When you look around your home, it’s probably pretty easy to find items that are harmful to the environment — Ziploc bags, plastic plates, paper towels and your gas-guzzling car, just to name a few.
But beyond the obvious things, climate activists say there are many other home products that add to your carbon footprint, harm the air we breathe and contribute to global warming.
Luckily, there are alternatives. Below, climate activists share the planet-harming items they don’t have in their homes and what they use instead.
Gas Lawnmowers, Leaf Blowers And Other Items That Use A Small, Gas Engine
Products that use a two-stroke engine, which is a gasoline engine that powers many small items, are not found at the home of Jesse Lytle, the vice president, chief of staff and chief sustainability officer at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. These items include lawn items like gas lawnmowers, leaf blowers and string trimmers, in addition to motorcycles and boats.
“They emit smoke and carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and also particulate matter. But a really disproportionate [amount] to the size of the engine and the energy they put out,” Lytle said.
“According to some tests, your lawnmower or your leaf blower emits more than a pickup truck on an hour-by-hour basis,” he added.
There are alternatives to many of these gas-powered items, he said. There are battery-powered lawnmowers, leaf blowers and string trimmers that are comparable in price.
“I have gotten rid of all my gas-powered stuff over the years,” he said. “I have only battery stuff — it’s so convenient, it’s so much quieter and it doesn’t emit pollution.”
Beyond the environmental impact, it’s not healthy to breathe in the chemicals these machines emit. You’re standing right behind your lawnmower or leaf blower when you use it, Lytle added, which can become an issue over time. Just think about it: You probably wouldn’t stand behind a running car for too long, right?
Liquid Laundry Detergent And Laundry Pods
Hessann Farooqi, the advocacy director at the Boston Climate Action Network, said he doesn’t keep laundry pods or any kind of liquid laundry detergent in his home.
“The plastic bottles ... are very difficult, if not impossible, to recycle, and then the laundry pods themselves are made of plastic, so even when they break down, they’re still going to deposit some microplastics into the wastewater,” he said.
Instead, he uses laundry detergent strips, which are just like laundry pods but are not made with plastic and completely dissolve. Farooqi says they work just as well as liquid detergent (but are way better for the environment).
Lytle said he does not have red meat in his home because of its negative impact on the planet.
“I don’t like to tell people what to eat or what not to eat, and I grew up eating cheeseburgers and I enjoy red meat, but that is something I stepped away from in general. Not 100%, but it ended up being an easy change I could make,” he said.
He made this diet change because of the impact our food choices have on the environment.
According to the University of Michigan, roughly 10% to 30% of your carbon footprint can be traced to your food choices. And Lytle said red meat drives up your footprint. Roughly one-quarter of the earth’s land surface is used for grazing, which requires major changes to the land.
“We are cutting down trees, we’re upsetting the soil, so all these natural carbon things we’re disrupting. So, it’s really bad for climate change. The Amazon is where this is happening most dramatically,” he said.
Beyond this, the way cattle and other four-stomached animals like lambs and goats digest their food is harmful to the planet, too. “They burp methane, which is a really potent greenhouse gas,” he explained.
Instead of eating red meat, Lytle said, plant-based items are generally better for the planet (and better for your health, too). This doesn’t mean you have to completely cut out red meat; even cutting back a bit can help. “If we eat a little bit less, that makes a huge difference if we can do that on a population level,” he said.
Endless Access To Television
This one might surprise you. It’s not as if your TV is directly having a huge effect on your eco-footprint ― but what you watch might, said Reinmar Seidler, the co-director of the New Hampshire Network for Environment, Energy and Climate.
“There’s a real emphasis on materialism that you can get from watching a lot of TV, both from the ads and actually from the programming as well ... that’s really why people end up with a lot of stuff in their house that maybe does actually impact their carbon footprint,” Seidler said.
For example, a show may make you feel like you have to have certain items in your wardrobe, or an ad may convince you to buy unnecessary toys for your kids. Television isn’t the only thing that encourages materialism, he said, but it is part of it.
Instead of watching TV, Seidler said he chooses to be outside as much as possible. “Whether it’s gardening, bird watching, hiking, just walking and also learning ... no person can ever reach the end of what there is to learn about the natural world,” he said.
Being outside lets you slow down, too, and combats the fast-paced nature of television. “The TV is so fast, and it’s an unnatural way for our brains to function ... it’s not how society should be at least,” he added.
