5 ways to live more sustainably this Earth Day : Life Kit Climate change calls for long-term, systemic solutions, but that doesn't mean we can't all strive to live more sustainably. Life Kit is here with solutions from your kitchen to your closet.

Here are 5 ways to live more sustainably on Earth Day

Here are 5 ways to live more sustainably on Earth Day

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Malte Mueller/Getty Images/fStop
Illustration of children working on laying out paper cutouts of a windmill for wind energy, a tree, and a sun, seen from above.
Malte Mueller/Getty Images/fStop

Being an Earthling isn't easy these days. From flash floods and devastating earthquakes to extreme heat, shrinking ecosystems, rising sea levels and raging forest fires: no matter where you are on the planet, the effects of the climate crisis are vast and real. They're a constant source of worry and fear for most and a big struggle for many.

It can be easy to feel hopeless or frustrated by the snail-slow pace of change. But it's not too late to come together and make a real difference.

According to a recent report from the UN, the world can still avoid the most extreme dangers of climate change – if, collectively, nations can work together to embrace the solutions and technology needed to cut emissions rapidly.

We know individual actions can only get us so far, and solving the astronomical issue of climate change is the job of governments and policies. But we also know that our decisions matter. Consuming less energy at home, composting and upcycling, using our voices and our votes – all of these individual choices can add up and help tip the scale towards progress, especially if you get others on board.

The Life Kit team curated some of our favorite sustainability tips from past episodes. They're not going to solve the climate crisis, but these practices can help you unlock a new perspective and garner momentum as we work toward a more sustainable future.

Ditch fast fashion – keep your clothes for the long haul

Trends move so quickly these days. It's tempting to buy what's hot and follow whatever fleeting microtrend is "in" right now.

But that leads to more clothes in landfills – only 1% of clothing actually gets recycled into new clothing. And making textiles is a very water-intensive process, not to mention human labor issues with a lot of fast fashion manufacturing.

If you want to reduce fashion waste, ask yourself one question before you buy a new item of clothing: "Will I wear this at least 30 times?"

This question, says Symphony Clarke, can shift your mindset and help you buy clothing with the notion that it should stay with you for a long time.

Freeze produce you can't use right awayand compost the scraps once you have

About 8% of greenhouse gas emissions come from wasted food, and roughly half of all food waste occurs during "the consumption stage," meaning waste from foodservice and households.

One of the best tools to help reduce wasted food? The freezer. Here's how to use it:

  • If you're not ready to use fresh fruit and vegetables right away, freeze them. This locks in flavor and nutrients, and it's better than letting fresh produce languish in the fridge. These tips can help you freeze your food successfully. 
  • Store your compost – fruit and vegetable peels, eggshells, coffee grinds – in the freezer until you've filled a bag and can take it to your local community garden or compost collector. That way, you can keep out smells and vermin, and then contribute to creating rich, healthy soil to grow new food! Here's more on what you can and can't compost.

Cut back on plastic by figuring out how much you use and why

The plastics problem is overwhelming. There's so much of it overflowing landfills and littering waterways, a lot of it can't or won't be recycled and it will essentially never decompose. Reducing how much plastic we use today still has an impact.

The first, most effective thing you can do to cut back on plastic is to figure out how much you use. Environmental activist Shilpi Chhotray suggests going room by room – bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, living room – and doing an audit of the plastics in your home. (Don't forget to check the trash!)

Not only will this help you understand how much plastic you use, but how you're using it. That way, you can make a plan for how to cut back.

Are you using a bottle of body wash? Instead, you could replace it with a bar of soap. You can bring your own tote bags for groceries instead of packing your goods in plastic bags, or your favorite reusable mug to your local coffee shop. It's worth noting that while some of these swaps cost money upfront, they can help you save in the long run.

Switching to clean energy at home might be easier than you think

Whether you're a homeowner or a renter, in a lot of states, you may be able to move away from powering your home with fossil fuels – as long as you pay your utility bill.

"The very first thing you can do is you can call your local utility company, and you can let them know that you want your electricity to come from 100% clean energy," says Donnel Baird, CEO of BlocPower, a startup company that's carrying out energy upgrades of buildings in several cities, including New York.

While your utility company stays the same, you may be able to choose the supplier of your energy. A quick call to your utility company to make the switch can lead to a meaningful change in the way you power your home.

Use your voice, your vote and your wallet

We know that passing on plastic straws is not going to do much to limit Earth's warming. So, speak up. Tell companies what practices you want to see from them. "They're listening, more than ever before," says Keefe Harrison, CEO of the Recycling Partnership.

If you want to influence policy, let your representatives know what matters to you. Write them, call them and keep the climate in mind as you think about voting. And if you've got big ideas you aren't seeing reflected, consider running for office yourself with this handy guide.

Each of these actions might seem small, but they can be empowering. And that's worth a lot when it comes to an issue this overwhelming.

"Eco anxiety can often lead people towards paralysis," says Britt Wray, author of Generation Dread. "The sense that the hopelessness is so immense that they start concluding that there's nothing to be done."

Remember that we can all make an impact, one action at a time.

The podcast portion of this story was produced by Sylvie Douglis with engineering support from Josh Newell, Robert Rodriguez, Gilly Moon and Maggie Luther.

We'd love to hear from you. If you have a good life hack, leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org. Your tip could appear in an upcoming episode.

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