The more I learn about the issues plaguing our environment, the more infuriated I am by the fact that taking steps to protect the beautiful planet on which we reside is not hard. The sad truth is that most of us aren't necessarily apathetic, but misinformed: It's not that we don't care about the environment, we just also think that living sustainably enough to make a difference requires a serious lifestyle overhaul.
In reality, every little bit counts. Objects as seemingly innocuous as bottle caps and straws can disrupt entire ecosystems, so why is it so hard to believe that on the flip side, we can't enact positive change in the countless choices we make every day? Living a more sustainable lifestyle can be as simple as swapping your water bottle for a reusable variety or promising to only buy your eggs and produce from the farmer's market. Adopting just one of these habits is an incredibly positive thing—and chances are that once it becomes a ritual, you'll start to think about what else you can do.
And for that, we have plenty of inspiration. Keep reading for a not-at-all exhaustive list of easy ways you can live more sustainably.
- Recycle. It's obvious, but if you've been kind of lax about separating your waste, now would be a great time to start. Recycling is one of the most direct ways you can prevent additional damage to the planet: Not only does it help curb the pollution inflicted by landfill sites, but it also cuts back on the need for raw materials so that our natural resources can be preserved. Plus, it's pretty damn easy.
- Opt for a reusable water bottle. An average of 38 billion water bottles are wasted in the US alone each year. And a word to the wise: Springing for a reusable bottle doesn't just cut down on waste—it also encourages you to stay hydrated.
- Addicted to sparkling water? Invest in a SodaStream. Look at it as your personal supply of LaCroix—with none of the waste.
- Keep reusable silverware and dishes at your desk. If your office has a kitchen sink, there's no need to opt for plastic utensils or styrofoam plates.
- Don't get a receipt at the ATM. Here's a frightening statistic: 250 million gallons of oil, 10 million trees, and 1 billion gallons of water are used each year just to create receipts—and that's not even accounting for the fact that most of them end up in the trash. Anyway, do you really need that extra wad at the bottom of your bag?
- "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." "Michael Pollan continues to be one of the best resources for discussing food in a way that is not only sensitive to how we navigate food as humans, but also someone who provided this quote as a guide on how to eat," says Claire Fountain, yogi and wellness expert. "Though many assume a vegan diet is the most ethical and best for the planet, meat (when raised and sourced correctly) can be a sound part of a balanced diet."
- Air dry your laundry. It's better for your clothes and the planet.
- Don't forget your reusable grocery bags. Keep a bunch in the trunk of your car or near the entrance of your apartment.
- Instead of driving, opt for a rideshare. Uber makes it easy.
- Better yet, take public transportation. Or walk!
- Plant a tree. "Trees are the world's best technology," says Anju Rupal, an environmental activist and the founder of the globally-minded beauty brand Abhati Suisse. You don't even have to do it yourself—organisations like One Tree Planted and Plant a Billion take donations to plant trees across the world.
- Use microfiber cloths or rags instead of paper towels. Just rinse them off in the sink between uses.
- Invest in organic and biodegradable feminine products. Lucky for you, there are a ton of options on the market.
- Or, swap tampons for period undies or a menstrual cup. Yes, they really work, and no, they're actually not gross.
- Use mason jars for just about anything. Take your cold brew to go, house your makeup products or store beans and grains from the bulk bins.
- DIY the fridge staples you buy constantly. I've recently started making my own almond milk, kombucha, and yogurt. Not only is it easy and planet-friendly, but it saves me cash, too.
- Skip straws and coffee cup sleeves. We use over 500 million straws in the US every single day, much of which end up in the ocean—to the point that we're projected to have more plastic in our seas than fish by 2050. Invest in reusable stainless steel or glass straws and avoid the disposable kind from here on out.
- Source your food locally whenever possible. That means hitting the farmer's market on a regular basis and choosing restaurants that work with local farms.
- Better yet, grow it yourself! Even if your outdoor space is minimal, consider investing in a small raised garden bed and plant a few vegetables. No outdoor space? Fresh herbs still do pretty well inside.
- Start composting. You'll put your food waste to good use and help your garden thrive.
- Avoid getting duped by "green" buzzwords. "Organic is dope, but informed is better," says Fountain. "When I was living on a farm for two and half years, I would often hear farmers frustrated as consumers would snub this produce it if was not 100% certified organic. Organic licensing is a more complex system than we might know and buying off buzzwords doesn’t help local producers who can explain what they do and don’t use on their produce (or in raising their animals)."
- Rethink "clean" beauty. Speaking of buzzwords, it's easy to get caught up with unregulated terms like "natural" in the huge world of beauty products—and that's not even to mention that some legitimately natural ingredients are irritants and/or may not be sustainably sourced, says Rupal. She suggests researching your favorite brands to learn more about their manufacturing practices and commitment to the planet (or lack thereof). Support companies that are transparent about their practices, utilise recyclable or biodegradable packaging, and are committed to ethical working conditions.
- Avoid "passive electricity." One of my coworkers has her appliances (aside from her refrigerator) plugged into a power strip that she turns off when she's not at home, as to avoid any wasted energy when they're not in use. Brilliant, right?
- Get into thrifting. Use it as an excuse to check out all the coolest vintage stores in your area. The best part: You're bound to score some badass finds that no one else owns.
- Shop smarter in general. The grocery store and your beauty routine are a great place to start, but in general, start thinking about the companies you support with your dollar and hold them accountable to their choices behind the scenes. Don't forget that you have so much power to enact change just through your spending choices.
- Get educated. "Awareness might be free, but when it comes to conscious choices, we have to ask questions and investigate the items we consume," says Fountain. Google your beauty brands. Talk to the vendor at the farmer's market. Reassess the things you currently own and where they come from. And above all else, don't beat yourself up: Take any of the small steps listed here and know that you're already moving in the right direction.