10 simple ways your family can be more eco-friendly

There are lots of little things we can do in our family’s everyday life to play a part in reducing landfill waste, cleaning the air and preserving the natural landscape. When we get our kids involved and help them understand the importance of being eco-friendly, it will be second nature to them, too.

I’m the founder of O44, a four-pillar approach to living well that includes fitness, nutrition, lifestyle choices and planetary health. I’m also the mother of three and the host of WellBe workshops, which educate and empower kids and teens to take care of themselves and the planet.

Being eco-friendly means living in a way that is not harmful to the environment. In addition to being better for the planet, it is often the more frugal option, which is a win for everyone.

You don’t have to change your whole life overnight. Here are some small, simple, green choices we can make in our homes to become eco-friendly as a family.

Related: 15 outdoor activities for kids that will nurture a love of nature

10 ideas for a more eco-friendly family

1. Avoid disposable products when possible

Switching to a reusable option for lunch bags, dinnerware, grocery totes and water bottles can make a big impact. Holidays can involve a lot of disposable products, but they also provide a great opportunity for little ones to get creative and pitch in. Instead of buying throwaway decorations, consider having your kids help gather natural materials, like branches, pine cones and wild flowers.

2. Try to reduce plastic use

Single-use plastics are everywhere, but it’s possible to begin to phase them out in our homes. From reusable metal water bottles to glass food storage containers for snacks, there are lots of non-plastic options, many of which lots of us already have in our homes.

Increasingly, more self-care items, like deodorant and shampoo, are being sold without their usual plastic containers, too. Slowly, we’ll all rely on plastics less in our lives.

Related: 11 great children’s books about the environment to read for Earth Day

3. Buy in bulk

Kitchen soap, laundry detergent and bathroom hand soaps can all be purchased in bulk, which cuts down on single-use containers. Similarly, bulk items from the grocery store can be stored in glass jars, which many of us already have in our cupboards.

4. Refuse what you don’t need, even if it’s free

Free plastic pens, free samples with purchase, free brochures and magazines can all add to waste. While it can be tempting to take home freebies, consider if it’s adding anything or if it will soon become another item to be tossed away.

5. Consider if you really need to purchase a new item

It’s become so easy to add items to our online shopping carts and have them shipped quickly to our homes. However, this shop-and-drop cycle contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. And for the items that we know we’re going to need (like kids’ gear) consider joining a buy-sell-trade group online, thrifting or shopping at an online resale store.

Related: How parents can fight against greenwashing—and find quality kids’ clothing in the process

6. Declutter and share what you don’t need

This is another place where kids can get in on the game. If they’re having trouble parting with old toys, consider having them help gather old clothes they’ve outgrown. Together, you can donate items to local charities that might be looking for what you’re clearing out.

7. Switch to eco-friendly cleaning products

A lot of mainstream cleaning products contain preservatives, detergents or foaming agents that are made from toxic chemicals that wash up into streams and rivers, causing water pollution that enters ecosystems. Switching to products that contain non-synthetics reduces the risk of exposure to toxic chemicals that are harmful to humans as well as the environment. For guidance, check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of safer products.

8. Shop locally for groceries

Consider shopping at your local farmer’s market and choosing organic when possible. Not only will you be supporting your local economy, you will contribute to conserving energy because of the lower transportation costs. (Plus, farmer’s markets often have kid-friendly samples of fruits and cheeses, which makes shopping more fun for little ones.)

9. Lower your electricity use

Consider having your kids help the whole family use less electricity by encouraging everyone to turn off the lights when you leave the room and unplug appliances when they aren’t being used. Even when not in use, many electronic devices, including televisions, microwaves and printers use standby power, sometimes referred to as vampire or phantom electricity. When it’s time to replace a bulb, opt for energy-efficient ones as well.

10. Conserve water

Fixing leaky faucets, keeping the water off when you are not actively using it and avoiding using your toilet as a trash can will help your family use less water. Using less water saves energy and infrastructure costs. It also means less water is lost to contamination, and it helps assure an adequate supply of clean water for the future.

Bonus: Practice sustainable tourism

While we may not travel every day, being conscientious tourists can reduce our carbon footprint and help sustain the natural environment that we have the privilege to visit. Over-tourism and pollution, especially through excess waste, leads to the degradation of natural sites and depletion of natural resources.

Tips for traveling sustainably:

  • Choose tour operators that invest in the local communities where they conduct their business

  • Shop with local businesses and eat at local restaurants

  • Stick to footpaths when hiking or in parks

  • Pack reusable containers and bottles for snacks and drinks

  • Use environmentally-friendly travel products