Eco Challenge – 17 Steps to an Eco Friendly Life

If you are keen find ways to become more eco friendly then it can be tricky to know where to start.  After starting this blog I have been making small changes to lighten my impact on the environment. After making a number of changes (and I am nowhere near perfect) I have worked out that is easier to take it one small change at a time.

What I will break down in this challenge are 17 steps you can take to become more eco friendly.  How you approach this is up to you. You may want to look at one change per week, one per month or whenever you feel ready. The best way is to make one change, make sure you can keep doing it and then move on when you can.

In this guide I will go through each of the steps that you can take to help reduce waste and to save money.  If you don’t feel ready for a particular step, you can move on to the next and come back to that one later. So here we go, let’s take it step by step to living an eco friendly life.

Step 1 – Start with your shopping

As we become more aware of the types of waste that are hanging around our world it is obvious that single use, plastic shopping bags are one of the most wasteful products around.  Usually they are made of thin plastic, they are used once and thrown away. If you regularly shop with plastic bags swapping over to reusable is an amazing way to reduce your waste.

If we break it down, and say that the average family would use 10 plastic shopping bags per week to take their groceries home, times that by 52 weeks in the year that is 520 single use plastic bags per family heading to landfill or our oceans.  

What to get: Reusable shopping bags

What to do:  To get organised for this it is great to plan ahead.  If you hop online you can grab packs of bags that are all ready for your shopping.  I have been accumulating reusable bags for over 10 years now. I have moved from poly bags, gradually moving over to jute bags.  

These bags are made from the jute plant which is a sustainable, biodegradable product that is readily available.  They even come in cool patterns so you can use them to carry around your everyday things. If you have kids like me, you know there is always so much that needs to come with you even for the shortest of outing.  These Jute bags work perfectly well to put the kids drink bottles, snacks and your coffee cups.

Another great idea is to grab a cute folding bags and keep it with you. Either have it stashed in your car or keep it in your bag for when you grab a few too many groceries to carry. I know I am always ducking into the grocery store to grab extra ingredients for dinner. Having a shopping bag handy will save the need for any plastic bags entering your life

Success Hacks:

To make this work you need to make sure that you have your bags with you.  Especially on your regular trip to the grocery store. The best way to do this is to keep them in the trunk of your car. After you have put your groceries away. Stack them inside each other and put them straight back in your car.

As long as you have them room for them, it is easy just to store them there.  That way you won’t forget each week when you head to the store.

Step 2 – Plan your coffee breaks

What I mean by plan your coffee breaks is to plan for them to be gentle on the environment.  Takeaway coffee cups are fast becoming one of the most wasteful products we use on a regular basis.  I have heard that one in five Australians buys a takeaway coffee everyday. That is 5 million people buying coffees each day.  If all of those people used a non-recyclable takeaway coffee cup that would be 5 million heading to landfill.

I certainly hope that not all of those people are using these non-recyclable coffee cups.  But if we take a single person drinking a coffee each day that is 30 coffee cups per month.  The reason I say this is because if you get a reusable coffee cup it could pay for itself within about 4 weeks.  

If you pay around $15 for a basic reusable coffee cup.  One that is made from bamboo. Now, if you are like me and your local cafe offers a discount for bringing your own cup, this is where you can win.  So, my cafe offers a 50 cent discount for each time you bring your reusable cup. So that is 7 times 50 cents per week which is $3.50 per week. Over a 30 day, 1 month period that is 0.50×30 which is exactly $15.  You get what I am saying here.

So every day after that you are essentially saving 50 cents per day.  Which again over the month is $15, if you do that every month you save $180.  Pretty good for just 1 reusable cup purchase.

What to get: Eco Coffee Cup

Success Hacks:

The trick to making this work is bringing it with you when you are out and about.  If you have a bag that you carry for the kids, i would just pop mine in there. Or simply throw it in your handbag before you leave.  They come in so many great colours so you can look good whilst you save the planet, and once you get into the habit, it is really easy to remember.

Step 3 – Drink your way to help the planet

Drinking water is a great thing to do for your body, throwing away a single use plastic bottle on the other hand is really bad for the planet.  With so many reusable drink bottles available now, there are lots of choices that will save more plastic from being used. Even if you only buy 3 bottles per week that is 156 bottles per year that we don’t need.  

So the simple answer is to get a bottle that you can use over and over again. As I have said in a previous post I am switching my family over to stainless steel bottles.  They are hard wearing, long lasting and also keep water cold for a really long time.

