My Journey to Sustainability
The Back Story
For the past year, I have been working towards having a more sustainable lifestyle, one that is more conscious of how much waste I produce and ways I can reduce my carbon footprint.
In college I took two classes on enviromental science because I’m really bad at math and these classes were more interesting and relatable to my life. One was actually an enviromental literature class which knocked out two birds with one stone.
So learning more about a sustainable lifestyle and working towards being low waste isn’t something that’s particularly new to me.
Growing up, my family has their own garden and my mom regularly cuts up old t-shirts to use as rags. My stepdad loves to go to auctions and estate sales to find good deals on rare items. And borrowing items from our extended family is an every day thing.
So a lot of low-waste practices are already in place in my household, but there is always more we could do. So I have been taking stock of how I live and find ways to reduce my enviromental impact.
Not only that, but I’ve also been delving into the ideas of simple living, hygge, and minimalism (more to come on that). Those tend to go with a more sustainable lifestyle.
I like to say sustainable instead of low or zero waste because while I want to cut my waste as much as possible, I’m not willing to go to extreme lengths to do so. And helping the enviroment isn’t just about going plastic free or zero waste. Also although I live in a decent sized city, it is not large enough to have things like plastic free stores and bulk stores.
So I’m making do with what I have.
I want to live a more simple, sustainable lifestyle because I want to do what I can to help the enviroment. While I recognize that real change should be enacted by organizations and governments, they won’t change unless we ask them to. And one of the ways we can ask them to do so is by voting, writing our senators, and trying to vote with our dollars.
If we all start trying a little more to be more sustainable, eventually they will listen.
Items I have as of May 2019
Living a sustainable life isn’t all about acquiring items (especially if you’re subscribing to a minimalist lifestyle), but there are definitely some items out there that make it easier.
For example, using a plastic bag twice from the grocery store could be considered more sustainable then buying an organic cotton bag. Because the process it takes to make an organic cotton bag is a lot more environmentally intensive then it takes to make a plastic bag. BUT the cotton bag will eventually biodegrade over time while the plastic bag will eventually break down into micro plastics after 400 or more years.
Or knowing what you can recycle in your community. Some communities can’t recycle glass or aluminium, or some plastics, but others can. So before you toss something in the recycle, thinking you’ve done a great job, clean it and double check.
So with that in mind, here are some items I’ve acquired to be more sustainable:
*I already had this item before going low-waste or sustainable.
Reusable pads (this was one of my first switches because regular ones were irritating me and I hated how many I had to buy)
Glass leftover containers
I would like to eventually get a silicone or aluminum container to store leftovers in from restaurants but right now I’m okay
*A 3-in-1 set of steel knife, fork, and spoon camping set (birthday present)
Reusable sponges (I’m iffy on it because it tends to smell even after we’ve put it through the dishwasher)
*Reusable water and coffee cups (these I already had a crap on of so I didn’t buy anything new)
If you only use paper plates and cups, you’ll want to buy actual plates and cups, but the majority of people already have these so it’s an easy swap. Also don’t be that person who can’t wash their dishes.
Wool dryer balls
*Solid soap bars
*Wash cloths, dish cloths, and cloth napkins
Reusable produce bags
Reusable silicone Ziploc bag
Lunchbox with built in containers
This is a me thing, but I already had two lunchboxes and a bunch of plastic Tupperware but was always having nightmares to try and fit them in my lunchboxes. So I got one with it’s own containers and I love it.
Reusable tea bags
I also have reusable metal ball and silicone strainers but they always let so much of the leaves floating around.
I also specifically bought a cat mug with a fine mesh strainer to combat using any extra stuff at all
*On that note, using loose leaf tea is more sustainable then prepackaged tea and I can shop bulk loose leaf locally.
I actually currently have dip pens which can’t hold a lot of ink at the time, but I got them as a calligraphy set and I’m looking to get a converter fountain pen soon
*Silicone muffin tins
These are actually my roommate’s. Eventually I will get my own.
Aluminium and silicone mouse pads
Silicone (?) sandwich wraps
Reusable makeup rounds
*** I have a big stick with this one because the ones I’ve gotten were gifts. I’m not crazy about them because while I think they’re nice, I’m skeptical about all the uses people claim they have and I hate the prices.
