Our beautiful planet may often feel abundant, and in some ways, it is; however, we all must understand that the Earth produces a finite number of resources. We don’t have an endless amount of water, energy, or food. Unfortunately, the world currently consumes resources faster than the planet can produce. This unsustainable rate of consumption is driving environmental degradation.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that everything we need to survive depends on the environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions in which humans can survive, while simultaneously preserving the environment for future generations.
In 1969 the United States committed to sustainability with The National Environment Policy Act of 1969. This national policy committed “to create and maintain conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”
Sustainability requires significant effort on behalf of the government, industry, and large corporations. On such a large scale, they can either cause significant degradation or positively impact the environment. Studies have made it very clear that the vast majority of global emissions come from corporations. In fact, one study found that 71% of global emissions were the fault of just 100 companies.
That said, individuals also play an essential role by pushing sustainable legislation and encouraging companies to prioritize it. Research has found that consumer expectations, specifically Gen Z buyers, are high for eco-friendly products. A 2019 survey found that two-thirds consider sustainability before making a purchase. The demand from consumers for more sustainable products and actions from companies has caused some to pivot positively, but sadly many just use it as a marketing scheme. For example, a “new” brand of paper towels is marketed as the most sustainable option, made from recycled materials and contained in recycled packaging; however, after a closer look, you can see that the same “unsustainable” brand manufactures it. This plays into “conscious consumption” that has products promising sustainability for a much greater price.
This makes many question whether their daily choices will even have an impact. Though it can feel discouraging at times, your day-to-day choices affect the planet. The way you commute to work, the food you eat, and the amount of waste you create compounded over your life are significant.
Currently, Americans generate more waste than any other country. The average person creates between 4.4 and 7.1 pounds of garbage a day! We are also individually responsible for an average of 21.5 tonnes of CO2 each year. These numbers are so high because we are the biggest consumers in the world. Fast fashion, factory farming, and household items with short lifespans all contribute.
Fortunately, you can make a difference, and by living more sustainably, you can save money and live healthier. Recycling, making food at home, reusing packaging, and buying quality items that last longer will reduce the amount you consume and the amount of waste you create.
If you want to make a difference and live more sustainably, here are five ways you can do so and how it will benefit the planet and your life!
1. Purchase products that are made sustainably and will last
Fast fashion, single-use plastics, and poor-quality home goods that last less than a year contribute to a large amount of trash piling up in landfills. Unless you are going total minimalist, there will be times in your life when you need to buy new. Of course, reusing items and recycling goods you already have is best, but when you need to purchase new, do your research.
Textiles are one of the biggest polluters and use an outstanding amount of water during processing. Try looking for materials derived from eco-friendly resources like natural fibers or recycled goods. Common sustainable clothing materials include hemp, cork, and bamboo. For bedding, try bamboo or Tencel. A Tencel sheet set is more sustainable than many other options and helps you sleep comfortably (read more in our blog post Tencel Sheets – The Softest Sustainable Sheets You Will Find). For pillows, many synthetic and made-made fillings are harmful to the environment and can be detrimental to your health. Natural fillings like buckwheat hulls are much more sustainable. Buckwheat pillows use natural filling, are handcrafted, and 100% organic.
2. Use eco-friendly and organic cleaning products
Harsher chemicals don’t necessarily mean a better clean. Many natural cleaning and household products work just as well and are not harmful to the environment. Look at the ingredient list of the cleaning products you use and consider making DIY cleaning agents with ingredients you already have in your kitchen. For example, replace store-bought window cleaner with a vinegar and water solution.
Candles and air freshers can also be bad for the environment. Some candles contain petroleum-based paraffin wax, wicks that contain pesticides and are full of artificial fragrances and chemicals. The production of these chemicals is bad for the environment as well as the air quality in your home. Air fresheners can also add pollutants to the air like VOCs leading to indoor air pollution. Try an organic herbal spray instead of using synthetically scented candles and air fresheners. For example, lavender linen and body spray can freshen up your space without the risk of indoor pollution.
3. Save energy (and money)
Becoming more conscientious of your energy use and cutting back can save energy and keep more money in your wallet. By using less energy, you will reduce carbon emissions. Easy ways to do so are shutting off lights and fans when you aren’t in the room, unplugging appliances and electronics when not using them, and being mindful of your washing. When you frequently use your washing machine and clothes drier, your emissions go up. When you can, switch to an energy-saving cycle and hang clothes to dry instead of using the drier. Also, don’t run your dishwasher when it’s not full. Either wash items by hand or wait until the dishwasher is full before running it. Lastly, you can speak with different internet providers to see who is acting more sustainably and make a switch.
4. Change the way you eat.
You don’t have to become a vegan to make an impact. Cutting out meat one day a week will make a difference over time. Meat production is one of the most significant contributors to global pollution and climate change due to gas emissions, waterway pollution, and cutting down trees to make room. Research from the University of Colorado found that a person who practices “Meatless Monday” will reduce their carbon footprint by 8 pounds each week. That’s the equivalent of 348 miles in a car!
If you eat out several times a week, try cutting back. Making your own food and eating at home is much more sustainable than eating at restaurants and getting fast food. At home, you can use more sustainable ingredients and create less waste. For example, the National Resources Defense Council reported that restaurants generate 2 – 4 times more waste than grocery stores. Look for locally grown items or visit a farmers market when you purchase the ingredients. You can also purchase organic produce that doesn’t use harmful chemicals and pesticides. After cooking a delicious meal, you’ll dish it out on plates and save leftovers in containers. This uses a lot less packaging waste.
5. Reuse, Recycle, Reduce.
To reduce the amount of waste you create, reuse, and recycle where possible. That old glass pasta jar becomes a drinking glass, and the ripped denim jeans become shorts. There are many resources online that will show you creative ways to reuse the items you already have. You can also buy used items to prevent them from ending up in a landfill. If you have an item you no longer need, donate it to a friend, charity, or organization that could use it.
For items that cannot be reused, like single-use plastics, first try avoiding them. These items often end up in landfills or the ocean, causing wildlife problems and damaging the environment.
If you can, take a refillable coffee mug to your coffee shop or bring a reusable water bottle with you instead of buying a water bottle.
Lastly, level up your recycling game and learn the recycling procedures in your area. Your city or township may not be able to recycle certain items, but there may be private organizations that can recycle it for you. Be mindful, and avoid putting anything in the garbage that could be recycled. If you have leftover food, compost it. Composting is an excellent way to give back to the Earth. If you garden, you can compost yourself and use the extra rich soil to nourish your gardens, or your city may collect compost weekly.
Living a more sustainable life doesn’t mean giving up all your day-to-day conveniences. For example, it doesn’t mean you have to give up driving or can’t ever eat fast food. However, making adjustments here and there like Meatless Mondays, using a Buckwheat pillow, or hanging clothes to dry will significantly reduce your footprint. And as an added benefit, it can save you some money and improve your health.