A few small steps can make a huge difference.
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cotton shopping bags with vegetables inside and an aluminum water bottle
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To hear some folks tell it, making your lifestyle more sustainable means you have to move off the grid, forego your car, and eat a fully vegan diet. And it doesn't help that it seems best practices are constantly changing. One minute you hear you should be eating less dairy; the next, soy and almond milk are both being painted as even worse. You transition your buttered bread breakfast to avo toast only to discover that avocado farming is too taxing on the climate.

Fortunately, making your lifestyle more sustainable doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing undertaking: every little bit counts. With that in mind, here are 9 small ways you can make a huge difference in your carbon footprint.

1. Eat less meat and dairy

Reducing your reliance on meat and dairy in your diet is a massive way you can live more sustainably. One research review from Oxford University published in the journal Science found that the meat and dairy industries currently use 83 percent of global farmland and produce 60 percent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

"A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth," lead study author Joseph Poore told the Guardian. "It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car."

But you don't even need to be fully vegan to have an impact. Planning just one or two plant-based meals a week will make a big difference.

Plant-Based Taco | Photo by Buckwheat Queen

2. Bring your own bags and travel mug

Simple tasks like grocery shopping and grabbing a coffee contribute quite a bit to landfills. Those plastic bags from the produce section and paper coffee cups with plastic lids really add up fast. Instead, invest in your own reusable produce bags and a nice travel mug. Keep them in your car or handbag so that you always have them on you, and you'll cut down significantly on the trash you produce.

3. Buy only what you need

Experts estimate that about 40 percent of food in the U.S. is wasted. But you can reduce your contribution to landfills in a few ways, starting with shopping smarter.

Ideally, we'd all shop the old-fashioned way, visiting the market daily to buy just what we needed for the next meal. While this certainly prevents problems like over-buying produce and accidentally leaving it languishing in the bottom of the crisper until it's far past its prime, frequent shopping is also a huge demand on your time, not to mention your fuel consumption.

Instead, consider planning out a menu once a week. Set aside a few hours on Saturday or Sunday to plan each of your meals, then create a shopping list based on your menu and buy just what's on the list. Stick to the plan, and no food will go to waste.

4. Use scraps

Potato peelings, carrot ends, onion skins, and herb stems don't need to end up in the trash. Save veggie scraps in reusable bags in the freezer, and when you've accumulated enough of them, simmer them in water along with any leftover chicken bones to make a rich stock.

5. Compost

There are some scraps that won't make it into stock, like eggshells, strawberry hulls, or veggies that have gone off. In this case, compost! You can purchase an inexpensive home composter and either use your compost in your own yard or donate it to an urban garden. Check out ShareWaste.com for places near you where you can share the wealth.

6. Buy locally and seasonally

Walk into any supermarket in the middle of January, and you'll likely see displays of strawberries, asparagus, and peaches... none of which are in season in winter. Shopping seasonally and locally cuts down on the impact of shipping produce all across the country, thus reducing your carbon footprint.

Shop at organic farmer's markets when you can, or subscribe to a farm box or a Misfits box to make good use of responsibly farmed, locally sourced produce.

7. Walk

It's not uncommon to hear tongue-in-cheek references to the number of folks who drive their car to the gym to run on a treadmill for an hour, but it's a stereotype for a reason: it's often true! Instead, cancel your gym membership and do as many errands as you can on foot. Pull a market trolley to and from the grocery store, and you'll get in your workout and cut down on your impact.

8. Grow your own herbs (and more!)

It's easy to accidentally waste fresh herbs, as they're often sold in far bigger portions than we need. Instead, try growing your own in your garden, window box, or indoor kitchen herb garden. And if you have more land, consider planting a full garden of easy-to-grow foods like lettuces, zucchini, and tomatoes for ultra-local production with no shipping impact whatsoever.

9. Eradicate plastic from your kitchen

Studies have shown that an average of eight million metric tons of plastic waste enters the ocean each year, and rising use of plastic products is even offsetting slower consumption of motor fuel in the global demand for oil, according to the International Energy Agency. You can do your part by making a decided effort to remove plastic from your kitchen entirely. Store leftovers in reusable glass containers, and invest in beeswax food wraps and snack bags to replace plastic wrap and sandwich bags.

A more sustainable lifestyle can often start with a single small step. Include just one or two of these tips in your routine, and pretty soon, you'll be clamoring for more ways you can help save the planet.