 6 Count,
Pack of 4

Recycled Lobster Rope Doormat, The Original Colors of Maine Lobster Rope Doormat, Handwoven in Maine

5. Refuse plastic utensils, etc. when you get takeout food

Whatever you buy, it probably comes in a package. That package is trash you must buy and take  home. Sometimes, you have no choice. But when you get take-out food to take home, you do. Tell the person who waits on you that you don’t want their spoons, napkins, or straws. You have washable table service and napkins at home. It’s one of the sustainability tips that the only hard part is remembering it on time.

Here’s what’s really odd if you stop to think about it. We can drill for oil, turn it into plastic, make a spoon from it, wrap the spoon in plastic film, and throw it all away. And somehow think that’s less trouble than putting a metal spoon in the dishwasher!

Are you inundated with trash? One of the quickest ways to a more sustainable lifestyle is to generate less of it.

6. Use reusable shopping bags and produce bags

I used to love plastic bags. Before I got a car, and before the days of plastic bags, I had to take the bus to the grocery store. I had to ask the clerk to fit everything in one bag. Then I had to lug it to the bus stop and from the bus stop to my home. 

I lived across the street from a grocery when plastic bags came out. They had handles. I could carry three or four in each hand if I bought that much stuff. What’s not to love? Well, we’ve all found out about that, haven’t we? They do a lot of environmental damage.

So opt out of the paper or plastic question. Keep a supply of reusable bags in your car and take them into any store—not just the grocery store. Of course, in the grocery store, you no longer have to accept the plastic bags in the produce department. You can get a supply of reusable, washable produce bags. Use them for bulk rolls or other baked goods, too.


Reusable Grocery Bags Set of 12 PCS | Mesh bags with Tare Weight Tags

OrgaWise Cotton Reusable Produce Bags,9 Pack Organic Cotton Mesh Grocery Bags with Drawstring and Tare Label

TRIPLE TREE Stainless Steel Water Bottle 34/26/17oz 18/8 for Cyclists, Runners, Hikers, Beach Goers, Picnics, Camping – BPA Free

7. Carry a reusable water bottle

The bottled water industry tries to portray tap water as somehow dangerous. It’s actually more stringently regulated than bottled water. There are few safety issues with any of the drinking water available in the US. Or, if there are, it makes national headlines and a big scandal.

Meanwhile, plastic water bottles have become so flimsy they hardly have any value for recycling. They still do the same damage as litter, though. 

Wherever you need to carry water, get yourself a reusable water bottle. Fill it from a faucet or drinking fountain. Stainless steel makes the best ones, because they’re less easy to break and recyclable if they’re ever damaged. 

8. Be stingy with running water

Water faucet. sustainable living tips
Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels

Not all sustainable living tips have anything to do with what you buy or don’t buy.

Have you stopped to think that we’re reusing the same water that existed millions of years ago? There isn’t any more to be had. In a way, it’s an infinitely renewable resource.

Treated water, on the other hand, becomes wastewater as soon as it goes down a drain. If you keep running the water while you brush your teeth or rinse produce or dishes, a lot of it goes straight from the tap to the drain without ever serving a useful purpose. And you had to pay for it. 

Check out these tips for conserving running water.

9. Reduce food waste

Food waste is a huge international problem. Worldwide, people waste enough food to eliminate world hunger and still leave more than we really need. 

In the US, households account for about half of all food waste. That doesn’t count the food left on plates in restaurants. And food waste makes up the largest component of municipal solid waste. It’s also growing faster than the US population.

So learn about food waste in America and strive to contribute as little to it as possible. 

10. Use rechargeable batteries

We have so much stuff that runs on batteries. Alkaline batteries eventually run out of charge. Then it’s impossible to do anything with them. It’s dangerous to put dead batteries in the trash. In some places, it’s even illegal. And alkaline batteries are considered not worth recycling.

So you can run most of your devices on rechargeable batteries. Use them over and over instead of discarding them. Of course, eventually, they won’t take a charge anymore. But in that case, the good news is that they are recyclable. Several well-known chain stores will take them back. 

Energizer Rechargeable AA and AAA Battery Charger (Recharge Pro) with 4 AA NiMH Rechargeable Batteries, Auto-Safety Feature, Over-charge Protection

AmazonBasics 9 Volt Cell Rechargeable Batteries

BONAI LCD Universal Battery Charger for AA, AAA, C, D, 9V Ni-MH Ni-CD Rechargeable Batteries with Discharge Function

11. Look for ways to reduce electricity use

I suppose you’ve read dozens of sustainable living tips that tell you to get LED or CFL lights in place of incandescent bulbs. That’s a start on saving electricity, although incandescent bulbs haven’t been available for years. You’ve probably taken that advice whether you wanted to or not.

There are other ways to use less electricity.

It’s convenient to charge your  phone, tablet, or laptop overnight, but it wastes electricity. Those devices will fully charge long before you get out of bed. So charge them during the day when you can keep track of them and unplug the charger when it’s finished.

Turn off lights, appliances, and gadgets when you’re not using them. And if they have one of those big, boxy plugs, unplug them. They’re called “energy vampires,” because they suck power even after you turn them off. 

But here’s a way to use less electricity away from the house.

12. Prefer stairs to elevators

When I was in graduate school, I was walking to a meeting and ran into a woman going to the same one. The meeting room was on the second floor right above the closest door to the street. So I headed for the stairs.

She protested, “You’re going to make me climb all those stairs? I’m an old woman.” She was 18, by the way. 

To get to the elevator in that building, she would have had to walk the equivalent of a long city block. Then, of course, when she got to the second floor, walk all the way back. Come to think of it, that effort might have had more exercise value than climbing one flight of steps. It would also have used unnecessary electricity.

When I lived in Chicago, I worked in a library on the seventh floor of a high rise. Once I found the stairs, I never saw the inside of an elevator unless I was carrying something or pushing a book truck. Between that and walking across the Loop between the library and my train station, I was in the best shape of my life. 

Some people would willingly walk more flights of steps than I would. Some people can’t use steps at all. But elevators are one of many conveniences that, when we stop to think about it, might have an environmental cost that’s more than the convenience is worth. Here’s one summary of most of the sustainable living tips I’ve ever suggested: consider the cost of your conveniences. Some of them will not be worth it.

All the suggestions for living more sustainably in this article have had something to do with resource conservation and waste reduction. There’s as much to write about other aspects of sustainable living. But I hope I’ve given you some sustainable living ideas that maybe you haven’t thought of before. That maybe something I wrote even triggered an idea in your mind I didn’t think of as I wrote it. 

And if I reminded you of something you’ve been meaning to buy, please click on one of the ads and buy it through this page. It helps me find and provide reliable information about sustainable living.