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10 Ways to Lead a More Sustainable Lifestyle

By Danielle Gross

     During quarantine, we have all had a lot of time to think. Many of us are trying to be more aware of the world we live in and adjust our behaviors to make our world a better place. Bettering the environment is a large part of improving the world, so here is a list of ten things you can do today to alter your lifestyle into a more sustainable one.

1. NEVER leave your house without a full reusable water bottle
     I’m sure you have all heard this before, but single-use disposable plastic water bottles are not Mother Nature’s friend. This is probably one of the easiest ways to reduce your waste, plus, you will be saving money since it’s free to fill up your water bottle almost anywhere. If you get thirsty, it’s just convenient to have water with you already. This means you won’t have to stop somewhere and buy a drink that comes in a single-use container. However, if you must buy a drink, choose a drink that comes in a glass bottle rather than plastic. Fun fact, glass is endlessly recyclable without loss in quality or purity, while plastic, on the other hand, can only be recycled a few times before it is useless and must be thrown into landfills.

2. Buy locally from small businesses
     Purchasing goods from local businesses reduce your individual product miles. This means that the environmental impact of the goods you use has less of a negative environmental impact because local goods do not create large carbon footprints like large national or international businesses create. There are no overseas plane travel or long truck trips that are associated with shipping items from far places. Buying local products cuts down on fuel consumption and air pollution. Another positive aspect of purchasing items from local small businesses means that they are more likely to sell products from other local and/or small brands.
     I think it’s so important to support your local economy and local small businesses rather than industry giants like Amazon and Procter & Gamble, especially during this time when so many small businesses are struggling during the pandemic. I must say that many of my friends say that they “cannot live life without Amazon,” and I know it’s even more difficult during this time of social distancing. But if you must use Amazon, take 2 minutes to change your account settings so all your orders come with minimal packaging and plastic-free. Here is a guide on how to request plastic-free packaging with an Amazon representative through the online chat feature.

3. Bring your own bags when shopping
     This is another easy and widely used method to reduce waste from single-use shopping bags. This not only applies when grocery shopping, but you should bring a reusable bag when shopping at all other types of retail stores (clothing stores, drug stores, etc.). Recently, many grocery stores are not allowing customers to bring in their own reusable bags for sanitary purposes during the pandemic. However, you are still able to use your own bags outside the store by taking your cart to your car and packing them yourself. Although this is much less convenient, this is a small sacrifice you can make to maintain a sustainable lifestyle while coronavirus rules are in place. Since many stores only offer plastic bags (which are LITERALLY THE DEVIL) and not paper, taking this extra step can really avoid so much single-use plastic waste.

4. Only buy produce items that you know will be used before they go bad
     Food waste is a serious problem around the world and the United States is the global leader in food waste. In America, wasted food is the single largest category of materials placed in our country’s landfills, with almost 80 billion pounds of food thrown out every single year. Nearly 40% of the U.S. food supply is wasted each year. This is so awful because it represents nourishment that could have helped feed people going hungry throughout the country and the resources like water, energy, and labor used to produce wasted food that could have been utilized for other purposes. So before you pick up a full hand of bananas or a few too many apples, take a second to evaluate if you will actually eat EVERYTHING you buy before they rot.

5. Use eco-friendly household products
     Everyday household products are made from many different types of materials that are harmful to the environment, such as non-recyclable plastic that is used to make dishware, Tupperware, toiletries containers, toys, etc. Replacing your bathroom items with sustainable alternatives can significantly help you reduce waste accumulated from everyday activities. The next time you need more soap and shampoo, purchase soap and shampoo bars instead of liquids packaged in plastic bottles. Instead of buying a traditional plastic toothbrush and tube of toothpaste that will take more than 500 years to decompose, buy a bamboo or wooden toothbrush and toothpaste powder instead. In the kitchen, metal food storage containers are better than plastic, and glass dishware is better than ceramic (because as aforementioned, glass is endlessly and 100% recyclable).
     Another area where you can switch to a more sustainable alternative is related to clothing. The fashion industry is terrible for the planet, and there is a ton of clothing waste that occurs during the process of producing and consuming clothes. Purchasing secondhand clothing can help you reduce your fashion-related environmental footprint because wearing used clothes extends the life of each item. Shopping at in-person and online thrift stores, consignment stores, and vintage shops is also a great way to find unique pieces that you cannot find anywhere else. I have personally enjoyed trading clothes with friends because it’s simple, convenient, and doesn’t require you to spend any money. And if you really like your friends’ styles, then it will be so easy to find great “new” pieces without having to hunt at thrift stores for a long time.

