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 we're 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 farmers 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.
Editor's note: Right now, we know you might not be to do many of these ideas because of social distancing guidelines, but these are good to keep in mind for the future!
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. Just make sure whatever you're recycling (such as a glass jar) has been cleaned first, and follow these simple guidelines via the EPA.
Opt for a reusable water bottle
An average of 38 billion water bottles is wasted in the U.S. 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.
Cut the Cans
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. It might even be helpful to stash some silverware in your bag or car too so you don't need to grab plastic forks and spoons when ordering takeout or eating at a fast-casual place.
Opt for a rideshare
Photo:Good Vibrations Images/Stocksy
Better yet, take public transportation
If you're lucky enough to live in a city with an extensive bus or subway system, take advantage of it. Or if the weather is good, take a walk!
Plant a tree
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Use cloths or rags instead of paper towels
Just rinse them off in the sink between uses. Plus, some of them are really cute additions to your décor.
Invest in organic and biodegradable feminine products
Swap tampons for alternative products
Don't get a receipt at the ATM
Photo:Sitthiphong Thadakun/EyeEm/Getty Images
Here's a frightening statistic: 250 million gallons of oil, 10 million trees, and one 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
Keep this in mind the next time you're cleaning a load of dirty clothes. It's better for your clothes and the planet.
Don't forget your reusable grocery bags
BYOB(ag) the next time you go shopping. Keep a bunch in the trunk of your car or near the entrance of your apartment so you don't forget.
Use mason jars for just about anything
These come in handy and have so many uses. 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
Photo:Susan Brooks Dammann/Stocksy
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 U.S. every single day—a lot 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
Photo:Jamie Grill Atlas/Stocksy
Be mindful about where you shop for food and eat. That means hitting the farmers market on a regular basis and choosing restaurants that work with local farms.
Better yet, grow it yourself!
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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.
Add this to your kitchen routine. You'll put your food waste to good use and help your garden thrive.
Avoid getting duped by green buzzwords
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"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 produce 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, utilize recyclable or biodegradable packaging, and are committed to ethical working conditions.
Avoid passive electricity
One of my co-workers has her appliances (aside from her refrigerator) plugged into a power strip that she turns off when she's not at home to avoid any wasted energy when they're not in use. Brilliant, right?
Get into thrifting
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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 for their choices behind the scenes. Don't forget that you have so much power to enact change just through your spending choices.
Photo:Tom Werner/Getty Images
"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 farmers 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.
This post has been updated by Sarah Yang.