What to get: An Eco drink bottle

Success Hacks:

The main point i wanted to remind everyone is to give your bottle a good clean often.  Kids make a mess of drink bottles so grab yourself a bottle scrubbing brush when you get your bottle and give them a good scrub.  This will keep them squeaky clean and tasting fresh.

To remember to bring your bottle when you head out, that is just a simple case of forming a habit.  After using my stainless steel water bottle for the last 3 years, it is just second nature to grab it as I head out the door.

Step 4 – Fresh is best

After using my reusable shopping bags it seemed really strange that the only available option to get my fruit and vegetables at the supermarket was plastic bags.  After putting lots of thought into buying eco friendly, I just couldn’t bring myself to put my fruit and veg in plastic. My solution was just to leave all of my veggies and fruit loose.  That meant apples and cucumbers rolling around in the bottom of my trolley and then rolling around on the checkout.

There is a simple solution to this and that is eco friendly produce bags.  They are mesh bags that hold whatever you like.  They can be stored in with your shopping bags.

You could use these for whatever you like.  Any small fruit or veg that you buy multiples of can be kept together in these cute little bags.  I then just bring them home and throw them in my fridge. Easy.

What to get: Reusable produce bags

Success Hacks:

The way to win at avoiding using plastic is to keep these little bags inside your other shopping bags.  That way when you head into the store you have it all with you. Even if you don’t end up using them on that particular shop they are really small so won’t get in the way.

You can also use them for other things if you like, keep one for carrying pencils and toys for your kids or for packing your lunch.  

Step 5 – Ditch the nap (kin)

A simple swap that will save you money and waste is to swap our regular throw away napkins with wash cloths. Since having kids there seems always to be a nose to wipe or a spill to mop up.  Instead of reaching for the tissue or napkin, keeping one of these handy little washcloths in your bag will mean you always have something on hand to wipe up.

If you consider that many households go through around a roll of paper towel per week, we could swap in some washcloths and save all of that money.  That is at least $50 worth of paper towel not needed, as well as this, it won’t end up in landfill. Although it is made from paper, most people don’t consider that it ends up in landfill anyway rather than being recycled. 

Success Hacks:

The best tip I can give you is to have a few of these.  That way you can rotate them through and have clean ones ready to go.  I think I have about 10 that I rotate through and wash at the end of the week.

Step 6 – Drink happy – ditch the straw

Something that has been in the media lately has been the impact of plastic straws.  These single use plastic items have been found floating around in oceans and affecting sea life.  For an item that is used for around 5 minutes it could hang around in our oceans for up to 20 years.  

My kids have been used to not having straws at all.  This does sometimes end in chocolate milk being spilled on the tables of cafes and at home.  A better option that I have recently embraced has been the metal straw. After moving to stainless steel drink bottles, stainless steel straws make a lot of sense.

These handy little straws hide neatly in your bag and can stay there until you need them.  All you need to do is give them a wash afterwards and they will last for a long time.  No extra rubbish created and very eco friendly.

What to get: Metal straws

Success Hacks:

My straws came in a pack of 8 which means i just keep 1 in my bag at all times.  Then the others can stay at home for when the kids want to use them. They are part of my essential kit for living an eco friendly life.  Check out my previous article here on how to make your own eco friendly kit.

Step 7 – Prepare to takeaway

So many of us lead really busy lives so coming home and cooking dinner every single night is sometimes a challenge.  I have been embracing eating out more and more and we discover new cuisines and explore different cultural foods with  our kids.

Grabbing takeaway on a Friday night is something many families do but what I have discovered is that, without some planning it comes with plastic waste.  The simple solution to this is to get your own reusable containers.

Pyrex has become my favourite, so getting Pyrex containers the same size as takeaway brought in when you order solves this problem.

For me this is a better solution than recommending eating less takeaway (even though this is definitely a valid solution).  Grabbing takeaway can be a fun thing to do with your family but it can create waste.

Swap in your reusable container and you are on your way to rounding out your eco friendly life.

What to get: Reusable Pyrex containers

Success Hacks:

For our family we have kids sport on Friday nights and that seems to always be the night we head for the takeaway.  If you buy your takeaway on a regular night that is easy to prepare for. Just grab your containers before you head out and you can easily avoid the plastic

If buying takeaway food is more spontaneous then having these containers in the car with you might be a better option.  I would keep mine in the reusable shopping bags I have in the trunk of my car so, if you are on the way home from work or sport, just grab them out.

