10 Simple Ways to Make Your Home Eco-friendlier

Budget-minded tips for greener living.

January 31, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

I'll admit that I haven't always been the most conscious about living an eco-friendly lifestyle. From slacking on recycling to buying single-use plastics without thinking twice, I'm guilty of plenty of not-so-green practices.

But the start of every new year always has me rethinking my daily habits—from how I'm eating to the number of times a week I don't veg on the couch watching reality television—and it's time I finally devoted some attention to building sustainable practices that I can actually...well, sustain.

Now, before you go congratulating me on permanently ditching all plastic or building a human-sized compost bin, I'm talking about small changes in my everyday routine that when combined make a noticeable impact. For some help, I turned to a few experts who are well-versed in the art of green living for tips and tricks on how to cut back on daily waste. Here's their best advice:

1. Clean & Declutter

If you've already watched Marie Kondo's new Netflix series, you know that de-cluttering can transform a home, but you may not know that it's actually the first step towards living more sustainably. "This allows you to assess what you have, how much you have, what you actually use, and what you need," says Abby K. Cannon, a dietitian, sustainability advocate, and blogger behind Abby's Food Court. To make sure you don't get overwhelmed, she suggests going through one room at a time and cleaning as you go.

2. Swap plastic containers for stainless steel or glass

Have you been using the same plastic containers to carry your lunch for far too long? Or are you stuck with a stack of old takeout containers overcrowding your drawer? (I've been there.) Make the investment and swap them out for stainless steel or glass containers that will actually maintain their quality over time. Not only will they last, says Abby, but they also "don’t leach toxic chemicals into your food, and at the end of their life are recyclable."

3. Buy in Bulk

"Buying in bulk is my favorite sustainable practice," says Abby. Bonus: A lot of eco-friendly options cost less when purchased in bulk. "I buy nuts, seeds, grains, dried fruit, olive oil, vinegars, and cleaning supplies in bulk. You save money and reduce how much single-use plastic you use," she adds.

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“How about #1 being "Buy Less Stuff. Use only what you need." Hmmm. maybe then there won't be customers for all the cute things sold on Food52.”
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But this doesn't just apply to food, according to Dayna Castano, the corporate director of marketing for Arlo Hotels. "Buying things in bulk, like hand soap or hair products, cuts down on single-use plastics," she explains. "You can even take it a step further by buying shampoo bars like the ones sold at Lush for no waste at all."

4. Put your freezer to work

If you're anything like me, the freezer is first and foremost a vessel for ice cream. Turns out, it should also be the next destination for food that's starting to go south, or for leftovers you know you're not going to finish anytime soon. "If you see that you’re not going to finish food that’s in your refrigerator, you can easily avoid wasting it by popping it into the freezer," says Abby. (If you're not sure what will and won't freeze well, check out our guide to freezer-friendly foods.)

5. Give DIY a Try

Before tossing an old item (like a dresser) to the curb, Elisa Marshall, co-founder and creative director of Maman, always asks herself whether it's the practicality or the look of it that isn't working anymore. "With a little bit of sandpaper, some cute new knobs, and two coats of fresh paint, you can re-invent the piece and also save money," she says. Two of her favorite DIY projects: a couch that she made from wooden pallets found on the street (all it took was "a little bit of sanding, lots of cleaning, and a twin mattress"); and her grandmother's 1970s decorative lampshades (for which she "removed the coverings and suspended them over some decorative bulbs for a unique lighting fixture").

But DIY doesn't just apply to decor—there are tons of cosmetic and cleaning products you can make at home. "You can clean so much of your home with baking soda and vinegar," says Abby. On top of that, you can also make anything from toothpaste to deodorant to moisturizer, oftentimes using ingredients and products you already have on hand.

Elisa Marshall, co-founder and creative director of Maman, transformed reclaimed wooden pallets into a chic daybed and her grandmother's 1970s lampshades into one-of-a-kind lighting fixtures. Photo by Alex Frandkin

6. Repurpose anything and everything

From the glass jar in which your favorite jam is sold to the wine bottles you've been racking up, almost all glass items can be repurposed one way or another, according to Rachel Krupa, founder of Krupa Consulting and The Goods Mart, a socially and environmentally conscious convenience store. "Reuse glass bottles and containers for other beverages as much as possible," she says. "If not for your own bottled beverage uses, you can also use them for a flower vase or fun art project." Her other tip: Reuse your candle jars for jewelry containers (you can store things like cotton pads and Q-tips in them, as well).

Repurposing old items not only keeps waste out of landfills, it also creates great conversation starters, Elisa adds. "My table is filled with pre-loved and repurposed items which always seem to create conversation, like a vintage flour jar used as my champagne bucket," she says. "It adds a ton of character, beauty, and conversation while saving money and doing good by the environment."

