7 Ways Tech Can Help You Live More Sustainably

I have written about tech a few times on the blog, but TBH I’m more of an analog girl. I like my dumb watch, my grandma pedometer, and my physical planner. You will have to FIGHT ME to switch over to a digital calendar. I don’t trust them. The only thing I trust is me and my fountain pen.

Speaking of planners and fountain pens, be sure to check out my guide to eco-friendly office supplies!

At the same time, I do love getting to stream TV shows, music, and dimming/changing the colors of my LED lights. I think tech is amazing although it can be a bit problematic from an environmental point of view.

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Hellooo, super, energy-sucking servers…. You can learn more in my blog post, How Eco-Friendly is Technology.

Tech is awesome and it certainly isn’t going away.

Instead, it’s about finding ways to make it more eco-friendly like sinking servers in the ocean, and using tech to help us live our BEST eco-friendly lifestyles.

I have rounded up several gadgets that can help you slash your carbon footprint!

Making your home eco-friendly/energy efficient is a great way to have a positive impact on the environment. When we think big picture stuff, beyond just our own personal shopping habits, it’s time to look at your commute, your home, and what’s going on with your money in the bank.

1. temperature regulation:

There’s no need to waste energy heating up and cooling down your home if you’re not even going to be there. When its warm wear a tank top and open the window, when it’s cold throw on a blanket. There’s no need to hit the thermostat for every small fluctuation in temperature.

For the Winter: 65° F when not home and 68° F when home
For the Summer: 80° F when not home and 77° F when home

Programmable thermostats like Nest are all the rage these days. Nest knows when you’re home and when you’re not. It learns your habits, knows the weather, and will help maintain a schedule to keep you comfy, save on those energy bills, and give the environment a big high five.

check out Nest a learning thermostat

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2. kill switch:

Phantom electricity is scary. “Nationally, phantom power accounts for more than 100 billion kWh and more than $10 billion in energy costs each year.” (source)

This is the energy that’s being sucked from devices plugged in but not in use so if your laptop charger, phone charger, kitchen aid mixer, or curling iron are plugged into the socket but not in use, it’s still sucking power from the grid.

Of course, some things need to stay plugged in like your fridge, but most things you should unplug. However, if you’ve got a plug that’s hard to reach or it’s just a pain to plug and unplug like a desktop computer or toaster oven, why not try a smart power strip?

A smart power strip hooks up with your phone so you can kill phantom electricity from afar. With the device you can check the total power consumption of each device by day, month, year and see which appliances are drawing the most amount of phantom power, and then turn them off or put them on a timer.

check out a smart power strip

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3. analyze your power:

Are you ready to live your most streamlined, energy-efficient life? Good, cause I’ve got some tech for that. If The WeMo Insight adapter works similarly, to the smart power strip. Its main function is to analyze and track one devices energy usage.

This will be really helpful for figuring out which appliances or gadgets are draining your energy and bank account. For instance, if you have a fridge from the 70s, you might be spending an extra $70 in electricity alone! That’s not good for your wallet or for the environment.

RELATED: Save Money and Energy | Apartment Edition

Are you ready for the big leagues? Forget single plug analysis, why not analyze your home’s whole grid? With Sense Energy Monitor you can do that. Sense is on the pricier side, and it needs to be installed by an electrician, but it will help you monitor everything in real time. The best part, at least for me, is knowing that I didn’t actually leave the stove on…. my greatest fear and largest source of anxiety when I leave the home.

Have I had to come home from events and work because an overwhelming fear of “I LEFT MY STOVE ON,” yes, yes I have… on more than one occasion. With sense, I can check an app on my phone and know, everything is OK.

Your home might not be the only place you want to streamline for efficiency, what about your car? With Automatic Car Assistant, you plug it into your On Board Diagnostics (OBD) port. It can help track when things go wrong in the car like, “Why is my check engine light on?” And it will help you improve your driving habits through a series of beeps and app alerts.

