14 So-Called Sustainable Habits That Are Actually Bad For The Planet

Time to break the habit.

Did you know: some of our sustainable habits and daily activities that we’ve always believed are helping the planet on our eco-friendly journey, may actually be hurting the Earth? This could be due to false labeling, assumed benefits, and lack of research or public awareness. So today, let’s discuss some of the so-called green habits (which are actually common sustainability mistakes), and how to improve our eco-friendly habits for a greener future.

Sustainability mistakes we need to avoid, at all costs!

When it comes to living sustainably, we need to be extremely careful with picking our eco-friendly habits and avoid falling for these sustainability mistakes.

Replacing all that you own with “sustainable” alternatives

This is a personal choice and should be based on what works for your zero-waste or sustainable lifestyle (and your budget). But replacing everything with “sustainable” alternatives is just not realistic. And what happens to everything you already have that does not make the cut and is thrown away? Yes, it ends up in landfills as waste. Quite an irony! You’re making sustainable swaps but not following eco-friendly habits, while you’re trying to do good. 

You can try to make as many swaps in your sustainable habits as possible, but not all are always good. Pick carefully, after completing your research. When in doubt, follow the ‘5 Rs‘ – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Rot, and Recycle.

Following labels (without knowing all the facts)

There is a lot of talk about which products are truly natural, organic, or sustainably produced. Such labels and certifications can mean different things to different people. But when it comes down to it, they are marketing ploys created by companies trying to get you to buy their products over others.

The truth is that many of these products contain chemicals used in the production process (e.g., pesticides). Even if they didn’t, there are environmental costs associated with producing these items (like water pollution). When buying these items, you should look at how much money goes towards production and packaging versus the profit margin on the end product after taxes.

Greenwashing is a marketing tactic of labeling a product as environmentally friendly, ethical, or sustainable, for profit. This deception makes it harder for eco-conscious consumers (like us) to purchase responsibly, right from grocery items to beauty products, since you’ve been misinformed.

Using cotton tote bags

cotton vs plastic bags sustainable habits_Insta
theslowfactory / Instagram

Cotton totes are a staple in most American households and are a great alternative to single-use plastic shopping bags. But cotton totes aren’t biodegradable, so they end up in landfills after few uses anyway.  A 2018 study found that a natural cotton bag will need to be used over 20,000 times — or for almost 55 years — before it has the same environmental impact as a lightweight single-use plastic grocery bag. Shocking, isn’t it?

Cotton is one of the most harmful crops to the environment; when grown on a large scale, regular cotton requires 15 times more water and pesticides than cotton grown organically. Cotton production also requires large quantities of fossil fuels like natural gas and diesel fuel, which contribute to climate change by emitting CO2 into the atmosphere when these materials are burned or broken down, during the manufacturing process. So, the question you should ask yourself here: does using cotton bags really count as one of our sustainable habits?

Buying groceries termed ‘organic’ (or natural)

Organic food is not the same as all-natural. It does not necessarily mean it is healthier for you or the environment. Organic products are grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or genetically modified organisms. Organic food is a trending term, but it actually means more than “non-GMO.” Unfortunately, there’s no legal definition for what an organic product is, and no certification system for its producers. As a result, many brands use the term loosely or simply because they have paid for the Organic label on their products.

This does not mean you must avoid GMO products; if you buy something labeled “natural” or “all-natural,” it will almost certainly contain GMOs.

(Blindly) trusting every clean beauty brand/ product

One of the most common sustainable habits is blindly trusting every clean beauty brand and wellness product. You might be tempted to trust your favorite brand’s claim that their products are free of chemicals or that their packaging is made from recycled materials. But that doesn’t mean they’re actually good for the planet. Its because most of these claims are no longer approved by the FDA, which means companies can claim whatever they want, without 100% proof.

While many companies do their best to make sure their products are cruelty-free, there are still some products out there that contain animal hair or other animal by-products. When you’re investing in your health and well-being, it’s important to know what’s in your products before you buy them. Look for Cruelty-Free certifications on the packaging or window stickers so you can be sure what ingredients are being applied to your skin and hair.

Related: What Do The Terms Natural, Organic, And Clean Mean In Skincare?

Using conventional home cleaning products

The biggest mistake is using standard home cleaning products in your house. Certain products, such as bleach, are not bad for the ozone layer. If you want to save money and avoid chemicals, try using eco-friendly cleaning alternatives instead of buying new products when you need something cleaned.

You should use biodegradable detergents or make cleaning products yourself instead. Avoid chemical sprays as much as possible – especially if you have children at home! You can use many different products in your home, but you need to ensure that they are safe for the environment and your family.

Related: 10 Ways To Make Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products At Home

Choosing disposable diapers over cloth ones

disposable diapers_Insta
greenbambinookc / Instagram

Many parents prefer disposable diapers to cloth ones because they feel it’s better for the environment (and easier to use), but this is not always true. Disposable diapers are made of plastic and can take hundreds of years to break down. The best way to reduce the impact of disposable diapers on the planet is by using cloth diapers instead. Cloth diapers do not need to be washed as often as disposables, which means less water and energy use. Using cloth diapers also means that you will be reducing the amount of waste going into landfills or incinerators from disposable diapers (both being very energy-intensive processes). 