7. Start composting

Even Abby admits that starting to compost may not be the easiest. But "it’s the best way to divert food scraps from the landfill and return precious nutrients to the ground," she says. The kicker? You don't actually need outdoor space to start composting. Sure, you can build a compost pile in your yard (if you're lucky enough to have one!), but you can also do it in your kitchen using a discreet countertop compost bin. No matter how you compost, in a few weeks you'll have nutrient-rich fertilizer perfect for garden beds or potted plants.

8. You can also eat the scraps

Though you might be inclined to send fruit and vegetable scraps straight to the trash can, don't! According to Abby, you can actually use certain vegetable tops and roots (e.g., from the likes of lettuce, onions, celery, and potatoes) to grow more of those vegetables; you can use vegetable scraps (like onion skins, carrot peels, corn cobs, and potato skins) to make stock; you can even make chips out of apple and potato peels (bake them with honey and cinnamon for a sweet, crunchy treat).

It doesn't stop there, though. "At home, I use carrot tops and fresh herb stems to make pestos and sauces, and I add cheese rinds to my broth to give it a rich and salty essence." You can even put the pulp left over from juicing to good use, too, according to Angela Garbacz, owner and head pastry chef of female-run boutique bakery Goldenrod Pastries. She's done it with all kinds of pulp, including ginger, apple, lemon, carrot, and turmeric, for wholesome, low-waste treats like muffins.

9. Avoid single-use items when you can

Of course it's not really feasible to banish all single-use plastics from your life, but try to make a conscious effort to avoid them when possible. An easy way to start, Rachel says, is to kiss the plastic water bottle goodbye. "Try to eliminate all single-serve plastic bottles—carry your own or choose a non-plastic option," she says. Also, opt for reusable zip-top bags and food wrap, like these Silicone Storage Bags and these Bees Wrap Lunch Wraps.

As for plastic straws, well, refusing them at your local coffee or juice shop really does matter, says Abby. "By taking steps to live more sustainably, you’re demanding that the market care about sustainability."

10. Cheer yourself on

One of the most important steps to creating sustainable habits that last is to know that everything you do counts, Rachel explains. "Be proud of the small improvements you make, because they will most likely lead to bigger changes," she says. "Don’t assume that you are too small to make an impact, because everything we do as individuals becomes a greater collective and helps tremendously."

What are some of the ways you practice sustainability at home? Tell us in the comments below!
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jennifer
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Erin Alexander

Written by: Erin Alexander

Erin Alexander is the Managing Editor of Food52.


Jennifer February 11, 2019
One easy way to cut down on single use plastics is to switch from liquid soaps to powder or bar soaps. The author mentions bar shampoo, but this can be a big change for some people. (It took me a few tries to find one I liked.) Going from shower gel and liquid hand soap to bar soap is an easy change, same with changing from liquid laundry & dishwashing detergent to powder. The only liquid soap I can't find a good bar replacement for is hand dishwashing detergent, so I just buy that in the biggest bottles I can find.
Pauline November 15, 2019
For people who find making the switch from liquid shampoo/conditioner to bar, Plaine Products shampoo & conditioner is a great middle ground. Their products come in aluminum bottles that you can return to them to refill when you are done.