When you’re using too much gas, accelerate too quickly, or slam on the brakes Automatic will let you know. This will extend the life of your vehicle - YAY less wear and tear! Will cut down on emissions - YAY the environment! And, will save you money, what’s not to love?

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4. powered up:

Why suck energy from the grid at all? Why not go solar? You may not be able to install solar panels right now, but that doesn’t mean your devices couldn’t use a little sun bathe.

Check out this portable solar panel that can charge your phone and tablet. It’s great for hiking, outdoor, adventures, or just enjoying a nice roof top lunch during the workday.

RELATED: How to Pack a Zero Waste Lunch

As someone who’s on the go and has to use my phone at a lot of events and conferences, this is a nice alternative to traditional battery packs - just make sure that the solar panels are fully charged when using! If your phone has more energy than your panels, your panels will suck the energy out of your phone… not what you want!

check out the portable solar panel

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5. light it up:

Talkin’ all about those light bulbs baby! I’m a big fan of LED light bulbs, not only are they much better for the environment - hello, energy saving - they’re also great for your wallet.

Just take a look at this chart from USA Today. You can clearly see how much LED bulbs will save you. Now, the number one complaint I hear is, “I don’t like the bright, bluish light these bulbs cast!” And, I feel that. I don’t like bright, bluish light either.

So, I got the Phillips Hue Bulbs with a range over 16 million colors. I can control these bulbs with an app, put them on timers, dim them, and feel like a god. Mostly because I say, “Hey Google, LET THEIR BE LIGHT!”

Feel like you don’t want to make investments in eco-friendly, energy saving tech because you’re renting? Well, fear no more. I’m a fellow renter, and I actually replace all of my light bulbs when I come into a rental, and then swap them all out when I leave. I do this for my shower head too!

You can read more about how I make my rental more eco-friendly.

check out my FAV LED light bulbs

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6. listen responsibly:

I know that I’m 1,000 years late to the audio book game, but OMG I love audio books. I still haven’t gotten into the podcast scene too much, if you have favorites let me know in the comments down below.

Instead of streaming music when I go on a jog or nice long walk with the pup, (cute dog photos and tips for raising an eco-friendly pet) I’m crushing some audio books.

I’m in the market for some new headphones. I’m currently using the iphone ear buds that came with my iPhone 4 purchase in 2010. Someone actually complimented me on my how well I took care of my old ear buds…. #10yrs #together4eva

But, I’m in the market for some new headphones. Some nice cushy ones perfect for 5-10 mile treks.

I have a House of Marley speaker and I’m a huge fan of the company. They are one of the few tech companies, that are really working to make their electronics ethical and sustainable. They use mindfully sourced materials including bamboo, FSC™ certified wood, recycled aluminum, plastic and fabrics.

please listen responsibly:

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7. accessorize ethically:

When it comes to our phones, laptops, and tablets, I’m a big believer in cases! I know some people prefer to go the risky naked route, but I will drop my phone… it’s inevitable. And, I’d prefer for my $1,000 investment to last AS LONG AS POSSIBLE.

This is a girl with earbuds from 10 years ago. I’m not zero waste because I love the environment, (I do love the environment) I’m zero waste cause I’m cheap frugal.

When it comes to protecting your phone, my number one recommendation is a Pela Case! I’ve been a proud Pela Case owner for a long time!

The case is COMPOSTABLE! How cool is that, it’s made up with flax shive a waste by-product of the flax industry and it’s super shock absorbent which is a must for me because I drop my phone all of the the time…

One of my favorite thing about Pela is that they take full ownership over the lifespan of their product. If you can’t compost it for any reason you can send it back and they’ll take care of it for you. Plus, with each purchase they donate to environmental organizations.

check out pela case

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8 FREE Zero Waste Swaps

Sustainability gets a bad rep for being expensive and only accessible to the “elite” or at least upper-middle class. And, I’m not saying that some of the things promoted by sustainability experts aren’t because eating a local, organic whole-foods diet can be spendy and so can things like electric cars and solar panels.

