When it comes to a sustainable home and lifestyle, there are a lot of tips out there, and oftentimes those tips focus on capitalist ways to be sustainable – e.g. buy this aluminum water bottle, buy this reusable food storage, and then you get to join the sustainability club. I love sustainable products – obviously! – but don’t entirely “buy” into that concept, so today I wanted to share some (more!) tips for living sustainably that I believe are both impactful and approachable.
Image via Pinterest – please get in touch for credit if it is yours.
Eat less meat. I don’t eat meat, so you probably saw this one coming. I should caveat what I’ll say next with this – I am not a doctor, so I don’t know what your diet should be. I’m also not referring to meat when consumed as part of cultural traditions in a way that is thoughtful and mindful. Inevitably, however, whenever I express my opinion that people should eat less meat, someone always ends up in my comments telling me about their personal reasons why they have to eat meat. What I am referring to is that, in the developed world, it is a fact that we collectively consume too much meat, both when it comes to our health and when it comes to what the planet can sustain, individual experiences aside. Climate scholars say that if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, the world will have to consume far fewer animals than we do now. Factory farming is not a sustainable model, nor is eating meat at every meal. It is easy to engage in performative environmentalism, but it is a lot harder to give up practices that are deeply ingrained in our society – eating meat is one of those practices. Simply reducing your meat intake by a few meals a week can make a difference! One of my favorite articles (albeit an opinion piece) about veganism can be found here.
My vegan lobster roll! (Made with hearts of palm 😉 )
Recycle the right way. There is a reason that “recycle” comes last in the three “R’s” – it’s complex! I would know, it’s my day job. (Fun fact alert!). One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to recycling is “wishcycling” – throwing anything they think should be recyclable into their curbside bin (if you’re one of the people fortunate enough to have curbside recycling access, according to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, that’s about 73% of us here in the United States). Some of the most frequently wishcycled items include pizza boxes, used napkins and plastic bags. Items with grease contaminate the material stream, while plastic bags clog the sorting technology and should be recycled through plastic bag take-back programs at your local supermarket (better yet to use a reusable bag, but due to COVID-19 most places are using plastic). Additionally, If you live in one of the ten U.S. states with a container deposit law, also known as a bottle bill, many beverages are sold with a deposit on the container – you’re essentially buying the beverage, and borrowing the container. Make sure you return your containers for their deposit! This recycling behavior isn’t as popular among millennials and gen-Z, but it’s so important. For recycled content to be used in food packaging, it must meet food-grade status – in the U.S., that is determined by the FDA. It is tremendously challenging, if not impossible, for those food-grade requirements to be met with bottles and cans that have been put in the blue bin at the end of your driveway because of everything else commingled in there. By returning your bottles and cans through a reverse vending machine at your supermarket or over the counter at a store, you ensure the material can be used in a circular way for more food-grade packaging. Also, the deposit is your money, and is owed to you. Returning containers for the deposit? Don’t remove the label as you need the UPC to be readable, and don’t crush your containers. Beverage container litter makes up approximately 40% of total litter, so it’s especially important to make sure you recycle these items.
Participate in social justice movements. Sustainability is not just about the planet, but about people. This means helping people have a good quality of life through a clean environment, ensuring they have access to education, fighting for fair wages and speaking up against systems of oppression. BIPOC are disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change, and we can’t care about the environment without also caring about environmental justice (I wrote more about this here).
Take care of your clothes. I had to mention this on a sustainable fashion blog! I clearly love to support sustainable and fair fashion brands, and that’s fun and great! But as they say, the most sustainable items of clothing are the ones we already own. I wash my clothes with high-quality laundry detergents and air dry them – it is amazing what that does for the maintenance of your clothing, since the dryer can break down the fibers. Many “dry clean” items can be hand washed as well, if you look more closely at the material. I even wash my silk items in the washing machine with the detergent linked above. When an item is “dry clean only” though, I use a local green dry cleaner. It’s also worth learning a few simple mending techniques, like how to sew a button, or, if you’re not at all crafty like me, it’s worth finding a tailor! Many clothing repairs or alterations are far less expensive than you think they’d be.
Reduce your food waste. My husband and I, admittedly, used to waste a lot of food. Between demanding work schedules and, frankly, laziness, a lot of times we wouldn’t end up cooking everything we bought. I try to slice vegetables and fruits right after we buy them so they’re easy to grab and eat or incorporate into recipes, and we also do more frequent, smaller shopping trips so we don’t over-buy. They’re such obvious tips, but it took me forever to actually implement them. Of course, if you don’t live close to a grocery store, it isn’t easy to make smaller trips, so I highly recommend the prepping method! But you probably already know that, if that is your scenario…haha. We have also found that meal kits help us reduce our food waste. Granted, meal kits use a lot of packaging and some of it not easily recyclable (see above, lol!), but there are a lot of trade-offs when it comes to making the most sustainable decision for your home. If you find you often overbuy, it could work out that it is more environmentally responsible to use a meal kit! Through our meal kit, we’ve learned a lot of new recipes that have a reasonable portion size for two people.
Divest from fossil fuels. If your job offers a 401k, or you have other investments, one way to make a difference is to divest from fossil fuels. This means not owning shares in companies that are part of the fossil fuel industry, which is overwhelmingly responsible for climate change. Divesting puts financial and social pressure on these companies to mitigate their role in the climate crisis. You can use this tool to learn if your savings are invested in fossil fuels.
Participate in cleanups. If you’re a sustainable fashion blogger and you don’t get your hands dirty (literally or metaphorically) every now and then for the planet…then you’re just a fashion blogger. So, that’s why I try to do cleanups of local waterways (or just pick up trash I see when I’m at the beach) whenever I can! It’s also a socially-distanced activity. If you’re unable to participate in the physical aspects of a cleanup due to having different abilities, there are many ways to volunteer beyond the literal cleaning-up, like helping to promote the cleanup on social media or reaching out to business sponsors! I think cleanups are so much fun and the sense of community is so rewarding.
What are your favorite sustainability tips that don’t involve consumption? I’d love to hear them!