30 Easy Ways To Decrease Your Carbon Footprint As A Family
Written by Erin Feher
Photography by Maria del Rio
Did you know that according to the EPA, the average 4-person household produces 83,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year? That’s 20,750 pounds per person! And while numbers like that can make the problem seem insurmountable, it’s been proven that small, sustained lifestyle changes made by a large enough group of people can make a difference. Thankfully, more people than ever are getting on board with efforts to curb their energy usage and produce less waste. Eco-expert Friday Apaliski started Sustainability Concierge to help people boost their green habits in tailored, approachable ways, and she says recently interest has spiked to the highest levels she’s seen, especially amongst parents. “I don’t know a single parent who doesn’t want to be part of the climate solution. But it can be really confusing and time consuming, and hard to know where to start.” Below, Friday shares 30 digestible and straight forward tips to decrease your carbon footprint as a family.
Bring your own cup. As a parent you always have a bag with you. Keep a pair of cups, one for kiddo and one for adult, that way you can always be hydrated or caffeinated without the single-use waste. There is a reusable cup in every shape and size; stainless or glass, it doesn’t matter. But remember, the same cup can hold water, or coffee, or even soft serve ice cream!
Carry a cloth napkin at all times. A napkin weighs nothing and can perform a number of tasks. It can clean up messes and hands, it can wipe faces (and noses), it can hold a leftover muffin, and even dry tears. I love these upcycled napkins—they feel like extra good karma.
Buy a reusable sandwich bag (preferably cloth). Single-use zip lock bags are a thing of the past. They are expensive, they take up space to store and to throw out, they are made of oil, they leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals into our food, they choke fish and birds, and they last for a million years (literally).
Carry some cutlery. I like to use the silverware from our house, in a pretty little case. A fork, a spoon, and some chopsticks. But if you want something lighter, try a bamboo spork. Just make sure it lives in your bag so you can refuse single-use plastic cutlery when you are out.
Don’t let straws suck. What kid doesn’t love a straw? But one look at a plastic straw stuck in the nose of a turtle will change anyone’s heart. Let your little pick their own straw and carry it with you. We like glass, but stainless is fabulous, too. I would avoid silicone if you can because it can collapse when you suck something thick like a smoothie, and silicone isn’t recyclable, so it is ultimately headed to the landfill.
Un-paper your paper towels. Too many trees are cut down just for us to use paper towels, which then end up rotting in a landfill making methane (a potent greenhouse gas). If you are a parent you are doing laundry, so why not replace your paper towels with cloths. Any cloths will work, but if you need a nice transition product check out the Un-Paper Towels from Marley’s Monsters. The trick is to keep a laundry hamper in the kitchen to collect the dirty towels.
Swap your dryer sheets. Dryer sheets are another landfill-bound product that also carry some gnarly chemicals. Trade them for reusable wool dryer balls. If you want a scent, just add a few drops of essential oil onto each ball.
Ditch the single-use tooth flossers. I find single-use tooth flossers ALL over the place (from the baseball stadium, to the side of the road, even on the airplane jetway). I’m not sure why they are everywhere, but they are. So, let’s unite to ditch these. If your kid needs a device to hold the floss, get a reusable flosser and string it with silk floss.
Bubbles are better than balloons. Did you know that helium is a finite resource? It also generally goes into plastic balloons which end up choking wildlife. So, rather than use balloons to mark your party location, get a bubble machine, that you can use for every occasion. Bubbles are a delight for all ages (much like balloons) and they don’t wreak havoc on the environment.
Practice saying “No Thank You.” We are conditioned to smile and take whatever is given to us. This applies to everything from dentist office toothbrushes to dollar store trinkets. But you do not have to take these items. When you refuse them you send a message to everyone: This clutter that trashes the earth is not something you want to deal with.
Choose quality over quantity. This can be applied to just about any scenario, but I think it is best illustrated in school supplies. Let’s teach our kids that with intention and mindfulness they can care for a few things, versus overloading on cheap disposable stuff that is headed for the landfill. Swap out the bulky plastic pencil box for a 100% recyclable aluminum slim tin. And check out the rest of Wisdom Supply Co. for long-lasting plastic-free school supplies.
Eat all the food. This is an important one because when food goes to landfill it doesn’t break down, it creates methane which is a very potent greenhouse gas. I use Ends + Stems to meal plan because they are specifically geared toward ending food waste. I also store all my leftovers in glass containers, so I can see what food is in my refrigerator. If you can’t see it, you won’t eat it. Finally, if you can compost, do it.
Swap your sponge. The ubiquitous blue or yellow sponge is destined for the landfill. Swap it for a wool sponge which will last longer, can be washed when dirty, and can ultimately be composted.
Get a bamboo toothbrush. Every plastic toothbrush ever made still exists. If you use a new one every three months…that is too many toothbrushes in the world. Switch to a bamboo toothbrush. The bristles still go into the landfill, but the handle can be composted.
Invest in a few stainless steel snack holders. These will be forever handy and will greatly reduce your need for single-use zip lock plastic bags. I use one of these to pack lunches and bring home leftovers. And I use these for in the car or on-the-go.
Eat your ice cream zero waste style. Choose a cone instead of a cup. And don’t worry about the mess, you have a napkin in your bag.
Swap the plastic bag for a bread box. Plastic packaging is everywhere and can feel hard to escape. One place to start is with bread. Choose fresh bread from the bakery, wrapped in paper, and keep it fresh for a week in a bread box.