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Some of the links below are affiliate links for more information please see my disclosure policy.

Zero waste living at its core though is depression era ultimate frugal living. It’s the simple idea of wasting nothing and using everything we have over and over again. At it’s core it’s about buying less, using less, consuming less.

I’ve rounded up 8 free-ish zero waste swaps. I say “ish” because nothing in life is truly free. For several of these things, it requires you to have bought something in the past, but I think there’s a high probability you own these items!

1. buy less:

I think this is pretty self-explanatory - simply buy less.

You will see it repeated throughout the blog over and over again because it’s one of the best things you can do. It is day one in the Zero Waste Challenge which if you’re looking to reduce your waste and don’t know where to start, that’s where!

It’s also my top tip for anyone starting out on a low-waste / sustainable lifestyle check out my Beginners Guide to Going Zero Waste.

And, if you’re just looking for some inspo, here’s 10 Things I Don’t Buy Anymore.

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2. water:

Did you know tap water is actually more regulated than bottled water? Yup. It’s true! With few exceptions, most of the water in the US is clean, drinkable, and there’s no need for bottled water.

Bottled water is regulated by the FDA where tap water is regulated by the EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act which has much stricter standards than the FDA.

The EPA requires that each city distributes a Consumer Confidence Report every year that shows the quality of the city’s water supply.

Now, if you’re a bottled water company, tests aren’t done as frequently and they don’t have to share them with the general public. Which has led to numerous outbreaks of e coli in bottled water.

If you'd like your water to taste a bit better, check out these charcoal sticks. I have a great blog post on how I filter my water without using plastic.

If you need something a little more heavy duty, the Berkey Filter is the best on the market. If I were to get a water filter, this is absolutely the one I would get. I do tend to check on Craigslist to see if one becomes available.

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3. host a clothing swap:

Instead of rushing out to buy something new, host a clothing swap with your friends. Let me know if you’d like a full blog post on this!

This is such a fun event to throw with friends and I think it’s a GREAT mixer idea for sororities and college campuses in general. Check out all of my tips for reducing waste in college.

4. jars on jars:

Many of the items at the grocery store come in glass jars. Instead of going out and buying new glass jars, upcycle the jars you already have.

5.trade more buy less:

I did a whole post on the sharing economy and how important it is. You can read more here: 5 Ways to Join the Sharing Economy.

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6. ditch the unnecessary:

Do you truly need everything you buy? After I went zero waste I just stopped buying plastic wrap and aluminum foil and haven't looked back. I also stopped lining my cupcake tins.

Full disclosure: my husband put a set of silicone cupcake liners for in my stocking for Christmas, but I use them to make homemade peanut butter cups instead. I really love using the silicone cupcake liners in the freezer. Hello, mini vegan cheesecakes.

7. paper products:

Ditching paper products was one of the best money saving decisions I've made.

I find that most people have a set of rags or kitchen towels so lock away the paper towels and break out those towels. I have a great blog post on Ditching Paper Towels to help you make that transition.

While I wouldn’t consider these free swaps, if you’re looking to save money and ditch paper products switch to handkerchiefs instead of tissues and get a bidet attachment for your toilet!

8. make your food at home:

Instead getting a bunch of takeout, make your food at home. Pack a lunch, make breakfast, and brew your own coffee and tea. I find that cooking at home automatically eliminates a lot of waste. I’ve rounded up a few of my popular blog posts on the topic to help get you started!

BONUS!

There’s also a few bonus ideas I thought of, but to get those, you’ll have to watch the video.

Is Zero Waste More Expensive?

Ah, yes, the 3 year age old question. Is zero waste more expensive? I went over this briefly in this post where I busted zero waste myths.

But, I decided it was time for a more in depth look at this very pressing question with a few of my calculations down at the bottom.

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Some of the links in this post are affiliate links for more information please see my disclosure policy.

the short of it:

Well, like most things it life… it depends. It really depends on how you were consuming products before you decided to reduce your waste.