Refrigerators And Air Conditioners That You Aren’t Using
Do you have an old mini-fridge, refrigerator or air conditioner sitting around that’s not in use? According to Lytle, these items are really harmful to the environment and should be appropriately disposed of, stat.
“The refrigerants in there, those are the worst climate change gases possible,” he said. “You can do more climate change harm letting one of those things rot in your driveway than flying around the globe for a year.”
And it’s pretty common to have an old mini-fridge sitting in your garage or a broken AC unit in the basement. If that’s the case, Lytle said you need to properly get rid of the item. There are a few ways you can do so.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, some places in the U.S. have “bounty programs” where local companies sponsor appliance turn-in days — you can check with your electric utility company to see if there is a program like this near you. Additionally, some stores do appliance pick-up or drop-off, so it’s worth checking with local retailers, too.
Plastic Water Bottles
Plastic water bottles are also something Farooqi avoids purchasing and having in his home.
“Single-use plastic water bottles harm our environment, as they can take hundreds of years to decompose, harming wildlife and ecosystems,” Farooqi said. “When microplastics find their way into drinking water or seafood, this also harms human health.”
So, choosing other options instead of plastic water bottles can decrease your carbon footprint. Conveniently, Brita filters and refrigerator water dispensers reduce the need for these planet-harming plastic bottles.
Additionally, Farooqi said he just plans ahead if he is going to be away from his home. “I always carry a reusable water bottle with me whenever I’m out and about,” he said.
Certain Light Bulbs
“All tungsten filament lighting, including halogen bulbs, are not in my house,” said John Gage, the Volunteer New Hampshire state coordinator with Citizens Climate Lobby.
Tungsten filament lights are the classic lightbulbs you’re used to seeing at home stores (and probably in your own house).
“Halogen bulbs kind of often confuse people — they came out as new science and good for bright light, but they are also high-energy intensive bulbs,” Gage said.
“I’ve replaced all high-energy lighting with efficient LED bulbs because it saves money and reduces pollution and it’s easy to do,” he said.
According to Gage, LED bulbs are slightly more expensive when you purchase them, but they’ll save you money because they use less energy than other bulbs on the market.
Single-Use Plastic Gloves
Many people wear single-use plastic gloves to protect their hands when they’re washing dishes or coming into contact with cleaning chemicals, but Farooqi said these are another item he never has in his home.
These disposable gloves contribute to the growing plastics issue Farooqi mentioned above. Instead, he has reusable gloves that can be used for the same tasks but don’t get thrown away after just one use.
Large Gas-Powered Items
“I do plan on replacing my gasoline-powered car, my oil furnace and my gas stove over time when it’s appropriate to replace them,” Gage said.
While choosing appliances that don’t use gas can decrease carbon pollution, it’s also important to wait until it’s time to replace these large items.
“I’m not throwing out expensive equipment that I own or [that] came with my house before that equipment’s natural replacement time because there’s a front cost and a carbon footprint associated with producing things,” Gage noted. When new items are built (even energy-efficient products), emissions are produced, he added.
When it is time, however, look into investing in energy-efficient products. These items may be more costly upfront, but, like the lightbulbs mentioned above, they’ll save you money (and help the planet) in the long run.
Additionally, Gage said, you can use incentives like rebates and tax credits from the Inflation Reduction Act to purchase better-for-the-environment items like an induction stove, electric car and a more efficient home heating system.
Think about your impact outside of your home, too.
“It is always great for individuals to do what they can to mitigate their environmental impact, but with problems as big as the climate crisis or issues of plastic contamination in the environment, collective solutions are the only way we can sufficiently address the problem,” Farooqi said.
This means it isn’t just up to us as individuals. “It really is the governments and corporations who have the power to implement change at the scope and scale necessary to address this crisis,” Farooqi noted.
To play a role, you can join climate advocacy groups locally or nationally that are already organizing for policy change. “And then also making sure that you vote and pay attention to folks you are voting for and understand their policies or lack thereof to address these problems,” Farooqi said.
Once they’re in office, it’s important to hold them accountable and make sure they deliver on their promises.
Farooqi noted that local elections may not receive the same fanfare as national elections, but are really important for advocating for sustainability. Mayors and city councils are the ones whose decisions can impact climate change in your town or city.
“Individual change is always a good thing, but collective change is going to be necessary in the long run,” Farooqi said.