In my last post in the Apartment Homesteader series, we talked about setting goals for conserving water and electricity in your apartment homestead. Now, let’s talk about simple, apartment-friendly lifestyle changes that conserve fuel, lessen trash production, and reduce your carbon footprint.
Walking Away From Fossil Fuels
Our first step on the path to reducing our carbon footprint is to conserve fossil fuels. From driving a car to work or school every day to buying foods and other products that have to be shipped in from thousands of miles away, people in our society have a tendency to use fossil fuels left and right without giving it a second thought. As a result, carbon dioxide (CO2) has increased in the atmosphere, leading to some serious environmental challenges.
There’s still hope, though. With a few simple lifestyle changes, you can make big waves in your CO2 production.
Change Your Commute
Start with the no-brainer one. Transportation uses fuel. Every time you fill up your car, truck, or SUV with gas, you are contributing to carbon emissions. And, I get it, you have to get to work or school or the grocery store.
If you live less than two miles from your school or workplace—and assuming you have a five-day work week—walking every day would lower your personal carbon dioxide production by an average of 40 gallons per day, which equals almost 10,400 fewer gallons of CO2 in the atmosphere per year.
If you live 10 miles from your workplace or school campus, biking every day would eliminate almost 52,000 gallons of CO2 pollution.
Remember that one added benefit of walking or biking to work or school is the built-in exercise. When you make a transportation change like this, you’ll not only make a real difference in your personal lifestyle sustainability, you’ll also feel better about yourself because of the exercise and the reduction in your carbon footprint.
If you live 30 miles from your workplace or school campus, carpooling every day could eliminate almost 160,000 gallons of CO2 pollution for each person in the carpool who would normally be driving themselves daily.
Carpooling can help promote a sense of community among green-minded individuals in your workplace or community.
And, if you live in a medium-to-large city and motorized transportation is necessary, explore the public transportation option and refuse to emit more carbon into the air from your own car.
Do some research to find out what public transportation companies in your city are doing to lower their greenhouse gas emissions, and express your desire for more fuel-efficient busses. You could even ask the companies to sponsor CO2-lowering projects, like a tree planting. You’d be surprised how many transportation company CEOs like the idea of good “green” press for sponsoring that kind of project in their city.
What to Do When a Car Is Essential
If you live 30 or more miles from your workplace and don’t have any public transportation or carpooling options, you can still help lower your CO2 emissions through regular automotive maintenance.
Take your car in for a monthly oil change and make sure they check that everything is working properly. Oil leaks and general vehicle malfunctions can wreak havoc on your CO2 emissions.
Get a vehicle emissions test done yearly. If your vehicle is not performing efficiently—meaning it produces too much CO2 simply by running—consider trading it in for a more energy-efficient vehicle. Car companies have been listening to their customers in recent years and many newer-model vehicles have an “energy boost” or a high fuel-mileage rating.
I work from home and I’m no longer a student, so the daily commute is limited for me—perhaps you’re like me in that regard.
But we run errands around town—hitting the grocery store, the coffee shop, the post office, the library, the bank, etc.—and we use our personal vehicles.
If you live in a medium-sized city, you probably live within one or two miles of a grocery store, a post office drop box, and a bank—maybe even a library. We’ll talk more about groceries in the next section, but think about how many gallons of fuel you’d save if you walked over to the post office instead of driving, if you switched to a bank within walking distance if yours isn’t already, and if you carried your groceries in a backpack or in bicycle saddle bags.
Many of us make between two and three trips to the grocery store per week, which means we could cut 20–40 gallons of CO2 emissions per trip, or another 2,100–6,300 gallons per year just by utilizing an alternate mode of transportation.
A Quick Word About Making These Lifestyle Changes …
Perhaps you object because walking, biking, or ridesharing would mean making a larger time commitment to get from place to place.
But here’s how I see it: In general, I spend two or three hours of my time daily exploring social media, watching TV, listening to music, or reading books.
