We’re living through a climate emergency which has put green living high on our agendas for 2020. But what’s the purpose of going green? And how do you live a greener lifestyle? There’s a lot of advice out there on sustainable living and how to be eco friendly. But with so much to take in, you might feel like you just don’t know where to start. That’s why we’ve scoured the net (as thoroughly as we’d scour our bathrooms) to bring you the definitive beginners’ guide on why and how to be eco friendly at home.
Why is green living important?
We only have one Earth and we’re utterly dependent on it for our survival and wellbeing. But the rate at which we’re using the planet’s resources – the amount of energy we use and our demand for food, water and more – is causing untold damage to the environment. We’re using nature 1.75 times faster than Earth's ecosystems can regenerate. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions are pushing our climate to tipping points which could threaten our very existence. Put simply – we’re in serious trouble if we don’t all learn to live sustainably. And that’s exactly what green living is all about.
What does it mean to live green?
To live green is to make a conscious effort to seek out ways to reduce your own impact on the environment. It’s not just about reducing your carbon footprint (although that’s a big part of it). It’s also about trying to reduce waste and making informed choices about what you buy and where you buy from. So what are our top tips for how to be eco friendly? Let’s take a look...
1. Always remember the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle
The ‘3 Rs’ are a vital part of sustainable living, as they help cut down the amount of waste we have to throw away. That means less rubbish going to landfill, but also less consumption of the Earth’s resources. In a nutshell, here’s what the 3 Rs mean:
reduce the amount of waste you produce
reuse items as much as you can before replacing them
recycle items wherever possible
Following this simple advice doesn’t just help you cut your individual impact on the planet’s resources, it also reduces the amount of space needed for landfill sites. Read our handy tips on low-waste living for ideas on how to get started.
2. Save water
Water doesn’t (usually) seem in short supply here in the UK. But actually, the more water we use, the more energy we’re wasting. Cleaning waste water (or 'grey water', as it's called) is an energy-intensive process. So saving water is a big part of green living.
It’s so easy to be careless about how much water you use. According to the Energy Saving Trust, the average UK household uses 345 litres of water each day (that’s over 600 pints). Added to that, about 28 per cent of a household's heating bill is from heating the water for showers, baths and hot water – which equates to around £125 a year. So saving water isn’t just good for the planet, it’s good for your pocket.
Find out how to save water all around your home in these tips.
3. Get smart heating controls
You could save £75 and 310kg of carbon dioxide a year by installing and correctly using a programmer, room thermostat and thermostatic radiator valves. The Energy Saving Trust has lots of information on choosing the right ones for you.
4. Turn your thermostat down
If you already have a full set of controls, turning down your room thermostat by just one degree can save you energy and around £60 a year into the bargain.
5. Turn off your appliances (properly)
Households can save around £35 a year by simply switching appliances off properly, not leaving them on standby. Almost all electrical and electronic appliances can be turned off at the plug without upsetting their programming. And you could even get a standby saver which allows you to turn all your appliances off standby in one go.
6. Switch to LED light bulbs – and don’t forget to turn them off
Most light bulbs now have an LED equivalent. If you switch all your lightbulbs for the LED versions you could reduce your energy use and save about £40 a year on bills. And you can add another £15 a year to your growing savings if you remember to turn off your lights when you’re not using them. So you can live a greener life at the flick of a switch, literally.
7. Save energy around the kitchen
Kitchen appliances are energy hungry, but there are ways to make sure you use them efficiently. (A lot of these tips save water too – hurrah!)
Use a dishwasher instead of washing up by hand (here’s why).
Use eco friendly settings on your washing machine and dishwasher.
Do laundry at 30 degrees whenever possible and try to cut down the number of washes.
Fill ‘em up – your washing machine, dishwasher and even your fridge freezer are more energy efficient when they’re full.
But not your kettle – only boil the amount of water you actually need.
Use a bowl if you have to wash up by hand, so you don’t use as much hot water.
And if you’re due an upgrade on your appliances, make sure you do your research and check the energy labels to get yourself the most efficient option. (To get your head around the energy label symbols, check out this definitive guide to energy labels.)
8. Save energy in the bathroom
The same things that save you water (as discussed above) will also save you energy in the bathroom – winning. The main changes you can make are:
Get an efficient showerhead
Cut the length of your shower
Take showers rather than baths.
9. Make some energy saving home improvements
If you’re going the whole hog and want to make some bigger changes to your home, other areas worth considering are:
Better draught proofing – which could save you around £25 a year on your energy bills (or more if you use chimney draught excluders too)
Installing solar panels (we’ve got more on that here)
Ensuring you have excellent insulation.
