40 Quick and Easy Switches to Save the World for Earth Day

by - Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Earth day is coming up this week and it seems that more people than ever are getting invested in the state of our world and what they can do to help. Thank goodness for you and thank goodness for caring!

 Talk of the environment is everywhere! The problem? It can be kind of vague- pictures of plants or watering cans, mentions of Leonardo DiCaprio, etc. The environment is this place out somewhere- an iceberg we have never seen or a rainforest we have never experienced. That abstract thinking certainly has it's place, but it isn't all that specific, and I find specific goals make a lot more traction than abstractions.

It can be hard to start, because resources are scattered and if you aren't going absolutely "zero-waste" you can get stuck in the cycle of "not doing enough." You have to not let these setbacks keep you from doing something.

No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

I think we can do better, and my challenge to you is that you DO SOMETHING for Earth Day. Something concrete. Something you can keep up with. Turn this big abstract sense of nature being important in trouble into real commitment and change in your own life.

I am a climate optimist. I believe extreme waste and climate change are problems we creates, so we can solve them.

Here are 40 places to start, and ideas for small changes you can make to dramatically change the world one small step at a time.  Pick one. Feeling ambitions? Pick two. Take on choices you can sustain, share your changes with friends, and let it grow!

This blog does use affiliate links for Etsy and Amazon. That said, don't shop at Amazon when you can help it- shop local! If you are shopping on Amazon, opt out of 2 day shipping when you can, it's less efficient and comes at a higher environmental cost. 

Ok, let's do this.

1. Skip the plastic straw

 The worst kind of trash that pollutes the water and hurts the sea life in it. They are also completely unnecessary if you aren't a toddler. Just say "No straws, please" when you are ordering your drink. Already cut the straw? Here are more ways to cut plastic out of your life.

Want to do more? The city of Seattle is outlawing plastic straws. Why couldn't your community do it too? And ask your favorite restaurants to change their policy.

fish body pillow

2. Get Less, Get it Used, Get it Local

 Just buy less. So simple, but we all have way more stuff than we need!

Yes that toy looks great- don't buy it.
Yes, that top is on sale- don't buy it.
If you don't need it, don't buy it.

And when you do need something, try to find it used. If you can't, find it as locally (or made in the US) as possible. You can do it- choices are available! We waste excessive, massive fuel and energy shipping stuff, most of which we don't need.

3. Plant Something

 Cleaner air and water, better climate. All from just having more plants. Start that herb garden you think about. Volunteer and plant a tree in a park. Nowhere to plant? Skip one meal out and donate the money to the Arbor Day Fountain or Plant a Billion Trees.

Want to do more? Plan a tree-planting party! Gift saplings for your next holiday. Plant a tree instead of releasing a balloon in memory. Make planting a part of your life.

4.Small is the New Big. Less is the New More

We get the message over and over that we need the newest, biggest, best thing or we won't be happy. But who says? Change your ambitions about stuff- change the world. We need to let go of the McMansion dreams of previous generations and figure out how to be happy with what we already have.

5. Be Eco-Lazy

 Don't run the dishwasher or laundry machine until it is totally full. It's not procrastination- it saves energy and water! Bonus points for every load of laundry you air dry.

staining a secondhand table
we got this table on buy nothing for free! 

6. Join a Buy Nothing or other Local Sharing Group

 Buy Nothing Project builds hyper-local communities by creating a venue where people can ask for what they need or offer what they already have, 4 babies other than our own have used our Rock n' Play. That's 4 fewer sold and 4 fewer in the landfill later. I also know ten times as many of my neighbors as I would without it. Buy Nothing is the bomb, and if your neighborhood doesn't have one, take the leap and start one.

7. Only Recycled Plastic

 They say ours is the "plastic generation" and that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Don't add more. You can find many plastic items, from toys to watering cans to pens out of recycled plastic, so don't settle.

8. Collect Water

You can go big and get a rain barrel to catch rainwater, or you can go much smaller and put a bucket in your shower for while our water warms up. Either way, you can water your plants completely with water that would have otherwise gone to waste.

jonagold apples at seattle university district farmer's market

9. Shop the Outside Edge of the Grocery Store

 The healthiest and most eco-friendly (see: way less packaging!) food all lives on the outside of your store, where they can keep things cool and not frozen. Healthier than Healthy Choice? Fresh vegetables. Healthier and way less wasteful than the devil's baby snack pouches? An orange. The less packaging your food comes in, the more you can keep nasty (probably cancer-causing) chemicals out of your bod.

