Saving Money & Our Planet: The Ultimate Sustainable Renter’s Guide

apartment building with air conditioners - mistakes that shorten the life of your air conditioner

Renting an apartment is an affordable option that we usually think of as being for young people just out of college or for those who prefer to live alone. But renting is for everyone and it can actually be more sustainable than owning a house. While maintaining any home, be it house or flat, there is a lot to think about, and the planet should be part of that. Here are some tips for living a sustainable lifestyle while in an apartment. 

1. Pick an Eco-Friendly Location 

When choosing a place to rent, consider its location. You want to be near fun activities and amenities like grocery stores. However, think about how you get to these places. 

Look for properties near public transportation or walking and bike paths to reduce vehicle carbon emissions. Cars and buses can emit 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Relying less on fossil fuels is good for the Earth and your savings. 

Aside from being more sustainable, biking or walking is good for your physical health. 

Another way to find an eco-friendly spot is to choose one that is Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified. 

2. Use Less Water  

Conserving water can help reduce water scarcity. People everywhere rely on it for proper hygiene and agricultural and manufacturing production, but only .5% of the water on Earth is drinkable. To conserve water, you can do simple tricks such as: 

  • Taking shorter showers. 
  • Not leaving the water on when brushing your teeth or washing dishes. 
  • Using excess water for plants and cleaning. 
  • Limiting the number of times you flush the toilet. 

Another option is to ask your landlord to invest in energy-efficient technologies. This includes things like low-flush toilets and faucets or tankless water heaters. This can help lower your water bills and reduce how much you waste. 

3. Reduce Your Single-Use Plastic Consumption 

Plastic takes a long time to break down and releases methane and ethylene as it does. The material also ends up crowding landfills and often gets into rivers and oceans. 

There are things you can do to lower your plastic usage. Consider bringing reusable bags to the grocery store or using ceramic plates and silverware for parties. Try to cook more meals at home as well. You’ll buy less and save more by using less plastic. 

4. Decorate With Sustainable Materials 

Fill your apartment with eco-friendly decorations. For example, start by repurposing items. See if you can furnish your home with pieces from your parent’s or friends’ old houses. This reduces manufacturing processes that use excess energy and also saves you a few extra bucks. 

Look for other sustainable materials like wood or bamboo for your chairs and tables. Another tip is to bring nature indoors with plants, which can help purify the air and improve your mental health. Decorating using the elements of feng shui can also reduce stress. For example, try adding crystals or salt lamps to your bedroom. 

5. Use Less Energy to Heat Your Home 

Heating and cooling can be a large portion of your energy consumption. Both create greenhouse gas emissions, so lower your thermostat in the winter and bundle up in sweaters or thicker clothes for chilly days. You can add curtains that are dark-colored and thick to keep heat in. 

Turn off your heating or cooling unit when you’re not home. You can try opening up more windows during the summer to lower your air conditioner use. These strategies even help to reduce your utility bills. 

If you have room in the budget, invest in a smart thermostat for more convenience. 

6. Unplug Electronics When Not Using Them 

Electronics left plugged in can still consume power. In fact, all the plugged-in devices in the U.S. produce 44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. So, disconnect your laptops and phone chargers after using them. 

If you’re heading out for a trip, unplug your kitchen appliances to prevent wasting energy. You could also invest in smart power strips to shut off electronics automatically, if you have the money. Using less electricity means lower costs on your utilities. 

7. Develop Smarter Cooking Habits 

two men chopping vegetables on wooden cutting board - tips for eco-friendly cooking

Cooking meals can be better for the environment than taking out. To-go items often come in excess plastic packaging. You can cook smarter. 

Prepare meals in batches and store them in the freezer. These leftovers prevent food waste and limit your energy usage. 

Making a list of items you need before going to the store can help you buy in bulk and avoid impulse purchases. When planning your meals, try including more plants in your diet—this is healthier and better for the environment than most meat. Beef production releases large amounts of greenhouse gasses and uses excessive amounts of natural resources. 

8. Give Your Washer a Break 

Your washing machine can use a lot of electricity and water. When it’s warm, take advantage of the sun and air dry clothes. You can hang smaller items on the rails if you have a small balcony area. If not, a drying rack near an open window will do the trick. 

In addition, try washing your clothes in cold water. It takes less power since it doesn’t need to be heated up. 

9. Start a Compost Pile 

The U.S. wastes between 30%-40% of its food supply. The discarded items often end up in landfills, where the breakdown releases methane gasses. Composting is a great way to reduce food waste, enrich the soil and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.  

To compost, start with food scraps such as potato skins or coffee grounds. Mix these with your “browns,” i.e. carbon-rich waste items like egg cartons or dried leaves. 

Even if you don’t have a backyard, you have storage options. Suppose you have a balcony—then you can add compost tumblers. If not, you can store worm composters in a closet or under a countertop. In addition, check if your community composts. They might even pick up your food scraps. 

10. Buy Smarter 

While you need to buy items for everyday use, limit just-for-fun purchases. Consider whether you need specific items and how valuable they are to you. The less you buy, the fewer items end up in landfills. 

Also, decorative trinkets can clutter up your space. Having fewer things can keep your home clean and relaxing. Before buying something, think about whether it’s something you will still use a few years later. 

11. Prevent Air Leaks  

Energy loss can come from doors and windows, causing uneven temperatures and drafts in the winter. So, seal up your openings with caulk or weather stripping. Doing so can also prevent water damage and mold growth. 

To make these upgrades more affordable, see if you qualify for aid—the U.S. Department of Energy has nationwide grants for low-income renters. While sealing your windows, repair any holes in the screen and insulation to prevent air leaks. 

12. Upgrade Your Lighting 

Having proper lighting in a home is critical. It’s essential to complete everyday tasks and can set the mood. Switching to LED bulbs conserves energy. In fact, they use 75% less energy than incandescent lighting, saving you money on your energy bills. Plus, they last longer, so fewer materials will end up in landfills and less energy will go into manufacturing them.

13. Do More Recycling 

Recycling keeps items out of landfills and prevents them from polluting oceans and harming marine life. Read a product’s labels carefully and recycle it properly. 

One label to keep in mind is PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate). It’s the most common for single-use bottled drinks, ketchup and mouthwash containers. You can place these in curbside recycling bins after emptying and raising them out. 

If there is no recycling program in your complex, ask your landlord to implement one. Another way to help is to buy packaged items with recyclable wrapping like cardboard. 

Consider the bigger picture, too. Most plastic waste won’t actually ever be recycled because plastic is a low-value material and it’s not economically feasible for municipalities to try to recoup it. If producers and manufacturers eliminated plastic packaging in the first place, that would have a far greater impact than all our combined efforts to sort our waste. And the only way they’ll make meaningful changes to their practices is if we demand producer responsibility.

There is also a way to make money by recycling. When you need to get rid of old electronics, many stores and facilities will take them off your hands. They’ll often give you a bit of cash for your good deed as well. 

14. Learn More About Climate Issues 

One way to help our planet is to keep educating yourself. Learn more about the current climate issues and how to help. Understanding this issue can motivate you to live a more eco-friendly life, and educational resources can also come with tips that save you money. 

Share your knowledge with friends and your complex’s community. As you keep learning, vote for government officials who support climate initiatives. 

Conserve the Environment and Your Wallet 

There are many ways you can help the planet as a renter. The process starts by being mindful of your energy consumption and spending habits, and goes all the way up to taking political action for a survivable future. Try these tricks to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle today. 

Feature imageDaryan Shamkhali; Image 1: Maarten van den Heuvel

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