By simply walking or biking to the bank, the grocery store, the post office, and the library, I save money, burn a few extra calories, and limit my social media and TV time—neither of which do anything to promote a healthy, sustainable lifestyle anyway. Win-win! And in my walking or biking time, I can listen to audiobooks or music, making my commute time even more productive, fuel saving, and sustainable.
It isn’t easy, but it isn’t a difficult decision to make, either. Weigh the benefits against the inconveniences. I bet you’ll come to the same conclusions I have.
Eat Your Way to a Cleaner Environment
Next in the quest to conserve fuel and limit our carbon footprints, let’s chat about how our food choices can make a big difference in a sustainable lifestyle.
First, the thing no carnivore wants to hear: The beef industry is a huge producer of greenhouse gasses. Like, HUGE.
And I’m not just talking about how much these giant animals raised only to be fattened and slaughtered emit of their own gas … though that is a big part of the problem.
But to make room for cattle, trees must be cleared, which means fewer CO2-reducing plants doing the hard work of replacing oxygen.
Almost one-third of the earth’s available land is used to graze cattle and make animal products for the public to consume.
And then that meat has to be trucked from miles away to be butchered, packaged, and then distributed across grocery store chains. That meat transportation produces lots more CO2.
Now, I’m not going to make the mistake of asking my readers to go vegetarian or vegan.
I know that lifestyle isn’t for everyone. I’m a meat eater myself.
But there are some simple lifestyle changes you can make that will greatly reduce the amount you personally contribute to the carbon footprint of the cattle industry.
Try observing a “Meatless Monday” or meatless whatever other day of the week that works for you. You can drastically reduce your carbon footprint by simply going meat-free for one day a week.
Do some research and find out where the meat you normally buy in the grocery store comes from. If your usual meat of choice is trucked in from miles-on-miles away, find a local distributor to switch to Tuesdays through Sundays.
Vegetarians and vegans are not entirely free from worry about their own carbon footprint.
The transportation issue extends to the vegetables and fruits we buy in the grocery story, as well. If people like me who live in the northern United States insist on eating strawberries in January, those strawberries have to be transported to our grocery stores from somewhere—probably from hundreds of miles away! That’s gallons of CO2 polluting the air simply because we want to drink ice cold smoothies in the dead of winter (note the irony).
What to do? Find out what produce is in season in your region and help reduce the toxicity you’re exposed to by seeking out local organic farmers. If you can’t get organic produce easily (or if you can’t afford it), look up the list of the “dirty dozen and clean fifteen.” Buy the dirty dozen organic. Buy the clean fifteen local (organic or not).
Also consider finding a natural fruit and veggie soak that can help remove harmful toxins from the skins of non-organic produce.
Consider the Packaging
Now what about the packaging our food comes wrapped in or the zipper-lock bags we store our food in?
That’s right. They’re plastic. And what is plastic? A substance made with oil, natural gas, or coal.
Substitute plastic with glass food containers and reusable grocery bags, food covers, and drink containers. And, if you already have plastic bottles on hand, keep in mind that there are so many clever reuses for them. Get on Pinterest and start reusing.
Fuel-Conserving Quick Switches
Bottom line, there are several things you can start doing right away to lessen your reliance on fossil fuels:
- Walk, bike, or rideshare to work or school two to three days a week, with an eventual goal of five.
- Walk or bike to run your errands. Switch to businesses that are closer to home, if necessary.
- Start observing “Meatless Mondays.”
- Find out where your food comes from. If it comes from farther than 20 miles away, switch it up and buy local instead.
- Start researching seasonal eating for your region, and consume only seasonal fruits and vegetables.
- Switch out your plastic bags for reusable containers.
If you really want to up your green-living game, analyze your trash production.
Landfills are No. 3 on the list of largest sources of human-produced methane in the United States alone. That’s a lot of nasty trash producing a lot of nasty gas! But limiting our trash production can be as simple as making a few adjustments in our lifestyles.
