Is a low-impact, sustainable lifestyle your goal? Curious about what it means to be sustainable? Here are 10 tips to start you on your eco-conscious journey:
1. Shop local, zero-waste, or sustainably-made
Products made locally require fewer resources for transporting. Stronger local economies are linked to a healthier environment. Since industrial waste is a greater source of pollution compared to individuals, it’s important to support businesses that are leading the industry with zero-waste, sustainable, or ethical practices.
2. Eat a little (or a lot) less meat
Meat requires a lot of water. Because energy decreases from the food level, the amount of grain needed to feed a human is significantly less than the quantity of grain needed to feed an animal to feed a human. And all of that grain requires water, land to grow, and produces agricultural waste.
By eating a more plant-based diet you reduce your environmental impact. And, eventually, more people will jump on the bandwagon as eating less meat becomes normalized.
3. Go Zero-Waste
While municipal waste is small in comparison to industry, the act of reducing your waste reinforces many of these other habits. It will also help inspire change in others around you and in society. To learn more about reducing your waste, there are a lot of tutorials and videos about living zero-waste. (Side note, the zero-waste lifestyle isn’t about zero waste as much as it is about reducing waste; for a beginner’s guide, read more about what the zero waste movement is here.)
4. Practice minimalism in some areas of your life
Look, I’m not going to tell you to become an extreme minimalist through-and-through. I believe we can achieve sustainability without resorting to that, and it would turn off a lot more people than it would encourage. But, most of us can find at least one or more areas of our lives that we could work on minimizing.
Minimalism is a tool you can use to reduce your environmental impact, while also improving your own well-being. There is actually a type of minimalism, called eco-minimalism, that focuses on using minimalism to live sustainably.
Even if you think you don’t have time or energy to commit yourself to environmentalism, you still have enough time to consider minimalism. And as you find what you can live without, you will be able to extract yourself from the work-make-spend treadmill and live a healthier and more meaningful life. Learn more about minimalism and tips for getting started.
5. Engage in the sustainability movement
While individual actions do add up, the biggest change needs to happen with industry; and it won’t happen on its own. By engaging in environmental activism you add another voice calling for policies that support sustainability.
Another reason to participate in activism is that working with other people, helping people, and devoting yourself to a cause can make you happier and more fulfilled. (Side note, this guide to environmental activism on Eco Ally is an awesome resource to help you get started.)
6. Refuse and reduce
Of the 6 R’s (refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, rot, recycle), the first two are the easiest to do, the ones that nearly everyone can do, and they’re most important! They stop any waste from being created in the first place!
When you bring home things you don’t need, whether it’s free items or well-intentioned gifts, you’re only cluttering up your space.
Reusing is an easy way we can keep our items from becoming waste for longer. For most people in the world, reusable items are the norm; single-use or limited lifetimes are a modern development designed to sell us more stuff (and create more waste!)
The items we throw away because we consider it waste can often be reused or repurposed. Finding ways to reuse our stuff means it doesn’t have to be waste. Some examples are reusing jars and containers instead of throwing them away and repurposing damaged clothes and linens into rags.
Repairing items, from clothes to technology, is another great way to keep what you have for longer. Unfortunately, due to the single-use, throwaway culture in countries like the United States, repairing items can often be more expensive than replacing them.
But, by learning the inexpensive, basic means of repairing items yourself (such as darning), by being careful with what we have, and keeping items until the ends of their lifetimes (not simply their perceived ends) we can save money by buying less stuff.
9. Rot and Recycle
The last 2 R’s, rotting (i.e. composting) and recycling are both the end of the cycle and the beginning of a new one.
Composting, whether at home or at a compost center, is important for the end of a biodegradable product’s life. Biodegradable products do not degrade in landfills because they’re packed too tightly.
While recycling is not as great as it is marketed to be, it is still better than sending stuff to a landfill. But, recycling should be the last step.
10. Do your best : )
Sometimes sustainability feels impossible; comparing your individual actions to mega-corporations is daunting. People today feel more alone than ever, but by connecting with other eco-minded people and creating communities advocating for change, everyone’s tiny actions will add up. It’s better to do a little than to do nothing.