It’s hard to figure out where to start becoming sustainable- like where to begin scratching the surface. We have so much information- it’s awesome! But it’s also quite overwhelming. I honestly had no idea where to start. When I first returned home, I made it a point to hike every week- this is something that I did for myself. On those hikes I made it my responsibility to clean up every piece of trash I encountered. When I was away traveling I saw all the trash being carried inland from the oceans. Who know’s where it started? Litter from a gridlocked state can make its way from melted snow meeting a creek, to a river, to the ocean… from there it can go anywhere. Picking up trash was a small gesture I knew I could do to contribute to the problem. Then I found a community doing the same thing- I joined it and it held me accountable (by join, I mean used their hashtags, commented ‘Thank you’ to others doing the same… etc). I didn’t always #optoutside or #keepnaturewild on Fridays; I did it whenever I could. I tend to hike early to mid-week. If there is going to be trash it will most likely happen on the weekend, I typically can fill a bag on Monday. This is the sad reality.
So, once I filled the bag where would it go? Typically the bag itself isn’t recyclable and the trash is questionable. I’m not going to sort through to rinse and recycle… and so on. I did this once, and most of the recyclables were unsalvagable. I just pick it up so it doesn’t get into the water and eventually to sea. After realizing how much waste I was picking up I wanted to learn more; to move trash from one place to another wasn’t the final solution. I wanted to be accountable for my own waste.
If you would like to join this community I would recommend buying the mesh bag with gloves from United By Blue/REI.
I knew sustainability was key. Where do I start? I continued to expose myself to brands and behaviors that would benefit my goal. I started trying things… and buying things. This was overwhelming too, because I do not have an income; I am still living on savings while I look for a career. I have quite a few monthly bills and don’t want to buy anything unnecessary. Then I came across this simple sustainability rule: The 3R’s- REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE. This not only has made me more sustainable, it also saves me money!
As I mentioned in other posts, I got rid of most of my things. Even still, I didn’t trash a lot. If I could not donate or give to a friend I kept it- I already needed storage for a few furniture pieces, so I had some space. I started at REDUCE; I stopped buying things I didn’t need. I made a lot of friends in my last community. Some of my friends were older than me and trying to find their perfect skincare products, that meant the failed products would be given to me, I got a lot of full size barely used products! SCORE! I also am the person who collects the little mini bottles from hotels and gets samples in the store or by mail (STOP DOING THIS!). I even was getting the FabFitFun boxes. You can imagine the amount of personal care items I have collected. I stopped getting FabFitFun after the Fall 2019 box (I actually just switched to a more sustainable subscription box). I have since opted out of all subscription boxes completely! I was stockpiling beauty products, books, random accessories… I clearly didn’t need anymore!
Please remember you do not have to follow my exact path to becoming more sustainable. This is just about doing #zerowaste life imperfectly to produce #lesswaste life.
Anyway, REDUCE is probably the most fun of the 3 R’s. You get to save money while using all the products you’ve been hoarding. You also can make this a time to share and swap with your friends. I had a ton or Clarins skincare I had received for Christmas one year and was saving for a time I ‘deserved’ or ‘needed’ it. It was the first of the products I used- I spoiled myself for over a month with a 2x/day skincare routine. It’s now been 4 months since I started reducing; my facewash collection is diminished, now I get to find better options. I buy facewash made with better ingredients and less packaging- still looking for my favorite! (I’m currently using an Erase Your Face cloth- they remove your makeup with no added ingrdients, you just throw in your laundry and continue using.) However, I still have enough face moisturizer to get me through another year; meaning I have collected enough moisturizers to last 1.5 years. These are brands I would buy anyway (like Clinique) and ones I was given (like Emilia brand).
To sum it up: If you have things you aren’t using and you are continuing to buy more products that do the same thing– STOP! This even applies to tampons- use them before you switch to a cup. Reduce your inventory, whatever it is, deplete it (give it to a friend). Then switch to a more sustainable option.
Please do not trash it!
Most of our things are made with chemicals toxic to our environment. These things are also usually packaged in plastic containers, too. I know recycling is a thing, but it’s the last step for a reason. We want LESS WASTE, not recyclable waste. Keep a little box of things you absolutely will not use and figure out which of your friends would love it. For instance, I had a highlighter from a subscription box I wouldn’t use because it had too much pink undertones. I knew it would look amazing on my friend’s skin though, so I gave it to her. It’s the same with clothes or kitchen gadgets. I gave away so many things when I left my apartment. It is good for our environment, our savings, and our relationships! It feels good to give something I don’t use to someone who will use it more and appreciate it- not only do I have the immediate satisfaction, but I have the satisfaction that it wasn’t added to the growing piles of waste all over our planet either. I haven’t needed to re-buy any of those things, but if I do in the future I would first look at secondhand stores. I have found plenty of new or like-new items in these stores, everything from Brooks Brother’s trench coats to brand new dutch ovens.
While I do recommend donating to stores, I’d first see if you can find a permanent home on your own. Sadly, thrift stores are not in a big enough demand and 80% of donations don’t make it in the door. At the least, make sure you are taking it to a facility that needs it. Also, you can look for consignment shops for your nicer items, I know they can be harder to part with, and this can bring in a few extra dollars- there are online ways to do this, too. And that takes us to: REUSE.
