How Your Family Can Be More Eco-Conscious in 2022

recycling family

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In the past few years, we've had to reckon with the environmental impact our society is having on the planet. It's easy to become overwhelmed when thinking about the big picture. But becoming more eco-conscious is about making choices that reduce your family’s carbon footprint, decrease greenhouse emissions, and ensure that the next generation will have a healthy and clean planet to live on.

Awareness is a great place to start. “To me, being eco-conscious is all about making choices that lessen the impact of our family on the planet and paying attention to the resources we use in our daily life,” shares Jean-Louis Warnholz, a trained economist, sustainability expert, and father of two. “This could be anything from changing the way we eat and consume energy to being mindful of the products we purchase." Once you start, it quickly becomes clear that there are so many ways to make eco-conscious decisions as a family—it can be with the products you use, the car you drive, and so much more.

Becoming More Eco-Conscious: Every Small Step Counts

If the idea of making changes to what you purchase or how you use resources sounds overwhelming, you are not alone. Combing through ingredient labels, analyzing recycling symbols on the bottom of packaging, or setting up a smell-free compost bin can feel like climbing a (very clean!) mountain. Keep in mind that becoming more eco-conscious isn’t all or nothing, and that every little bit counts, says Tania Arrayales, a mom who runs an Instagram account about eco-conscious living called Sustainably Stylish.

“Families [can] start with the easy lifts and work their way up,” Arrayales offers. “My suggestion is to start small and be kind to yourself. Know that the goal isn’t to be perfect but to create meaningful change in your lifestyle.”

The best way to become more eco-conscious is to find small but impactful ways to make a difference. We reached out to environmental experts and fellow parents to offer some simple tips for becoming a more eco-friendly family.

Go Plastic Free

It's estimated that each human generates a whopping 4.5 pounds of trash a day—of that, plastic and paper products top the list. Probably the biggest issue with plastic is that it’s not biodegradable. That means that if it’s trashed and deposited in landfills, it can sit there for years. Not only that, but it may make its way into the ocean and other animal habitats, potentially harming marine life and wildlife. Recycling plastic can help, but sadly, researchers estimate that of the 6.3 billion metric tons that have been produced since 1950, only about 9% has been recycled.

Clearly, reducing plastic can be a family goal as you strive to be more eco-conscious. But how to do it?

Arrayales recommends starting small, making one change per month in how you consume plastic. For example, you could try a month of striving not to purchase any plastic bottles—instead, only buy items in glass containers. The following month you could try to reduce your use of plastic bags. You can take reusable bags to the grocery store, and replace your plastic sandwich bags with more eco-friendly choices like beeswax sandwich bags, stainless steel snack/sandwich boxes, or reusable sandwich pouches.

Lizzie Horvitz, who holds a masters in environmental management from Yale University and is the founder and CEO of Finch, a digital sustainability tool for consumers, suggests purchasing a home seltzer maker (like SodaStream) if bubbly water is your thing—devices like this utilize reusable seltzer bottles. Additionally, consider investing in a good reusable water bottle so you don't need to purchase single-use beverages, says Horvitz.

Reduce Food Waste

According to the EPA, Americans trash more food each day than any other type of item. Yikes! As the USDA points out, food waste has deep impacts on the environment, releasing significant amounts of methane (a potent greenhouse emission) into the environment as it decomposes in landfills. Besides that, wasting food contributes to food insecurity, and can exacerbate supply chain issues.

That said, we know kids are notorious food-wasters. Their eyes tend to be bigger than their stomachs, and they can be finicky about what they will and won’t eat. Fredrika Syren, whose family lives a “zero waste” lifestyle and is featured in the documentary, Zero Time to Waste, says that although not every family will be able to live as waste-free a lifestyle as hers, most families can reduce food waste one step at a time.

Actions to take, according to Syren, include making a more conscientious effort to eat leftovers, cooking with what you already have at home instead of making extra trips to the store, and storing food properly to make it last longer. There are also eco-friendly shopping choices you can make, Syren says. Look for items that are package-free, sold in bulk, or that are packed in glass or paper rather than plastic. Syren also suggests checking out farmer’s markets in your area. They sell locally produced food and foods that are usually package-free.