You can also give away your cloth diapers to other families with a newborn baby to reuse, after your child has grown out of them. Or you can even donate them.

Using green poop bags for pets

pet poop bags sustainable habits_Insta
playfulpetspalace / Instagram

Yes, you heard that right! Pet parents, this one is for you. 

The biodegradable ‘green’ poop bags that you use to pick up after your pets are not all that good. Biodegradable plastics still end up in landfills. And will likely cause greenhouse gas emissions like methane. These green poop bags won’t decompose as easily as when composted. So, all pet poop should be disposed of in poop-only bins, buried or composted in human-friendly ways.

Recycling, but not properly

If you recycle your bottles and cans, that’s great indeed! But if you’re not recycling other items like aluminum foil and plastic bags, you’re probably not doing all that you should to help the planet.

Maybe you’re not using the correct containers for your recyclables, or putting them out in the wrong bins. Also, there may not be enough bins for everyone in your neighborhood to recycle their own waste. Try to avoid such common recycling mistakes.

Related: Recycling 101: Here Is What, How, And What Not To Do When Recycling

Using CFL bulbs

Compact fluorescent lights are energy-efficient alternatives to incandescent light bulbs. CFLs have several benefits, including lower operating costs and less heat output than standard incandescent bulbs. However, they also emit more UV rays than traditional light bulbs, contain mercury, and can potentially cause skin damage.

CFL bulbs don’t last very long, and they need to be replaced often. It is important to recycle CFLs properly, so that they can be used again in other CFLs, instead of being thrown away in landfills.

Driving hybrid vehicles

Hybrid cars are more fuel efficient than regular cars. However, they still consume gasoline and emit carbon dioxide. Hybrids can save you money on gas bills by using less gasoline than other cars. They help to reduce CO2 emissions by 40 percent compared to regular cars when driven for 10 miles per gallon (mpg). However, hybrids do not offer the same level of performance as conventional vehicles regarding acceleration, handling, or braking.

If you cannot afford a hybrid vehicle, you should consider driving an electric one instead. It is one of the sustainable habits that we prefer to follow.

Reusing aluminum bottles/ cans instead of recycling

aluminum sustainable habits
sistemteknik.ltd / Instagram

Aluminum water bottles are the most commonly reused item in most American houses. Aluminum bottles are a great idea in theory, but in reality, they’re not good for the planet. Also, most aluminum cans last only about 6 weeks before needing replacement due to corrosion from exposure to air and moisture in storage conditions. So, avoid reusing them.

If you recycle old aluminum cans correctly, a recycled product will be up on your grocery shelf within 6-8 weeks. However, bottles made from other materials like glass or steel are much better for the environment. So, start reusing them as part of your more sustainable habits.

Drinking almond milk

is almond milk sustainable_Insta
clubcandyatl / Instagram

Almond milk has become so popular that it’s available in supermarkets across the country. Many people have switched from dairy milk to almond milk as an alternative because they believe it’s healthier (and tastier) than regular milk. But does almond milk really live up to its hype? 

In reality, almond milk is just as processed as other types of milk when it comes down to its ingredients: a blend of water, almonds, and sugar. It contains not as many of the vitamins or minerals found in dairy milk (like calcium or vitamin D), which could lead to weaker bones and health issues in the long run.

In addition, almond is one of the most water-demanding crops, which adds to the problem of groundwater depletion. It also endangers the commercial bees; since almond trees need to be pollinated, it leads to more stress on the bee population.

Recycling plastic (without proper research)

Plastic is made from oil and natural gas and will take up to 500 years to decompose in landfills. When we recycle plastic bottles and other containers, we turn them into new plastics, which means that more plastic gets made than before recycling was an option. This hurts our planet because it takes up valuable space in landfills that could be used to grow food or keep animals alive!

Recycling plastic bottles and packaging is another common mistake made by many people. While recycling encourages the use of less plastic overall, it’s not always good for the environment because it ends up in landfill sites or is even shipped overseas, where it pollutes more landfills and oceans alike in the process! Instead, buy refillable containers when grocery shopping in supermarkets as a eco-friendly habit.

Related Articles:
Waste-Free Ways To Deal With Single-Use Plastics You Already Own
Non-Recyclable Items That You’ve Been Recycling All This Time


There’s plenty of advice & opportunity to make your life more planet-friendly; from minimizing plastic waste to walking or biking instead of taking buses or cars. But certain sustainable habits and eco-friendly lifestyle tips are not as straightforward as they might seem on the surface. There’s much more to daily eco-friendly habits than simply being termed as good or bad for the environment.

So, research to understand, make responsible consumption decisions, and follow eco-conscious green habits, before deciding which sustainable habits are good for you, and are best for the planet!

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