I’ve been reading a lot recently about sustainable living and how to make small lifestyle changes that are socially and ecologically ethical.
These are some of the articles, documentaries, and videos my friends, students, and I have been discussing recently:
- The Minimalists: “Love people, use things.” This is my favorite documentary this year. I might watch it again, it was so inspirational: https://minimalismfilm.com/
- Project 333: Be More With Less is a project I will implement upon returning from Moscow this summer. Secondhand is not a part of this culture, so I plan to donate where my clothes (and other miscellaneous stuff) will count. https://bemorewithless.com/project-333/
- 4 Ways to Live More Consciously Every Day, by The Good Trade http://www.thegoodtrade.com/features/4-ways-to-live-more-consciously-everyday
- PETS: Simple Ways to Live More Sustainably With Your Pets: http://www.thegoodtrade.com/features/tips-for-sustainable-living-with-pets
- The True Cost: A documentary about the western fashion industry and the social and ecological effects of “fast fashion”: http://truecostmovie.com/
- TED: Jae Rhim Lee: “My Mushroom Burial Suit” is one of the best TED videos I have ever seen. I plan to do this or something on par with this post-life option. There will be so much cool technology like this by the time I die: https://www.ted.com/talks/jae_rhim_lee
- TED: Joe Smith on How to Use a Paper Towel (I do this now, and it WORKS!): https://www.ted.com/talks/joe_smith_how_to_use_a_paper_towel
Ideas for Change
A friend and I generated a list of ideas for how to live more sustainably every day:
- Use a washtub for doing dishes (if you don’t have a dishwasher, which is more efficient, supposedly);
- Use a tub to catch cold water in the shower while it is heating up and then use it to water plants or do dishes;
- Shorten showers overall and turn the water off while sudsing up in the shower and only turn it on when it’s time to rinse. Same goes for shaving; keep a small bowl of water available for rinsing the razor instead of letting the water run the entire time;
- Install low-flow faucets and shower heads.
Trash and Recycling:
- Recycle all eligible plastic, glass, cardboard, and paper, AVOID STYROFOAM at all costs (we’re not there yet, see TED link above);
- AVOID PLASTIC PACKAGING as it is often not recyclable (my heart cries out for prosciutto, but alas);
- Use cloth bags instead of plastic and paper (I keep one in my purse or backpack that folds up really small);
- Buy non-perishable items in bulk;
- Buy secondhand kitchen utensils, furniture, and clothing (I got the coolest big comfy chair in Boston at Boomerang’s in Jamaica Plain, and it was the envy of every houseguest. “Gee, what are you gonna do with that chair when you leave…?”);
- Replace plastic Tupperware with Mason jars for storing leftovers. The food will stay fresher, too;
- Filter water rather than buy it in plastic bottles. Zazen is brilliant, although it may be an investment: http://www.zazenalkalinewater.com.au/product/zazen-alkaline-water-system/
- When old clothes get too ratty to donate in good conscience, cut them up and voila! you have new cleaning rags;
- Don’t buy paper towels. Instead, use your plentiful cloth rags;
- For girls and women, the bottom options will change your life: http://www.thegoodtrade.com/features/natural-organic-tampons-disrupting-the-feminine-hygiene-industry
- Carry a reusable water bottle and a reusable thermos/coffee mug for your on-the-go caffeine boosts. My Zojirushi no-spill travel mug is one of my favorite possessions. Plus, it gets lots of compliments! My students love to toy with the locking function.
- Opt for public transit in cities (coming from non-urban Ohio, I know this is non-existent for many the U.S.), specifically metro and buses;
- Download ride-sharing apps like Uber (or Taxify in Georgia and Latvia, and probably some others. Check out which companies operate in your next travel destination);
- WALK. (Purchasing a FitBit has gotten this Ohio girl into a daily step competition with yours truly. I get about 12,000 steps a day just coming and going from work here in Moscow, but getting steps this summer in Ohio will require additional effort. I plan to walk/jog every day in order to meet my daily step goal);
- Bike. If you life in a bike-friendly place, it is so much faster than walking! When I bought a bike in Boston, I gained a sense of the city’s geography I had previously lacked. This also helped me drive better in Boston, as I now know which streets are one-ways.
- Install LED lightbulbs in all fixtures;
- Unplug: only plug in appliances and chargers when you’re actually using them;
- Open the windows to limit AC in summer;
- Layer up to limit heat in winter;
- Turn off the lights when you’re not using them.
- Buy local;
- Buy dry goods in bulk;
- Reduce food waste;
- Compost (if you’re really excited, start a worm bin);
- Grow your own garden outdoors and keep potted herbs indoors;
- Share surplus;
- Eat seasonally (this goes hand-in-hand with buying locally);
- Reduce meat consumption;
- Drink raw milk (look into herd-shares in your area. There are plenty of options, all you need do is look!);
- Cut out processed foods (prosciutto…);
- Meal-planning. I have never done this because I prefer spur-of-the-moment food prep, but I view it as a goal. Go to the store with a specific list for a specific plan of recipes for the week and stick to it. Those sea-salted potato crisps are mouth-watering, indeed, but they are not on your list. Or, maybe they are. But is the bag recyclable? Lots to consider…
- Beware of plastic;
- Buy secondhand;
- Buy local, handmade products (this option is more expensive than IKEA, but this was the past, and perhaps it can be the future again. Support local people and you’ll likely get a better-quality, more sustainable item you can cherish instead of the IKEA cutting board that breaks in half);
- Reduce makeup usage, as most makeup is pure chemicals and the tubes are small and often non-recyclable. Plus, it’s bad for your skin.
- Substitute harsh chemicals for alternatives like baking soda and white vinegar. Essential oils add a nice scent (the scent of vinegar dissipates shortly after use). Specifically, replace toilet and shower cleaners, dish soap, and kitchen sprays;
- Make your own laundry detergent (remember, the bottle on the more eco-friendly ones are still thick plastic): Here’s a recipe idea: https://www.diynatural.com/homemade-laundry-detergent-soap/
Last, but not least…
- Project 333: Keep capsule wardrobes. I view this as the necessary first step to get the minimalist living ball rolling. Watch out, closet, here I come!
- Buy secondhand;
- Buy from sustainable brands (made in your own country, organic cotton);
- Retire ratty clothing for rags.
For a lot of folks, money is a major concern. To make the challenge of living sustainably less challenging, keep track of your expenses (living sustainably) for a few months and then compare to previous, less sustainable months. See how much money you save living lagom, and spend that money on experiences with your family and friends. There is nothing more worth your dime.