The One Question You Should Ask Yourself If You Want to Take Green Living to the Next Level

updated May 5, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Chances are good that you’ve already adopted some eco-friendly habits as part of your overall lifestyle: You compost at home, use energy-saving light bulbs, and make an effort to recycle, but what if you want to take going green to the next level? It’s easy to feel like your individual actions won’t make a big difference against a global crisis like climate change, but the good news is that your efforts can inspire those around you to be greener, too. Yup, not only can you inspire the people you live with to live a little more mindfully, but your efforts can extend to your entire community. 

If you’re wondering where to start, try by asking yourself a question that a conservation expert recommends as a solid check-in moment:

“What one plastic item can I live without… forever?”

It seems like such a small choice, but picking one thing and sticking with it can set you off on the right mindset for inspiring bigger changes. If you can grocery shop without using single-use produce bags, or use a reusable water jug instead of a plastic bottle, these small changes make a difference over time. This swap might involve investing in a sustainable glass or metal version of a plastic everyday staple, or simply being more mindful of the plastic that passes through your hands every day, and opting out when and where possible.

“Try to think of just one change you’d like to make, and stick with it,” Shelby Serra, a conservation coordinator at Pacific Whale Foundation, says. Your answer will vary according to your needs — swapping out plastic straws isn’t the one-size-fits-all fix that many people think it is. What matters is finding the solve that you can maintain for the long haul.

If you’ve already managed the small things, there are plenty of ways to level up your eco-friendliness. Serra suggests trying “shampoo bars instead of bottles, toothpaste tablets instead of tubes, bring your own container instead of using styrofoam takeout containers, and bring your own washable cutlery instead of a plastic spoon, fork, or knife.”

Once you identify that swap, there are plenty of ways to keep the momentum going, such as…

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Join or create a community garden.

One of the easiest ways to build community is to invest in a communal garden, if you have the space for it. “Gardening in your community is a great way to reduce your community’s carbon footprint,” sustainability expert Marley Goldin told Apartment Therapy. “Food and herbs harvested from community gardens have zero associated food miles, no pesky plastic packaging, and are free from damaging fertilizers and chemicals.” 

If you haven’t yet happened upon a community garden during a walk or while running errands, the American Community Gardening Association allows you to search to find a community garden in your area. You also have the option to submit your own project, should you want to build one from the literal ground up. 

Practice upcycling the plastic you do consume!

According to Goldin, only nine percent of plastics are recycled, and over half are produced for single use. “Upcycling plastic at home by repurposing it is a great way to reduce your plastic waste. Use plastic containers for organization, or make fun art projects with your kids using plastic bottles.” 

There are plenty of ways to encourage your family to be smarter with their trash, reevaluate and identify better informed on how to recycle responsibly. The first step is educating yourself — and you’ll start to see opportunities everywhere, from egg cartons as condiment caddies to milk jugs as watering cans.

Use community websites to form like-minded groups and share resources.

Digital apps can make it relatively easy to coalesce behind a passion project. “Join your local Buy Nothing Facebook or NextDoor group so you can get to know like-minded people as well as find a new home for things you no longer need. It’s also a great place to find things you need so you won’t be pushed to buy new,” says Heather Cates, an eco-friendly living blogger and the founder of Finding Our Green Life. This is a great way to save money, meet your neighbors, and make environmentally-friendly choices together.  

Be mindful while you grocery shop.

It might be easier to use the plastic bags at the grocery store to carry your groceries, but only one percent of them are returned for recycling, Waste Management of the Pacific Northwest estimates. Switching to reusable bags while grocery shopping isn’t a huge ask — you can keep your totes in the trunk of your car when you’re not using them, or keep a tote of totes in the hallway closet closest to your front door if you walk to and from the store. 

Cates encourages people to also be mindful of the ways in which products are packaged. “Can you buy a bigger size or a different brand that uses recyclable or minimal packaging?” she asks. “Think about swapping glass for plastic or purchasing a large bag of chips that can be portioned out rather than buying several snack-size bags.” 

Organize a charity drive for donations in your neighborhood.

As you try to declutter your home, you may be tempted to throw out various items you no longer need. Instead of dumping discarded items into a landfill, why not make an effort to get to know your neighbors and have a chance to be eco-friendly? by “organizing clothing, toy, or book drives to donate to charity” is a great way to get the whole community involved, Cates tells Apartment Therapy. 

Get in the habit of purging things you don’t need while saving them from the landfill. You can easily donate things to your Local Buy Nothing Group. “The Buy Nothing Project is community-based and offers people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies,” says Laura Sundberg, an organizer and the founder of Let Laura. She says it is easy to donate items such as clothing and toys as well as hard-to donate items, such as “ski harnesses, breast pumps, and even a baby grand piano, ensuring these items do not go to the landfill.”

Practice what you preach.

No matter the goal, you have to start at home first. By paying attention to what you’re doing in your everyday life, you can both assess what is and isn’t working in your own eco-friendly efforts, as well as model long-haul habits for the people you live with by walking the walk.

“Sustainability can be embedded within households by education and immersion, sustainability expert and goBambu founder Andrew Groves tells Apartment Therapy. “It’s important that parents are role models for their children.” He suggests starting with the little things, such as turning off lights when you leave the room, and using leftovers to create new meals the next day. Other ideas include replacing single-use items around the home with reusable products, reducing the amount of plastic you bring in your home to begin with by making small shifts such as buying toothbrushes with bamboo handles, and upcycling items for arts and crafts.