10 Sustainable Living Practices to Reduce Your Family’s Environmental Impact

Sustainable living is about finding ways to use fewer resources and create less waste. You likely already incorporate sustainable living practices into your daily routine without stopping to think about it. Things like using reusable water bottles or shopping bags are some of the common things a lot of people do to live sustainably whether they realize it or not. Any practice that uses less energy or water, or that produces less waste is living more sustainably. If you are looking to add more sustainable living practices to your everyday life, it may be easier than you think. As you explore options for sustainable living, consider these 10 ways to help reduce your family’s environmental impact.


Sustainable Living in the Kitchen

1. Buy Reusable Kitchen Towels and Napkins

An easy way to add a sustainable living practice to your kitchen is by ditching your family’s dependency on paper towels and disposable napkins. Replace those paper towels in the kitchen with cloth kitchen towels and cloth napkins. Both are fairly inexpensive and available in pretty much any retail store like Walmart and Target or online on Amazon. If you are crafty, you can even make your own out of leftover fabric or remnants that you can buy at the fabric store. 

Replacing paper towels or disposable napkins (which your family uses) with cloth napkins at meal times (especially with a large family) reduces so much waste! All those napkins that would get thrown away at the end of the meal are no longer going in the trash can. In the long run, that saves you money because you will not have the need to continuously buy disposable napkins. Plus, unless you are eating something especially messy like spaghetti or ribs, you can usually get a few uses out of cloth napkins before needing to throw them in the wash.

Start small with at least three sets of cloth napkins, meaning one for each member of your family times three. That way you can rotate them while the others are in the wash without having to wash napkins every day.

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The same principle works for replacing paper towels that you use around the kitchen. Instead of using paper towels for drying dishes, wiping up spills, or cleaning the counters, invest in a dozen or so cloth kitchen towels. Have a few hanging around the kitchen so they are easily accessible. A towel that is used for drying dishes can be used a number of times before it needs to be thrown in the wash. Spills and messes are another story, so it is nice to have an extra towel nearby for that sort of thing, which you can then throw directly in the wash. 

Yes, some things are still better or easier to clean up with a paper towel – pet messes or some particularly gross something or another that is growing in the back of your vegetable drawer for instance. It is totally okay to have a roll of paper towels lying around as back up. To practice sustainable living, just aim to use them sparingly – the farther and fewer between the better. 

2. Use Reusable Silicone Bags

Ditch the plastic sandwich and freezer bags and trade them out for reusable silicone bags. There are all sorts of size and brand options, so you can easily find ones that are right for you and your family’s sustainable living needs. Many brands sell them in multi-packs that include different sizes, so start out by buying one pack that includes the size bags you normally use. This way you can test out that brand before stocking your drawers with bags you end up hating. There is no reason you have to make huge sustainable living changes over night. There is nothing wrong with easing in and seeing what works. 

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Reusable silicone bags seal just as good if not better than the disposable plastic bags. They are super durable. Lookfor bags that are made of food-grade silicone. If you are buying larger freezer bags, be sure the description says they work in the freezer and lock out freezer burn. Some bags are dishwasher safe, while others recommend hand washing, so be sure to check for that depending on what you prefer. 

Again, while you might keep a bag of plastic sandwich or freezer bags around for certain situations, try not to make them your go-to anymore. Going through one box of them in a year rather than boxes and boxes of them is an amazing change and a huge benefit to the environment. You do not have to produce zero waste or live completely “green” to say you are aiming for more sustainable living. 

READ MORE: 10 Amazing Zero Waste Travel Tips

3. Plant Your Own Vegetables and Herbs

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Another way to add some sustainable living practices to your kitchen is to grow some of your own vegetables and herbs. Herbs are super easy and you can grow them in small pots right on your kitchen windowsill. Pick some of your favorites, the ones you use frequently, and grow them to use both fresh and dried. It is pretty cool to be able to pick a few sprigs of thyme from your own windowsill or deck to put into that night’s dinner. You can also grow a big bunch of your favorite herb, dry it out, and then store it in a cute little herb bottle. Dried herbs last quite awhile. 

You can even grow a handful of vegetables even if you have limited space. Even someone who just has space on a small deck, patio, or front stoop can grow vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, peas, squash, lettuce, and even potatoes in containers! It can become a fun little hobby that also reduces your carbon footprint and reduces packaging waste, making you the new queen of sustainable living. 

4. Start Composting

Reduce kitchen waste by composting. It is not a hard thing to start doing. It reduces trash and creates nutrient-rich soil for your plants and garden. There are a few different ways you can start composting at home. You can start small with an indoor system. This is especially great if you have a small to non-existent outdoor area or you are not sure you want to go full-on into composting quite yet. You can set up a composting bin in your backyard which would accommodate a larger amount of food scraps and create more composted material to use in your garden.

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Regardless of the option you want to try, all you need are a few simple items and you can be on your way. There are small composting systems and worm composting systems that are ideal for small spaces. For larger outdoor areas, compost tumblers or large, durable trash cans can be placed in the backyard. The cost of composting is only up front when purchasing whatever system or containers you will need. After that it is just about collecting food scraps and mixing up the decomposing food in the container every few days or so. 

READ MORE: 15 Easy Plant-based Recipes for Beginners

Sustainable Living in the Laundry Room

5. Try Soap Nuts

The kitchen is not the only place you can make changes to add a few sustainable living practices to reduce waste and save resources. Consider replacing your regular laundry detergent with soap nuts. What exactly are soap nuts you might be asking? They are a berry shell that naturally contains a cleaning agent that works like detergent. Soap nuts are the dried shells, or husks really, of the soapberry nut, which come from a unique species of trees native to India and Nepal. They can be used for any type of laundry and are safe whether you are connected to your town’s sewer system or have a septic system.  

