4 Ways To Become More Sustainable
New To Sustainability? Try These 4 Sustainable Life Hacks
If you are thinking of adopting a more sustainable lifestyle, you’re probably wondering where to begin. Lifestyle changes are always daunting. We start by weighing our ideals against the threat to our comfort. We think, how will I benefit from this change?
But sustainability is about more than the comfort of one person. When we decide to make the shift to sustainable, it means that we are starting to think on a global scale. In simple terms, sustainability looks at the give-and-take between humans and our environment. Therefore, living sustainably means taking only what you need, and ensuring that the taking does not lead to environmental imbalance or collapse.
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. Greek Proverb
In an ideal world, we would replace what we take. People would plant seeds for every tree that is cut down. Companies would replace soil nutrients in fields with mono-crops so the earth could maintain a healthy nutrient balance. Consumers would only take what they need instead of looking at the natural world as an endless, free supply of goods.
It may seem like the individual does not have a lot of power to enact change on a global level, but the average consumer has more power than they think.
Every purchase is a vote, and every vote for sustainable means more choices, lower prices, and a more balanced ecosystem.
If in our ignorance we purchase an item that has been wrenched from the environment using chemicals, pesticides, or harmful harvesting practices, we are declaring our support of these practices with our money. But, if every consumer were to purchase consciously, ensuring that the companies we are supporting do everything in their power to maintain balance, then we cast our vote for sustainability instead.
If you are new to sustainable living, do not despair. What seems intimidating at first is quite simple once you begin. Here are a few small shifts that you can make today that have a huge environmental impact and are easily incorporated into your daily life.
1. Replace single-use plastics.
Single-use plastics- such as wrappers, plastic bags, plastic water bottles, and straws- are destroying the environment. While some single-use plastics can be recycled, the system is undeniably flawed.
Either the plastic never makes it to the recycling plant, or it is recycled and the quality is continually downgraded until it inevitably ends up in a landfill.
For example, a whopping 7 out of 10 plastic water bottles end up in a landfill or as litter.
The less plastic we have in our lives the better. Thankfully, sustainable alternatives exist for many common single-use plastics. Bees wrap is the perfect alternative to plastic wrap. Plastic grocery bags are easily replaced with reusable bags, plastic water bottles with reusable water bottles, and plastic straws with a new wave of metal, portable straws.
The alternatives are out there, you just need to look!
2. Donate your old clothes, buy used clothes, and shop for sustainable fashion.
This one is close to our hearts. Not only is the clothing industry one of the world’s biggest polluters, but 95% of clothing waste could be reused and recycled.
When buying new clothes, be sure that you are going to wear it more than seven times. Seven, believe it or not, is the average number of times a person wears an item of clothing before getting rid of it. If your clothes still have some life left in them, donate them or upcycle them.
Unsustainable fabrics are the reason the fashion industry is the second-worst industrial polluter, accounting for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. These include polyester, inorganic cotton, nylon, viscose, and inorganic wool.
Polyester, for example, is made from petrochemicals and lasts a long time in landfills. Inorganic cotton uses pesticides and a lot of water to make up for the poor quality of the soil. Using chemicals to treat fabrics and sourcing materials in an unsustainable way are both short-cuts that many producers use to support the demand for fast fashion.
Sustainable fashion practices guarantee that land used to grow fabric materials is treated like the irreplaceable resource that it is.
By donating your clothes, buying used clothes, and shopping for sustainable fashion, you are lengthening the average lifespan of your clothes. By extending the average life of our clothing by just three months, we can reduce their carbon and water footprints, as well as waste generation, by 5 to 10 percent!
3. Try composting.
Reducing waste is key to a truly sustainable lifestyle. The average American produces an average of 5.91 lbs of trash A DAY and only about a fourth of this is recyclable. If you want a concrete place to start your transition to a more sustainable life, start with your trash.
According to the EPA, food waste accounts for 22% of American trash. Composting is a simple way to reduce your food footprint.
Admittedly, not everyone has the privilege of a yard where they can start a compost pile. If you do, great! If not, see what options may be available near you, or start a community compost with the people in your neighborhood.
4. Cut out red meat, or buy it locally.
A good rule of thumb when purchasing food sustainably is that what you eat is more important than where it’s from. Purchasing food locally obviously has its benefits. Your food travels fewer miles, you support local businesses, and the food quality is likely to be better.
If you can’t purchase your food locally, take a look at what you are eating. Red meat contributes a majority of food-related carbon emissions in the USA and 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Not only that, but animal farming is terrible for the environment. It contributes to land and water degradation, acid rain, loss of biodiversity, and deforestation.
In contrast, fruit and vegetables contribute an almost negligent level of pollution when grown elsewhere and transported, except for any food that is transported by air (i.e. avocados).
So when possible, buy your red meat locally. Be sure that it is pasture-raised and organic. Or, switch to lean sustainably-caught red meats such as bison or venison. They are healthier for you and the environment.
Living sustainably means more than just being a conscious consumer. It is a mindset shift that we all need to make. Otherwise, the whole world will suffer for it.
One way is to start looking at the world’s resources as a gift. When we receive a gift from someone, most of us would feel obligated to return the favor. So why do we not treat the world the same way? Why is it ok to take what we need and give nothing in return?
If we take without giving back, it seems inevitable that eventually there will no longer be anything to take. The changes above may seem too small to make a difference on a world scale, but in today’s capitalist society the consumer has a lot of power.
So, here is my final sustainability advice to make a sustainable shift that will stick. If we take care of the earth, the earth will take care of us. Don’t do it for yourself, do it for the planet, for your neighbors, for your children, and all of those who will come after us.
“We need acts of restoration, not only for polluted waters and degraded lands, but also for our relationship to the world. We need to restore honor to the way we live, so that when we walk through the world we don’t have to avert our eyes with shame, so that we can hold our heads up high and receive the respectful acknowledgment of the rest of the earth’s beings.” Robin Wall Kimmerer