Sustainable living - you may be envisioning this phrase uttered by a hippy dippy, granola crunchin' flower child donned in Birkenstocks and bell sleeves. While I own knock-off Birks, I am not going to pretend that I have it all together when it comes to reducing my carbon footprint. So you don't have to either! The main purpose of this post is to show you how simple it can be to change up our choices to create long-term impact. You may be thinking, "but I'm just one person, what I do doesn't REALLY matter." But if thousands, even millions, of people are stuck in this mindset, those same choices combine to negatively impact our beautiful planet.
Living more sustainably sounds overwhelming when you think of all the different facets involved. But it does not have to be complicated - just start SIMPLY with a few changes, because ya gotta start somewhere, right? Here are some easy ones you can effortlessly incorporate into your everyday life.
1. Choose reusable bags over plastic
This was the first thing I started with, and oh so easyyyy. Instead of bagging your groceries in bookoos of plastic bags every time you shop, bring your own collection of reusable canvas or mesh bags. On average, a person uses a plastic bag for only 12 minutes, and we will only recycle 1 out of every 200 we use (conservingnow.com/plastic-bag-consumption-facts/)!
Added benefit: reusable bags are stronger, hold more items, and come in so many stylish options. Some stores, like Target, will even offer a discount for bringing your own bags, as if we needed another excuse to do a #targetrun!
I keep several bags in my car so I don't need to remember to grab them every time I go to the store. On the days you don't have them with you, just ask the cashier if they have paper bags; many stores do behind their register. Hopefully one day paper will be their go-to choice instead of plastic.
2. Use fabric napkins to reduce waste
Because why should only the fancy restaurants have the nice napkins? This is one I have incorporated recently that saves money on paper napkins or paper towels because you just throw them in your load of laundry to use again. Make your own out of fabric you have on hand (here's a tutorial) or buy some in your favorite print. Here are some styles I am loving right now!
3. Nix plastic water bottles for glass or metal reusable ones
Now, not to throw shade, but if you are still not using a reusable bottle, what are you waiting for? Let's be honest: most bottled water is really just glorified tap water that has been purified. The worst part is, one 1 out of 5 plastic bottles is recycled, while the rest gets littered, buried in a landfill, or thrown in the ocean. Did you know that it takes 700 years (!!!) for a plastic bottle to start decomposing? Bacteria which help in this process don't like petroleum-based products, which is why plastic is the number one threat to our marine ecosystem (https://www.theworldcounts.com/stories/Bottled_Water_Waste_Facts).
The money spent on a quality bottle will be worth it due to the savings of not buying a case of water every week. If you don't have a water filtration system in your fridge, a great option is a Brita filter attached to your faucet or a refillable pitcher. Again, in the long run this one-time purchase beats continually buying bottled.
4. Say no to straws
This one does require a mindshift because we are so used to ripping into straws at restaurants while we are in conversation. Or absentmindedly accepting one in the drive-thru as we are handed all the things. There are an estimated 7.5 million plastic straws polluting our nation's shorelines, based on the amount of trash collected during cleanups from a five year period. Based on this, there is anywhere from 437 million to 8.3 billion on our shores (https://www.boston.com/news/politics/2018/04/20/science-says-amount-of-straws-plastic-pollution-is-huge). That is A LOT of unnecessary single-use plastic when there are other options.
The first is simply not to use a straw. We don't typically use straws when drinking a glass of water at home, so why do we need one when eating out? When eating at fast food restaurants, simply lift the lid or not use one at all (which also reduces plastic)!
I fully acknowledge that there are instances when straws are helpful, such as when driving a car. We live in a world of innovation, and one of those inventions are straws made from sustainable materials! There are options made from biodegradable avocado seeds, bamboo and straw, as well as reusable ones made of glass or metal. For single use items, it does not make sense to continue using plastic when there are better alternatives that are zero-waste and not damaging to our ecosystems.
5. Shop secondhand or invest in quality, timeless garments
Did you know that the production of cotton for the fashion industry is one of the most damaging? This is because of the toxic chemicals found in pesticides, which seep into the surrounding ecosystems and have been linked to cancers, neurological diseases, infertility, miscarriage, and birth defects.
A major contributor to this problem is fast fashion, which is defined as cheap, trendy clothing that collects ideas from the catwalk and celebrity culture and quickly turns them into garments to be purchased. Think Forever 21, Charlotte Russe, and Topshop. Much of this highly on-trend clothing is worn a handful of times and then discarded for the next cheap styles that come out (https://www.thegoodtrade.com/features/what-is-fast-fashion).
Instead of taking part in this endless cycle, consider before making a purchase if it is a piece that will fit in with your wardrobe for more than just a season. Scour thrift store racks for those hidden gems (your wallet will thank you!) or watch for sales from the more expensive, quality brands that are not taking part in this fast fashion craze. Choose classic, timeless pieces that you can re-wear in multiple ways to extend the life of your wardrobe.
6. Make your home more energy efficient
I'm not talking about decking out your roof in solar panels, although that is definitely a sustainable move! But there are simpler ways to start. Make sure there is weather stripping around your doors, replace air filters consistently, and stop any drafts from coming in. Use LED bulbs instead of incandescent because they last longer and use less energy. When you leave a room, don't forget to turn off the lights. Checking these things off your list will also reduce your energy bill every month.
7. Bring in the sunshine
Instead of switching on the lights, open the blinds to use as much natural light as possible. Open the doors or windows and turn off your air to take advantage of a cool breeze. Beautiful weather and sunshine puts us in a better mental state as well, so let it in!
8. Go paperless
Opt to receive digital statements, newsletters, and notices. Go one step further and send electronic invitations to events instead of paper versions.
9. Donating > trash
It's easy to toss an unwanted item in the trash can. But instead, set aside a bag for clothes that can be dropped off at your local thrift store or women's shelter, or taken to H&M's fabric recycle bins. Donate furniture to places like Habitat for Humanity's ReStore. They will even pick up from your home for free! You could also list pieces to sell on Facebook Marketplace so they find life in a new home and you make a little extra cash.
10. The cheapest of all - just buy less
We live in a culture that often defines success as having the latest and greatest things. New gadgets, clothes, shoes, furniture, beauty products, or toys. What happens to the old? Donating is the ideal, but more often than not these discarded items end up in the landfill. We can radically change the world if we simply stop and think if we REALLY need what is in our shopping cart. Our decisions strongly influence brands and manufacturers, which is why our actions and what we choose to spend our money on is so important.
See? Making more sustainable choices isn't as difficult as you may think to get started. Yes, there are so many more ways not listed above, but these are good ones to dip your toes in. More than likely, you are doing some of these already. Remember that sustainable living starts with a few conscious decisions and grows from there. Don't beat yourself up if you forget to refuse a straw or order an impulse buy on Amazon. Your willingness to rethink aspects of your lifestyle is a huge step in the shift to sustainability.