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A Beginner's Guide to Sustainable Living

What is sustainable living?

A lifestyle that aims to reduce personal and societal impact on the environment by making conscious choices to minimize the use of Earth’s resources. You might have heard this philosophy referred to as zero-waste living, green living, eco-friendly, or simply minimalism. They all appeal to living in a way that is geared toward achieving environmental equilibrium, the idea that we return or give back to the Earth from what we take. This concept is a little idealistic in that we will never truly achieve a net-zero impact, but there are incredible opportunities we can act on in our daily lives to effect change on local and national levels, improving the quality of our personal lives and ultimately elevating societal and economic standards of living.

What does sustainability look like?

Many of us hesitate to get started with practicing sustainability because we think we have to do it perfectly or we don’t know where to begin. I love the perspective that Zero-Waste Chef Anne Marie Bonneau shares:

“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly”

I still question if my recycling ever truly gets recycled because I’ve heard if there’s one inappropriate item in the bin it all goes to the landfill. That isn’t going to stop me from trying (and I am making a 2021 goal to visit a recycling center to get the real low-down and report back!). We all need to make the best personal choice in regards to where we feel comfortable making changes. Think about what you can do in your next 24 hours to make a more Earth-conscious choice, what you can do the rest of the week, and keep going from there.

A good place to start is getting familiar with the 5 R’s of zero-waste

  • Refuse what you don't need. We live in an era of impulse buys and instant gratification. Try considering the larger impact of a purchase or decision you make this week.

  • Reduce what you need to survive. I'm not suggesting that you get rid of every single thing that beautifies your homes or bodies or isn't essential to food, water, or shelter. Bring awareness what occupies your space. What brings value and what might cause you unnecessary stress? Clearing or reducing the clutter in your life can free up so much physical, financial, and mental real estate!

  • Reuse by repurposing or donating. You might be tempted to purge in an attempt to clear that clutter I just mentioned, but maybe those items can be upcycled to transmute into a more useful state. Moving forward, choose items that are reusable rather than disposable.

  • Recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce or repurpose. Check out your area's waste management websites for recycling guidelines and services. Some items can be recycled from home, and others require drop off at a centralized location (like many of those Amazon packages).

  • Rot the rest! I’ll be talking much more about this in the future. Food waste has a huge environmental impact and one big change we can make is beginning to compost ourselves or having a local service collect your compostables which are typically used to fertilize local farms.

Final thoughts on “How Can I Live More Sustainably?”

Our current environment is feeling grim in many ways and it can feel like we as individuals can’t make much of an impact. But when we adopt that philosophy of having millions of people doing this one thing imperfectly, the one quickly becomes many.

Something you can do now is to start opening up the conversation within yourself and with those around you. And right here in this community. What questions do you have about sustainable living practices? What are your current practices and experiences? What has worked really well, and what has felt like a real challenge? Let me know in the comments!


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