Want to do more? Ask your local store to carry more items with less packaging. Choose stores that use less plastic.

big sky country road and cloud

10. Carpool or Walk, Even Once a Week

 Do you have public transit nearby? Can you walk to what you need? It may seem silly in less populous areas, but even when you aren't saving time with a carpool lane, you still keep that much less junk out of the air, even if you only do it occasionally.

11. Extend the Use of What You Already Have

 If you will spend money on tupperware, why just throw away those plastic yogurt containers? They are the same thing! Why buy cleaning cloths if your used up clothes and towels make perfectly good rags? Try to make the most of what you already have. Every object has a use life and a waste life. For example, an apple can be used to be eaten, and then has a second use life becoming soil. A plastic container has the use life of a week or so. Then it is trash for 400 years.

12. Strategize, No Impulse Buys

You see it and want to buy it? Don't. It sounds easy, but I know it sometimes isn't. Instead, start a shopping list. When you see something you need "hey, we could use that fan!" put it on the list. You can easily check to see if there are recycled plastic ones (yes, there are) or made in America ones (yep, those too) available. You can also go to your local thrift shops and check there! A better choice is out there if you slow your roll. If an object sits on the list long enough, you know you probably didn't need it- time to move on.

13. Use a Smaller Garbage Can

It sounds crazy, but you throw out less if it accumulates quickly. Sometimes those huge cans make us numb to just how much we toss. What to do with the old can? Make it your recycling! You'll be amazed at how it makes you rethink your garbage strategies.

Want to step it up? Look at how your local government deals with garbage, compost, and recycling. Encourage them to do better.

eat like you give a damn mug with a spoon in it

14. Bring Your Mug to Coffee

 Buy a travel mug. Even better, buy an adorable, Made in America travel mug. Then stop getting those little coffee cups that are one time use instant garbage. Most places will put that coffee in your mug, and you could be saving hundreds of pieces of garbage from the landfill a year (depending on the severity of your addiction).

Want to do more? Ask your regular coffee spot to change their cups to something good for the environment. Sign this petition right now.

15. Make a Grocery List

When you leave to shop, even for groceries, have a plan in mind. This is not my strong suit, but my method of shopping ("hey, this scallop looks good! Hey I think I tried these cookies once!") makes for lots of extra waste. Food waste is a huge source of waste and greenhouse gases, so we need to get our food consumption under control to help slow climate change.

16. Hello, Vintage

 Fast fashion is on its way out. The perfect place to start your clothes shopping is in consignment or vintage stores. Check out Refashionista- you can do a lot with old clothes! And with online shops like Thred Up (or opportunities to rent on Rent the Runway) you can switch to this approach no matter where you live. Brand new clothes just aren't worth it.

17. Buy Recycled Paper Towels

Why should trees come down for your messes? Try something like Seventh Generation's recycled paper towels instead, and cut down the number of trees that have to be cut down! Need more recycled paper inspiration? Check here.

Want to go even bigger? Buy unpaper towels instead. These cloth towels snap together and use them for all the paper towel jobs. You can just wash and reuse them for a long time, saving you money and the Earth trees. You can read more about them here.

18. Refurbish Old, Used Furniture

Why does anyone buy a new wood table? You can find tons of them just waiting for a new life. Beautiful, built to last way longer than the Target junk, and it often costs way less. Need a simpler goal? Slipcovers instead of a new couch.

19. Recycle

Seems obvious, but not everyone is doing it. Not available right where you live? Time to check out what your options are.

To do more? We know that recycling is going to be a MAJOR problem in the US this year, as China has refused to accept more of our garbage. Consider where you make the most plastic waste and write those companies to complain.