When I order takeaway I rarely ring ahead and order.  Instead I like to go into the store and browse the menu. This then gives you the opportunity to hand over your pyrex containers when you order.  The cool thing about this too is you always know when yours is ready because you can see your own pyrex containers lined up ready for pick up.

Step 8 – Baking your way to happiness

If you do a lot of baking or even if you reheat frozen chips in the oven you may be used to using baking paper.  This is a non-stick product that ends up in the trash afterwards and is quite wasteful.

A great solution is a silicone baking mat.  These can be washed and used over and over again.  It is actually what professional pastry chefs use, it is non-stick and is great for baking all sorts of things.

If you use these mats instead of baking paper or aluminium foil you will be saving so much waste heading for landfill as well as saving yourself money.  

What to get: Silicone baking mats

Success Hacks:

This one is as simple as buying a baking mat and having it ready to use instead of baking paper.  Give it a good wash after and you are good to go and bake another day.

Step 9 – Say no to junk mail

This is actually a really important step and I am amazed it took me so long to think about it.  For a while since we moved house and got a post box again we have been receiving junk mail. It hadn’t been a problem previously because we lived in a country area and so received no junk mail whatsoever.  It is like the companies realised that there weren’t any shops near us so didn’t bother.

What has been happening since we moved to a suburb is a steady stream of junk mail each week.  We diligently place it in the recycling bin but why waste it in the first place? Simply placing a No Junk Mail sticker on our box will stop all of this.  Our council even offers them for free, being eco minded, they are already encouraging citizens to stem the flow of waste.

So if you are like us and get junk mail delivered, stick a no junk mail sticker on your post box instead and stop all of that paper going to waste.  If enough of us in the neighborhood do this, hopefully companies will realise that printing and wasting paper is no longer a good way to advertise.

Success Hacks

Finding these No Junk Mail stickers may be as simple as going to your council, a post office or even a stationary store.  I think I might make one myself until I head to the council and get an official one. Once it is up, that is all you have to do.

Step 10 – Ditch the Plastic wrap

Plastic wrap has been a lunch staple for years.  I remember my mum packing a sandwich in my lunchbox in plastic wrap.  Before I decided to go eco friendly plastic wrap was used for everything.  We then have moved to saving the plastic wrap and taking it to our soft plastic recycling bin at our local grocery store.

A great solution is beeswax wrap.  It is literally cloth covered in beeswax and fits to the shape of your bowl or plate.  This keeps the food fresh without the plastic waste.

The other great solution is to use reusable containers instead.  I place leftovers in containers with lids ready for the next days lunch.  A simple answer to avoiding the plastic wrap from entering our landfill.

Success Hacks:

A good way to be successful at avoiding the plastic wrap is to have your beeswax covers or containers clean and ready to go.  Having them on hand and getting into the habit of using them instead of the plastic wrap just takes repetition. It is a simple but effective way to make your life eco friendly.

Step 11 – Go Eco with your toothbrush

A product that we use all of the time and that ends up in landfill are plastic toothbrushes.  I have recently swapped over to a biodegradable, bamboo toothbrush and I am never looking back. After realizing that this simple swap will save tons of toothbrushes from heading to landfill over a lifetime it is a worthwhile thing to do.

If we consider that we should change our toothbrush every 3 months, that is 4 toothbrushes per year over a lifetime, that is 320 toothbrushes going to landfill each.  That is millions per year when we consider everyone.

I don’t think it is fair that ocean creatures should have to swim around with our discarded toothbrushes.  Choosing bamboo toothbrush is so much better, it will biodegrade and break down storing carbon and returning to the soil.

Success Hacks

Finding a bamboo toothbrush that you like is really the only trick with this one.  I would buy them in a pack so each member of your family can have one. It is also nice to have spares.  I actually can’t find any bamboo toothbrushes in my local supermarket anymore. They were there for a short while but are no longer on the shelves.  I will be buying mine online now.

Step 12 – Gifts and celebrations

As we near the festive season it is nice to consider how our gifts and celebrations impact the environment.  Check out my complete guide to a waste free Christmas here for more tricks and tips on an eco friendly celebration.

Giving gifts is a lovely thing to do however there are some great tips we can follow to make our gift giving more eco friendly.  Firstly give gifts of experiences rather than things. Rather than giving more stuff, giving your family member or friend an experience gift like yoga classes or movie tickets is far better.

