I started learning more about sustainability a few years ago and it has really changed my outlook on life and my happiness knowing I’m not affecting the world in as much of a negative way as before. Thinking back to when I started living more sustainably, there were things I wish I knew so I thought I’d share them. These definitely don’t cover everything but are areas that I’ve noticed make the most sense to me to approach sustainability.
Our world isn’t set up to be zero waste so don’t feel like if you have to go all-in and never make waste ever again. Any improvements still help. This is also why the term zero waste for consumers isn’t the best and puts pressure to truly have zero waste which isn’t possible. I prefer the term sustainability. When I first started, I really felt like it had to be all or nothing, which isn’t the case. I still get food I really love in unsustainable packaging but try to think of what really makes me happy and is worth it, then try to dispose of it correctly. And I still get takeout that comes with styrofoam cups or plastic silverware. But when I can, I ask for no straws, plastic silverware, napkins, or bags.
Don’t throw away things that you already have just because they’re not sustainable – the whole point is to not waste as much as you can which means really using what you already have. For example, I have plenty of clothes that aren’t sustainable that I’ve bought before I starting making the effort to live more sustainably. But I’m not going to get rid of those clothes just because they’re not sustainable. The best thing to do is keep what you have and reuse it as much as possible. Reduce and reuse BEFORE you recycle.
There is still pressure to want to buy things that are sustainable just for the sake of having them or having a certain aesthetic. Buying new things just to have them defeats the purpose of sustainability. Instead, think of ways you can repurpose things in a new way. For example, instead of buying the reusable produce bags that everyone talks about, I just reuse the ones from the store that I already had. And instead of buying the cute portable bamboo silverware, I just reuse plastic silverware I already have from restaurants giving them to me (they sometimes don’t remember when I ask them to not include them). And approaching sustainability in this way saves you money as well because all of a sudden you aren’t going out and buying stuff for no reason.
If you HAVE to buy something, stop and think if it’s really something you need and if it is, see if there is an option that is more sustainable. Another approach that can make a big impact is creating a list of the things you dispose of the most and figuring out sustainable alternatives to those. Look in your trash and see what you’re throwing out the most. For example, I used to use disposable cotton rounds to wash my face every morning and night and my trash was filled with them. Now I have reusable cotton rounds which have greatly reduced my waste and were an extremely easy change. Another example is that I found out making my own deodorant was incredibly easy so I do that instead of going out and buying it! Here’s my easy DIY deodorant blog post.
Because our world isn’t set up to be sustainable, the systems in place and the companies we buy from make it very difficult for the consumer to live sustainably. Many brands don’t take responsibility for their own products and some even greenwash consumers to think the brand is sustainable when they’re actually not.
And recycling can be great only if it’s done properly. I only know from my experience in the US, but if you’re here really research what you can and can’t recycle locally. There are many different things that seem like they could be recycled easily, but the US recycling system seems to be set up in a way that they aren’t. And in some places, if something gets put in recycling that’s not supposed to, the entire container could just get thrown away. That is another reason why reducing and reusing are the best things you can do BEFORE recycling.
If it’s helpful, here is the guide for recycling in Dallas. But even this guide isn’t entirely accurate for what I can/can’t recycle at my specific apartment since I can’t recycle glass. So I take my glass to a different recycling location. This is what I mean, the system isn’t set up to make it easy for you…
Look up how your specific area handles recycling and waste, see if there are local sustainable stores in your area you can start frequenting, and follow people you trust that provide helpful information.
Here are some of my favorite people to follow in the sustainability space (click for links)
I hope this was helpful! Happy Earth Week!😊