20. Switch to Bar Soap

Millenials hate bar soap, but we shouldn't. Bar soap can cut a bunch of plastic waste from your life, and you can find local brands you love, cutting down on shipping. You have about a million options. You can start with these-  Dr. Bronner'sBurt's Bee'sCetaphil,  Badger Organic Bar SoapL'Occitane Shea Butter Extra Gentle SoapPaul Mitchell Body BarAveda Rosemary Bath BarLUSH soaps but check Etsy and what is local too!

lifefactory water and baby bottle

21. Break Up with Disposable Water Bottles (For GOOD)

 It's over. No seriously. There is nothing worse than those cheap plastic water bottles.

Remember when people thought it was a really good idea to build houses out of asbestos? I am certain that's how we will feel avout plastic water bottles- you pay for something you can get for free, so almost cartoonishly evil companies like Nestle (I kid you not, they are really that bad) can steal it, pit it in toxic and wasteful containers, and sell them to the public. Buy one water bottle we are all about ,LifefactoryLiberty Bottleworks and even this Nalgene) to hold all your water and kiss one time use plastic bottles off forever.

22. No More Palm Oil

Horrible for the rainforests and our planet's biodiversity, but apparently great for shampoo, because it is in so many of them. You also find palm oil in tons of preservative-rich foods. Look out for palm oil and help contain the ripping down of the rainforest. You can read more about this issue here.

23. Use Natural Light

 Don't turn on the lights unless you actually need to. Simple and pretty! You can also switch to more efficient lightbulbs. This blog from Christmas looks into what would be most energy efficient and safe for lightbulbs. Worth it to make the switch.

24. Use Reusable Bags! 

Plastic grocery bags make no sense and create so much of that waste our children and grandchildren will be desperate to get out of the water. Animals are mistaking them for food, and they keep finding washed up whales and other animals with stomachs full of plastic bags. Is the convenience worth it? I don't think so. End the cycle now and get reusable bags. If you forget them (I get it, we all have our days) opt for paper. But no more plastic bags.

25. Skip the Plastic Produce Bags

 While we are at it, you are going to wash those asparagus anyway, so just keep one reusable bag open for all of your produce (the one exception might be jalapeno), and wash it all when you get home. I promise your oranges won't get their taste on your apples. Those little plastic bags are ridiculous. If you do want to separately bag your produce, you could use something like these.

26. Stop Your Unwanted Mail

You can do this! Lots of sites and numbers will help put a stop to all of that junkmail, and that's good for your sanity and your household's overall use of paper. Save the Earth, stick it to Oriental Traders, kind of makes sense.

27. No More "Made in China"-

Could you go a week without buying anything made overseas? How about a year? Try taking the challenge or at least cut down! Made in China feels inevitable, but it rarely is, and it wastes resources, almost guarantees mistreated workers, and is not so great for our economy. You should get to travel all over the world; your stuff should be from nearby.

28. Cut Down on Your Meat

 Meat, especially beef, is responsible for a shocking amount of our water and energy consumption as a country. I would never ask you to give up your hamburgers (The Boy might leave me) but maybe only once a month? Once a week? The less red meat we eat, the better we will feel, so it is a big bonus for you as well.

Consider joining this blog on our Meatless Monday quest. We have a vegetarian meal at least once a week, slowly sliding more and more meat out of our diet.

29. Don't Toss It- Donate It!

 Just because it is junk to you doesn't mean it is to someone else! Faded toys, pilled clothes, janky old furniture- they might be just the ticket for someone else. Set a really wide net for what counts as part of your donate pile.

Check the blog for tons of ideas for where to donate things. Almost anything you have could still be useful to someone!

30. Buy One More Food Item Locally

 Even better if it is something fresh and seasonal. But much like our stuff, our food is traveling way too far. Every mile it goes, someone takes it there, so whatever you can find made nearby is much better for the environment. Sometimes easier said than done, but you might by surprised at your find and you can definitely save local jobs!

31. No More Dryer Sheets

Use the 1000 times over reusable dryer balls instead. Also popular with toddlers.

32. Switch (even partially) to Cloth Diapers

If you do one cloth diaper a day, you will save 365 diapers in a year. Multiple that by the number of years in the diaper, and you have saved 1000 diapers from going to a landfill. That's awesome!

purple cloth napkins

33. Cloth Napkins, Unsponges, and Washclothes

Cut down on those paper products that work just as well in a reusable version. It's a change in routine, but I can tell you after the switch, we don't even notice. Reusables will save you money (no more buying these items over and over again) and they can cut way down on waste.

