Growing an edible, urban ecosystem one backyard at a time

12 Habits for an Eco-Friendly (and Healthy) Life

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It’s the time of year when people spend the most effort and thought upgrading their habits. It’s “out with the old and in with the new.” So what better time to talk about making eco-friendly habits? These twelve habits will not only reduce your ecological footprint, but I suspect many will make you happier as well. 

1. Spend Time Outside Daily

Going outside helps us connect with nature, our communities, and the world. Sustainability requires connections, and going outside fosters these real-world connections, whether it’s with other people, wildlife, or our backyard ecosystem. Staying holed up in our houses and cars leads to isolation and disconnect from the greater world.

When we go outside we notice changes that occur and what is needed. When you’re outside you might talk to a neighbor, notice litter and pick it up, or see a lost dog running by that you can reunite with its human.

Engage with your world by going outside.

2. Learn Your Local Plants

Learn your local plants. While you’re outside, observe what’s growing around you. Take pictures to identify it later or use the Picture This app for a quick ID.

Ask questions. Is it a weed? Was it planted there? Is it invasive? Is it edible? Is it poisonous? Do you like how it looks? Could you collect its seeds if you wanted? When you start consciously observing plants, you’ll find you notice the great diversity growing around you, even at times you’re not deliberately observing.

3. Start Composting, Or Up Your Composting Game

One of my favorite habits for a more eco-friendly life is composting. There’s a ridiculous amount of food wasted each and every day, and one way to combat that is by composting it. Even those of us who are diligent about not letting our produce rot in the fridge or our leftovers spoil can find plenty of kitchen scraps to compost that might otherwise go in the waste bin. And when a mistake does happen and food spoils before it’s eaten, at least it will be put to good use in the garden.

If you’re already composting, think about how you might be able to compost more. Paper products, cotton clothing, and even human hair will break down in a properly maintained compost pile. Read Compost Everything for more ideas.

4. Grow Some of Your Own Food

Growing your own food might mean tending a conventional veggie garden, but it doesn’t have to. If you don’t want to or don’t have time to keep a veggie garden, don’t worry because there are many more options. A patio container can grow a surprising amount of lettuce or herbs. Or, grow microgreens or sprouts right in your kitchen.

Perennials are an excellent way to grow food. Plant some fruit trees, berry bushes, or perennial vegetables. Or plant all of these in a fruit tree guild.

5. Eat In Season and Local Produce

 Whether you grow it yourself or not, it’s best to choose in-season produce. If it’s not in season and you buy it at the grocery store, it’s shipped in from out of state or even another country. That’s a lot of unnecessary food miles.

By choosing fruit and veggies that are in season you’re also getting fresher, healthier, and often less expensive food.

6. Preserve Some of Your Own Food

Once upon a time, preserving food was a way of life, back when you couldn’t walk into a grocery store and buy fresh produce any time of year.

If you grow your own food and have an excess harvest, it makes sense to preserve it for later in the year. But, you don’t have to grow it yourself to preserve it. Consider buying extra of your favorites when they’re at their peak in season and on sale and preserving them to enjoy throughout the year. I grew up doing this with peaches and corn. My mom would buy extra of each at the farmer’s market and spend an afternoon blanching, slicing, and freezing peaches or cutting corn off the cob and freezing. 

7. Ditch Individually Wrapped Food Items

I know these items are super convenient, especially if you have kids. But consider other options that use less packaging, even if it means a few minutes of extra work to prepare.

Thought Exercise

Try this mental exercise next time you’re deciding whether or not to buy packaged food. Imagine you’re at Costco or your chain store of choice. I picked Costco because of its scale—big items, in bulk, in a big warehouse.

Picture, for example, a box of individual servings of apple sauce. Picture all of the plastic waste in just one box. Then look at all of the boxes on the shelf. Then imagine all of the boxes on the shelf over time. Finally, picture all of the boxes of that product in other stores over time. That’s a lot of waste. Mountains of waste. Do you want to support a product that generates that volume of waste? Just think about it.

8. Learn Your Local Recycling Rules and Follow Them

If you’re reading this article, then I assume you already participate in your city’s curbside recycling program (if one is available to you). But don’t just throw anything you think should be recyclable into the bin. Recycling rules are different everywhere, and throwing something in that doesn’t belong contaminates the recycling stream. Items that don’t recycle can damage sorting machines and clog up the system. These items have to be sorted out and hauled to landfills costing additional labor and transportation.

It might feel better at the moment to put an item in the recycling bin than the garbage bin, but it actually does more harm to put it in the wrong bin than into the trash.

9. Keep a Bucket in Your Bathroom

While we’re on the topic of recycling, let’s talk about recycling water. This technique is actually more conserving than recycling, but it’s also the simplest type of gray water system I can think of.

Use the bucket to collect clean water that would otherwise run down the drain while you wait for warm water in the sink or shower. Use the water for anything you like. It’s perfectly clean and potable (as long as your bucket is clean and made of food-grade material).

My favorite use of this water is for plants. This is a perfect solution for plant water too, because if you let it sit out overnight the chlorine will evaporate, making it more suitable than water direct from the tap.

10. Switch From Disposable to Reusable Wherever Possible

You’re likely already using reusable grocery bags, and maybe a lot more than that. Here are a few more ideas to consider adopting if you haven’t already. Consider switching from:

  • Plastic bags to reusable grocery and produce bags
  • Paper napkins to cloth napkins
  • paper towels to cloth rags
  • Sponges to dishcloths
  • Plastic wrap to bees wax wraps
  • Ziplock bags to reusable snack bags or glass food containers
  • Disposable water bottles to reusable metal or plastic water bottles
  • Takeaway coffee cups to your own thermos (some shops even offer a discount)
  • Coffee pods to any other way of making coffee (and while you’re at it, get a reusable coffee filter)
  • Plastic straws to stainless steel
  • Disposable diapers and wipes to cloth diapers and wipes
  • Tampons and pads to reusable pads or a menstrual cup
  • Disposable razors to razor a handle with replaceable blades
  • Disposable batteries to rechargeable

11. Keep a Zero-Waste Kit With You

Build your own zero-waste kit to keep in your purse, backpack, or car. A zero-waste kit is a bag, box, or tote, containing reusable items you might need while out and about that help you avoid using disposable items. It includes things like a reusable shopping bag, thermos, bowl, spoon, fork, napkin, and leftover containers.

There are zero-waste kits you can buy but think carefully before buying new things. You can also put together a zero-waste kit with things you already have or what you can find used. 

12. Switch to Riding a Bike, Scooter, or Walking and Driving Less

Biking or walking to work or your regular destinations isn’t always possible, but sometimes it’s just a matter of being in the habit of it. Try to make it happen when you’re able, and turn this mode of travel into a habit.

If a bike or scooter commute isn’t possible in your current circumstances, consider designing long commutes that rely on fossil fuels out of your life over the next few years.

Using foot or pedal power to commute and run errands gets you outside, gives you exercise, and reduces your personal dependence on fossil fuel. Win, win, win.

Conclusion

Many more eco-friendly habits could be added to this list, but these are a few relevant to my life. I hope you found a nugget of inspiration for your own life in this list. Remember that building new habits takes time, so be patient with yourself and don’t take on too many new goals at one time.

Help me add to this list by telling us in the comments an eco-friendly habit you have or are working toward.

Let’s build a better world together, one habit at a time.

Happy habit-building!


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