Households making small, daily changes to live a more eco-friendly life

As concerns about global warming, pollution, habitat loss and plastic islands in our oceans grow, an increasing number of households are making small, daily changes to live a more eco-friendly life.

Greener-living ideas are being chronicled on blogs, Pinterest, podcasts and Instagram, and a new generation of research, ideas and products is sparking an increase in earth-friendly action. Considering a reboot?

Here are five ideas for greening your household:

1 Laundry

It’s easy to make some simple changes while doing laundry that will be healthier for you and the planet, and that might save you money, says Melissa Ozawa of Martha Stewart Living.

Use cold water as much as possible, is her first tip. Don’t overdo the detergent. Instead of using the tumble dryer, hang clothes outside in the sunshine or, in poor weather, on a rack indoors.

Ozawa handwashes items such as cashmere sweaters instead of dry cleaning them and wears some clothes more than once to save on washing machine use.

2 Cleaning

Take a good look under your sink and in your cleaning cupboard. Are there piles of one-use plastic bottles holding cleaning products? How much do you know about their formulas? Some consumers are eschewing harsh chemicals and creating cleaning potions using baking soda, vinegar and lemons.

3 Organising

Recycling, repurposing or donating clutter is a worthwhile project, but when you start straightening what’s left, don’t begin by buying unnecessary organising supplies, says interior design expert Margaret Richey.

“My goal is to create order out of chaos and clutter. In most cases, I try to do that without bringing anything else into the mix,” Richey says. “Many of my clients don’t have huge budgets. They just need to know how to better work with what they have.”

Organiser Margaret Richey likes to use leftover wrapping paper to line drawers. Picture: Margaret Richey

She shops the house first. “I am amazed at what I find,” Richey says. Sometimes she spray-paints glass jars and cans, or dips them in paint, to make them into decorative storage containers. Richey is full of good ideas: When sorting, use a colour-coding system to mark items and bags destined for variousplaces.

Richey’s system is as follows: Pink is to throw out, yellow is donate, green is sell and orange is keep. Before tossing half-empty paint cans, consider using the paint for another DIY project. “There is often enough paint to do a bedside table or dresser and you don’t have to buy more,” she says.

Leftover wrapping paper, anchored with a bit of double-sided tape, can be used to line drawers. It makes opening and organising them more fun, she says, and if you’re lucky, it might encourage kids to keep them neater.

4 Rugs

When you assess your household’s carbon footprint, you might not initially think about rugs. Most sold today are nylon or polypropylene, making them difficult to recycle. When buying carpeting, ask about the materials and the company making it.

The US Environmental Working Group suggests looking for rugs made of wool or other natural materials such as sisal, jute or sea grass; padding made of wool or felt; and no stain or waterproofing treatments. Tasha Stoiber, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, recommends rugs with backings made of natural rubber and not PVC, a plastic that can give off gas and contain other harmful chemicals such as phthalates.

If you need to get rid of a rug, it can be hard to find eco-friendly solutions. Rug backing has to be removed for recycling and that’s expensive. You can give your old rugs away. That’s living green.

5 Furniture

Cheaply made chipboard furniture (fast furniture) is likely to end up in a dump before long. Consider giving an old piece of furniture new life in your home or check online or in your neighbourhood for what’s available in the antique or second-hand owned marketplace.

Designer Anthony Baratta suggests taking antique or vintage sofas and chairs and upholstering them in unexpected fabrics such as menswear checks, bright tartans and large-scale florals. Old wooden side tables can be lacquered black for a classic look.

Mid-century modern bedroom furniture sets can be broken up; the chests look great in living rooms. “You can look at your grandmother’s dining table, a reproduction French provincial table from 1960, and say you hate it and don’t ever want to see it again. Or, you can cut it in half and make a pair of console tables out of it,” says Baratta.