You can read about switching these over in our simple switches post or in this post about cleaning supplies.

34. Write one Business a Letter

 Noticed a company, restaurant, store, or business not really up to environmental schedules. Stand your ground and let companies know what they are doing isn't right and needs to be addressed. The more they get the feedback that you are paying attention, the more likely they are to change. Here is an old letter I wrote to McDonald's if you need a starting place (they just switched to paper straws in the UK, so they must ned more encouragement to do the same in the US).

Where are the places you shop most? What could they be doing better? Tell them you notice. We need this chorus to keep getting louder.

35. Turn Your Computer Off at Night

One of the one's I am going to start trying. It sucks energy, you should just turn it off. Unplug electronics, because even if they are just plugged in, they suck energy.

36. Pick a Environmental Organization and Donate Something

Tons of environmental groups (here is a short list if you need a start) are out there fighting to preserve our natural world (and humanity... they go hand in hand), but they are up against huge corporations out for money at any cost. This is a true David versus Goliath situation, and they need your help.

 Can't afford it? Sign up for their mailing list and sign their petitions.  Commit to signing 3 petitions and making 2 political phone calls a week. They can use your voice as well as your money.

travel map- how far does your stuff travel?
from factcoexist.com

37. Think about How Far your Stuff Travels

Have you seen those maps that chart all the trips someone has taken in a year? Imagine that, but with every item you buy in a year. Or the 300,000 items the average American has in their homes. What would the map look like? Never thought about it? Check out this link.

38. Go Meet your Neighbors (Human and Otherwise)

 Fostering community is good for your life, good for everyone around you, and good for the environment. The more we feel we belong to this world, the more likely we are to get involved.

This is also the perfect reason to get outside more often. Go learn about your local flora and fauna. Go watch the birds. Start going on walks. Get out into the nature you live in. The problems its facing will seem so much more important once you have really gotten out there and explored. Bonus, it helps you with your focus, happiness, and your health!

39. Change your Toothbrush

 No more plastic toothbrushes! Those plastic brushes are bound for the garbage as soon as you take them out of their excessive public packaging, they are already waiting for the bin. I love Preserve's recycled brushes and Tiny Yellow Bungalow's bamboo option. Simple switch, huge difference! Especially if you stick with it!

Want to do more? Ask your dentist why they keep handing out plastic brushes. Encourage them to look into greener options as well.

40. Travel Sustainably

 Bring your own shampoo and conditioner, so you can skip those stupid tiny bottles. Use public transit. Bring everything you need to the airport.  Buy all of your souvenirs made in the place you are at. This can be crazy to find, but I am sure you can handle it. I have faith in you.

So many options that I am excited about! What do you want to switch for Earth Day?

Is this all common sense stuff? Yes, but it doesn't mean we are doing it! No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. For Earth Day, let's all admit we can do more and pick one more goal to clean this Earth up! And what a wonderful Earth it is!

Want to step up your eco-shoppung? Check out my Mega list of Lists for tons more shopping inspiration.

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  1. I had no idea palm oil caused so much damage. Definitely something I'll look out for.

    1. Right? It kind of sneaks by, but it does cause a lot of problems.

  2. SO many great ideas! lol bring your mug to coffee is cute. I've heard of the Buy Nothing Project, but haven't joined a group yet - it's such a brilliant idea! Thank you for the ideas

    1. Thanks Clarice! Definitely check out Buy Nothing- it is the best thing ever.

  3. Oh, what a great list! So many awesome suggestions. I try to be conscientious about my habits, but I'll admit that sometimes I forget. But that's no excuse. I'm jotting some of these done to keep them in the forefront of my mind. Some of them are so simple and easy but would probably make a big difference! Thank you.

    Imagine if we all did at least a few of these daily! What a difference we could make.

    Thanx again!

  4. Thanks Alicia! I think it would be SO tough to do all of them, but if we all did even half we could make such an amazing difference in the world!

  5. Many good suggestions, I need to step up my game on eliminating palm oil. My suggestion is to keep in touch with research, sometimes the answers aren't as clear cut as we might think. I was surprised that line drying clothing didn't have much of an impact compared to other things. I found this extensive study last year which really is amazing. Btw, I like your blog but this is my first comment, keep up the good work!



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