6. Order takeout less frequently
     Ordering food from a restaurant is usually not the most environmentally friendly thing to do. It often entails a lot of single-use plastic and/or other disposable materials. and it also creates pollution due to the driving that is needed for personal delivery. Going to the grocery store once a week and cooking meals at home is much more efficient and sustainable because drivers are not emitting carbon pollution with every single meal delivery and it creates less disposable food packaging waste than ordering takeout consistently. I know this is easier said than done, but when you do order takeout, try calling ahead to see if they use styrofoam, plastic, paper, biodegradable, or compostable materials to pack the food. Also, remember to, ask for your order to EXCLUDE utensils (since you can use your own reusable silverware at home) and there’s no need for that extra waste if you can avoid it.

7. Wash clothes when they are ACTUALLY dirty, instead of after only one wear
     Over the past few years, I have become acutely aware of the fact that the majority of people wash their clothes more often than actually needed. Specifically, people are notorious for throwing their jeans and other denim items into the washing machine after a single time of wearing them. You DO NOT need to wash jeans that frequently at all; denim is meant to be worn a handful of times before it’s washed. Even other articles of clothing can be worn a few times before washing them because honestly, how dirty can your clothes get during one day? (excluding workout clothes and if you are outside in nature).
     When it’s time to wash your clothes because they are actually dirty, washing at low temperatures is more sustainable. This is for multiple reasons; the first being that colder water does not require as much energy if you were to heat the water. The second reason you should set your washing machine to low temps is that a cooler wash is less likely to shake out water-polluting microfibers from the fabric. Synthetic clothes shed about 700,000 microfibers every wash cycle, and many of these microfibers pass through sewage treatment and into nature and the oceans. Washing your clothes less will reduce the amount of energy used and lessen your ocean pollution as a result from using washing machines. The next level is to wash all your clothes by hand and hang dry everything!

8. Compost
     Composting is a little more difficult to carry out immediately than the other things listed above. Nonetheless, this is one of the best ways to significantly reduce your individual waste at home. I acknowledge that everyone does not have enough space or the same ability at home to compost, but there are programs that make it easy to compost even in metropolitan areas. The majority of local farmers markets have compost drop off deposits, so you can just store your compostable food items in your freezer for a week or two until are able to go drop off the contents at your local farmers market. Some common kitchen items that are quickly compostable include veggie and fruit produce scraps, eggshells, bread, pasta, rice, cereal, protein bars, tofu, jam/jelly, coffee grounds, tea bags, plant/yard waste, etc.
     Obviously, don’t compost anything that is still usable and has not spoiled because that would contribute to the global food waste epidemic which is definitely not what our goal is. Food waste is not the only thing you can compost! Household items like old flowers, houseplants' leaves and trimmings, cotton balls, paper towel and toilet paper rolls (cut up/shredded), and nail clippings are also compostable, though some might take longer to decompose than others. Here is a great comprehensive list of 100 Things You Can (and Should) Compost. This website is a great resource for learning about various sustainable practices that you can implement into your lifestyle. It covers everything from eliminating plastic from your life to eco-friendly traveling and even green workplaces.
     Also, it’s important to note that biodegradable is DIFFERENT than compostable. The difference is that while all compostable material is biodegradable, not all biodegradable material is compostable. Although biodegradable materials return to nature and can disappear completely they sometimes leave behind metal residue. Compostable materials create a substance full of valuable nutrients that helps plant growth when composted in soil.
9. Carbon Offsetting
     A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. This translates into an opportunity to live more sustainably by offsetting your carbon emissions from car or plane travel. Purchasing a carbon offset comes in many forms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Some projects allow you to pay to plant trees and restore forests, while other programs use your money to update power plants and factories or increase the energy efficiency of buildings and transportation. Carbon offsetting is so important because producing carbon emissions is pretty hard to avoid as humans, so offsetting your personal harmful environmental impact with a positive impact is a good habit to get into.

10. Eat a plant-based diet
     This is clearly not as simple and easy to implement as the previous things mentioned, however, eating fewer animal products than you normally would is better than nothing. Plant-based diets, in comparison to diets rich in animal products, are more sustainable because these foods utilize much less natural resources and create a fraction of greenhouse gasses compared to foods that come from animals. Feeding and keeping animals alive and then processing food products that come from these animals requires enormous amounts of water and energy that are extremely taxing on the environment. Here is an in-depth research article from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that divulges into the science behind why plant-based diets are better for the planet. If you find this more difficult because your current diet consists of a lot of meat, dairy, and other animal products, consider taking part in Meatless Monday once a week. Plus, cutting back on animal products is good for your health in addition to being better for the environment.

     I know that you might feel a bit intimidated by trying to incorporate all ten of these items into your daily life. At the end of the day, doing any one of these things or a combination of a few of them will help improve your environmental impact. Living a completely sustainable lifestyle is impossible because we all consume resources and create waste every single day. There is always room for improvement at any point in an individual’s sustainability journey. So if you feel scared to tackle all of these at once, try integrating theme gradually. I can say from my personal experience with leading a more sustainable lifestyle over the past 3 years, it becomes easier over time because your mindset changes. Things that once seemed impossible are like second nature to me now because the thought process behind all my actions has shifted to center around the environment.
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