Sustainability is a hot topic. Scientific facts, accessibility, financial privilege, personal opinion, you name it and there’s plenty to read about on the internet. If you’re like me, time spent learning about climate change has shocked and motivated you to voluntarily make changes in your own life.
In the span of five years I've done a lot to re-adjust my mindset and habits, but I still feel like there's so much to do. One thing I know for sure though, progress is way more important than perfection.
Here’s my take on changes you can make in 2020 that will incrementally inspire you to adjust your lifestyle way more than you ever thought possible!
THE MOST SUSTAINABLE THING YOU CAN DO IS USE WHAT YOU HAVE.
Go through your closet and give clothes you wrote off as “meh” another chance. Youtube is an amazing resource for DIY sewing tutorials. Patch those holes!...and I know you have a stockpile of buttons in a junk drawer. If it’s financially feasible, have ill-fitting garments tailored.
I hate to break it to you, but most clothing that’s donated ends up in landfills. Supply well exceeds demand. Consider hosting a clothing swap, consigning, or find a local non-profit that’s actually in need of donations.
Towels can be repurposed as rags to minimize paper towel use and old sheets are great to keep around for times when a tarp is needed for projects around the house. Still need to get rid of textiles? Consider recycling.
Finish all that shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, makeup, etc before you buy anything new. Unless you’re already a minimalist in this department, your collection of half used bath and beauty products will last longer than you anticipate.
Don’t forget to cut open toothpaste and lotion tubes. There’s always a good chunk of product lingering at the bottom. Travel hack: empty makeup jars and bottles make fabulous refillable travel-size containers.
The goal here is to avoid plastics like the plague, but affordable nutrition is important so if you must, get creative. Know that resealable plastic packaging your food came in? How about that plastic saran wrap on cheese and mushrooms? Clean it and reuse it for other food. Same goes for plastic containers with lids and glass jars. Clean and reuse!
Again, hate to break it to you, but most plastics aren’t recycled. By that I don't mean people aren't recycling at home, I mean facilities are incinerating or dumping in landfills because there's just too much of it.
Next time you go to the store don't buy zip-lock bags or saran wrap, use what you have. Speaking of a trip to the store, have a bunch of paper bags? Bring them along to reuse!
Packaging from online orders
If they're in good shape, reuse the boxes, bubble mailers and plastic bags next time you have to mail something. Come up with creative ways to use them for organizing or packing stuff that’s going into storage.
To my cat lovers out there, before I recycle cardboard boxes I let my cat use them as a jungle gym. Sometimes I cut holes in them so it feels like a little home. Loads of fun that doesn't involve buying more toys he'll get sick of anyway.
Do I sound like a broken record? Reuse and repurpose. You don’t need to throw down a bunch of money to be more eco-friendly. In fact, many of the above practices will end up saving you money.
MINDFUL LIVING A.K.A. THINK BEFORE YOU ACT
A huge part of sustainability is being mindful of how our choices affect other people, wildlife and the environment. Live by these words: buy less, choose well. I’m a big fan of minimalism and wrote about it here.
Say no to plastic
As mentioned above, there's so much of it and no ideal solution yet. Sadly, just because you put it in the recycling bin doesn't mean it's actually going to get recycled. Something like 90% of plastic doesn't get recycled. Woof.
Start small and figure out ways to bypass plastic in your daily life. Bring your reusable bags everywhere and when you're going to the grocery store don't forget to bring your own produce bags!
Going out to eat? Bring a reusable straw or tell your server you don't want a straw in your beverage. Bring reusable food containers for leftovers so you can avoid the disposable ones. Have your own reusable bottle on hand for on-the-go water, soda or coffee/tea instead of using disposable cups and plastic bottles. Most cafes will even give you a small discount for using your own bottle.
These small changes may be annoying at first. You'll need to remember to bring stuff with you or forego something altogether, but trust me, it won't be long until it becomes second nature.
Don't be embarrassed to vocalize that you want to use your own straw/bottle/container. Change happens because people speak up. Someone else in line may take notice or your cashier may be inspired.