Trade your plastic wrap for a cloth bowl cover. Why use plastic when you can elevate your fridge with a beautiful fabric bowl cover? Single use items are much more expensive over time and Mother Earth hates them. Try a bowl cover from Marley’s Monsters, Àplat, or Ambatalia.
Install a microplastic filter on your washing machine. Our clothes made with synthetic fabrics (which is almost all of them these days) shed micro plastics into the water system and unfortunately the wastewater treatment facilities in this country are based in early 1900’s technology and can’t filter them out. But lucky for us there is the Filtrol 160. This easy-to-install, one-time purchase, will filter out 87% of those micro plastics. Just clean the filter like you do the lint trap.
Look for pre-loved toys first. Good toys are built to last. Did you know that every Lego made since 1963 still works perfectly? Why buy new when after a couple of years your kid will move on. Craiglslist, Nextdoor, and Facebook Marketplace are great places to find quality toys second hand.
Find hand-me-down clothes. The fashion industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change, and fast fashion is the worst of all. Kids grow so fast that it is rare for them to wear clothes out. Use second-hand apps like Kidizen or ThredUp, or your local consignment shop, to buy kid clothes. Within my group of friends we have paired up body types so that we have a stream of hand-me-downs. Bonus tip: If you are pregnant, check out UpChoose for organic capsule wardrobes that can be turned in and reused when you need the next size up.
Change the night light to LED. Really you should change the whole house to LED lights, but start with the night light. LED bulbs use 85% less electricity and never get hot. Here is a perfect bulb. It has low lumens, warm color, and will last until you no longer need a night light.
Install a low flow faucet aerator. Standard faucets use 2.2GPM (gallons per minute). To be considered WaterSense/low-flow by the EPA, they need to be 1.2GPM or less. For just a few dollars you can get a new aerator at just about any hardware store. This is a very easy change to make and then you can feel just a little less bad about the water running while little hands are getting scrubbed.
Upgrade to a low-flow showerhead. Yes, upgrade. When done right, low flow will equate to higher pressure. Bonus: you’ll use 40% less water without having to shorten your shower. Standard showerheads are 2.5 GPM (gallons per minute). Look for a replacement that is 1.5 GPM. You can find them made by every brand for as low as $10 to as much as $300. I used the $10 variety for many many years and it works like a charm.
Buy an induction stovetop. Natural gas is a fossil fuel that when burned causes carbon monoxide, decreased indoor air quality, and explodes. I promise you that cooking on induction is just as much fun as gas, with the added benefit of boiling water way faster. The best part is that your kid can join the fun because there is no risk of getting burned by the stove.
Choose non-toxic products. Check, is it MadeSafe? Nobody can read every label or know about every ingredient. We have to rely on third-party non-profits for some of that information. MadeSafe is one such certification. I consider it the gold standard, so I check here first to see if I can choose something that is MadeSafe.
Less is more. You don’t need a cleaner for all your different surfaces. Truth be told, you can clean your whole house with four products; baking soda, vinegar, castile soap, and hydrogen peroxide. But if DIY is not your thing, try this MadeSafe Certified, plastic-free, all-purpose cleaner by Meliora. I use it on everything in my home from carpet spills to windows. And the best part is that when you buy the refill, it is less than one dollar per bottle. Bonus: Meliora is one of my all-time favorite brands. Check out their laundry products as well.
Cook your eggs & pancakes & bacon in grandma’s cast iron pan. A vintage cast iron pan is the best, natural, non-stick pan you can get. The more you use it, the better it works. To keep it in good shape, avoid using soap or soaking it. Modern non-stick/teflon-like pans use PFAS chemicals, which are endocrine disruptors that accumulate in the environment and your body and may cause abnormal thyroid hormone levels and reduced immune system response. PFAS chemicals are known to be linked with kidney cancer and testicular cancer. (Yes, even GreenPan & ScanPan). You may have heard about this from the Hollywood film starring Mark Ruffolo called Dark Waters.
Make a volcano in the drain. Swap out Draino for some baking soda and vinegar. It is not only better for the earth but a fun experiment that kids can participate in. Remove your drain cover (and any visible clogs, like hair), pour 3 -5 tablespoons of baking soda into the drain, then pour 1-2 cups of vinegar down the drain and watch it bubble. Let the drain sit for 5 minutes, then pour a kettle of boiling water down. Voilà! Here is a demonstration.
Buy organic organic cotton—start with undies & PJs. It is nearly impossible, and very expensive, to buy all organic clothes for yourself or your kid. Cotton is the crop that is responsible for the highest use of pesticides globally, so buying organic cotton makes a difference. Start with undies and PJs—they are easier to find, they stay close to your body, and sensitive parts, for long periods of time, and they are more affordable than a full wardrobe.
Spread, don’t spray, your sunscreen. No kid likes putting on sunscreen, which is why the spray bottle has become so popular. But sprays can cause us to inhale sunscreen and spread it into the environment where it isn’t intended to be. Stick with the lotion.
Make your own play dough. It is cheap and easy and fun! When the dough is dry, just put it in the compost. We give it out as birthday party favors and it’s always a big hit. Here is a recipe to get you started.
For more ways to green your family’s habits, check out 10 Tips for Packing a Zero Waste Lunch and How to Make Your Next Family Trip More Sustainable.
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I love all these tips! We have made many changes in my family but there’s always a little more we could do. Thanks!