Have you been living a frugal lifestyle? Do you currently eat minimally processed foods that focus on plant-based ingredients? Do you have control over your shopping habits?

If you answered, yes to any or all of those questions then you might not see a substantial amount of savings, but I think that you’ll find you’ll maintain your spending.

You definitely shouldn’t expect to see a huge uptick in your spending, that’s for sure!

it’s depression era living.

Zero waste living isn’t anything new or fancy. In fact, it’s pretty old school. Like hundreds of generations of normal living up until the 50s. It’s depression era living founded on one simple principle WASTE. NOTHING.

We just create a lot of waste these days because we buy a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff that we don’t really need, use, or even want!

I would say zero waste living and minimalism have a lot in common because it’s about examining what you truly need. It just in the zero waste community, we found taking out the trash to be completely unnecessary. I jest, I jest.

But, really if you’re buying MORE things, you’re probably doing zero waste wrong. My first tip in my Beginner’s Guide to Going Zero Waste is simply Buy Less.

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it’s about buying less:

It’s about using what you already have and using it to it’s full potential. Check out my post What to do with old plastic when going zero waste.

I’m not saying you won’t buy things, I still buy things that I want and need but I’m so much more conscious about what I’m buying and why I’m buying it.

Every purchase goes through a strict vetting process. You can read more in my post 6 Tips for Buying Less.

what about buying reusables?

Yeah, some resuables are going to be an upfront investment like a bidet attachment, a nice safety razor, reusable bags that you really love, maybe a nice sturdy insulated water bottle, a slew of mason jars, and maybe a tiffin or two.

I think you’ll find once you have those basics, and I mean really stick with the basics, you don’t need much more.

Also, you can probably find a few of these things at the thrift store. I found all of my mason jars which I also use as drinking glasses at the thrift store. I found two klean kanteens at the thrift store too!

And, all of these items will save you SO MUCH in the long run. So, yes, your spending might peak a little bit at the beginning of your zero waste journey, but I wouldn’t expect it to maintain that way.

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what about eco-friendly products?

Eco-friendly, sustainable products are probably going to cost more. I mean a shirt made from plastic, sewn by slave labor is of course going to cost less than a shirt made from sustainable textiles that are traceable where everyone was paid a living wage.

It makes sense that well-made, ethical things are going to cost more because manufacturers aren’t cutting corners.

And, I understand that not everyone can afford to make a sustainable purchase every time, but it’s important to frame our mindsets. The question shouldn’t be “Why is doing good so expensive?” it should be “Why is being bad so cheap?”

So, yes, somethings are going to cost a little more, but even buying more expensive, eco-friendly items like Zero Waste Makeup, I’m still saving in the long run because overall I’m buying much less than I used to.

And, it’s not like I’m going through makeup at a slower pace, it’s just that I’m not running out to buy different colors, try new things, and just buy to buy. I stick to buying only what I know, love, and use.

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some real life calculations:

So, this is anecdotal evidence I’ve gathered along the way and is by no means an accurate reflection of everywhere in the country but here in Northern California, this is what I’ve found.

  • Farmers Market Organic Artichokes $1 per piece - Same farm, same thing at Raley’s $2 per piece

  • Farmers Market Organic Romaine $2 per head - Organic Romaine at Raleys $3.27

  • Rainbow Grocery Biokleen 5lb Laundry Detergent in box $15.75 (THAT’S INSANE!) - Rainbow Grocery Biokleen Laundry Detergent from bulk bins $1.85 a lb or $9.25 for 5lbs

  • Organic Pinto Beans in a plastic bag $2.38 - Organic Pinto Beans $1.99

  • Organic Yellow Popcorn in plastic $3.49 - Organic Yellow Popcorn $1.99

  • 20ct of paper towels $19.89 (lasts two months) - A dozen bar rags $15.99 (Lasts for five years)

As you can see the savings really do add up. I’m not saying zero waste is always going to be cheaper but I’ve found that 97% of the time the zero waste option saves money.

I think I should do a post on cost comparisons. Are there any products that you’d like to see specifically included?