It’s 2019, and yes, there is a LOT going on in this world. It’s overwhelming. You might feel like there is no way you can make an impact or a difference. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. You have a huge impact through the choices you make. Our planet is being deeply impacted by the actions of humans through the carbon we consume, the waste that we generate, and the resources we use up. In 2019, take back your power and embrace a more sustainable lifestyle.
Let’s start with some ground rules. First, there are eight Rs (yep, eight - don’t worry, we’ll work through them all). Next, remember this mantra: progress, not perfection. You don’t have to change everything at once. Small changes can make big differences.
Want to know the #1 thing you can change to stop stomping on Mother Earth? REDUCE YOUR PLASTIC WASTE. (Sorry, I said we wouldn’t get shouty. But, I’m passionate about this.)
Plastic doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It is made out of feedstocks that are byproducts of oil and natural gas. Once produced, plastic products are notoriously hard to recycle and often end up in landfills or more worryingly, the ocean, where they’re consumed by ocean life. We’ve had plastics
Take a look at your life and think about where plastic is taking up too much space. You can reduce your waste through reusable containers, cloth bags, bulk food purchases, and all kinds of personal care decisions (including, ahem, your menstrual products). Put a KeepCup in your backpack! Tuck a reusable tote in your handbag! It’s super simple once you change your mindset.
You may be thinking that you’re surrounded by containers, and the best thing to do is to pitch them all and start fresh. Don’t think that way! Your old jars and yogurt containers are perfectly serviceable containers for toting lunches and snacks, stocking up at your local zero waste grocery and serving as storage all over your life.
By simply reusing, you can take something from the waste stream and give it new life. There are tons of ways to make reusing a way of life. Host a clothing swap. Check Craigslist or Facebook for appliances or furniture for sale. Convert old jam jars into spice storage. Be creative!
Refuse is the R that a lot of people feel uncomfortable with. We’re preconditioned to accept things that are free without considering why we might want something. It can be hard as well to tell loved ones that you’d prefer experiences in lieu of traditional presents, or wave off well-meaning folks proffering free samples. However, get in touch with your inner Marie Kondo: is this going to bring you joy? In most cases, a polite no will suffice; if it is family or friends, suggest a group outing or meal. If that’s a no go, a subscription to a favourite magazine or gift certificate is always a great suggestion.
Make 2019 the year you differentiate between “kaput” and merely “broken”. Repairing and mending saves you money and saves waste as well. Don’t be intimidated by taking the task on yourself - many classes and groups are springing up to help you with your search. (Vancouverites: we love Repair Matters and Frameworq.) If there is nothing close, take a peek at Youtube to learn how to darn socks and fix fraying hems (caveat: be careful with electrical appliances, especially if you’re not confident in your skills).
You’ll feel like a total badass, plus you get to keep your favourite sweater. That’s a win-win.
Do you compost?
I’m not going to lie - some of my most hair-raising green living stories involve composting (ask me about the time that I disturbed a nest of overwintering rattlesnakes - good times) but it is an easy way to ensure food scraps return to the earth, not the landfill.
If you’re lucky, you live in a jurisdiction with municipal composting, or in a home with space for a home composter. If you’re in an apartment, check out your local farmer’s market, community garden or consider a worm bin. Remember - it doesn’t need to be perfect. Taking one bin of scraps to the bin is a huge step forward.
If you’re trying to go green this year, consider who you’re giving green to - pinkwashing and greenwashing are growing increasingly rampant as companies attempt to market themselves as socially conscious. Look for reputable third-party verification of their business practices (big shoutout to our fellow certified B Corps) or industry standards around their manufacturing materials (what certifications do they hold)?
Sustainable manufacturing is hard, and nobody’s perfect. That said, look for companies making a transparent and enthusiastic effort to do better by the planet.
Recycling should always be your last resort when it comes to waste; yet it fulfills a vital role in our waste stream. Some things cannot be reused. Take the the time to understand your local recycling system - when you use it correctly, it operates efficiently. If you’re decluttering your space for the new year, collect recyclables together and take a drive down to your local recycling depot. Figure out where you can take old shoes, cell phones and computers to safely enter the waste cycle.
When you’re working hard to make a big impact on the planet, it can be easy to judge those who don’t seem to be making a big impact. Remember you don’t know the whole story. Someone might be using a plastic straw because of disability. Someone might be driving a car because the public transit in their area is unsafe or impractical. Leaping to conclusions or virtue-signalling doesn’t help anyone.
Kindness, to ourselves, to others and to the earth, is a core principle of eco-friendly living. Be gentle with yourself and others as you embark on your zero waste journey. Nobody’s perfect. We’re all just trying to do better. We wish you luck!