Going for a Chris Kringle approach to gift giving is another great way to cut back on the amount of stuff given at Christmas time.  Buying one well thought out gift is far nicer than many smaller gifts.

Success Hacks:

For a full guide on an eco friendly celebration, check out my previous article here on ways to celebrate Christmas without creating the trash.

Step 13 – Compost Queen

Composting is actually one of my favourite things to do in the garden.  As a keen gardener for many years I have learned to appreciate the soil and all of the goodness it holds.  The best thing we can do for our soils as well as to reduce waste heading to landfill is to compost our kitchen scraps.

Check out my previous article here on ways to compost your kitchen scraps.

Doing this will save all of that green waste heading to landfill where it rots and create methane gas.  This gas is a potent greenhouse gas and can be avoided by simply composting our food waste.

You can start a small compost in your backyard, read more about that here. Or if you are in an apartment maybe a small worm farm is the way to go.

Success Hacks

Starting a compost from scratch if you have never done this before can take a bit of research.  Check out my guide before you start to get a good understanding of how to build a compost heap from scratch as well as great options if you are in an apartment.  

Step 14 – Grow your own

One of the most fulfilling things I have done is to grow my own food.  Being able to walk outside and pick your greens for dinner or fresh herbs is such an amazing experience.  After moving from our small acreage, I now have a little backyard area that i grow some herbs in.

Even if you only have a balcony setting up a small herb garden is really rewarding.  Growing your own food helps to reduce waste as you only pick when you are ready to eat, it reduces food miles and therefore the carbon footprint that your food creates and taste delicious.

Success Hacks

If you have never gardened before start small.  Starting with a small pot with herbs is a great choice.  Then growing leafy greens like lettuce can be a great way to have fresh salad on hand any day of the week.

Step 15 – Be efficient

Saving water and power around your home is a great way to become more eco friendly.  Check out my previous post here for great tips to save water and energy.
Saving on both of these utilities can save you hundreds of dollars each year.  

Step 16 – Head to the farmers market

This would be my absolute favourite tip and one of the best things about going eco friendly.  Buying produce from farmers markets is so rewarding, the smells of fresh food being cooked, the excitement of fresh fruit and vegetables coming into season and getting to meet the local people making and growing the food.

I love heading to a local  farmers market, getting a coffee, watching my kids run around and explore the sights and smells.  The eco friendly part of a farmers market is that you are going straight from a farmer’s crop to you, there is no middle man.  There is no extra transport and packaging from a farm to a store and then from the store to your home. You get the freshness of fruit and veg that have been picked that morning and you also buy what is in season.

Buying fruit and veg in season not only guarantees that you are eating them at their best, but you also know that they wouldn’t have had to grow in artificial conditions.  A fresh grown tomato that has grown outside in the sun tastes delicious and could get your kids eating more of them.

Success Hacks

The best advice I can give is to make sure that you bring your eco shopping bags, your eco coffee cup and your water bottle.  My local farmers market is so eco friendly they won’t provide any plastic bags so don’t forget to bring your own.

Farmers markets are amazing places so check out your local and see what amazing finds you can get.

Step 17 – Remember to recycle

I have left this one to the end because it will round out our journey towards and eco friendly life.  Ideally we want to get to the point of avoiding waste so that we don’t have to recycle, if you like we Pre-cycle.  Not using the product that has to be recycled in the first place is the best method.

However, if you do find that some recyclable materials have made their way in, send them to recycling via your own curb side recycling bin, recycling bins in stores or a local council collection point.

So there are my tips for challenging yourself to live an eco friendly life.  It is good to remember that this is a journey. We are not all perfect and I myself have made many mistakes along the way.

What I learned when I went Eco Friendly

What i have learned by aiming to be waste free (and I’m not 100% there yet) is that is actually really challenging.  Even with the best intentions, if you are not paying attention well meaning store owners can give you a plastic straw to go into your kids milkshake or pack your things in plastic without asking.

I find that when i’m out and about I am still really conscious of making those eco friendly choices and having my eco bags, cups and straws at the ready.

As far as your own behaviour, I think forming havings is the key.  Getting into the habit of storing your eco bags in the trunk of your car or grabbing your eco coffee cup as you head out the door are all things that become easier over time.

Congratulations on starting the journey towards an eco friendly life, and if you are already on your way, you can stand as a role model for all of use who are working towards a waste free life.