If you’ve been thinking about trying to be greener and more eco-friendly, Earth Day is a great chance to get started and get inspired. I’ve always had a bit of an eco-conscience guiding me to be greener, but as new scientific studies have been released and we’ve learned better ways to be kind to the planet, I’ve made small adjustments that made a big impact on our carbon footprint and our mindset.
While I want to do right by the planet, I’m also a busy mom and knew that some of the grand eco-friendly ideas I’ve seen on the internet aren’t for me (I’m looking at you, toilet-paper-free-lifestyle!).
Here are some ways that we’ve changed our habits to be eco-friendly, budget friendly, and lifestyle friendly:
Reducing Paper Towel Use
I took middle school home economics to heart and live in fear of cross contamination, and the result was going through a lot of paper towels. I stumbled upon a pack of cute dish cloths, and realized that could greatly reduce the amount of paper towels we use. We still use paper towels for meat and dairy cleanup, but now we use kitchen cloths for all other countertop and table messes.
Rain Water Collection
If you’ve ever looked closely at your utility bill, you may have been appalled to see how much water you use in the summer and the cost of both running the water and the additional sewer charge. If you garden or water your lawn, a rain barrel might help both your wallet and your carbon footprint. By using a rain barrel to collect rainwater and then using that rainwater to water your plants and garden, you’re saving money and doing a good deed for the planet. You can buy a beautiful rain barrel or repurpose a clean trash can or large container. There are lots of DIY ideas on Pinterest!
Plant an Eco-Friendly Garden
When planning your garden, choose plants native to your area. They’ll thrive with much less work from you! Plants native to this area include Prickly Pear Cactus, Aster, Lemon Mint, Woodland Phlox, and more! The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture has a wonderful resource here where you can explore the thousands of native species to our area. Also, choosing plants that bees love will help save the bees!
Go Re-Usable Whenever Possible
Whether you’re sipping from a reusable straw or shopping with a reusable bag, items that serve more than one use are super eco-friendly! Be careful not to buy too many totes, tempting as it may be; reusable bags take longer to biodegrade than plastic ones, so be realistic when choosing from the cute options.
Water bottles are a vital single use plastic to replace with a reusable option. The caps are dangerous for wildlife, and the bottles themselves take a long time to break down. Switching to reusable options will save you a hefty sum over a long period of time and will help keep our animal habitats cleaner and safer for all to enjoy.
Bonus: many places offer a discount when you use reusable items! Target offers 5 cents off per reusable bag, and Starbucks will give you a 10 cent discount for bringing your own cup.
When items are shipped from far away, their eco-friendliness decreases. By shopping local, you’re supporting the community and helping to save the planet. Win-win! You can find a list of Knoxville Farmers’ Markets here for fresh local produce. We also have many local guides available here, including everything from sushi to pizza, and lots in between!
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
When thinking about going green, recycling often comes to mind first. But it’s actually the third most important step you can take in being greener. First is reduce: lessen what you use, especially single use items. Then re-use: reuse that Amazon box to take unplayed toys to be donated or let your kids build a cardboard robot or fort. When they’re done with it (in no less than five years if your kids are anything like mine!), you can shred it to put in the compost or recycle it.
Glass containers can’t be placed in curbside recycling and I’ve found myriad ways to reuse them — as sturdy water jars for painting, to save leftovers, to make frothed milk without splurging on a frother, to keep iced coffee on hand now that the days are warming up, to make your own cleaning solutions, to store and organize things in a pretty and uniform way — these are all simple ways to reuse a glass jar. Every little bit helps! (And if you find yourself buying the same pasta sauce every other week, try to choose the glass jar size so you can reuse it and have a uniform look for organization. For me, at least, it makes my OCD heart happy to have it all match!)
Recycling is a simple and effective step. Those thin plastic bags from grocery stores can’t be recycled in your curbside pickup, but many stores have an in-store container to turn them in. I’ve seen them at Target and Lowe’s here in Knoxville. Lowe’s also offers a receptacle for light bulb and rechargeable battery recycling.
Compost Food Scraps
Banana peels, apple cores, those crust from that PB & J the toddler leaves behind — none of these items have to go to a landfill. Especially if you like to garden or keep plants in pots or a flower bed, you can turn those unwanted leftovers into food for your plants. Egg shells can be used to keep bugs away from your plants, too! You can start a large compost pile in your yard, buy a compost container or just keep a little compost bin on your kitchen counter. If you keep the right balance of items in the bin, it’s odorless. Also if you keep it outside in a used part of your yard, you reap the benefits without adding anything to your kitchen counter.
How could I make an eco-friendly post about books? It’s no secret I adore books. I have two bookshelves bursting, and I’ve been mentally plotting how to finagle a third in there…and those are only my books! But books require a bit of a carbon footprint, with the printing and the selling and the reading-once bit. So I’ve tried to limit myself to buying books I know I’ll enjoy either re-reading or passing onto a friend. But buying fewer books doesn’t mean reading less; quite the opposite, in fact. You can utilize the library (I do!) for both physical books and e-books. I am obsessed with my e-reader, as it lets me tote around heavy tomes without the physical weight in my bag.
Do you have books you’re done with or your kids have outgrown, and you’re not sure what to do with them? Books can be donated, traded in at a used bookstore or you could even start your own little free library in your neighborhood.
Low Packaging Options
Choosing products with less packaging or less plastic packaging, is also beneficial. I’ve been trying to go the lower packaging route and here’s what I’ve tried so far:
I recently tried a shampoo and conditioner bar, and absolutely loved it. It comes with a reusable bamboo container and I felt like I was wasting less shampoo. Plus, my kids couldn’t spill it when they were in my bathroom — an added and unexpected benefit! I also switched from a plastic hair brush to a wooden one, and it’s more aesthetically pleasing to look at, easier to hold, and more durable. For clumsy, long-haired me, that’s a win!
Years ago, I switched from dryer sheets to wool dryer balls. I put a few drops of essential oil on the balls, pop them in the dryer with the clothes, and get all the benefits of a dryer sheet without the waste. It’s also fun to mix up the scents seasonally, so your whole house and all of your clothing can smell like Christmas with just a few drops of peppermint oil on a dryer ball.