Reuse what you have before just getting the NEWEST thing. This applies to everything- from fashion, to kitchen, bathroom essentials… etc. Some of the things we buy can be reused as something else when it no longer fits the intended need. For instance, maybe you’ve washed a shirt too many times that it is either faded, shrunk, or completely lost it’s shape. You can cut these into cute rags, or make them into ‘cotton pads’ for face cleaning. You don’t need to know how to sew to do this. If you start looking for cute new products to live more sustainably you will find a lot of things such as this. You can of course buy them, or you can use what you already have. Either way, it’s better to be able to reuse things than it is to use things once. To break this down… use all of your cotton pads (reduce), then buy REUSEABE ‘cotton pads’ made from cloth (this creates less waste) or REUSE your existing things to make your own (this is the loop used to make zero waste); this may also be considered recycling at the micro level.
In the beginning I was buying things that would replace single-use things. I do not knock this as a way to becoming more sustainable- this made it more exciting. I bought things I didn’t actually need to replace though- things I wasn’t even using the single use items for. For example I bought bee’s wax wraps… this would replace ziplock baggies and cling wrap. I love them and use them quite often now! The process to create these would be too much for me, so it made sense to buy vs. trying to create my own. The problem is, I haven’t really used ziplocks or cling wrap in the last 3 years. I have sealable glass containers I purchased for meal prepping and I save containers of other sizes for snacks- like Talenti jars and Hillshire meat containers. For now, those are in storage so I am using the wraps often enough- but essentially it wasn’t necessary. I also love the reusable ziplock bags I’ve seen at Target, but again, I don’t use them to begin with. They would be a great gift for someone, to introduce them to sustainable living.
Reusing items and keeping them from becoming waste is the main concept here. Everyone’s methods will be different. Whenever you are shopping just keep in mind whether you can reuse the item, or if it’s more of a convenience item. Even before I knew about this, I would shop for candles and look for a pretty container with a good scent. I would reuse the container for other things- I love the Anthropology containers and the Volcano scent. I have recently begun purchasing soy wax candles from a local girl who puts them in Mason jars. I reuse the mason jars in my kitchen. I have smaller jar candles- blue vintage, that I plan to use for my overnight oats. They are the perfect size for a breakfast portion; I can then take them with me to the airport or on a hike. The first candle I purchased from her was a 16oz. As the candle melted it revealed a scale- it’s a measuring cup marked at every ¼ cup. I also have turned the little jar from an old DW candle (from Marshalls) into a bobby pin storage. You could also use them for Qtips or planting herbs! I don’t mind paying a little more for a container I can reuse.
I am not encouraging you to be a hoarder, I’m encouraging you to live with less. Odds are, if you don’t already have it- you don’t need it. If you are adamant about buying it, make sure it can be looped in the cycle. I use incense more than candles now.
Recycle can obviously mean the above; it’s about closing the loop and reusing the materials we already have. For the sake of this post I want to use the term to describe it in the MACRO sense… as in the stuff you stick into the blue bin for pickup. Recycling is the last step of the process. This is mainly going to apply to unnecessary packaging. So far, my biggest recycling consumption comes from food packaging. That and paper items, like toilet paper rolls and junk mail. If you get a lot of parcels then you might have excess plastic used in the packaging there too. The last resort of the whole process is, recycle. Recycling in itself contains soo much information in itself; it can be complicated.
I already recycle- it was pretty simple, so I thought. Truly, I was a bigger problem to the program. Every region, county… city limit has their own regulations. If you move often like me, that means learning about what is accepted and not per place. Also, it can change. Recycling is a business. Companies purchase recycled goods- glass, plastic, paper as a way to cut their material costs and produce at a lower rate to gain a larger profit. You may have heard China stopped buying our recyclables. They were our biggest consumer. Uh oh! This means the recycling industry is failing. Do you remember when we used to have to sort our own bins? It was a while ago- maybe some places still do. In Virginia, we sorted until the early 2000’s. Not many people were recycling then because it was more time consuming, so they introduced the big blue bin and then hired people to sort it later or else they sold it ‘as is’ at a lower rate. Well, China was tired of getting trash in what was supposed to be recycled items. They were getting too much of a material they didn’t want- or material that wasn’t recycled properly. Thus, the recycling idea kind of became tainted. And if you’re not recycling right, or are using your recycling bin as a trash overflow, then you are ruining the ENTIRE load. Click here for a ‘quick read’ to try and tackle it abetter or at the least to find a starting point.
Once you implement the idea of the 3R’s in your mind, you can apply it to any decision. I reduce the amount of water I use in the shower by washing my hair less. Some people put a bucket in their shower to collect water and use it for watering plants… whatever works in your life!
What about my underwear?
I know there are some less than desirable items to loop into this process. I mean, my friends don’t want my old underwear, and I’m not going to use them as rags to clean my counters… I also HIGHLY doubt they’re making it to the shelf at Goodwill. So what do I do with them? I take them to facilities that recycle them.
I personally love H&M as a store… but am shopping less. When I was shopping more often I would always bring with me some sort of cloth I did not want- I even brought a mismatched washcloth, because they take whatever (ANY) material you bring and in exchange give you a coupon for your purchase. Of course, you don’t have to buy anything- this is just a store that is recycling material to be reused. I’m not sure if it is a direct recycling program to create new products from or if they then take it elsewhere making a larger, but still fully connected loop. Either way, this exists.
I also remember MAC used to do the same- not sure if they still do. I used to bring back my eyeshadow containers and they’d give me a discount on new items. It had to be one of their product containers to close the loop.
The good news is once you begin to recycle properly, you will honestly have less waste. The Recycling man should come more often than your trash man.