Support local farms
Going vegan is technically the dietary ideal, but not feasible for everyone. The next best thing is to focus on quality and impact. Buying local produce is a win/win. Prioritize pasture-raised eggs and dairy products. If you eat meat, support a farm that raises pasture roaming and humanely cared for livestock. If nothing else, implement meatless Mondays.
Choose wild caught
Believe it or not, fish hatcheries and fish farms have a damaging effect on wild fish populations. Buy wild caught and be sure to look for the Marine Steward Council logo next to the price to be sure it's from a sustainable population.
Did you know biodegradable items, like food scraps, won't break down in a landfill? A newspaper was still readable after 40-years!
Landfills are anaerobic environments (oxygen deprived) meant to act as safe and secure storage. Without oxygen organic waste takes forever to degrade and in the meantime, the process creates methane. Methane is 30x worse than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas.
Compost piles are aerobic environments (oxygen rich) thriving with microbial activity feeding on the organic waste. It's truly a happily ever after story because the end result is nutrient dense soil. Here's a resource for backyard composting and here's one for apartment composting.
Assess how you use your appliances
Do you run the dishwasher half empty? How often do you use your washer and dryer? Can you air dry your clothes? Turn the thermostat up or down a couple degrees to save energy?
Support slow fashion
Cut out fast fashion and cut down on shopping in general. If you must shop, buy vintage/thrift or seek out brands that prioritize ethical labor, fair trade and eco-friendly, biodegradable fabrics. Recycled or not, try to avoid buying plastic-based fabrics.
Buy jewelry made from recycled materials and above ground gemstones. May I suggest Irina Victoria Jewelry? Learn more about our efforts here.
Please, please, please don’t buy real fur. It’s totally unnecessary. Periodt. Buy bath and beauty products that don’t test on animals. If the behemoth CoverGirl can go cruelty-free because of pressure from customers, they all can. Use your hard earned dollars as your voice. Here's a good cruelty-free resource.
Be a thoughtful tourist
Research zoos, aquariums and sanctuaries thoroughly before visiting. It breaks my heart to say this, but many operations are not at all what they say. Animal abuse for the sake of tourist dollars is a thriving industry. If the facility is offering rides or hands on photos, especially with caged or chained animals, that’s a huge red flag. There's so much more to say on this topic, here's a scholarly perspective on the matter.
INVESTING IN ZERO-WASTE PRODUCTS
If you’re looking to add zero-waste or eco-friendly products into your home to replace spent items here’s what I can suggest from personal experience. Linked are specific products I love.
Food & Beverage
- Bamboo brush heads for electric toothbrush*
- Bar shampoo (these too) and conditioner
- Bar hand soap
- Plaine products refillable body wash and lotion
- Plant fiber loofah
- Recycled toilet paper wrapped in paper
- Recycled facial tissues
- Refillable dental floss
- Deodorant and (this too)
- Lip balm in a cardboard tube
- Stainless steel double-edged safety razor
- Menstrual cup
- Period underwear
* I buy child size bamboo toothbrushes and make my own toothbrush heads. It’s pretty damn easy. I use a small hacksaw and an electric drill (two things I already own). I saw the brush in half, drill a hole and plop it on. I can confirm my teeth are happy.
** We made a litter box house out of wood and use these inside. We scoop out waste every day so one box lasts us at least a year. The paper box can be composted when it's no longer functional.
Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better.
Writer, Poet, Civil Rights Activist
I got a good laugh from something I read on Instagram the other day and it's stuck with me since, "Sustainability is like teenage sex. Everybody says they're doing it, very few people are actually doing it, those that are doing it are doing it badly.".
In my opinion, that sums up individual sustainability efforts pretty well. We're not experts, we're just people trying to do our best. Many things remain out of our control, like accessibility to public transportation and poor or non-existent community recycling and composting programs. This can be spirit crushing, but I try to focus on what we do have control over:
- Minimizing the amount of stuff we buy and throw out.
- Supporting brands that prioritize sustainability, ethical labor and innovation. (Beware of greenwashing.)
- Telling our representatives we want environmental justice.
We're living through a time of massive transformation thanks to an abundance of information on the internet. Let's show some compassion for one another. Every action, no matter how small makes a difference.