Sustainable Living When You Live in a City

Global warming is a hot topic in the media these days, and we're all becoming concerned about the carbon footprint we're leaving and the future we're providing for our posterity. In rural communities it's possible to live off the land to some extent, but what about when you live in the city? How do you reduce your carbon footprint when you're surrounded by smog and litter? It's actually easier than you may think.

Take Advantage of City Living

Although city living may sound like a recipe for overconsumption and consumerism, there are actually advantages to living in a city when it comes to sustainable living. Unlike in some rural communities, cities have easily-accessible public transportation. Using public transportation is like large-scale carpooling. By reducing the number of vehicles on the roads, it decreases waste.

Even better than public transportation is the possibility of walking places. Many neighborhoods have local markets which you may find within walking distance of your apartment. The best part is that if you walk to and from these stores, you're not only getting exercise and reducing transportation waste, but you're also supporting your local community.

Buy it for Life Instead of for Now

Living in the city can encourage consumerism, but it can also encourage a less-is-more mentality. After all, many city apartments are small. To get the most use out of your space, it's important to limit clutter. One way to do this is to buy long-lasting items instead of buying many short-term items. The great thing about buying items for life instead of for right now is not only that they last longer and can save you money over time, but also that they reduce the waste you're dumping into landfills.


Recycling used to be considered the best possible outcome for waste products. The problem with recycling, however, is the fact that the materials still have to be transported to recycling facilities. Recycling can also be quite costly, especially when consumers don't clean out their materials or put items in recycling that can't actually be recycled. Educating yourself about how to prepare materials to be recycled is one great step, but many are taking it a step further through something called "upcycling."

Upcycling is the process of taking an item that would normally be delegated to the recycling bin--or even the garbage bin--and repurposing it so that it can still be useful. Plarn--yarn made out of plastic grocery bags--is one example of upcycling. There are tons of others. The creative reuse of materials not only reduces your landfill contribution, but it also draws your attention to how many things you're throwing away on a daily basis.

Keep a Windowsill Garden

You may think that living in the city prevents you from growing your own food. Although you may never own a large vegetable garden, you can easily grow herbs and small vegetables in your windowsill. Not only will this give you useable herbs and vegetables for your kitchen, but it may also make your apartment feel more peaceful. We all know that plants recycle carbon dioxide into oxygen, which means that increasing the number of plants surrounding you can be beneficial, especially in cities with a lot of smog. House plants have even been shown to improve mental health.

Some locations also offer community gardening. This is one large garden in which you could use a small plot of land. Community gardening is a solution to the lack of yards in cities and may allow you to grow larger and more numerous plants than if you were trying to just keep them inside.

Turn Off Electronics You Aren't Using

Remember when your parents used to tell you to turn off the lights? The old adage holds true. Wasteful electricity use doesn't just consume money: It also consumes our planet's resources. This can extend further than just turning off lights you're not using, however. It also means that you should fix the leaky sink in the bathroom so that you're not wasting water unnecessarily, and even unplug electronics like toasters and coffee makers that aren't currently in use. When items are plugged in they use a small amount of power even when they're not turned on.

Reduce Junk Mail Received

Instead of spending time every day sorting through your mail just so you can toss the junk mail, reach out to distributing companies and take your name off their mailing lists. This prevents junk mail from being sent to you, which reduces the number of trees being cut down to provide the junk mail. You can also opt to pay many, if not all, of your bills online, limiting paper waste even more in the process.

Use Water Filters Instead of Water Bottles

Landfills are grossly over-packed with old plastic water bottles. The increased consumption of water over soda or juice is great, but the cost of plastic is not a price worth paying. If your tap water doesn't taste great, purchase a water filter instead of buying water bottles. This not only reduces your plastic use, but it also will save you money over time. Water filters still have to be replaced, but not nearly as often as water bottles would have to be purchased. You can still take your filtered water and put it in a metal bottle for easy transport, but you won't be throwing it away every 16 ounces.

Sustainable living in the city is totally possible. Even better, living sustainably not only helps the environment but also helps pad your wallet by cutting down on unnecessary and wasteful expenses. What are your top tips for sustainable urban living?