10. Be discerning about the brands you buy from
Always do your research into a brand’s eco friendly credentials. By buying from brands committed to being more environmentally friendly, you’ll be sending a message about the importance of going green to the wider world, as well as living sustainably yourself.
11. Cut down on plastic
There’s been a lot about plastic use in the news over the last few years. Many of us have seen the incredibly upsetting images of sea creatures trapped in or killed by plastic in our oceans. With that in mind, it’s a no brainer that cutting down your plastic use is a key part of sustainable living. At the moment, only 9 per cent of plastics get recycled – but there are easy ways for you to cut back how much you use. Take a look at our tips for some simple ideas. And there’s some more suggestions here.
12. Reduce how much paper you use
Another simple step to create an eco friendly home is reducing the amount of paper you use. Here are a few key tips:
Switch to online billing wherever possible – most companies offer it these days. Not only does this save paper, it cuts carbon emissions as well as water and chemical use.
Only print things out if absolutely necessary.
Make notes on your phone, instead of a notepad.
Opt out of junk mail. First, tell Royal Mail you’re not interested. They have a junk mail opt-out programme, which stops delivery of unaddressed mail. Next, get in touch with the Mailing Preference Service and the Direct Marketing Association to register to opt out of marketing mail altogether. Finally, opt out of unsolicited charity mail by contacting the Fundraising Preference Service.
You can also read our tips on how to recycle your paper waste.
13. Buy products that you can reuse and refill
More and more companies are producing cleaning and personal products that you can reuse and/or refill. For example, Cif ecorefill Power & Shine Bathroom and Kitchen is 100 per cent recyclable (and uses 75 per cent less plastic).
And it’s not just cleaning. From reusable water bottles to refillable food containers, there’s a lot you can do to cut down the number of single-use products you use.
14. Clean your home in an eco friendly way
There are lots of ways to clean your home in an environmentally friendly way. Read our top natural cleaning tips, for ideas on eco friendly cleaning products and strategies that will help reduce your carbon footprint.
15. Get savvy about recycling
You can recycle so much more than what goes into your household recycling bins. For example, did you know the components of your old computer can be recycled to make new components? Read our handy recycling guide for tips on what can be recycled. And there’s even more on reducing, reusing and recycling in this article.
16. Get creative with rubbish
You can repurpose and upcycle so many different things. Take paper and cardboard, for example: use it for arts and crafts, as a new canvas for the kids to draw or paint on, or a surface to work over to keep the carpet clean. For more ideas, take a look at tips on plastic bottle crafts for kids and these ingenious plastic bottle hacks.
17. Buy second hand
Technically this falls under the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ banner – but it’s so important it’s worth highlighting. Buying secondhand is crucial to reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill each year and to cutting down the natural resources we’re using.
From kids clothes and toys, to furniture and appliances – why not take a look on well-known sites like Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace and eBay before buying new. You’ll probably save a fair bit of cash too.
18. Eat sustainably
A significant proportion of the Earth’s natural resources is being given over to food production – and the more we demand, the more nature is being eroded. Once you throw in the fact that many fruits and vegetables are now being flown in from abroad (adding to our carbon footprints), it’s clear that eating sustainably is a pretty important part of green living. Read our top tips on how to be a sustainable eater.
19. Reduce food waste
UK households waste 4.5 million tonnes of food that could have been eaten. That’s enough to fill 38 million wheelie bins, or 90 Royal Albert Halls. Meanwhile, if global food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the US. The Love Food Hate Waste campaign recommends doing these three key things to cut food waste:
Plan your shopping and get more for your money.
Make your food last longer.
Get more from your shopping, use what you buy.
They’ve got the lowdown on how to reduce food waste on their website.
20. Consider cutting down on meat and dairy products
While meat and dairy provide just 18 per cent of the calories we consume, it uses 83 per cent of farmland and produces 60 per cent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.
A recent report from the government’s official advisers, the Committee on Climate Change advised that people should cut the amount of beef, lamb and dairy produce they eat by a fifth to combat climate change. This reduction, combined with reducing food waste by 20 per cent, would save the equivalent of seven million tonnes of carbon dioxide produced by farms.
Sounds like it’s time for a plant burger.
Awakened your inner eco warrior?
Phew! We’ve taken you on a whistlestop tour of green living ideas around the home. But we’ve still only scratched the surface of all the many changes you can make to live sustainably. From growing your own veg and changing your travel habits, through to holiday choices and eco-friendly home decor, there are lots of ways to be more environmentally friendly at home.