10 Steps to a More Sustainable Life

Make a big difference with these small actions

Looking to make some eco-friendly changes in your life ahead of Earth Day on April 22? Acts of sustainability don’t have to consume your life or completely change your home. These small steps can help you make major improvements to the environment.

sustainable - ink detroit
Detroitish Natural Tote Bag with Black Handles, $15, at Ink Detroit, 731 E. Nine Mile Road, Hazel Park; 248-268-2517; inkdetroit.com

Trade in Your Single-Use Plastic

From changing your water bottle and grocery bag to finding alternative packaging, there are dozens of ways to cut back on your daily plastic use. Buy a cute, reusable tote bag (like the Detroitish Natural Tote Bag with Black Handles, $15, at Ink Detroit, 731 E. Nine Mile Road, Hazel Park; 248-268-2517; inkdetroit.com) to take on your shopping trips, or shop plastic-free items (like the Shampoo Bar, $10.50, and Conditioner Bar, $10.50, at Byoc Co.; byocco.com) for a more sustainable shower routine.

Ditch the Car 

Looking to make sustainable swaps and stay in shape? Biking and walking are both great for your body, your bank account, and the environment. Whether it’s riding your bike to work, taking a family walk to get ice cream instead of hopping in the car, or just cutting back on your vehicle usage in general, a little less time in the car can improve your health along with the health of the planet.

Compost Your Scraps 

Consider composting — the process of decomposing organic matter and turning the remains into compost, which can be used to fertilize plants — the kitchen-friendly cousin to recycling. Composting is easy and only requires a few tools, but if the task still seems daunting you can always visit communal composting spots like Midtown Composting in Detroit.

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One way to be practice sustainability is to cultivate your green thumb. Photo: IStock

Tend to Your Garden 

Gardening is a great way to go green and get outside. Along with decreasing the amount of money you spend at the grocery store, growing your own produce allows you to scale back on the amount of plastic you consume, as many produce items at the grocery store are wrapped in plastic of some sort. You’ll also avoid overbuying and, thereby, wasting food. Wondering how to get started? Try planting these five foods this summer.

Repurpose Old Items

Instead of buying new dish towels every few months, cut up an old T-shirt to get the job done. You can also use old bowls and cups as plant pots, use plastic shopping bags to hold trash, or convert your shower curtain into a new tablecloth. The possibilities — and savings — are endless with a bit of creativity. 

Swap Your Cleaning Supplies

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, using more eco-friendly products can help reduce environmental concerns. Consider swapping out your go-to products with cleaner versions suggested through the agency’s Safer Choice tool. Or, research safe DIY cleaner recipes online and try making your own products at home.

Do an Audit of Your Home

Take a day to go through your home and find the places where you are using the most electricity and single-use plastic or practicing the most wastefulness. For some, this could be as simple as shutting off a light when you leave the room or hanging your laundry to dry instead of using your dryer, for others, this might mean cutting back on food shopping to keep from throwing away expired items.

sustainable - lost and found vintage
Sixties Athletic Jacket, $120, and vintage Coach bag, $82, at Lost and Found Vintage, 510 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-548-6154; lostandfoundvintage.com. Visit Lost and Found for these and similar items.

Watch How You Shop

Given that fast fashion and other clothing brands often engage in unethical production practices, the best way to make sure you’re shopping as sustainably as possible is to shop second hand. Major thrift stores like Salvation Army have thousands of items to browse while smaller, local shops like Lost and Found Vintage in Royal Oak, Thrift on the Avenue and Boro Resale in Detroit, The Lowry Estate in Farmington, and Regeneration in Ferndale offer smaller, more curated selections. Many stores also take donations, so you can give your old clothes a new home while picking up something new.

Carry Out, Sustainably

If you’re going out to eat and your eyes are bigger than your appetite, plan to bring your own carry-out containers and wraps. Reusable food storage options cut out the need for a restaurant’s single-use Styrofoam boxes. Simply let your server know that you’ve brought your own container (like the Stainless Steel Sandwich Box, $29.95, at Urbanum, 6545 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-771-4777; urbanumdetroit.mybigcommerce.com) or wrap (like Z-Wraps, $8.95, at Write Impressions, 407 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-541-8921; writeimpressions-mi.com), take your food home, clean, and reuse. If you’re ordering takeout or delivery, you can also specify that you do not need plastic cutlery and additional napkins to cut down on waste.

And Of Course, Vote

Voting for legislation and congress members who care about the environment can help your community move towards a more sustainable future. Learn more about city, state, and national legislation regarding topics like public transportation, recycling, environmental practices, and climate change to be an informed voter. More information about Michigan voting can be found at vote.org/state/michigan.