Woven or metal baskets
Thinking about the materials they’re made out of
*Glass jars for food or whatever
Like reusable pads, they’re only gross if you make them
I’ve been taught growing up to turn lights off when I’m not in a room so that’s something I’m already used to doing. What I also started doing though is turning off or unplugging devices and electronics when I’m not using them. I’ve been pet sitting a lot, so my lamp doesn’t actually need to be plugged in while I’m not at home.
Next time I have to buy light bulbs, I’m hoping to switch to more eco friendly watts and energy saving bulbs.
I have a tendency to save papers. Some of them you should like tax papers and stuff and others don’t need to be saved but I like to such as receipts and medical papers. Those I’m looking to scan and save to Dropbox, Onedrive, or Google Drive in the future. And lately I’ve been trying to opt-in for text or email receipts when I can.
It’s also a lot better to rent books than it is to buy them. While I love using devices like the Kindle and Nook, I hate the idea of not being able to read if I loose my Kindle or the battery dies while I’m out and about. BUT thankfully the internet also gives us free access to services where you can rent books for free. Or you can use Amazon Prime and rent books through your Kindle.
Thankfully with the power of smartphones, we can now do other things digitally. I’ve recently started getting more mail to my email instead of paper. And taking more notes digitally instead of via paper.
I’m really bad at not only taking hot showers but long showers as well. I’m talking about 20 minutes here. It’s not great, but I love enjoying my shower time. Eventually I’ll get better at that.
We thankfully have a dishwasher at my current apartment so not only does it save on time, but I’ve heard that it’s actually better to use a dishwasher instead of hand washing because it saves electricity and water.
Laundry I try to wash everything at once to cut down on loads and ever since I got to college, I’ve been using cold water. Cold water is better because it saves energy needed to heat up water. Plus, from college I could throw in more colored clothes and have less risk of the colors bleeding. And let’s face it, no one wants to pay 5 bucks or more to wash their colors separately.
Although I’ve recently gotten a lot bigger paycheck, when I was working low-wage jobs, I started shopping second hand or on sales.
I LOVE Plato’s Closet, Goodwill, and other second hand stores around town. I don’t always have the best luck clothes shopping there, but I’ve found some great items for less. Plus, fast fashion is one of the worst things in the planet and in America, we have SO MANY CLOTHES (I’m guilty of this because I love fashion) so it’s better to take clothes out of the landfill for as long as possible. It’s best to resell them or donate them and let other people love them. Or find new uses for them.
My mom recently started making me reusable bags using old T-shirts from college which are a great way to keep them and to reusable them.
I also LOVE the second-hand app Poshmark. Poshmark has been my guilty pleasure for a couple years now. I have actually been able to find a lot more petite clothing that fits me for a lot less then I would anywhere else. I have been able to find PANTS that I don’t have to hem which is a MIRACLE.
Shopping Locally or Small Business
Although I’m guilty of relying on Amazon Prime, fast shipping and shipping online is actually really bad for the environment. It releases a lot of carbon emissions to transport everything so that’s why it’s better to shop locally when possible.
Not only that, but shopping from small businesses in your area is not only more environmentally friendly, but you’ve giving small business owners a living. It’s important to support our local community when we can, so going to small stores is great.
If you have trouble shopping small business locally, shopping small businesses online is easy. Not only is there a ton of eco-friendly, zero-waste, or plastic free shops online, but there are a lot of small businesses out there who can use our support as well. Etsy is a great place to shop small, but there are other independent e-commerce sites out there to check out. Plus, it’s easier to ask them if they can use as little packaging as possible when they ship.
Making use of the library
I LOVE my local library branch. If you don’t go to yours, you should really check it out soon. Libraries have so many uses beyond books.
You can rent books, DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, and sometimes cool other equipment like cameras, photoshop software, laptops, etc. And get free access to a computer and cheaply print or scan paper.
Not only that, but libraries have a lot of great social impact. Librarians often can help you find resources to get a job or to learn a new language (a lot of them provide access to learning software). Libraries often have classes where you can learn beadmaking, how to communicate better, how to grow a garden, yoga, a board game club, access to video games like the Xbox or Wii, etc. So if you’re looking to make new friends, the library is a great place to start.
My local library even is right next to a lake with walking trails nearby. It’s perfect in the summer time.
Reducing my Food Waste
One of my biggest struggles doing a low waste or sustainable lifestyle is reducing my amount of food waste. I don’t eat a lot to begin with and I try to only make meals one meal at a time so I don’t end up throwing out old food.
