5 Ways to Make Sustainability Actually Sustainable in Your Home

In this week’s edition of Mompreneur, we bring you five ways to realistically introduce sustainability into your life choices and your household.

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Do you dream of being a Crunchy Granola Earth Mother but does the thought of actually using cloth diapers or concocting your own deodorant secretly make you want to want to lie down on a bed of Styrofoam peanuts and not wake up until they decompose? Take heart. Momprenuer has five suggestions for incorporating eco-friendly habits into your household.

1. Make small, meaningful substitutions

There’s nothing wrong with starting small, says Chelsea Malacara, Sustainability Education and Outreach Coordinator for the University of Southern Maine.

In fact, Malacara believes that making one or two simple substitutions aimed at reducing the waste in your household each year, and then building on those practices, is a great way for families to cultivate a greener lifestyle over time.

She suggests starting by swapping paper napkins and towels for cloth napkins and rags. Though there’s a small upfront cost to buying a couple sets of cloth napkins, a typical family of four can save over $150 per year by foregoing paper towels during the weekly Target run. Similarly, ditching plastic bags in favor of reusable containers or wraps can drastically reduce waste without too much additional effort.

Buying bulk food is another one of Malacara’s favorite ways to reduce your family’s footprint. Grains, seeds, snacks, dried beans or pasta, and spices can all be purchased in bulk from local grocery stores, cutting down on the amount of disposable packaging—and ultimately putting money back in the family budget.

Finally, go through your newspaper and magazine subscriptions and cancel any that you don’t actually read or switch your subscription to the online platform. Make sure that all your bank and financial statements come in electronic form and sign-up for paperless billing wherever possible.

2. Make upfront investments on reusable products

As more and more cities tax or altogether ban grocery bags, people have adapted by carrying reusable grocery bags in their bag or trunk of the car. Malacara suggests getting in the same habit with a few other key household items.

“Buy every member of the family their own water bottle and then make sure they’re all filled and ready before you leave the house,” says Malacara, so you don’t have to break down and buy bottled water when the cries of dying thirst start coming from the backseat. Invest in a set of travel silverware to keep in your desk drawer or purse and buy your kids reusable bento-style lunch boxes. Not only do they help cut down on plastic bag waste, but they also keep the potato chips from getting crushed by the apple.

If you’re a coffee drinker, find a good insulated travel mug and then ask your barista to fill it with your daily soy latte. If you make your coffee at home, look for a device that doesn’t use paper filters. And if fizzy water is more your thing, consider investing in a kitchen countertop gadget to make your own so you can bypass the plastic bottle or can.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money, notes Malacara. Basic mason jars make excellent containers for bulk foods and reusable grocery totes can serve double duty on trips to the park or beach. Use what you have and then when it’s time to replace the item, look for a more sustainable option.

3. Get the kids involved

Malacara is a big proponent of getting the whole family involved so that making environmentally-friendly choices becomes a way of life for everyone and doesn’t fall solely on mom—or whoever oversees the management of the household. It’s the golden age of socially-conscious and entertaining children’s books, so bedtime is a great opportunity to introduce concepts in an age-appropriate context.

Visiting local farmers markets with the kids is a great way to instill from an early age the appreciation for locally-grown food and the importance of minimizing food waste. It can also serve as a fun way to get kids to try new things and make connections with other local business owners.  

Another simple trick to help conserve resources—and save money—is to teach kids to turn off the light or television when they leave the room and turn off the water while brushing their teeth. Make a game of it and come up with rewards for making it through a whole week or month without wasting energy. Assign every member of the family their own bath towel and then remind kids that hanging up their towel to dry and re-using it multiple times before putting it in the laundry is a great way to conserve water and energy.

If you’re lucky to live in one of the eleven states with container deposit laws, encourage your kids to collect bottles and cans and then help them redeem their treasure and save the money.

4. Be a thoughtful consumer

While social media offers great ideas and resources for going greener, it can also contribute toward mindless consumption and a “more” mentality. In the quest to create the ultimate ‘grammable birthday party or holiday celebration, it’s not hard to go off track. Instead of stressing about finding matching superhero napkins, cups, plates, decorations and goody bags that get thrown out or break the moment the party ends, consider focusing celebrations around special activities or experiences. Look for opportunities to give your children gifts that can grow with them instead of being discarded after the novelty wears off in only a few days.

Second-hand and consignment shops provide a great opportunity to give new life to toys and clothes—and offer great deals on seasonal items like coats and shoes that younger children seem to outgrow overnight.

5. Support and donate

Finally, it doesn’t take much time or effort to sign a petition or write a check. “Find the organizations in your area that are doing good work and then support them in whatever way you can,” urges Malacara. By identifying an issue that’s close to home and in which you have a stake, it makes it a lot easier to move the concept of going green from the abstract to the personal. And remember, a small step in the right direction is better than nothing at all.

“At the end of the day, your sanity is what’s most important,” says Malacara, who has a three-year-old son. “If you feel like you can’t take care of yourself and your family, you’re not going to make good, sustainable choices. So, focus on doing what you know you can do and then add to your routines as you’re able.”

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