I gradually started to look for more eco-friendly options, when I was living in Taiwan. Taiwanese recycling program inspired me to start thinking this way. In their system, the more you recycle, the less you pay for trash removal. You can read my article on their unique recycling system. From then on, I was adding on to my lifestyle.
Now, I am vegan especially for environmental and ethical reasons. I buy only what I really need, which means no trips to the mall when I am bored. I buy my groceries in bulk with no packaging. We recycle, we repair our stuff instead of tossing and buying new. We have been using a vermicomposter on our balcony for at least 5 years now. I have written an article where I describe all about worm composting in an apartment, get inspired in this article! I also grow my own food on the same balcony.
If you want to read more about what I do well, what I need to improve, and where is am still lacking eco-friendly action, go to my About me section.
The word eco-friendly is a difficult one to define clearly. It can mean different things for different people. For instance, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, eco-friendly means causing the least possible damage to the environment or designed to have little or no damaging effect on the environment. Similarly, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary eco-friendly refers to not environmentally harmful.
In this article we will cover these topics:
- Product stages and their influence on eco-friendliness
- The best eco-friendly option is not buying
- How to decide if a product is eco-friendly
- Synonyms to eco-friendly
- Eco-friendly certifications
- Eco-friendly materials
- What is greenwashing
- What can you do at home to become more eco-friendly?
Product stages and their influence on eco-friendliness
The eco-friendliness of a product starts with the production and ends at the end of the life cycle of a product (or service).
We need to look carefully at how something was made. What materials and processes were used? How much energy was used during production? How much water was contaminated and wasted in the process? Was the energy used renewable or not? How much waste was created? How was this waste disposed of? In addition, how far did it have to travel to get to your house?
During the life cycle, we can look at how is this product used. Is it energy-efficient? Is it effective at what it is designed to do? Does it only serve one very specific function, or does it have multiple uses and purposes? How long will it last? How many uses it has? Can it be fixed if broken? And much more.
At the end of the life-cycle, we need to be mindful of how to dispose of the product. Is it compostable, or recyclable? Is it easy to get to the correct recycling facility?
If you want to learn how to dispose of your own stuff in an eco-friendly way, read this article where I describe 7 ways of eco-friendly disposal.
The best eco-friendly option is not buying
We live in a world based on consumerism. Marketers constantly tell us we will be happier after we buy the next best thing. But when we think about it, we really don’t need much to survive, strive, and be happy. Groceries and some very basic products apart, the most eco-friendly option would be just to decide not to buy.
Therefore, before every purchase, ask yourself if you really need the product you are about to buy. How will it improve your life? Will you REALLY use it? Will you use it often? How long will the happiness last? Can you survive, thrive, and be happy without it? Or are you buying it just for the pleasure of a new item?
I started to question every non-essential purchase in my life. And I realized, I really don’t need much. I am as happy as before, if not happier. In summary, I don’t buy gadgets, luxury items, clothes that I don’t need. So, what do I buy? Groceries and essential toiletries. Clothes when needed, materials for arts and crafts that I do. Materials for DYI home products I make. Occasionally, I buy a book or a gift for loved ones. If something brakes, I try to fix it. If fixing is no longer an option, then I will replace the item. And still, I am not a minimalist, or nowhere near. Our place is full of stuff from before, or gifts that we have received.
How to decide if a product is eco-friendly
In my opinion, we should talk about levels of eco-friendliness. It is challenging to find a product that hasn’t caused any harm to the planet or the environment in any of the life-cycle stages. Sometimes, we might face a dilemma. We can purchase a product that is very eco-friendly. It was produced using only eco-friendly materials and processes. It doesn’t pollute in any way. In addition, it has multiple purposes. But then, you have to ship it from the other part of the world because there is nothing like that on your side of the planet. Therefore, you have to decide what will you favor. You should always strive for the best you can do in your situation and conditions. Don’t strive for perfection, but strive for what’s possible.
Synonyms of eco-friendly
We can use many terms in the same way as eco-friendly. Environmentally-friendly, planet-friendly, ecological, climate-friendly, eco-conscious, low-impact, sustainable, green, clean, zero-waste, and others. Of course, there might be nuances to these terms. But for the use of this article and this website, we will consider them as meaning almost the same. All of these terms aim at lessening the impact of a product, service, or activity on our environment.
So, how do you decide? Fortunately, there is some help. Many companies or products decide to get certified. These certifications can ensure that these companies, products, or services follow certain processes and practices. Every certification focuses on something slightly different. So, you need to know what each certification means.
However, beware of fake certifications. There are companies that will design a logo with similar characteristics to those real certifications. They will put it on their packaging just to confuse you and trick you into buying their product. This and other misleading techniques are called greenwashing, and we will talk more about it later on.
There are many certifications that can help the consumer decide whether the product is produced in an eco-friendly way. To cover them all we would probably need a whole article on the topic. So, I prepared a table that covers some of the most used certifications. Above all, the table explains what does it certify, what kind of companies can get certified. The table also gives examples of what processes and practices the certification process pays attention to.
Eco-friendly materials will have some of the characteristics we have discussed earlier. For raw materials, we can look at how we extract the material. Is it renewable? Will we run out of it if we keep extracting? Does it grow fast or slow? Does its growth or extraction harm the environment?