But switching to finding less packaged food is a struggle for me. I love sugary sweets and all that processed food like granola bars but I aim to eventually cut down in this area.
I am trying to constantly improve my diet, and so this means buying more whole foods like fruits and veggies which often don’t come in packaging. My mom is really into canning food from her garden, so when I go home, I get several glass mason jars of sauces, jams, and what not. Although I still keep canned foods around which can be recycled although it isn’t as good for you as frozen or fresh veggies and fruit.
I’ve been experimenting with making more snack foods at home like granola bites, dry roasted chickpeas, and buying nuts and dried fruit in bulk. My biggest weakness is chocolate which I haven’t been able to find a low packaged version of yet.
My roommates and I like to shop at Sam’s Club which can be food to cut down on overall package waste. But some food items are still wrapped in lots of packaging and we often don’t eat all the food in time before it goes bad.
Thankfully my staples like pasta and rice often come easily in bulk or cardboard. And I try to make as many meals at home rather than getting take out which can be expensive and often involves a lot of packaging.
One of the great abilities with a new paycheck is the ability to shop more ethical brands. Unfortunately I have recently come into this privileged and I recognize that not everyone is able to do so.
But where I can, I would like to put my money with B-Corps or other organizations that try to be more sustainable or have good business practices.
One item I don’t think I can let go of is panty liners. I have some gross days and so I often rely on panty liners to reduce staining and ruining my underwear.
I recently bought from a brand that uses organic cotton, free of parabans and other harsh chemicals or toxins, and for every purchase, they supposedly donate pads and other feminine articles to girls in need.
Some famous organizations like this would be Toms, Lush, Burt Bees. Some of this involves buying products that aren’t exactly low waste, but being mindful of it, I still feel my purchase is better then buying a non-sustainable product.
Being Mindful of my Makeup and Skincare
Another thing would be make-up. Thankfully there are some great low-waste brands out there, but the majority of them that I’ve seen are a little too pricey, even for me.
Therefore, if I want to shop makeup and be more eco-friendly, I have started looking for drug-store makeup that comes in as little packaging as possible or uses materials like glass and metal in their packaging.
I love using eyeliner pencils instead of liquid or other kinds because it’s so much easier for me to use. Plus I’ve had the same two sticks for almost 6 years now and I’ve barely had to sharpen them.
Not only that, but minimizing the amount of makeup I have, I actually only use eyeliner and concealer every day and SOMETIMES I will use eye-shadow and blush. I love lipstick so I use that more often too.
So I don’t really need a ton of mascara or fancy products when 90% of the time, I only use two. Maybe four or five at the most. I very rarely if ever put on foundation since I’ve gotten to the point where my skin is nice.
Skin care is another side of this that I’ve gotten more into lately. I used to very rarely do anything but now I’ve started putting on moisturizer, cleanser, and eye cream every day. And using sunscreen.
Being more mindful about this, I try to use glass, bamboo, metal, or other recyclable materials or try to find zero waste items. The new struggle is wanting to do something like a Korean skincare routine, but knowing that’s expensive and …not really needed?
As for body lotion, I’ve decided to give up on it except when I’m given lotion as gifts. I hate the feeling of body lotion and I’ve noticed that my skin is more sensitive now to fragrances.
Finding low-waste versions of toiletries that fit my life
One of my biggest struggles in this area so far as been finding a low waste or zero waste affordable deodorant that works for me. I don’t mind sweating, but I do mind smelling.
I recently started trying to get used to natural deodorant by using Tom’s natural brand. My mom really likes it but I tried it for a month and a half.
I hated it.
It made my armpits burn when I first used it and not only that, but it would barely last a couple hours before I could smell my own BO. It was really disappointing because I really liked the smell and the company.
But I haven’t given up yet on natural deodorant. I’m going to give Lush’s solid bars a try next.
I haven’t switched to any other low waste or sustainable options yet. At this point, I’m waiting to use up all my plastic items like my shampoo and conditioner because I switch to solid bar versions. Or use up all my razors and toothbrushes before I get metal or bamboo versions.
I have started using wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets but I haven’t found any solutions to low waste or sustainable detergent yet. I don’t use fabric softener or any extras like that.
I’ve seen some interesting alternatives online such as soap nuts, DIY detergent, and premade small business detergent.
I did recently find a local shop that sells zero waste detergent. I’m going to try their trial version and see how I like that. Otherwise, nothing else has stood out to me.