Want to Be Greener at Home? Follow This Eco-Friendly Routine from Dawn to Dusk

A few simple tweaks in the morning, afternoon, and evening can make a major difference.

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Photo: Yuki Sugiura

Living sustainably doesn't require sweeping changes in your daily routine. A few small tweaks, like swapping out a standard showerhead for a high-efficiency version, lowering your water heater by 20 degrees (from the usual default setting of 140 to a still-steamy 120), switching to bar (not bottled) soap, or reevaluating the laundry detergent you use can make a major difference. To help save energy, reduce waste, and keep our waterways and lands both healthy and clean, implement these small shifts and easy actions at each point of the day—morning, noon, and night—from top experts.

cabinet laundry supplies linens clothespins
Yuki Sugiura

In the Morning...

Pregame Like a Pro

If you'll be on the go or at work, pack an eco "kit" with your lunch, including reusable flatware, stainless steel straws, and a cloth napkin. (For a head start on success, stash it the night before, or keep one in your desk drawer at the office.) To save money and minimize food waste, bring leftovers in a washable container.

Commute Better

Carpooling, taking a bus or train, and going hybrid or electric all help cut emissions, but for larger-scale change, pester politicians. First, ID your congresspeople—both in the Senate and House of Representatives—then demand that bike lanes and public transportation be prioritized. In the meantime, riding with a friend or colleague even one day a week adds up to a month and a half per year when your car won't use gas and cause congestion.

Lighten Your Laundry Load

If what you're washing isn't extremely dirty, stick to the coldest setting, as up to 90 percent of the energy used in a normal cycle goes toward heating the water. Use 1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar to keep fabrics soft. For low-impact detergent, swap liquids for dissolvable sheets, like Tru Earth dye-free strips ($20 for 32, tru.earth), Ecos Next plant-derived squares ($10 for 50, target.com), or EC30 solid "swatches" ($29 for 30, ec30clean.com); all come in recyclable boxes. To make drying more earth-friendly, toss in wool dryer balls to soften clothes and help air circulate, and hang as much as possible outdoors for sun-warmed freshness.

When you notice a piece of laundry is nearing the end of its lifespan, consider this: Clothing in landfills can take centuries to decompose, so invest in fewer pieces, but of high quality, like a jacket that elevates every outfit or timeless jeans. For discards, give to a local charity, swap with friends, or ship postage-free to Give Back Box, which donates them to nonprofits. Last resort: Cut threadbare togs into cleaning rags, and use orphaned or holey socks as dusting mitts.

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Yuki Sugiura

In the Afternoon...

Make a Better Brew

If you grab coffee on the run, know that many to-go cups are lined in plastic and therefore "mixed waste" (read: trash), and that the plastic lids are only recyclable in certain zip codes. Instead, carry a travel mug for your local barista to fill, or order your latte in an actual mug and take 10 minutes to stay and sip it. At home, go old-school with a moka pot, French press, or classic drip machine, and only use reusable or unbleached, compostable filters.

Clear Digital Clutter

The cloud sounds weightless, but the data centers powering it devour massive amounts of electricity. Even though your share might not take up tons of room, every little byte you can delete helps. First, consistently curate: Smartphones make it effortless to take and save photos and videos, but these eat up more memory than text. After a snap-happy event, bulk-delete duplicates or so-so shots. For help purging, download a photo-management app: Get Sorted is like Tinder for your camera roll—just swipe down to keep an image, up to delete. Then, erase some emails. To cull your inbox, immediately unsubscribe from junk and promo emails and unwanted news-letters. And once a month, delete in big batches: Sort by sender, select all, and click the trash can.

Do Right by Old Gear

Up-to-date equipment boosts productivity, but proper disposal of old laptops, printers, and smartphones (which contain heavy metals like lead and mercury, along with hazardous chemicals) is important. Before trading up, try refurbishing what you have: The Right to Repair movement is making it easier—and legal, in the U.S.—for consumers to fix their own electronics. For gadgets beyond saving, brands such as Apple have take-back programs, in which they'll accept your device and recycle it, sometimes for trade-in credit. Many big-box stores like Staples will accept e-waste; check e-stewards.org for options near you. To see if you live in one of the 25 states (plus D.C.) with a municipal electronic-recycling program, go to ncsl.org. And reset items to factory settings before donating or dropping off. As for the items you're keeping? Plugged-in electronics and chargers suck up energy 24/7, even if they're turned off or not charging anything. To stop this stealth siphoning, plug your laptop, printer, etc., into a single power strip, and flip it off every night for an instant, all-in-one shutdown.

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Yuki Sugiura

In the Evening...

Be Mindful at Mealtime

Dining mindfully reduces your carbon footprint, and nourishes your family in more ways than one. Start by shopping with care. Shipping food across the globe has a high environmental cost. To lower it, "eat with the season, and buy local first," says Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill New York and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, restaurants that are renowned for their eco ethos. Then, set the scene: Bring sustainability and style to the table: Reuse wine bottles as water carafes (try the ones from Mimi en Provence, which include a glass stopper), and give your loved ones a designated cloth napkin to use a few times before washing. Whatever you do, don't forget to savor this time. Rather than rushing, light a candle (beeswax or stearin wax are best), play some wind-down music, and linger. A leisurely meal "gets you one step closer to slower living and less food waste," says Ida Magntorn, author of The Sustainable Home ($23.95, amazon.com). You can take a greener approach even when you're dining out: "I love Bee's Wrap ($6, beeswrap.com)—it's great for storing leftovers, and with a sheet always in my purse, I can skip wasteful containers for my son's uneaten food when we dine out," says Living editor in chief Elizabeth Graves.

Clean Up with Care

When it's time to de-grime, throw in the paper towel and reach for reusables: A single If You Care rinse-and-wring compostable towel ($11 for 12, ifyoucare.com) does the work of several standard rolls. Wettex recyclable cotton-and-cellulose dishrags (from $6 for four, wettexusa.com) from Sweden can last years; disinfect them in the top shelf of the dishwasher. Speaking of your dishwasher—hands-down, this is the better choice for doing dishes: The appliance can use as little as one-sixth of the water you'd need to do the job yourself in the sink. For an even cleaner clean, forgo the heated drying and use a dye-free, phosphate-free detergent, like Seventh Generation pods ($13 for 45, walmart.com).

Have a Good (and Green) Night

At day's end, don't automatically toss your clothes in the hamper. If an airing out is all a piece needs, hang it behind the bedroom door or in the bathroom, where shower steam can loosen light wrinkles. For your evening ablutions, do the planet a solid and try concentrated bar formulations of shampoos, conditioners, body washes, and facial cleaners—Living executive editor Jennie Tung prefers Aesop's giant Body Cleansing Slab ($23, aesop.com) which she cuts up into chunks; avoid disposable cotton swabs and pads for removing your makeup (the former account for up to 6 percent of ocean pollution); and opt for Last Object's washable recycled-plastic versions (from $12, lastobject.com). A single round can be used 1,750 times, a single swab 1,000 times.

Other Experts: Elizabeth Brandt, national field manager, Moms Clean Air Force; Genevieve Guenther, founding director, End Climate Silence; Ashlee Piper, author of Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet; Gemma Quinn, digital-decluttering consultant.

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