They have also partnered up with Package Free Shop (Brooklyn, NY), so Package Free will return the bottles back in bulk with their customer base.
Karenteacher February 5, 2019
I'm always amazed by suggestions to get rid of something only to replace it with something else. I have a set of BPA-free plastic containers that I've been using for years, and I have no intention of getting rid of them just so I can buy something else. If I reach the point where I need something new, that's one thing - but I'm not going to throw out a complete set of usable items, items that I use regularly, and like for their size, convenience, low weight, ease of storage (they stack, and the lids interchange between all sizes), and ability to go from freezer to microwave just so I buy something else. How does it sustain anything to throw away a usable item to buy something to replace it?
annie February 7, 2019
yes, that's what its all about. sell you something new. Meanwhile, the stuff you have been using goes into landfill.
Rosemary February 5, 2019
No, it's not a "chic daybed." It's a pile of ugly pallets with a mattress on top of it. Once you're past the starving student stage, it's a no thank you. That pile of pallets is a huge dust collector, Impossible to keep clean.
annie February 7, 2019
toxic and looks like a pile of ----
annie February 5, 2019
Here's the deal. The shampoo from Lush contains Sodium lauryl sulfate. This has been used in products such as ones for the grease on your garage floor. A common ingredient in personal care products, sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS, is an additive that allows cleansing products to foam. According to the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, SLS is a "moderate hazard" that has been linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, organ toxicity, skin irritation and endocrine disruption. So, don't promote unhealthy sustainable choices
Cindi B. February 5, 2019
Please stop telling people to use pallets for “things around the house”! Pallets are soaked in dangerous chemicals and sanding them releases them-into your lungs. They leach chemicals even if you don’t sand. PALLETS DO NOT BELONG IN YOUR HOME THEY ARE FOR INDUSTRIAL USE ONLY.
NotTheButcher February 4, 2019
We've been doing a lot of this for years. It takes some rethinking, but it quickly becomes second nature. Now it seems strange not to buy in bulk, or to put compostable items in the trash. Some notes:
-I wouldn't use onion skins for stock - they add color (some crafters use them to dye wool and fabrics), but can make the stock bitter. However, adding them to the water when hard boiling eggs dyes the shells a sort of golden color, which makes it easier to tell boiled from raw eggs at a glance.
-We keep a container in the freezer for veggie scraps, chicken carcasses, etc., until there is enough to make a big pot of stock. We freeze the finished stock in various sized quantities for different uses.
-We stopped using paper towels years ago. We use rags instead, which we make from worn out t-shirts and other soft fabrics that don't make a lot of lint.
-If, like me, you like straws, you can purchase reusable stainless steel ones. They come with a brush, so they are easy to keep clean and sanitary.
-Friday night dinner at our house is usually "leftover buffet." All of those "not quite a meal's worth" things get eaten up.
russeaime January 25, 2020
I've never had a problem with onion skins making a stock bitter. In fact, I use mostly the skins and peelings from onions with other vegetable scraps for my chicken broth for over 10 years and it not only deepens the color but creates a rich, beautiful, and flavorful stock that is sweet. I use mostly yellow and red onions for this. If you use other vegetable scraps from things from the brassica family such as kale stems that's when you get a bitter flavor.
Marina D. February 4, 2019
Great advice
lisa February 4, 2019
Reuse your candle jars for jewelry containers (you can store things like cotton pads and Q-tips in them, as well). We should not be using Qtips (single use plastic for sure) or cotton pads to remove makeup. Ditch the Qtips completely and use reusable cotton pads for makeup removing. I have used the same pad for about 4 months - washing it every time I use it. And no need to use plastic wrap or plastic bags for produce. Carry some reusable cotton bags in your handbag. And like one of your commentors says - use tea towels to cover things in the kitchen. It just takes a bit of thinking to break these single use plastic habits we have. And while we are at it, ditch the straws, and disposable utensils at lunch.
jane February 4, 2019
We take glass storage containers when we eat out. That way we can bring our leftovers home and not use plastic or styrofoam containers. We've been doing this for years!
Erin A. February 4, 2019
That's such a brilliant idea, Jane! I'll have to try that next time I go out for a bite.
Miriam January 8, 2020
We also use glass containers for take out from restaurants and for carrying lunches to work ... makes for a heavy lunch bag but can be reheated and eaten from easily and then re-used (after washing) the next day. We store next-overs in the fridge for lunch already packed in the containers so it's just a grab and go for lunch.
Jenica February 3, 2019
Here's one: let's stop putting all our produce in individual plastic bags. You're going to wash it anyway (I mean I hope so....), and I really don't think the kale is really going to mind getting cozy with the onions and carrots.
annie February 5, 2019
I shop with a woven basket from Africa--helping the women there. What erks me to no end is that everyone says "oh how cute". I'm not doing it for "cute", I'm doing it for sustainability. I lived in Germany for quite a number of years and you don't go out without your basket or bag. Get with it US!
Monica B. February 3, 2019
How about #1 being "Buy Less Stuff. Use only what you need." Hmmm. maybe then there won't be customers for all the cute things sold on Food52.
Daniel B. February 3, 2019
ive done nearly all of this over the past 20 yrs. sometimes it sucks being a genX, hahah
annie February 5, 2019
Exactly. I started buying bulk in 1978 and shopping farm markets. Don't shop in regular grocery stores, buy my eggs and meat from the Amish in PA. It's easy just think!
Lucinda F. February 3, 2019
I'm trying to picture what my house would look like if I made crafty things like vases out of all our wine bottles!
Janet K. February 3, 2019
Or the pallet sofa. I did make something like that my senior year in college. That was before most of any of you were born or at least out of childhood.
Kim February 3, 2019
Great ideas, many I’m already doing, some new. However, the video of potato peel focaccia at the end of the piece? Wasted 3 pieces of plastic. Cover dough with a clean old kitchen tea towel. Grandma did.
Tanny M. January 31, 2019
I'm doing most of these and love seeing these pieces to encourage people to make change. Rather than spending $$ on a kitchen compost bin, give worm composting a try. I've been doing it for over a year, it has cost me all of $35 for bins, worms and some bedding. It is super easy, not as icky as it sounds (unless you're into handling the worms) and though mine are grown, I think a great project for kids. My bin is in my kitchen and unless you know where it is, it's invisible. (little kitchen, little apt). Lots of information online.
Erin A. January 31, 2019
Thank you so much, Tanny! This is a great tip and definitely sounds like a fun kids project 😊🐛
Andy February 3, 2019
Our town collects yard and kitchen waste, like old leftovers, to create compost. It's been very successful.