From growing your own food and managing waste to using less plastic and ditching fast fashion, there are many ways to start living sustainably. But what if you’ve taken these steps and want to do more? What if you want to become even more self-sufficient? The good news is there is lots more to do and it will make you even less reliant on the systems around you and do tons of good for the planet too.
Get Off the Grid
There are many simple steps you can take to save water and electricity, like cooking with gas, line drying your clothes, and sitting in the shade with a cold drink instead of blasting the air-conditioner. But if you really want to level up your sustainable living, install solar panels to power your home with solar energy. Solar power is free, clean, and renewable – just bear in mind that the setup is expensive, so you need to plan and budget. You also need to factor in maintenance costs, your geographical area, and its solar irradiation levels, as well as the angle of your roof and the effect of shade. This may seem daunting, but it will make you more self-sufficient and lower your energy bills as you rely less on external systems that fluctuate and fail.
Relying on a renewable source of energy like solar power also decreases your carbon footprint. To decrease it further – and live even more sustainably – you can harvest rainwater by installing water barrels. These collect and store rainwater which can be used to water the garden, rinse out your recyclables, refill fish ponds, and wash your car. Not only does this save water (and money!), it also reduces soil erosion and helps prevent flooding.
Start a Compost Pile
Another big step you can take is managing your waste. This includes organic waste, which is biodegradable waste that comes from living matter. While you can preserve fruit, freeze food, and use scraps to make stock, what do you do with anything else that may be left? Start a compost pile. You’d be amazed at what you can keep out of the trash and throw in the compost instead. In addition to food items such as eggshells, coffee grounds, and potato peels, you can chuck in newspapers, grass cuttings, egg boxes, wine corks, toilet paper rolls, and dryer lint. However, there are no-no’s as well, such as meat, dairy, pet feces, and cat litter.
But what are you meant to do with waste you can’t throw into your compost pile? The first step should always be to prevent the creation of waste: reduce, reuse, then recycle. Throwing it into your garbage is the last resort. Unfortunately, there will still be items destined for the trash can. Items that have been contaminated or are made of mixed materials are not recyclable. Contaminated items may include things such as pizza boxes, used napkins, and takeout containers. Basically, anything that’s been used and soiled. Luckily, pizza boxes and napkins can go into the compost. Takeout containers can be recycled if they’ve been thoroughly washed and dried. Mixed-material items include takeaway coffee cups, juice boxes, and milk cartons. These may be made of cardboard, but are a mixed material because they’re coated or laminated and thus not recyclable. It also means you can’t throw them into your compost pile.
Your recyclables may need to be sorted depending on the recycling facility you use. Recyclables are usually divided into plastic, paper, glass, and cans. Some facilities employ single-stream recycling, which means you can dump all your recyclables into one bag. The advantage is that it encourages more people to recycle because it takes less effort; but it can lead to contamination, meaning that once the recyclables are sorted some of them may be thrown out anyway.
Hunt, Fish, and Eat More Plants
Following a plant-based diet comes with many benefits for your health and the planet. If you’re growing your own food, you’ll have ready-made salads right in your backyard. Grow potatoes and you’ll be able to make your own salad, mash, or soup! If you’re going to go all the way and become vegetarian or vegan, remember to keep your diet seasonal and local. Make sure you are still getting enough protein, vitamins, and minerals. A vegan diet in particular is lacking in Vitamin B12. It’s always best to consult your health care practitioner if you have any concerns.
If you’re not willing or able to go that route, there are ways of sourcing your animal products more sustainably. Choose chicken over beef, as chicken has a lower dietary carbon footprint. Or you can really level it up and raise chickens, hunt, or go fishing. Of course, if you’re living in the city or the suburbs, this is not always probable or practical. But if you’re dreaming of moving to a less urban area, then raising chickens is a good start. At least you’ll have breakfast sorted! As for fish, you may not be able to catch your daily supper, but you can ensure you eat responsibly and sustainably when shopping and eating in restaurants. You can usually check how sustainable fish is on packaging labels or by using an app. When hunting, make sure you join a reputable hunt and hunt for food, not sport.
Cook, Bake, and Make from Scratch
You can do more than just toss your own salads from your garden veggies. Baking your own bread is a good start. Once you’ve mastered that, you can move on to making butter, cheese, and yogurt. You’ll still need to go to the shops for ingredients, but the results will be cheaper and healthier. It’s also a great way to cut down on waste! And remember: before throwing those carrot tops and celery stalks into the compost, rather use them for making stock.
It doesn’t need to stop with food. From making your own clothes and candles to soap and household cleaning supplies, there is a lot you can make right in your own home. Learn to knit and you’ll be sorted for winter with warm woollies. Pick up a needle and thread and fix your clothes instead of buying new ones. If you need a quick and nifty solution to clean your drains, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar will do the trick.
Simplify Your Life
Living sustainably may involve learning new skills and will definitely require breaking old habits. This means more than just rethinking the way you shop, cook, and clean. Living sustainably requires time and if you’re wondering where you’ll find it, look no further than your home. Watch less TV! Ask yourself: do you really need to binge-watch the latest show, just because everyone is talking about it? Do you really need to rewatch your favorite sitcom for the eleventh time? Break these habits, and you’ll find yourself with a lot more time.
Make it easier by scaling down on streaming platforms, deleting apps, and spending less time on your phone in general. Apps not only waste time, but they can also waste money and create waste. Deleting takeout apps, for example, will save money and reduce waste created by the plastic cutlery and paper serviettes they include. If social distancing and hard lockdowns have taught us anything, it’s how to live without.
If you slip up, don’t beat yourself up about it. Sometimes time runs away from us and we duck into the shops for a quick microwave meal. Slipping up doesn’t mean you need to throw your hands up in defeat. Acknowledge the hitch, then continue your sustainability journey. Before you know it, you’ll create new habits and that instant meal will become nothing more than a distant memory.
A Blog Post by Baileigh Higgins