As we've gotten more and more aware of how us humans are negatively affecting the Earth, we've gotten to know some of the top things we can do to reduce our footprint on our planet and leave it better than we left it. But there are some things most of us do every day that we don't realize are bad for the environment — and unfortunately, they're not all easy fixes.
While each habit on this list is something you may do every day without thinking about how it harms the environment, adjusting these habits is part of sustainable living. And when we talk about living sustainably, we have to talk about whether that sustainable lifestyle is sustainable both for the Earth and for us. Changing your habits and picking up planet-saving ones as part of your daily life is definitely positive, but your planet-saving habits also have to be sustainable for you. The habits below aren't going to be things everyone is able to change — and that's 100 percent understandable.
But if you're able to, making even a few of the below changes can help reduce the footprint you leave on Earth — and therefore help keep Earth around just that little bit longer.
1Tossing Used Pet Litter
If you've got an animal like a rabbit, guinea pig, or hamster, and you're not composting their bedding and waste, you should know that you can! You can compost most beddings, and as long as you're not loading down your compost with "pure poo," as Can I Compost This? says on its website, you'll be A-OK — and reducing the amount of waste going to the landfill.
You should be careful if you want to compost cat litter, since cats can pass on certain diseases to humans, according to Recyclebank. But even for our feline friends, there are ways to reduce the footprint, like more lightweight litter, and litter made of sustainable materials like recycled newspaper or even coconut.
2Using Plastic Bags
You probably know using a lot of plastic is bad for the environment. But if you live in a city with an initiative that places a surcharge on top of every plastic bag you use (in my city, it's 5 cents), you may be fooled into thinking that covers you. But you can still be minimizing the number of plastic bags you use. You can usually find cheap reusable grocery bags either at your grocery store or online — stock up and shop on.
OK, I know I said "shop on," but I didn't necessarily mean shop online. Online shopping is frankly terrible for the environment in multiple ways, and because it's become so commonplace in so many parts of the world, it's starting to have a serious impact. Vox reported that the emissions from delivery trucks ferrying online-ordered packages to customers is creating serious issues, including a disproportionate amount of pollutant emissions.
4Washing Your Face
Many places have banned microbeads, the tiny, scrubby beads that became all the rage in body care products a few years ago. At one point, in New York state alone, more than 19 tons of microbeads were added to the water system in just one year, Business Insider reported. The U.S. has banned microbeads in products, but if you travel to another country or you buy body care products from outside the U.S., you may still be using products with microbeads.
5Using Plastic Straws
Somewhere in the back of your mind, you probably knew plastic straws weren't like, the best for the environment, but they're so ubiquitous — they're in virtually every restaurant we go to — that it's hard to take in the full scale of their effect on the Earth. Plastic straws have been all over the news this year, but you may not realize people in the U.S. reportedly throw away over 500 million of them each day, according to CNN. Soon it may be easier to change this habit, considering McDonald's in the U.S. is testing phasing out plastic straws completely, reported Treehugger.
Vehicles produce one-third of the U.S.'s air pollution, according to National Geographic, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, just one normal vehicle emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. So while you probably know that vehicles overall affect the quality of our air, you may not realize just how much your individual car is adding to that pollution. The solution is one I know you've heard before: Use alternate modes of transportation if and when you're able, and if you're heading out with friends, do your best to carpool.
7Flushing Your Toilet
OK, I head into this one fully aware that I'm going to gross some people out. Look, there's an old rhyme about yellow and mellow. You know it, so I'm not going to make you read it again. But that rhyme, as kinda cringey as it can be, is true. I'm not saying let your pee fester for days, but it's not going to hurt anyone if you stop flushing every single time you pee — and in fact, you'll be saving up to seven gallons of water per flush, according to ConserveH2O.
8Turning On The Lights
That's a bit dramatic, I know. And while, yes, I do also mean turning and leaving on lights when you don't need them, mostly I mean turning on lights and not using light bulbs that are energy-efficient and as environmentally friendly as possible. By purchasing energy-efficient, long-lasting light bulbs (which are a little more expensive, but worth it), you'll be reducing the amount of power you use, and reducing the amount of waste you produce when you inevitably need to change your bulbs.
Ah, the daily nectar from the gods. I'm a coffee lover, and the mere idea of giving up my morning (and noon, and 3 p.m., and 8 p.m....) cup of joe gives me heart palpitations that totally aren't related to caffeine, I swear. But unfortunately, the coffee trade isn't easy on the Earth — Sustainable Business Toolkit reports that not only does the coffee trade cause deforestation, but the process of turning coffee cherries into ready-to-go ground coffee results in a lot of waste.
10Leaving Appliances Plugged In
When I was a kid, I was often baffled by my grandfather, who would go around unplugging everything from the stove to the TV to the alarm clocks whenever he left the house, convinced that he would be adding tens of dollars to his monthly electricity bill if he left them plugged in. However, there was some merit to this practice: It turns out there are appliances that use what's known as "phantom energy" even when they're turned off but left plugged in, according to HomeStars. Some of the worst offenders to consider unplugging when you're not using them are routers and modems, computers, and video game consoles, HomeStars reported.
11Using Nonreusable Menstrual Products
I'll be straight-up: As a person who menstruates but is physically unable to use a sustainable solution like a DivaCup, I am here for you if you didn't think about the potential sustainability of your menstruation solutions. Well, it turns out that more than "20 billion sanitary napkins, tampons and applicators are dumped into North American landfills every year," according to Lunapads. As you can imagine, that takes up a huge amount of landfill space — and it's difficult to make the switch, since there are relatively few menstrual products that are sustainably made.
However, there are some you can switch to, including, of course, DivaCup, washable period underwear, and reusable cloth pads.
Though seeing how we can improve the everyday impact we have on the Earth is sometimes not easy, noting even the smallest habits we can change will have a positive effect — one that will last beyond our lifetimes.