Whether you call them resolutions, intentions, or goals, there is just something in the air this time of year – a collective feeling of reflection and possibility. We feel the itch to make lofty changes that we hope will benefit us, but these often fall by the wayside as January drags on and on and on… This year, why not commit to making small changes to your daily routine to benefit both yourself and the planet?
No, you do not have to overhaul your entire life! Instead, focus on building one sustainable habit at a time until it becomes second nature, and then fold in a new one. Over time, you will find that you are living more mindfully, saving money, and lowering your carbon footprint. Some of these zero waste habits may be the right fit for you and your family, and others may not. That’s okay! There is more than one way to live more sustainably.
The zero waste movement can be hyper-focused on plastic and personal trash, but for most of us, fitting a year’s worth of trash into a mason jar is simply impossible. Not to worry! There are SO MANY things you can do that have nothing to do with packaging – here are 50 ideas to get you started today.
Here are 22 sustainable living tips, in no particular order, to try in 2022.
Make the Switch to a Zero Waste Bathroom
Figure out what you have and what you truly need. Empty out your bathroom cupboards and see what’s really in there – I bet it’s much more than you think. Categorize things into essentials, nice to have, and do not need. If you cannot use everything before it expires, inquire about donating unopened items to your local food pantry. Expired items should be disposed of properly according to local rules.
Use up what you already have. There are a million lists of “zero waste bathroom essentials” but if you already have something on hand, use it! Be conscious and thoughtful about what you are using, how often, and why you want to make a switch. Consider how you will make the change (and research which companies you want to support) as you are using up what you already have.
Go slowly and make a big list. It takes time to figure out what you truly need, and what works for your budget and lifestyle. Jot down all the “sustainable swaps” you come across, and think about how they will fit into your life. If you rarely shave, do you really need a safety razor? Is there a shampoo bar for your hair type?
Switch to bars wherever possible. Liquid soaps are mostly water, requiring them to be replaced more often than bar soaps. They also typically come in plastic packaging which is unlikely to be recycled, regardless of where you live. These days you can find shampoo, conditioner, shave soap, dish soap, and even lotion in bar format. They take up far less space, last much longer, and can be found handmade by local artisans.
Invest in reusable menstrual products. Switching to reusables for your period is a great way to reduce waste, save money, and learn more about your body. The 3 most popular options for a zero waste period are menstrual cups, cloth pads, and period underwear – each with their own pros and cons.
Make Your Home More Sustainable
Quit using paper towels. No, really! Replacing paper towels with reusable options is a good place to begin reducing waste and saving money in your kitchen. Paper products (even those made of recycled content) still require a ton of resources to produce, ship, purchase, and bring home – only to use them once and throw them away. Check out this post about toilet paper if you’re looking to switch that up too.
Clean up your laundry routine. Laundry takes a lot of energy (literally and figuratively), but adapting your routine for low waste living is more sustainable for both your lifestyle and the planet. Doing your laundry less frequently is the first step – and it’s free!
Recycle properly. We’re all doing our best, but the fact is that recycling rates are abysmally low across the board. The ♻ symbol doesn’t mean much and leads to wishcycling. Rules for what is (and what is not) accepted in your blue bin vary from town to town and are subject to change. Increase the chances of your items being recycled by getting to know your local rules through your municipality’s website or apps like Recycle Coach or Waste Wizard.
Compost! Nothing breaks down in a landfill – not even food. Food waste is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, making composting a critical part of household waste diversion. Whether you live in an apartment, have municipal pickup, or ample outdoor space, there is a kind of composting for you! Check out the Bring Your Trash to Life series over at Honestly Modern for a look at how folks are doing every kind of composting there is.
Do a trash audit. Getting a good idea of what and how much we are throwing away is a key step in reducing our household waste. How much are you truly sending to the landfill? How often? Are your blue bins overflowing? How much food is being (or not being) diverted to compost? I think we all have a general idea, but a closer look can help us focus on solutions that will be doable for our unique families. Download your free worksheet today to get started!
Looking for something to get you started going zero waste with kids? A household trash audit is a great place to start! Get a clear picture of what you are throwing away each week and brainstorm ways to reduce it together. Click through for instructions and a free worksheet!
Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Your Food
Make a zero waste grocery kit. This is largely dependent on what kinds of shops you have access to and what you actually buy. Oh, and if you remember to actually bring your reusables! Choose a storage spot that is close to the door, near your keys etc. Keep your reusable produce bags stuffed right inside your tote bags, and consider saving clear plastic containers (such as ketchup bottles) for your liquid or messy refills as they are much lighter and less likely to break!