We dispose of paper towels, paper napkins, newspapers, cardboard, and junk mail.
We dispose of plastic bags, plastic wrapping, plastic bottles, and plastic jugs.
We dispose of aluminum cans.
We dispose of food waste.
Here’s how to limit your trash production by making simple lifestyle “quick switches.”
Make the Switch From Paper to Cloth: Switch to washable kitchen towels, cloth napkins, and rags for cleaning.
- Get your news online; almost every newspaper is going electronic now.
- Purchase e-books and electronic versions of the movies and TV shows you love.
- Unsubscribe from junk mailing lists and opt to receive all of your bills and other mail electronically.
Store Your Necessities in Glass (and, Sometimes, Make Your Own!)
- Purchase food in bulk and store it in glass containers rather than purchasing food that comes in cardboard containers.
- Make your own personal care products and store them in glass containers. (Check out the upcoming Apartment Homesteader blog post on the natural, DIY home—coming soon!)
Reuse, Reuse, Reuse
- Purchase reusable grocery bags (and make sure you have them every time you head to the store).
- Store food in reusable glass containers, and use reusable coverings to heat leftover food.
- Purchase a reusable water bottle and/or beverage container.
- Shop at and donate to secondhand stores.
- Reuse plastic bottles in creative ways.
Try to Repair It First
- Learn the basics of sewing to mend damaged clothing and fabric gear. Mend it; don’t just throw it away.
- Maintain your technology so you don’t have to throw away old cell phones. And, if you have to dispose of an electronic device, make sure you research how to do so properly or see if there are any options for sending it in for refurbishing.
Eat Out Wisely: If you go to restaurants, make sure not to use a plastic straw, and if the restaurant uses paper napkins, bring your own cloth one to use instead.
Consolidate Shipping: If you have to order anything online, make sure you’re also ordering other products you will need in the future to warrant the packaging the items will most likely come in. Then, if you get a cardboard box, find a way to reuse it for organizational purposes around your apartment. (You can even make a planter out of a cardboard box!)
Use Refillable Containers for Milk and Beer
- Find a grocery store that sells refillable, glass milk cartons and refill instead of throwing your milk jugs away.
- Opt for purchasing a refillable beer growler and have it filled at your grocery store or local brewery.
Take the “7 Days to Trash-Free” Challenge
Think you have what it takes to go trash-free? Follow these steps to go trash-free in one week … then see if you can extend that to a month, a quarter, even a year. At the end of these seven days, you may even be able to repurpose your trash can … perhaps as a garden pot or a larger compost container!
- Day 1: Purchase reusable grocery bags, food storage containers, bottles, and cloths (rags, towels, etc.). Use only reusable, sustainable materials when you’re buying and storing food and when you’re cleaning.
- Day 2: Buy your dry goods in bulk from a grocery store, then store them at home in glass containers. Most grocery stores have bulk sections in the health-food area.
- Day 3: Unsubscribe from junk mailing lists and opt in to electronic billing for all of your services.
- Day 4: Find out where you can get refillable milk, beer, and any other beverage you regularly consume. Many regional grocery stores give you the option. If they don’t already, presenting the option to the management may make it possible. (You could even look into brewing your own beer if you’re feeling adventurous!)
- Day 5: Establish your compost system. “Dispose” of all your food scraps in your compost bin instead of in your trash can.
- Day 6: Learn to sew and mend a piece of clothing or gear that needs it.
- Day 7: Donate to a secondhand store or shop at one to find something you’ve been pining for.
Make these 15+ lifestyle changes, and you’ll be well on your way to drastically reducing your carbon footprint and living as a true homesteader in your apartment or condo.
Read the rest of the articles in the Apartment Homesteader series here.
Then, find more tips, tricks, and inspiration in The Apartment Homesteader Facebook group! Join your fellow apartment homesteaders here.