Living Sustainably - Basic Tips
Sustainable living has become something of a trend, and with good reason. The fast-paced, all-consuming nature of contemporary society has impacted our planet to the extent that the current geological age has been unofficially named after us: the Anthropocene Age. (‘Anthro’ meaning human).
Almost everything we do in our daily lives – driving cars, powering our homes, shopping for groceries – contributes to our carbon footprint. Sustainable living enables us to be stewards of the Earth, lessening our impact on the planet and allowing us to be less dependent on outside systems.
In times of economic or social crises, adapting a sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle allows us to survive and even thrive by our own means. Green living, sustainable living, and self-sufficient living may be trendy buzzwords, but they’re a trend that should turn into a habit. Here are a few ways you can start living sustainably.
Powering our homes requires electricity. In order to generate electricity, we make use of coal, gas, and oil, also known as fossil fuels. Extracting fossil fuels from the planet increases our carbon emissions, contributing to human-induced climate change.
This doesn’t mean you need to start living in the dark and cooking your food over an open fire. But there are simple steps you can take to make your home energy-efficient. It can be as simple as installing energy-saving lightbulbs and solar lights. That doesn’t mean you need to go out right now and replace everything in your home. But the next time a bulb blows or you install a new light, rather seek an energy-efficient alternative.
Other steps include:
Avoid tumble drying, especially if you live in a hot and dry area where you can hang out your laundry to dry.
Unplug unused appliances (that includes your cellphone charger!).
Turn off lights you aren’t using.
Living off the grid and relying on renewable sources of energy (wind, water, heat) may be your ultimate goal. Renewable energy is kinder to the Earth and makes you less reliable on often flailing and failing systems around you. But if you’re not ready or equipped to start living off the grid, the above steps are a good start. These may seem basic and logical, but you’d be surprised how many of us need to be taught or reminded.
Manage Your Food
Managing your food ties in with food waste management. When we waste food, we waste the energy it took to produce, transport, and package it. And when it’s tossed out and ends up in a landfill, it produces methane – one of the greenhouse gases that contributes to human-induced climate change.
Food is usually thrown out when it goes off. How do we prevent it from going off? Plan your shopping. Consider how many people are in the home and how many meals you’ll need to prepare. If you know exactly what you’ll need, you won’t be throwing anything and everything into your cart on a whim – or an empty stomach. Don’t shop hungry and don’t fall for two-for-one-type specials. You’ll just end up buying more than you need.
Freezing and preserving food is another good way to prevent it from going off and lasting longer. If your food goes off, first consider whether there’s something else you can do with it. Old fruit is great for smoothies and jam. Bananas looking brown and bruised? Make banana bread. Your top priority should be to avoid throwing away food, but if it’s beyond even a smoothie, you can level up your sustainability game by starting a compost pile.
Grow Your Own Food
You may have heard of eating locally, and nothing gets more local than eating out of your own backyard. Have a recipe that calls for a handful of herbs? Grow your own and you won’t need to duck to the shops for a sprig of rosemary or a sprinkling of coriander. If you don’t have a garden, you can use a sunny ledge or bright kitchen corner. Growing your own food also decreases the use of plastic.
Use Less Plastic
Plastic – particularly single-use plastic – ends up in landfills and waterways, endangers wildlife, and does not biodegrade. Buying food in plastic containers contributes to the problem (and if you don’t use all the food and it goes off, you’re creating food waste as well).
There are many ways you can avoid plastic. A few examples include:
Avoid takeout. Should you order and intend to eat at home, ask that cutlery, serviettes, and condiments be left out.
Use a travel mug at coffee shops or any place where they supply takeaway cups. Don’t be fooled by the idea of recycling. Many takeaway cups are made of mixed materials, which are not recyclable.
Shop with reusable shopping bags, but use them long-term and do not buy more all the time. Although reusable bags are a sustainable option, it takes more energy to make them than to make plastic bags. If you have a reusable bag, make good use of it.
Ditch Fast Fashion
The fashion industry also negatively impacts the environment. Instead of following fashion, stick to your style. Bring out your creative side by finding new ways to mix and match what you already own – or adjust it! Has the zip on your favorite jacket come apart? Instead of buying a new jacket, jazz up the existing one by replacing it with a brightly-colored zipper. Jeans fraying at the hems? Turn them into shorts. You can also shop second-hand or have a clothes swap. The industry is becoming more conscious as well, so if you shop for something new, look for eco-friendly or sustainable labels.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Much is made of recycling, and while it is important, it should be the last step in your sustainability journey. The first step is to reduce the number of things and stuff and objects in your life. Living minimally and consuming less has a greater positive impact than recycling. This will not only help you help the planet but will eradicate clutter and stress from your life and even save money. By needing less, you have less to store, look after, and replace.
If you can’t reduce, the next step is to reuse. Buying glass instead of plastic enables you to reuse it. Glass jars can be used for storage or decorative purposes. Recycling is the final step. Familiarizing yourself with the ins and outs is also important. This usually involves finding out where and what you can recycle.
The phrase ‘less is more’ is perfect when starting your sustainability journey. The fewer things you have, the more time and money you have for people and experiences that actually matter. The less you have to rely on outside systems, the more freedom you have to live your life the way you choose. Living sustainably is not about being happier with less, it’s about realizing you never needed it all in the first place.
So why not take those first steps toward a more sustainable future today? But remember, every little bit helps. Don't attempt a complete overhaul of your entire life and home. Start small, and work your way up. You can do it. We all can.
A Blog Post by Baileigh Higgins