5 Simple, $0 Ways to Be Eco-Friendlier, Starting Today

Good for the earth and your budget.

April 23, 2019

Welcome to 30 Days, 30 Ways to Green, where we're sharing all the little (and not so little!) things we do to live eco-friendlier every day. Stick with us all month long for a lineup of handy tips—from composting do's and don'ts to which reusable products really light up our lives.

When we set out to create 30 days' worth of tips, stories, and guides for how we’re all trying to live eco-friendlier every day, there was one topic our whole team couldn't stop Slacking about: $0 ways to go green.

As in, all the small but mighty ways we incorporate sustainable practices into our lives, without spending a single cent. Like ditching plastic bags at the grocery store, or using every last citrus peel. Some of us time our showers; others reuse jars as lunch containers each day.

From the kitchen to the farmers' market, here are the highly doable, no-cost ways we're living eco-friendlier today. (And we're dying to know: What top tips do you swear by?)

1. Cut down on packaging.

  • Carry reusable totes in your backpack or purse, for transporting groceries (or anything else you need to ferry around!).
  • Think before you bag grocery store produce in plastic—items like onions, shallots, bananas, and garlic don’t need the extra layer.
  • Bring lunch as much as you can—not only does it give you an excuse to repurpose scraps and leftovers, but it'll let you skip all the packaging that comes with buying lunch. ("The delivery bags, plastic utensils, and endless containers make me cringe," says Associate Buyer, Aja Aktay.)
  • Don't leave the house without a reusable water bottle, to fill up wherever you are.

2. Reuse any packaging you can't avoid.

  • "Whenever I get a package with bubble wrap, I fold it up and save it for when I need to pack something," says Amanda Hesser, co-founder and CEO. "Also, any time I get a gift, I save the ribbon, and if possible, the paper, too."
  • Save the containers from any larder or pantry items that come in jars—like, yogurt, kimchi, pasta sauce—and use them as food storage containers, flower vases, and drinking glasses.
  • The brown butcher paper that often comes as package filler makes for excellent gift wrap. Just add upcycled twine or string for a bow!
  • "I add empty food boxes and egg cartons to my son's play kitchen, or use for an art project," says Sarah Yaffa, data analyst.

3. Give things away, instead of throwing them out.

  • Look for local spots (like Goodwill) that accept donations for clothing and furniture, so you can skip the trash bin.
  • On the flip side, take advantage of message boards like Craigslist "free stuff" in your neighborhood if you're on the lookout for something like a couch or a computer monitor.

4. Save all those scraps.

  • Hang onto those vegetable scraps! And that feta brine. Oh, and those banana peels. There's a secondary use for pretty much any edible ingredient you might think to toss. ("We use citrus peels to make our own all-purpose cleaning spray a little scented," says Business Operations Director and Executive Assistant, Karen Levi.)
  • Start a compost bin for any food scraps that don't make it into a recipe.
  • Look beyond food scraps to repurpose absolutely everything you can around the house. "My mom always had a 'rag bag'—all old t-shirts, sheets, and towels went in there, and were used for cleaning," says Amanda.

5. Be thoughtful when it comes to energy.

  • "Living eco-friendlier is about an awareness that just about everything we do requires energy," says Dave Katz, video editor. "Take shorter showers, remember to turn lights off if nobody's in a room, don't let the sink run for no reason, and close the fridge."
  • Build a quick check into your routine to make sure your air conditioner or heater's off when you're heading out.
  • If feasible, opt to walk or take public transportation rather than adding a vehicle to the road. "When the weather is nice (which, thankfully, is happening more and more often) and I don't have to travel too far, I always try to walk or take public transportation rather than hopping in a taxi," says Assistant Editor of Partner Content, Erin Alexander.

What are your top $0 tips for living more sustainably? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Rebecca Jahn
    Rebecca Jahn
  • Carly M. Atherton
    Carly M. Atherton
  • fitzie
  • Mrs Stinsfire
    Mrs Stinsfire
  • Woody curle
    Woody curle
Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.


Rebecca J. July 20, 2019
When I eat out or am doing take out, I bring my own containers. I learned to do this in Ireland at our local pub there because they don’t stock containers. Sometimes they let me take food to my cottage in their glass dishes, then I wash and return them next day!
Carly M. April 23, 2019
Turning off your account or heat sounds good. But it will take more energy to cool or heat your house back up than it will leaving it on. Not to mention cold pipes in the winter. And if you have pets please don't do this.
Carly M. April 23, 2019
fitzie April 23, 2019
I don't know but $74 seems like a lot of money for a paper bag. It's a nice design, good size, and and will hold a lot, but still ...
Mrs S. April 23, 2019
"Be Thoughtful When It Comes to Energy" can be applied to food preparation too. Ovens tend to use up a lot of energy, so I try to use them responsibly, e.g. by not pre-heating (not really necessary with convection ovens anyway), by pre-steaming food in the pressure cooker to cut down on oven time, and by using alternative, more energy-friendly ways of preparation.
Woody C. April 23, 2019
If you have twice a week garbage service and your can is less than half full, wait until the next pick up day. Automated garbage trucks burn extra diesel every time they have to pick up and empty your can.