10 practical ways you can reduce environmental harm in your home

selection of different types of recycling in boxes

If you’ve taken steps at home to reduce your environmental impact, you’re in good company. A new survey from consumer champion Which?, published in the Independent, has revealed that around 9 in 10 people are taking steps specifically to reduce their impact on the environment.

Which? asked people which actions, from a list of 10, they perform regularly to “go green”, from recycling to limiting their use of single-use plastic. 87% of respondents take at least one action with a third of people (32%) taking six or more steps to reduce their environmental impact.

If you want to reduce harm in your home, read on for these 10 tips.

1. Recycle

As Elisabeth Beresford, writer and creator of The Wombles once said: “Make good use of bad rubbish”.

Recycling is the most common measure that households take to reduce their environmental impact, with 80% doing it explicitly for sustainability reasons. Here are some tips that will help you ensure you recycle everything you can:

  • Have a system: leave a recycling bag or box next to your rubbish bin. In addition, keep a carrier bag in your hall to collect and recycle junk mail.
  • Flatten cardboard boxes: this means you’ll be able to fit more into your recycling box.
  • Recycle all types of plastic bottles: don’t forget bathroom items like mouthwash and shampoo.
  • Recycle all types of paper and cardboard: this includes boxes that your shopping deliveries arrive in, envelopes, wrapping paper, loo roll tubes, drinks cartons, and phone books.
  • Make a trip to the recycling point part of your routine: if you do this on the way to work or to do your weekly shop, recycling will become second nature.

If you’re not sure what to recycle, your local council will likely have a web page you can refer to.

2. Use products in energy-efficient ways

Just over half of people (53%) that Which? surveyed use products in energy-efficient ways.

For example, you can wash your clothes on low temperatures, as this can help the environment. Turn off electrical appliances when you’re not using them – don’t leave them on standby – and only boil enough water for the cuppa you’re making.

3. Upcycle and repair

Rather than recycling used items, could you upcycle them and turn them into something useful?

The hit BBC show The Repair Shop has shown the value of bringing old items back to life. Repairing rather than replacing an item is a common measure that consumers take to lower their environmental impact.

Also think about borrowing or buying second-hand goods rather than spending money on new products.

4. Choose brands that have environmentally sustainable practices and values

More than a third of respondents to the Which? survey (34%) said that they now choose brands that have environmentally sustainable practices.

This can range from small ticket items such as food or toiletries right through to white goods and cars. And, more and more people are also investing their money sustainably, choosing ESG investments that consider companies with strong environmental and social credentials.

5. Make your garden wildlife friendly

Whether your outdoor space is a gnome-lined lawn, a back yard, or bracken-filled woodland, it’s easy to make small changes that can support wildlife.

Add a bug hotel to attract vital insects, and create pollinator-friendly patches in your garden with plants such as daisies and wallflowers. You could also install bird baths and bird feeders to attract some feathered friends to your garden.

6. Reduce the impact of your wood-burning fire

While your wood burner may be cosy in the winter, wood-burning stoves are the largest contributor to harmful particulate-matter (PM) emissions in the UK – even worse than road traffic.

If you do have one, only use fuel with the “Ready to Burn” logo. This is a Defra-approved tag that shows wood has a moisture content of 20% or less to reduce smoke emission.

7. Change how you watch TV

According to research published in the Times, the energy amassed from 45 million views of the Netflix series Umbrella Academy is the equivalent to more than 364 million driving miles, emitting more than 164 million kilograms of carbon dioxide.

When you stream video content it has to travel through a complex network, which requires vast amounts of electricity and generates CO2. Downloading and watching on your laptop reduces the impact and is more efficient.

8. Change the way you work from home

Over the last year, the digital footprint of your home is likely to have increased – especially if you’ve been working from home.

All the electricity needed to power kit and data centres behind the scenes generates carbon dioxide. So, to reduce harm, consider:

  • Sending fewer emails
  • Reducing your screen brightness
  • Switching your default search engine to Ecosia (80% of Ecosia’s profits go to non-profit organisations fighting deforestation).

9. Choose soft furnishings

Research by scientists at King’s College London has shown that tiny inhalable plastic particles are in the air not just near busy roads but in our homes.

Plastic microfibres are created by abrasion on surfaces with heavy wear and tear such as carpets, rugs, and chairs. You can inhale these microplastics, so it can pay to choose natural items when you can and swap out synthetic materials when you replace things.

Choose products made of linen, seagrass, and sisal rather than man-made products.

10. Grow your own food

The Times says that the average distance travelled by shop-bought fruit and vegetables is 1,500 miles.

Even if you have limited outside space, remember that you can grow food in containers. Start with tomatoes, beetroot, carrots, peas and potatoes and then consider growing salad leaves – this also has the advantage of avoiding the chlorinated washing and plastic wrap that you’ll find in a supermarket.