Grow something! This can be as simple as regrowing scraps on the counter or herbs on the windowsill, to a full on backyard garden. Developing a deeper connection to our food – how it is grown, and where, and who grows/harvests/processes it – is critical to understanding the interconnectedness of the issues around the climate crisis.
Eat more plant-based meals. We are a plant-based family (and I have been for about 25 years) but that doesn’t mean there aren’t always new foods and recipes to try. While eating less meat and dairy makes a big impact, you do not have to be vegan to be an environmentalist! Even starting with just one plant-based meal and working from there makes a big difference.
Reduce your food waste. Did you know that 63% of food thrown away by Canadians could have still been eaten? That amounts to literal tons of waste and billions of dollars. There are simple ways to reduce food waste in your own family from meal planning to learning to store fresh foods properly. One simple trick is to make an “eat next” area in your fridge – store leftovers at eye level, and keep cut produce on a plate to make sure it is next in line.
Preventing food waste with kids can be challenging, but it is also an amazing opportunity to learn about how food grows, food systems, food justice, and sustainable habits together. Check out these 3 learning activities and tons of tips on how to prevent food waste with kids.
Become a Green Consumer
Stop buying stuff! Well…since that isn’t possible, start buying stuff in a less urgent and more intentional way.
Avoid Amazon. There are of course different reasons why it’s not possible to do away with it entirely, but many of us can avoid it for most things. That said, it’s a habit that might be hard to quit cold turkey. We started by cancelling Prime, then keeping things in the cart for 7 days until ordering, then 14, then 30. By the time the “order day” rolled around, we found that we didn’t end up ordering most of it at all. Do we still use Amazon? Yeah. But do our best to avoid it.
Start or join a Buy Nothing Group. Everything you could ever want has already been produced, and there is a good chance somebody in your community has it. This is a great way to not only keep things in use and out of the landfill, but connect with people in your local community.
Shop local, independent shops wherever possible. When you buy from a local small business, you keep money in your community rather than making large corporations even richer. You are more likely to interact with the owner themselves, and can chat with them about their mission and values. Small business owners are an investment in the local community – there are so many people doing cool things! Money is tight for a lot of us, but there are free ways to support local businesses too – follow their social pages, like and share their posts, or write a review about their great service and product selections.
Secondhand first! Challenge yourself to look for items (clothing, toys, books, household items) secondhand before buying new. Keep a “to thrift” list on your phone when you think of something you want or need – this will be helpful in avoiding impulse purchases too. Get to know your local thrift stores and online selling platforms. There are gems to be had!
Thrift shopping is something I have been doing since high school when grunge was in and old cords and grandpa cardigans were The Look. I carried this habit through university and the (sometimes very) lean years between then and now to save money. These days, I still look for secondhand first for so many other […]
Get Involved in Your Community
You may feel like you are alone in what you are trying to do locally, but chances are you just need to find your people. An online community is amazing (and necessary) but a local eco-minded community is where real change can take hold.
Join a local eco-group or start one yourself. Search for local groups online, ask at the library, go to Town council meeting, volunteer, plan a litter clean up, or join the community garden. And if these things don’t exist? Start one!
Drive less. Living car-free seems like only something someone living in a city with a great transit system (and probably no kids) can do. But what if we shifted our mindset from going completely car-less to simply using a car less? An unexpected benefit of walking is seeing where you live with new eyes and greeting your neighbours face to face. Ride your bike, take transit, or carpool with friends to run errands.
Host a Clothing Swap. We all have clothing we are not wearing, probably a lot of it. Have you ever considered swapping clothing with your friends? Clothing swaps are a great way to spend intentional time together, all while fostering the spirit of sharing with your community. And who knows? This could lead to a wider network of sharing and borrowing in your area well beyond clothing.
Talk about the climate. Get comfortable with the basics of the climate crisis and start talking about it with your network. Not sure how? Last year I took the Talk Climate to Me course (along with hundreds of other women) and learned so much about climate change and strategies for communicating and inspiring change in your community. Highly recommended!
There has been a lot discussion lately as to whether or not Covid-19 restrictions on reusables mean the end of the zero waste movement. Although I began my low waste journey about 20 years ago, quarantine has thrown some thoughts about living “zero waste” into sharp relief for me. To be honest, I struggle with […]
I could go on forever with these, but please share your sustainable goals for the new year in the comments!