Updated: May 22
A Starter’s Guide to Sustainable Living
Sustainability is trending in fashion but, unlike assless chaps or feather hair extensions, it’s not a fad. Sustainability is a trend that’s rightfully and necessarily evolving into a common denominator of our lives.
You’ve heard the news. When it comes to Mother Nature and restoring the health of the planet, we’ve got about ten years to turn things around. If we don’t make the most of the next decade, we probably won’t get another chance.
That’s not to exaggerate or fear-monger; humanity’s future is quite literally on the line. Take it from teen activist Greta Thunberg: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic… I want you to act as if the house is on fire because it is.”
It’s time to learn and change direction. Take this article as food for thought your starter’s guide to sustainable living.
Back to Basics
First of all, this should be clear: sustainability is not just “going green.” It alludes to living consciously and considerately. The main principle behind sustainability is giving back what you take from your environment.
You know it… the famous trio: reduce, reuse, recycle.
In my humble opinion, recycling kind of sucks. I say that with love because it’s obviously worth
the time and effort. But lo and behold, there are rules behind it. And for some reason, much like taxes, no one wants to talk about them unless you ask.
We see recycling bins in most public hotspots, but Jan Dell of the Plastic Coalition says, “Six
times more plastic waste is burned in the U.S. than recycled.” Obviously, that’s the short version of a much bigger story.
If we’re honest, the best way to avoid plastic pollution is probably to boycott or petition against all single-use plastics. But capitalism is a powerful monster, so let’s scale back before we get overly political.
By recycling at home, we can make a direct impact in the fight against plastic waste. Here’s what to know before you get started.
Recycling guidelines are specific to a location. Be sure to read up on what you can and cannot recycle in your city.
Regardless of where you are, clean your recyclables. Before you drop something in a bin, it needs to be rinsed well of food, liquid, cleaner, etc. Believe it or not, you can contaminate an entire load of recyclables with one dirty item. When that happens, it all ends up (*drum roll*) in a landfill. Gross.
Break down and flatten your boxes to prepare them for their next life. Cardboard is easiest to recycle when it’s compacted.
Also, check your plastic! If it’s labeled with a number 1 through 7, it’s recyclable.
You cannot recycle styrofoam or straws because they’re too lightweight to make it through the process. Yes, it’s unfortunate (and counterintuitive), but there are some things we simply cannot control.
It’s important to note glass is a “hit or miss.” Again, make sure you’re in the loop on what’s yay or nay for recycling; your city might not offer or be able to afford it for glass.
The moral of the story so far: don’t treat your recycling like garbage. If you can use a faucet and count to 7, you can recycle like a boss.
Thrifting and repurposing is a creative and practical way to make the most of your wardrobe,
but clothes aren’t the only thing you can upcycle.
Try reusing glass and plastic containers for storage, or cut old T-shirts to make washable rags. You can even wrap gifts with old newspapers, magazines, or coupons.
In case you haven’t noticed, upcycling costs zero money. We’re saving dollars, here, not just the environment!
Reducing your waste is arguably the hardest part of a sustainable lifestyle change. It means unlearning old behaviors and shifting your mindset.
Again, it’s breaking those habits you’re born into. Say it with me: paper, not plastic. Plastic is the enemy and it never dies. Invest in your own sturdy, reusable grocery bags instead.
Get yourself a nice thermal water bottle or travel coffee mug. Use a metal or silicone straw. Upgrade to biodegradable sponges and loofahs—ditch the plastic mesh. Better yet, use a washcloth and sugar scrub to exfoliate.
Oh (hear me out on this), use compost. It’s low maintenance, cheap, and can be made year-round, inside or out. It cuts back on food waste and you can use it on anything green that grows.
Speaking of compost, you know what else is in fashion? Plants. They’re decorative and functional—the best of both worlds.
Depending on where you live and what you like, you can usually garden both inside and outside. Fertilize with that compost, water as needed, and you’re golden.
Plants are awesome to use for decoration, air purification, cooking, or even trade. You’d be surprised what your neighbors would barter for a propagated herb bush. If nothing else, share the love!
What’s your favorite mom and pop shop? Have you ever been to a farmer’s market?
What about that one-of-a-kind restaurant you’re wanting to try?
Eating and shopping locally is a huge theme and really embodies the purpose behind sustainable living. It’s one of the best ways to see the micro effects of your personal lifestyle choices.
For instance, buying local helps preserve farmland and clean air. You might’ve heard already, but the industrial meat business is not friends with the environment.
That’s just one example of how shopping small (i.e. buying from your local butcher shop) fights pollution and softens the impact big business leaves on the environment.
Let’s say you need to buy a dress. Wouldn’t you rather give your money to a boutique? The Banana Republic will not appreciate your patronage in the way small businesses do. Be conscious of where your investments go.
In general, whether you’re buying locally grown produce or handmade clothing, or something in between, buying from local businesses is a one-way street toward a richer, happier community.
Sustainable living boils down to living larger than yourself and understanding how your habits shape the world around you.
With your help, global sustainability is attainable, even if you start with one small action or idea that you’ve read in this article.
Sustainability is trending, and it’s up to us to keep it that way.