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“Young people: They care. They know that this is the world that they’re going to grow up in, that they’re going to spend the rest of their lives in. But, I think it’s more idealistic than that. They actually believe that humanity…has no right to destroy and despoil regardless.”
Sustainable. Zero waste. Ethical. These values are on the rise for the American consumer. On the plus side, we are in an era where the popular trend of “buying with a conscience” is unarguably worth following. Unfortunately, as is the nature of most trends, the eco-friendly, sustainable lifestyle is being tailored to young, rich, white people. Look at any popular “eco influencer’s” Instagram and you’ll see what I mean – a perfectly-coifed woman, wearing all neutrals, calmly slicing a tomato, standing in her spotless, perfectly organized kitchen.
No one’s life looks like that. I know mine doesn’t. What we need to acknowledge about making a lifestyle change, ANY lifestyle change, is that it’s hard work. It takes time, energy, community support, and oftentimes money.
What about parents with young children who have absolutely no extra time on their hands? What about people working multiple jobs who have little to no disposable income? What if you live in an area where you don’t have access to the same resources of a large city? There are so many reasons why a sustainable lifestyle can seem unattainable. To the average person, growing an environmental conscience is actually very exhausting and often not Instagram worthy. So we have to ask ourselves, is it even worth it? And where do I start?
I had to start small. Like, reeeeeeally small.
With that in mind, here are 4 eco-friendly changes you can consider making to your daily life that won’t require much time, effort, or money, but will make a significant environmental impact.
1. Clothing: Buy it second-hand or rent it
Rubber, leather, and textiles make up more than 9% of America’s waste. Thankfully, buying second hand isn’t just about going to Goodwill anymore. There is an ever-growing online community where you can buy used clothing. Facebook Marketplace has become a booming hub for buyers and sellers dealing in used items, but what’s for sale is entirely dependent on what’s available in your region. For more reliable shopping, check out these brands and websites:
Buying clothes online is incredibly convenient, and clothing rental options have come a long way in recent years. There’s plenty of appeal to wearing pieces for a short amount of time, especially when many companies also include laundering services and garment fixes in their monthly price. I’ve included only companies that are below a certain price point, but there are many more available! Give “fast fashion” a new meaning and check out:
Nuuly (I am trying this and loving it!)
2. Start Refusing Single-use Plastic
According to National Geographic, only 9% of plastic is actually recycled, while the rest is carted off to a landfill, dumped in the ocean, or burned. When you go out to eat, get a coffee, or go to the grocery store, start to take notice of the things you use (bags, forks, cups, straws) that become instant trash, and start to make it a habit of refusing those things. Make a to-go kit for your car that has reusable substitutes so you always have what you need close by. Think: reusable straw, hot/cold tumbler, utensils, food container, tote bag. Most of us already have reusable versions of these things! This small shift in thinking can actually make a huge difference over time.
3. Plant Some Stuff
Gardening is one of the most gratifying ways to connect to the natural world, because you get to experience multiple benefits firsthand. Plants give so much back to us – food, beauty, air, even improved mental health. What’s great is that gardening can be a solo activity OR a community building experience.
True confession time: my own garden is equal parts plants I’ve bought from people in my neighborhood and plants I’ve found growing in alleyways and parking lots (yes, really). Before commercial caretakers could spray those beautiful plant babies with toxic plant killer, I dug them up and gave them a home in my yard. I didn’t even know what kind of plants they were, but seeing them grow and bloom (or wilt and die) has taught me so much about the plants, soil, and organisms in my area. Don’t overthink it – even with all the planning in the world, nature takes over and does its own thing anyway. Just plant something and see where it takes you. It’s a very humbling experience!
4. Start Composting
Ooooh, the utter delight of composting. It makes me so happy! This one will take a little research on the front end to find the right system for you, but the environmental impact is HUGE and there are truly options available for everyone!
The cheapest, easiest way to start composting is to go DIY. Using just 2 plastic bins, shredded newspaper, and a drill, you can create your very own vermicomposter (with live worms!). If the idea of taking care of worms freaks you out, you can try making a Bokashi bucket which is a different type of composter that uses Bokashi bran.
Of course, if you’re not a DIY person, there are plenty of composting systems available to purchase! Check out these options to get started:
In Minneapolis where I live, the city actually provides organic recycling bins where you can put your food waste, which is then treated at a commercial composting facility. If your city does not do this, consider writing to your local government. Composting should be easy and available for all communities!
I hope you are encouraged today to make a small change or two that could make a huge difference in the long run. Don’t let the Instagram influencers or Pinterest gods dissuade you: Living sustainably is truly for everyone!