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Sustainable Apartment Living

A few of Stoke’s small-scaled swap suggestions. Photo By Jessie Stokes.

Sustainable Apartment Roadblocks

Making sustainable lifestyle choices as a homeowner can be difficult, and it can be even more challenging to make sustainable choices living in an apartment when options are limited.

Apartment occupants typically don’t have the option to install rain gardens, green roofs, or solar panels. Many don’t even have a backyard to start a garden, or dump compost. Updating appliances to more energy-efficient ones isn’t always an option if the appliances are provided and not ones that you own.

Fortunately, there are some solutions to these potential roadblocks and other ways to compensate sustainably in an apartment, typically, a small, rented space.

The inspiration for Stoke’s blog name, her tiny yellow bungalow

Jessie Stokes, author of the blog Tiny Yellow Bungalow, has previous experience living in both apartments and rentals. Her blog began in 2015 when she was living in a tiny yellow house in Houston, Texas, her blog’s namesake. This is when her sustainability journey really took off.

Pictured is Jessie Stokes, author of the blog Tiny Yellow Bungalow. Photo By Molly Stokes

“I think how I would recommend someone start to live more sustainably in an apartment would be the same that I would recommend for someone living in a larger space. Start with baby steps!” Stokes said. “There are so many things you can do to help Mama Earth just start with one thing and go from there. Rather than feeling bummed that you can’t install solar panels on your apartment complex roof, focus on what you can do.”

Rather than feeling bummed that you can’t install solar panels on your apartment complex roof, focus on what you can do.

Sasha Stone is the owner of a low-waste store, Green Life Trading Co., based out of Madison, Wisconsin. Stone also has experience living in an apartment herself and runs the Zero-Waste Madison Facebook Group.

Pictured is Sasha Stone, owner of Green Life Trading Co. Photo By Anne LaMartina

Stone recommended completing a trash audit of your waste in your household as one of the first steps toward sustainable apartment living. Addressing energy usage is also an important move. While apartment dwellers do use less energy than houses, there are ways to do it more sustainably.

Smaller-Scaled Swaps

Some of the smaller-scale sustainable changes that Stokes recommended incorporating into your small space include using a bamboo toothbrush, switching to compostable kitchen scrubbers, and using towels that aren’t paper. Making the switch from liquid soap and shampoo to using soap and shampoo bars is another great first step. Using reusable shopping bags, as well as eating more plants and locally sourced food if you are able, can also have an impact.

A few of Stoke’s small-scaled swap suggestions. Photo By Jessie Stokes.

“These are all small swaps but just think – if we all made a few small changes, it would make a huge difference! I don’t feel like small sustainable swaps are less important than large-scale sustainability,” Stokes said. “I think every single thing we can do to try to live more environmentally friendly is great.”

Some of the products that Stokes mentioned can be found at Green Life Trading Co. She agrees that the little things are making a difference.

“Something smaller scale is going to be less ‘effective’ than the bigger picture changes but, as the types of products I sell demonstrate, I believe every little change does make a difference,” Stone said. “Imagine if every apartment dweller stopped getting junk mail, that would have a pretty large impact.”

Stone expanded more on the smaller-scaled swaps with additional suggestions, such as only doing full loads of laundry and using dryer balls to shorten dry time. To take it even further, try hang-drying if possible. These work to cut energy costs.

Using a dishwasher is more efficient than all the water that goes into handwashing, so only hand wash if the dishwasher is slow. Turning the sink off when you’re brushing your teeth and taking shorter showers also helps conserve water. All of these small things can have a large impact.

Composting for Small Spaces

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, composting helps the environment by reducing the amount of production of greenhouse gases, such as methane, minimizing the need for chemical fertilizers, can help remediate soil contaminated by hazardous waste, as well as enhancing water retention in soil.

“The one change I always hear apartment dwellers struggle with most is composting,” Stokes said. “Composting is much easier to do if you have a backyard but there are some options for composting even for apartment dwellers.”

Composting bins are built to contain the smell inside and are meant to be used in small spaces, like apartments. One specific way to do this is by vermicomposting. Vermicomposting is a method that uses worms to aid in the decomposition process of food waste. The result is worm castings that can be used for indoor gardening or for pick-up/drop-off to another destination if you aren’t directly utilizing the castings. This method doesn’t require a lot of space to be successful, which is why it is typically the recommended method for apartments.

There are ways to do traditional “hot composting” in a small space, for example, through balcony compost tumblers. This method requires more effort and sorting of what goes into your compost bin with specific ratios of materials. It also has a better chance of producing an odor if the ratios are off.

If you don’t have an indoor garden, backyard, or a place to put your compost product, there are some options to work with. First, check to see if your place of residence has a compost pick-up service. The way this typically works is that you fill a bucket with your compost, the service takes it every week or so, and they give you a new one to fill. If your area doesn’t have a compost pick-up service, there are other people or companies who may want your scraps.

Local farmers may be a good option, some of which may be at your local farmer’s market. One other unique option is an app that Stokes mentioned called “Share Waste.” This is simply an app that helps you connect with people in your local area who may want your compost.

Indoor Gardening

It might not be ideal to garden indoors, so if your apartment has a balcony or patio, it is optimal to utilize that method and grow produce, such as tomatoes, in containers that way. One of these containers could be a five-gallon bucket. If you do not have a balcony or patio you can still grow things inside such as a kitchen herb garden for cooking with a good amount of sunlight.

“Growing your own food is a great way to reduce your impact, from the food miles to the packaging and energy that goes into growing food,” Stone said.

Another option Stone mentioned was looking to see if your local area has a community garden. You pay a sum for a plot of land within the garden space and tools are often shared amongst the community.

While someone with yard space might have more gardening and composting options, this doesn’t mean that people in small spaces have no options.

“Yes, large-scale change is important, but not making changes at all because we feel like it won’t make a difference is a really negative way to approach the problem,” Stokes said. “Do what you can in the space that we have.”


About the Author

Sam Dahm

Sam is a Mount Mary University graduate student studying Professional Counseling with Clinical Mental Health and School concentrations. She also received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Mount Mary, where she began writing sustainability pieces for Climate414, a student publication raising awareness for climate change, sustainability practices, and responsible consumer practices.

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