Top Ten Things You Can Do to Live Sustainably

By Patrick – Patrick (Canon PowerShot A200.) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons1) Recycle everything you can. It’s easy to separate bottles, cans, paper, and cardboard from kitchen garbage and junk. And most grocery stores now have a recycling drop for the plastic bags they foist on us every day. Does the world really need to preserve your old phone bills and beer bottles in landfills for the next ten thousand years?

2) Most appliances that use power supplies consume electricity even when they are turned off. Touch the power supply in the middle of the night and you’ll find that it is warm. Plug these appliances into power strips and turn the power strip off at night.

3) Don’t buy overly-packaged goods. Buy equivalent goods in minimal packaging. Excessive packaging is the sign of an insecure product. Buy vegetables loose at farmers’ markets; they taste better and cost less anyway, and the trip is more fun than parking at the megastore and joining the shopping cart traffic jam. When you do go to the store, don’t let them give you five double bags when three single ones will really do. And bring your own bags–many stores give you a discount for doing so.

4) Shop at local stores, and discover the joys of personal service, quality products, and a business model that lets them special order anything out of the ordinary that you might need. The large selection that larger chain stores claim to provide is illusory because they have many of a single item. The savings you get by driving to the suburbs disappear when you factor in travel costs and the value of your own time. These stores depend on sprawl-based road subsidies and are helping destroy Main Street, small business districts in American cities.

5) When you ship packages, or buy by mail, phone, or internet, use ground service rather than overnight to three-day; ground shipping generally goes by rail, which is far more fuel-efficient than air and less disturbing to the atmosphere and to urban life. (It’s rarely that urgent, is it? Whatever you’re buying?)

6) Use public transit to get to work, if you don’t live near enough to walk.

7) If you live where there is rail service, use the train instead of flying for trips of under three hundred miles.

8) Sell your car, and rent one when you really need it. (This has the advantage of saving you money and ensuring that “your” car is whatever you need that day: pickup truck for moving, van for hauling visiting relatives, SUV for mountain trips, Ferrarri to impress a date….) If you must have a car, buy the smallest and best engineered one you can find. Mini Cooper is an example, or consider a hybrid or electric. But even these waste space and distort urban design. Do without. It’s easier than you think in most cities.

Front-loading washing machine. Taken by Adrian Pingstone in England in May 2003 and released to the public domain. {{PD-user-en|Arpingstone}} Category:Household appliances9) If you own your own laundry facilities, buy a front-loading washer, which wastes less water and cleans clothes better. If you have the space, dry your laundry on a clothesline. Costs neither the environment nor your pocket anything, and the clothes smell fresher, even in the inner city.

10) Move to a high-density mixed-use community, where you can walk or bicycle to at least the three destinations you visit the most often: grocery, dry cleaner, video rental, library, work, etc. Once you get there, choose an apartment or condo over a house; why do you need all that dead space around you? With the money you save by not driving, you can rent or buy fancier quarters. If you do end up with a lawn, dig it out and grow vegetables instead. If you don’t need that much food, then give it to the poor.

About Eric Miller

Rick and I started this web magazine as The New Colonist back in 1999. I was in San Francisco, and he was in Los Angeles. We had a common interest in sustainability and city life. We're still at it. Today I am happy to have lived in both New York, San Francisco and Pittsburgh and to now reside in Dallas. Find more at