What about the food that just won’t get eaten or that has gone bad? Consider composting, which basically involves setting aside compostable food waste and reusing it as soil for your garden. Check out the EPA’s website for ideas on how to get started.

Shop Second Hand

We all know that kids outgrow their clothing at lightning speeds, and often get bored of their toys and gadgets just as quickly. This is one of many reasons why it makes sense for families to shop secondhand as much as possible. Not only will this save you money, but it can also make a positive environmental impact, lessening the amount of trash that fills our landfills.

“One of the easiest ways for families to be more eco-conscious is to shop for pre-owned clothing, toys, and even furniture,” says Liz Teich, fashion stylist, creator of The New York Stylist, and mom of two. Sometimes you don’t even have to leave your house to shop second-hand: websites like Poshmark and ThredUp make this super easy, Teich says. You can also shop on places like Facebook Marketplace, or hit up your local consignment shop. Or, you can go the old-fashioned way and share hand-me-downs with friends and family, Teich adds.

Choose an Electric Vehicle

You might think that the bulk of greenhouse emissions come from corporations and industrial manufacturing. But that’s not the whole truth: the choices we make as families carry a larger weight than we might realize. For example, studies have found that households are responsible for up to 72% of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. This includes our use of cars and airplanes, along with ways we power and heat our homes.

Busy families spend a ton of time in their cars—taking their kids to school, doctor appointments, playdates, extracurricular activities...the list goes on. Electric cars are powered by batteries rather than gasoline, and hybrid cars are operated by a combination of batteries and gas. If you have an electric car, you need to periodically charge it at a battery charging station. Both types of cars reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted into the air.

Warnholz shares that his family has made a point of investing in electric, both in terms of transportation and how they power their home. Not only was this a relatively easy change to make, but it ended up saving his family a ton of money. “The initial upfront cost is often still higher, but we’ve saved thousands of dollars on gas and car maintenance and lowered our utility bills dramatically,” he says.

The good news, says Warnholz, is that buying electric vehicles is less expensive than it’s ever been, and with the Inflations Reduction Bill recently passed by Congress, families will be able to take advantage of tax incentives for going electric. “The range of electric vehicles and electrification options is growing daily,” he says. “I am especially glad that those options are now becoming more affordable and more accessible.”

Pay Attention to the Products You Buy

The personal care and cleaning products we use can have strong impacts on our own health and on the health of the planet. For example, according to the EPA, some of the chemicals in common cleaning products can have adverse effects on our bodies, release harmful substances into the air we breathe, and even pollute the water where wildlife live.

“From my perspective, one of the biggest things we can do for long-term health is to be aware of the chemicals in our products,” says Samantha Radford, PhD, an exposure scientist. Radford suggests avoiding flame retardants, vinyl, and phthalates in products—particularly furniture. According to the CDC, high levels of phthalates may have reproductive effects, and studies have found that flame retardants and vinyl flooring can harm children.

When it comes to personal care products, Radford advises against purchasing items containing paraben and phthalates. “Phthalates aren't required to be specifically listed on an ingredient list, so you have to choose a product that tells you upfront that it contains no phthalates,” she advises.

Luckily, these days you can find tons of beauty products, cleaning essentials, and bathroom goods that are eco-friendly. As Syren points out, a lot of cleaning products can be whipped up from common products you keep at home. “You can clean your whole house with just distilled vinegar, castile soap, and baking soda, wiping down with homemade rags from old T-shirts,” she suggests.

A Word from Verywell

Making more eco-friendly choices is clearly good for the planet, and it can even save your family a few bucks along the way. You can start small if that feels more doable. Just making a few simple changes can have a huge impact, and it's up to each of us to do our part. Above all else, becoming a more sustainable family is good for our kids. It teaches them discipline and compassion and ensures that the planet that we leave for them is a good place to live.

12 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.