Some of the most eco-friendly materials is bamboo. It grows really fast. It can grow in different climates. In addition, it does not harm the soil where it grows. Because of its natural antibacterial properties, it does not require the use of chemicals in plantations. It can be used as a replacement for wood. It can be processed mechanically to fiber and used as textiles. However, beware as there is another process to create bamboo textiles. This process is not very friendly, and it uses harsh chemicals. Read more about eco-friendly textiles in this article, where I cover linen, hemp, bamboo, cotton, second-hand clothes, and new recycled fabrics.
Cork is a bark of the cork tree. The tree keeps growing after they harvest the cork. They harvest the same tree every 9 years once the tree reached maturity.
Hemp is an eco-friendly textile alternative to synthetic materials. The fibers can be used for clothing and home decor products. Hemp plantations use less water than cotton plantations. They produce much more fiber and don’t require the use of pesticides. In addition, the plant has many more uses than just textiles. Its seeds are used for protein powder, oils, plant-based milk, and others.
Glass is one of the materials that can be recycled almost forever. The recycling process does not degrade the quality of glass. The recycling of the glass is done using lower temperatures than when making brand new glass, so it uses less energy in the process. Beware that some specialized kinds of glass are produced using different methods and thus are not as eco-friendly.
Other eco-friendly materials
Just to mention other eco-friendly materials, but without going further into details. Linen, recycled paper, reclaimed wood, stainless steel, recycled rubber, clay bricks, and other clay products, bales of straw, etc.
What is greenwashing
I talked a little about greenwashing earlier, but I want to explain further. Greenwashing is a deceptive and misleading marketing technique that presents companies, products, or services as environmentally friendly when they are not. So, it is an attempt to monetize on the growing interest in eco-friendly products or services, without really changing anything about the product.
Firstly, this is done by putting labels like “natural”, “whole”, “green”, “100% organic” on the packaging without any supporting information on if or how this is true.
Another technique is to use images of green leaves, natural environment, animals in nature, green packaging. Again, without any supportive claims or certifications.
The next technique is to use claims that are irrelevant. For example, saying that the products don’t contain certain chemicals, while this chemical might have been forbidden years ago. In summary, any product isn’t using it. Furthermore, stating “not tested on animals” when testing on animals on that product is not relevant.
Another one that comes to mind is creating and using a fake logo very similar to official certification.
What can you do at home to become more eco-friendly?
If you want to learn in-depth about what to do to become more eco-friendly, I have a series of articles on how to make your house more eco-friendly.
Start with making your kitchen eco-friendly here!
Continue with your bathroom here.
Learn how to green your bedroom and home office here.
Lastly, save energy and the planet!
But in this article, I will give you some basic tips to achieve this as well. These are small things everyone can adopt easily, which will make your home more eco-friendly. You can gradually increase these practices over time, at your own pace. I hope I inspired you to start now.
- Take shorter showers. Pick your favorite song and shower for only the duration of the song. Entertaining and eco-friendly at the same time. However, don’t pick a Boléro or similar long music piece.
- Remember to turn off the water while you brush your teeth, or do other activities, where running water is not essential.
- Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins. They are washable, reusable, and can be very cute. You can also make them at home, or purchase locally made.
- Use cloth instead of a paper towel, we call this unpaper towel.
- Use cloth hankies instead of paper tissue.
- If you have a baby at home, use cloth diapers as much as you can.
- Carry a water bottle everywhere and fill it up. In other words, avoid buying single-use water bottles.
- Carry a reusable coffee mug if you buy coffee to go. In addition, you might even get a discount.
- Carry a reusable shopping bag that will last. Be careful, there are some kinds of reusable bags made of plastic and will break sooner rather than later. Those bags actually use more resources than a single-use plastic bag. In summary, use a quality cloth or net kind of reusable bags.
- Use public transport or ride a bike every time it’s possible.
- When possible, don’t fly.
- Unplug your appliances when not using them.
- Turn off the light when not necessary.
- Use LED light bulbs.
- When possible, replace your appliances for more energy-efficient ones. Do it at the end of the life cycle of the appliance you already have.
- If you live in a house, look into investing in solar energy, or other kinds of renewable energy.
- Insulate your home to preserve heat in the winter and coolness in the summer. Therefore save on energy bills.
- Don’t overheat or overcool your house to save energy.
- Use dishwasher, but use it only when you have a full load.
- Wash your clothes only when you have a full load.
- Don’t use a drier, but hang dry (line-dry) your clothes.
Food / Kitchen
- Grow your own food.
- Eat less meat. Go vegetarian, or vegan.
- Buy in bulk and with no packaging if possible. Bring your own containers.
- Don’t waste food. Buy exact quantities, and use it all up before it goes bad. Freeze if necessary in order to avoid food waste.
- Plant a tree.
- Recycle everything you can, but recycle it the right way.
- Make compost or vermicompost. More than 50% of your trash is actually food scraps that can be turned into rich soil at your house. Composting or vermicomposting might sound very daunting, but it’s actually easy. In addition, it does not smell if done right. You can have a vermicomposter even on a balcony.
I have a complete guide on worm composting in an apartment, to learn more go to this article.
- Have broken stuff fixed instead of buying new.
- Buy second hand.
- Buy locally produced products.
- Switch to eco-friendly cosmetics and cleaning products, or make them yourself.
In conclusion, this is a very broad topic. I tried to cover the basics, and I hope you learned something new and useful today.