The shells of the soap nut contain a natural soap called Saponin. When the nut shells absorb water, the saponin is released to create a soaping effect. It is 100% natural and biodegradable, making it a great alternative to chemical detergents. This is an added bonus for anyone who has sensitive skin and has to be careful about what laundry detergent they buy. Plus, even though they are called nuts, they are actually dried berries, making them a safe option for people with nut allergies.

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To use soap nuts in place of laundry detergent, place four to six soap nuts in a muslin bag (which is often included when you buy them). Toss the bag into the washing machine and wash clothes as usual. Soap nuts may be reused several times until the shells become soft and grey. Once they are used up, you can toss them in the trash or into your compost.

One thing to know is that soap nuts need warm water to activate, but you can still use them for cold water loads too. All you have to do is stick the muslin bag of soapnuts into a jar of hot water, shake for a minute, and let them soak while you put your laundry in the washing machine. Then you can drop the prepared bag of soap nuts into the machine and you are ready to wash. 

6. Use Dryer Balls 

Another easy sustainable living practice that can be implemented in your laundry room is to replace softener or dryer sheets with dryer balls. They eliminate the waste created by dryer sheets or the plastic waste created by empty softener bottles. They also eliminate the use of chemicals that are found in softeners. They are most commonly made of tightly compressed wool, but can also be made out of plastic or rubber. They help prevent laundry from clumping together in the dryer by tumbling around between the clothes to separate them in order to help the air circulate better. This helps fight wrinkles, prevent static, and soften your clothes. It can even help reduce drying time! 

Wool dryer balls are all-natural, super environmentally friendly, and last a long time. They are the best option for reducing drying time because they help absorb moisture from wet clothes. They are also the quietest dryer ball option when bouncing around in the dryer. Plastic or rubber dryer balls are durable options. These are commonly covered in little bumps or spikes that can help open up and separate clothes further than wool dryer balls, but they can be a little noisy rolling around in the dryer. All options can be used over and over for a long time, which saves you the money of buying dryer sheets or softener every few weeks. 

7. Hang Clothes to Dry

daily mom parent portal sustainable living

Another sustainable living practice that is easy to implement and that you can start doing right away is hanging clothes to dry rather than throwing everything in the dryer. Even if you only hang some things rather than everything, reducing the amount of clothes you put in the dryer uses less energy (those things use a ton of energy).

You can hang clothes on a drying rack in the laundry room or on the back porch. If you have a yard, you can put up a clothesline and dry larger items like towels or sheets in addition to clothes. It is easy. It saves money. It reduces your family’s energy use. Plus, there is something refreshing about the smell of clothes that have been hung up to dry outside.

READ MORE: 5 Important Steps to Making your Dream Home a Reality

Sustainable Living in the Bathroom

8. Wash Hair with Shampoo and Conditioner Bars

The bathroom is another easy place to implement a few small sustainable living practices that have a big impact on your family’s environmental impact. One is to switch from the traditional bottles of shampoo and conditioner to shampoo and conditioner bars. They look like bars of soap, but are made for your hair. They can last for upwards of 80 shampoos, which is the equivalent of nearly three bottles of shampoo! To use them all you have to do is get the bar wet, lather it up in your hands a bit, and rub it all over your roots and scalp. Then, lather and massage into your hair like you would with any other shampoo. 

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These are great for sustainable living because they cut down on plastic waste. They are becoming more and more popular, so they are readily available online and in some stores. They also come in all kinds of varieties for different hair types. Prices for shampoo and conditioner bars range but they are not much more than what you might pay for a bottle of shampoo or conditioner. When you think about it, you are probably paying less since a bar lasts much longer than one bottle of shampoo. Plus, you can easily get a set that comes with multiple bars and often with both shampoo and conditioner bars included. 

9. Let Hair Air Dry

A super simple, yet effective way to live a little more sustainably is to let your hair air dry rather than using a blow dryer. It is an easy way to save energy. Not to mention, it does not subject your hair to the damage that the heat from the blow dryer inflicts. Even if you only air dry your hair a few times a week, you are making a difference and practicing a little sustainable living. 

READ MORE: Plastic Oceans: The Epidemic That is Ruining Our Oceans

10. Reduce Water Usage

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Again, the key to sustainable living is both reducing waste and reducing the number of resources you use. A simple way to do the latter is by reducing the amount of water you use. The bathroom is where we use a ton of water. Cut down on this by taking showers instead of baths. Take shorter showers. You can even take fewer showers (we really do not need to shower every day, especially when we have spent the day sitting around or working from home). Make sure to turn off the water in the sink while you are brushing your teeth or shaving your face.

You do not have to just cut water usage in the bathroom. You can apply this tip to the kitchen and laundry room as well. Run full loads of laundry rather than smaller loads and do not wash things more frequently than needed. Use the dishwasher instead of hand washing dishes and be sure the dishwasher is full before running it. All of these things together will dramatically cut down on your water usage (and your water bill!). 


Sustainable living is much easier to tackle than you may have thought. There are so many ways you can make changes to live an eco-friendly life. Plus, making small changes over time rather than changing everything all at once makes it easy on you and your family to get used to a new, more sustainable way of life. Whether you decide to ditch paper towels or start using dryer balls, any small change toward sustainable living is a good change and chances are you will not miss your old way of doing things.


WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on Reducing Waste: Simple Practices to Teach Kids Today.


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Michelle Frick
Michelle lives in North Carolina with her husband and their two boys. Somehow she also shares her home with 3 dogs and 2 tree frogs. When she's not chasing after an animal, she's probably hearing everything there is to know about the latest video game. Besides her love of writing, she enjoys running, practicing yoga, and cheering on the Boston Red Sox.

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