Article By: Alexander Morgan
Are you trying to reduce the environmental impact of your daily actions, but aren’t sure where to start? The “elegance of less” is a great general principle to live by, as sustainable processes are often those that cut out unnecessary steps, packaging, waste, emissions, toxic materials, you name it! (For more on the elegance of minimalist solutions, check out this podcast episode by Katie Patrick.)
We’re going to look at some green apps that can help you on your sustainability journey, but keep in mind that the general goal is to cut out the unnecessary. So if these apps help you simplify your life, that’s great! If not, no big deal, you can also delete them and move on.
Let’s start by trying to green up our daily coffee ritual. EcoRate is a sustainability ratings app that shows you which cafes are the most eco-friendly. What makes a cafe eco-friendly? EcoRate’s sustainability metric is based on how much waste is produced on-site when fulfilling ordinary orders. With a glance at the sustainability map, it’s easy to see which cafes score the highest because they are bigger and greener. In the interest of cutting out single-use cups altogether, EcoRate shows if a cafe uses mugs/glasses for dine-in orders (the mug icon’s handle is on the right) and if the cafe lets you bring your own thermos (the mug icon has a heart inside it). Once you get back into the habit of drinking coffee from an actual mug, you’ll wonder how anybody accepts getting served in a trashy single-use cup. The elegance of less is beautiful. It’s also wonderful to know that you can actively support the cafes that are doing the most to be sustainable.
What about when you get a coffee to go, and you forgot your trusty thermos? There are more and more initiatives where you can borrow a shared thermos from one cafe, and return it to any other cafe in the network! Reusables to-go is the motto of NYC-based Cup Zero. Okapi Reusables also just launched in Portland, Oregon. NYC and Portland are two cities that take their coffee seriously, so these cupshare systems can work there, they can work anywhere! And if you want to know which cupshare program is operating in your area, EcoRate shows you that too when you tap on a cafe, and it links you to the appropriate app. Sustainability apps work well together because they are often working towards the same goal.
How about when you get food delivered? I’ll admit that I just don’t order delivery because I hate all the waste that goes with it. DeliverZero cuts down on that by delivering food from participating restaurants in reusable containers. You pay a deposit on the containers that you get back when you return them. How do you return them? Well, you have three weeks to order takeout from another participating restaurant and give the previous containers to the delivery person. Or you can return them in person yourself. Closed-loop systems can also be great for restaurants in that they can encourage repeat customers. When local governments fail to enact even basic waste-reduction policies (looking at you NYC ) like requiring that restaurants default to no single-use utensils in delivery orders unless customers ask for them, it’s nice to see companies step up to offer a solution.
In a similar vein, you can get heavily discounted excess food from restaurants with the TooGoodToGo app. You pick it up yourself and it’s often a “surprise bag” of their excess items, but it’s a great way to reduce food waste and still support your favorite local restaurants. Also the surprise element is no big deal – if you get a surprise bag from a bagel shop, I’ll give you one guess as to what’s probably inside. I used this for the first time recently and I found that a nice bonus is that it lets me try the food of a restaurant in an inexpensive and waste-diverting way. I’d definitely go back to the restaurant I tried via Too Good To Go!
Ok, this one’s not an app, but honestly so many websites are mobile-friendly now that you don’t necessarily need everything to be an app. We’re rounding out our food-themed resources with a list of composting sites all over the US on Litterless. Composting is one of the single most impactful changes you can take as an individual to reduce your environmental footprint. And if you compost using one of the community sites you find on Litterless, you’ll probably meet lots of other great sustainability-minded people and you’ll be helping to make their composting site a success. They also have a list of bulk grocery stores to help get food without all the packaging and some other tips, so Litterless is a wonderful sustainability reference.
Sustainability touches all aspects of our lives, so we need good solutions more than just food. BuyNothing is a great app that connects you with other people in your area that are giving away all manner of items (furniture, electronics, clothes...). This not only avoids those items from going to landfill, it also reduces the demand for new items by giving our things a second (or third or fourth) home. You may know BuyNothing as a Facebook group or Instagram account, but there is also a standalone app which is great because who needs more Facebook or Instagram in their lives (spoiler: nobody). It’s easy to see all the items a given person is offering, so it can be easy to give away a lot of things all at once if you’re moving or just really enthusiastic about the whole elegant minimalism thing. And everything is free! It’s great to see the eco-friendly option being the budget-friendly option too.
One thing that we can all agree we want less of is junk mail. The PaperKarma app lets you scan junk mail to “unsubscribe” from their IRL mailing list. PaperKarma is cutting down the mailbox-to-recycling-bin pipeline and literally everyone is cheering them on. It’s free to try and you can unsubscribe from four companies’ junk mail before you have to get a subscription or lifetime membership to continue. In an ideal world, junk mail would be illegal and PaperKarma wouldn’t exist, but until that happens, give it a try for yourself. The only thing you have to lose is a bunch of predatory credit card applications you don’t want anyway.
Elegance of Less
All of these apps can help you on your journey to leading a more sustainable life, and honestly, they’re all interesting in their own right in different ways. Some of them might even help you get better connected with other marvelous and inspiring people in your community on a sustainability journey of their own. In my experience, the sustainability crowd is full of incredible people and I hope these apps bring you closer to some of them. Consider giving these apps a try, maybe just one at a time. If these creative solutions help you reduce waste, save money, and insert some intentionality for the environment in your life, take a moment to appreciate the elegance of less they all foster in different ways.