We’ve teamed up with the food waste fighters at Imperfect Foods to share tips for living a more eco-friendly life. Start small with an affordable grocery service (hello, Imperfect Foods) that makes an impact through the food they deliver—like misshapen produce and surplus snacks that would otherwise go unused—then explore more possibilities for building a less wasteful world.

The internet is filled with suggestions for living more sustainably, from carrying reusable utensils to being better about recycling, but have you ever wondered whether these habits actually make a difference? I know I have. I’m pretty diligent about skipping the plastic straws and bringing my own grocery bags, but to be honest, it doesn’t always feel like I’m doing enough to make a difference.

To find out if my green habits truly help the environment, I took a closer look at the big-picture effects of several popular recommendations for an eco-friendly lifestyle. In the end, I was shocked at just how impactful these little habits can be, even on an individual level. Here are five simple changes I’ve made that really do add up over time, helping to live a more sustainable life overall.

Embrace Imperfect Foods

Food waste is a pretty big problem in the United States, and we’re not just talking about the spinach in your fridge that gets slimy before you can eat it. Around 35 percent of America’s food goes uneaten or unsold, and this “surplus food” contributes a staggering 54 million tons of waste to landfills each year. In fact, studies have found that reducing food waste has potential to be the most impactful method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades.

I’ve thought of several ways to reduce my personal food waste, including only buying what I need, composting leftover food scraps, and using a service like Imperfect Foods, a grocery delivery service that sells foods that have cosmetic quirks, irregular sizes, or are surplus, all of which would otherwise end up wasted. The food is delivered right to your door each week, saving you a trip to the grocery store, and I love that they’ll even take back the packaging for free so it can be recycled or reused. By shopping with Imperfect Foods for just one year, a single person can help to recover between 288 and 384 pounds of food and conserve more than 9,000 gallons of water. Your account shows you exactly how much produce, water, and CO2e that you’ve saved by shopping through Imperfect Foods, so you can actually see the impact your new habit is making.

Photo by Rocky Luten

Compost Your Food Scraps

Despite my best efforts to use all the food I buy, I sometimes end up with produce that goes bad before I can eat it. But instead of throwing it away, I toss my food waste directly into my compost bin along with other kitchen scraps. Studies have found that composting gives off 86 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than what would be produced if the same food was dumped into a landfill, and there are plenty of other benefits, too. Composting will make your trash less smelly and you can use the final product to fertilize your garden or houseplants.

It can take a while to get the hang of composting, plus you’ll need to check your city’s guidelines. (Pro tip: If you don’t want to maintain your own compost pile, check if your town offers compost pickup or consider donating your compost to a local community garden.) When I first started, it took a few months of trial and error to figure out the right balance of “green” and “brown” materials, as well as how often the pile needed to be turned. However, now that I have composting figured out, I love that I’m able to turn food waste into “black gold” for my flower beds—the blooms are that much more vibrant because of it.

Bring Your Own Bags

Whether you’re visiting your local cheesemonger, shopping at your favorite boutique, or picking up takeout from a restaurant, chances are you’ll be offered a plastic bag to carry your goods. On average, Americans use 365 plastic bags per person annually, and only one in seven will be recycled. That means for every 365 bags, about 52 of them will be recycled and the other 313 will end up in the trash, or worse, polluting the environment. And that’s just the waste produced by one person.

Switching to reusable bags can make a big difference. Most households need just four reusable bags, which are often made from biodegradable materials and can be used for many years. I started using reusable bags for my groceries around four years ago, and honestly, I’ll never go back to plastic bags. It did take me a while to get into the habit of bringing reusable bags with me to the store (I found that leaving them in my car or purse helped) but now it’s just second nature.

Photo by Ty Mecham. Prop Stylist: Molly Fitzsimons. Food Stylist: Ericka Martins.

Take Shorter Showers

On average, Americans use around 82 gallons of water per day at home, 50 percent of which is used in the bathroom—we’re talking showering, hand-washing, and toilet-flushing. We’ve all heard the advice to take shorter showers to conserve water, but how much water does that really save? The average shower uses 2.5 gallons of water per minute, which means a 15-minute shower uses around 37.5 gallons. If you cut five minutes off your lather time, you’d only use 25 gallons of water, saving 12.5 gallons per day. If you shower daily, that adds up to more than 87.5 gallons saved a week and 350 gallons a month—not too shabby! These water savings will be further amplified if multiple people live in your household.

If your housemates can’t be convinced to take shorter showers, another option is to upgrade to a water-saving showerhead. The WaterSense program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has a special label for products that are certified to use at least 20 percent less water and save energy, and WaterSense-labeled showerheads save around 4 gallons of water per shower.

Air-Dry Your Clothing

On laundry day, most of us (myself included) simply move clean clothing from the washing machine into the dryer without thinking. However, dryers are bigtime energy-hounds. In fact, they’re responsible for around 6 percent of a home’s total energy consumption. The good news is that you probably already have access to a free, no-energy clothes-drying alternative: fresh air. By air-drying your clothes, you can reduce your household’s carbon footprint and save money in the process. It’s a small habit that can add up to significant results—studies have estimated that if we all air-dried our laundry, ​​it would eliminate roughly 6 million metric tons of carbon over the course of 10 years. (Take that climate change.)

These are just a few examples of the measurable effects that small eco-friendly changes can make in the long run. Most of these habits have had minimal impact on my everyday life, yet they add up to big reductions in pollution, water waste, energy waste, and food waste—it feels good knowing I’m making a difference and inspires me to think about what other changes could help take care of good ol’ Mother Earth.

What are your favorite eco-friendly swaps? Tell us in the comments!

Our friends at Imperfect Foods make reducing food waste easier—and more impactful—than ever with their array of cosmetically quirky, farm-fresh produce and sustainable pantry staples. By using Imperfect Foods, a single shopper can help recover between 288 to 384 pounds of food, save over 9,000 gallons of water, and save 38 hours of grocery shopping time—and that’s just in one year. Find out all the ways Imperfect Foods is committed to a less wasteful world here.


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