How to Start Living a Sustainable Lifestyle

I don’t want this post to come across preachy at all, but I really wanted to talk about something that I have been trying to change in my life in order to be kinder to the environment.

Previously, I was very unaware about what you could do to live more sustainably (and maybe I just didn’t really want to educate myself back then), but over the recent months it’s something that I just keep returning to. We can always do more: there are new studies coming out every day on how to live a sustainable life and how to make the most of what we do in relation to the environment.

Therefore, I decided to sum up some of the ways I learned during my research of quick fixes to live more green:

1. Be a bag lady. I always keep some reusable bags in my car and a Baggu in my purse. When I bring in my groceries, I immediately put the bags back in the car. In the rare event that I forget, I try to not ask for bags when I go shop. Recently, I read online that a woman used unloved dust bags from shoes and sandals for produce. What an idea!

2. Bring a set of utensils and stainless steel straws with you or keep a set at your desk. Plastic cutlery is one of the worst offenders of single-use plastic. France has actually banned them. India, too.

For parties where you might have used disposables, investing in an extra set of forks, knives, spoons and all-purpose glasses is a simple way to cut down on waste. If you must go disposable, opt for paper, bamboo, or wood.

3. Fall in love with your reusable coffee mug. There are so many different coffee mugs out there. I personally love the Hydroflask and with quite a few different sizes and colors, it is bound to fit anyone’s personality! Another option is simply to take your coffee to stay. This also doubles as a mindfulness exercise because it forces you to slow down, take a few minutes, and then get on with your day.

4. Ditch the plastic wrap. There are a ton of options that are not only less toxic, but way more aesthetically pleasing than covering half a lime or watermelon with a sheet of plastic. In my house, we usually just cut everything up and put it in a glass container, but if you’re short on space or containers, you can use beeswax.

5. Use reusable cloths instead of paper towels. It may be strange at first, but you will get into the habit of going without and won’t miss them. I read of people keeping a secret unbleached roll under the sink for cooking jobs like patting down raw chicken, but otherwise they use dishtowels, cloth napkins, and rags.

6. Take composting baby steps. Invest in a countertop composter to keep your fruit and veggie scraps out of landfills. (It takes twenty-five years for a head of lettuce to break down!) If your town offers curbside pickup, all you need to do is dump the scraps into your green bin once your composter is full. Check with your city. Get to know your trash haulers!

7. Bulk is beautiful. Literally. It’s so much easier on the eyes to peer into a pantry filled with glass jars versus a jumble of plastic and cardboard packaging. You’ll also be able to tell what you need to use up and what needs restocking. Skip the single-use plastic bags and opt for canvas bags (or shoe bags) for stocking up on nuts and flours in the bulk bin. Some stores also allow you to bring in your own jars—just be sure to have them weighed first.

8. Choose milk in a returnable glass container. If you buy milk or cream in one of the glass containers at Whole Foods, you’ll be charged a deposit. It depends on the size of the item, but can be up to $3. So make absolutely sure that you don’t toss the empty container into your recycling bin — bring it back next time you go to Whole Foods, and they’ll give you a voucher at customer service.

9. Toothbrushes. If you still use disposable toothbrushes, you can switch to a bamboo brush subscription that comes every three months to stop contributing to the 4.7 billion plastic toothbrushes that end up in a landfill every year.

10. Toilet Paper. Who Gives A Crap sells rolls individually wrapped in design-friendly paper, sans plastic wrap. They also donate 50 percent of their profits to building toilets in developing countries suffering from sanitation-related diseases.

And if that’s not enough sustainability for you, check out these four documentaries about sustainability to really get yourself educated:

Wasted! The Story Of Food Waste

Narrated by the late Anthony Bourdain, this documentary features an all-star cast of chefs, food entrepreneurs, and activists who address the need to fix our broken system in which 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year while people continue to live with food insecurities. It sheds an honest light on modern agriculture and big chain supermarkets, as well as our cultural affinity for “pretty food.” It also highlights the smart, inventive solutions created by industry heavyweights, like former Trader Joe’s CEO Dough Rauch, and chefs like Dan Barber and Danny Bowien. It’s a smart, thoughtful dive into the creative uses of the resources we regretfully throw away.
Action: Eat the whole vegetable or animal. Experiment with trash fish. Embrace ugly foods. Compost. Get creative with leftovers. Buy less.

The True Cost

It’s an investigative look at the devastating consequences of fast fashion. Not only is it the second most polluting industry to oil, and responsible for 11 million tons of textile waste annually, it has also created a hamster wheel of consumerism that keeps us trapped in the mindset that a $10 dress will make us happier. Most searing are the parts that look into the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, which killed over 1,000 workers, and the health crisis caused by toxic pesticides used in the clothing. It also homes in on the devastating reality that most garment factory workers are mothers forced to leave their children for months. Buoyed by the passion of People Tree founder Safia Minney and Eco-Age creative director Livia Firth, the film offers hope that by making responsible, mindful choices, such as choosing organic cotton and recycled materials, the fast fashion industry can pivot for good.

No Impact Man

Fed up with his own complacency, author Colin Beavan undertakes a one-year experiment to make as little environmental impact as possible–and he brings his wife, Michelle, and two-year-old daughter along. Living way outside their New York City comfort zone, they forgo takeout, television, elevators, automated transportation, and electricity, among other conveniences like toilet paper. As a person who loves reality television, espresso, and shopping, Michelle is fun to watch and relatable; her struggles with the extreme lifestyle shift are fascinating. The documentary is rife with philosophical questions: Do we have to live in a disposable culture? Can our needs be met in a sustainable way? Is it possible to have a good life without waste? And, most importantly, how do we do that?

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power

In the follow-up to the critically acclaimed documentary, Al Gore offers an “I told you so” by documenting the connection between extreme weather events and climate change. Despite the heaviness of his prophecy (look at the horrified faces of leaders from Gore’s Climate Reality Project), he remains optimistic that a global shift to renewable energy can make a difference in the face of the environmental crisis. The story culminates at COP21 with India finally joining the Paris agreement (only to see President Trump withdraw the United States from the agreement two years later). Gore’s thorough coverage is equally a beacon of hope and an inspiring call-to-action.