Updated: Mar 18, 2021
Introduction: Breaking the "Cycle of Stuff"
To sustain a healthy and livable planet, the time for change is now. Many of today's most common lifestyle choices are harmful to our planet, but that does not need to be the case. As we relearn to live more in harmony with nature, we begin to take care of the earth that is providing us with all that we need. Our future, as well as the future generations, will thank us for starting now. Here are the key things to learn to help you kick start and/or improve your sustainable lifestyle!
Everything we purchase starts with harvesting the Earth's natural resources. Then, they get manufactured and produced to be turned into goods. After, they are loaded on a ship and/or plane, then finally onto a truck to be taken to a store for distribution. With all that time, energy, and resources can you believe that was only the beginning? Once it's at the store, we the consumers, get to go and purchase it. We use it a few times, then throw it out.
The reason why this cannot continue forever is that this cycle has a clear beginning and end. But we only have one earth with limited resources, which is why breaking this cycle is necessary. We can do so by practicing the easy-to-remember 7Rs of Sustainability!
Learning the 7 R's of Sustainability
Many of us have grown up learning (and probably reciting) the first big 3 "reduce, re-use, recycle" but have you been taught to do these things correctly? And did you know there is actually more to it than those? First I'll break down the 3 most common R's, then go into the ones you might not have heard of.
1. Reduce (Low Waste + Minimalism)
Because of the need to reduce pollution in the air, water, and soil, there has been a huge movement in recent years of "low waste" or "zero waste living" to keep toxins and waste out of our oceans and landfills. And though "zero waste" may be unobtainable to some, low waste and reducing waste is something that everyone can practice.
When we say to throw something "away" we rarely think about what that means. What really happens is that when your waste goes away, it will be on its way into 1 of the 3,000+ landfills currently open in the US. Though you may never see one (they are often away from the public eye) what lay there are mountains of toxic materials that will never break down, constantly producing greenhouse gases and leachate.
Continuing to produce more waste will lead to the need to build more landfills. Landfills are built by clearing out natural ecosystems to make room for more toxic materials that will leech into the Earth's soil, with chemical runoffs moving into our water supply. All of which are concerning threats to our environment.
Tip: When making any purchase, big or small, try asking yourself a few questions
"Do I really need this?"
"Could I get this item second hand instead" (thrift store, Facebook marketplace)
"What purpose will this serve, and for how long?"
"Can I buy this with less packaging somewhere else?"
These will help you to think before you buy and become conscious of how much waste you produce with a single purchase.
There are many things that people consider to be a "single-use" item, but in fact, most of these things can be reused multiple times before we send them off into the landfills!
Is it clean and still in good condition? Can it be washed to be reused? If so, use it again!
Maybe you have an item that has been sitting around the house, untouched for who knows how long. It could be clothes or kitchen-wear for example, that you don't use anymore but are still in working condition. Chances are, someone else would love to use it! First, ask some friends if they might need it. If not, then donate it! Extend the life of your item, keeping it out of the landfills for longer!
Tip: If you purchase food or drinks that come in a glass jar, when you're done you can save the jar, wash it, and fill it up again later with new food or drink that you want to store for later! Wash and repeat this cycle.
Recycling requires us to first separate our waste into categories (Note: each community has different guidelines on what can and cannot be recycled). Then, at a recycling center, the process involves breaking (usually melting) the product down into its basic raw material (plastic, glass, metal, etc) after, it's formed into new products. Recycling saves energy by making it possible for producers to not have to start over from scratch. Resulting in another way we are able to preserve our beautiful, natural resources.
Have separately labeled bins in your house for recyclables, non-recyclables, and food waste. When the time comes for it to be taken, everything is already good to go!
Don't contaminate the recycle bin! If non-recyclables are placed in the recycle bin it will contaminate loads of otherwise recyclable materials that are now unable to be recycled.
Check if your recyclables are clean! Things cannot be recycled if they have food, liquid, or other waste inside.
4. Rot (composting food scraps)
Oh, the magic of composting. It is the process where organic material such as yard trimmings and food scraps are broken down by microorganisms into a mineral-dense fertilizer. It is then added to the soil to provide valuable nutrients and life! This helps plants and food crops grow! It also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and is something farmers refer to as "black gold". But due to the lack of this knowledge, every year there are 167 million tons of compostable materials thrown into our landfills. When we learn how to compost we are allowing nature to carry on its natural cycle of decomposing, adding vital nutrients for not only the future plants but our future on this planet.
Tips: You can have a compost bin with a lid inside the house to collect scraps after cooking and eating, and/or a bigger turn bin outside the house. Choose to compost food items like veggies, fruits, and coffee grounds. Excluding meats and dairy prevents insects and rodents from getting into your bin. You can keep your compost to add to your own garden, have it picked up from your home, or donate it to compost collectors such as a community garden!
5. Repurpose (upcycling)
You may be thinking, isn't repurposing the same as reusing? Actually, they are significantly different! While reusing means to use something again for its original purpose, repurposing requires some creativity to come up with a whole new way of using an item! When you repurpose something, it has the potential to last months, maybe even years longer than its original purpose! Choosing this way saves energy because it didn't have to be taken to a facility to be broken down and recycled. Instead, it's being upcycled into something you can now use, all while saving money!
Tips: To name a few, old clothes can be cut up into washable rags to use instead of paper towels. Cans from canned food can be painted to your style and then be used as pots for your plants. Thankfully, there are so many resources out there to help you gain inspiration for repurposing things. A few are (Pinterest, Etsy, TikTok).
6. Repair (fix it, don't trash it!)
Most of us have had something that we've thrown out just because at the moment we thought they were completely unusable or maybe even just too dirty. Though, the majority of the time all it takes is a little time or a bit of money for these things to be brought back to life! If it isn't a task that you want to take on yourself you can find someone who will. Check out (fixers collectives) that are now springing up in many areas.
Tip: Electronics, furniture, clothes, and appliances are all examples of things that can be repaired to be almost new again! Push back against disposable culture and overconsumption. When we fix the things we already have rather than buying new ones, we save money and the planet!
Refuse to buy or use items that are not good for the environment from the get-go to skip the process of needing to reuse or recycle at all! We would be making a point of not wanting or needing an item that is unsustainable. And once enough people do this, there is less of a demand for them, creating less production of that item. Say "no" to single-use items like produce bags, plastic straws, cups and cutlery, plastic shopping bags, and other items that come in a lot of packaging.
Tip: Refusing a single-use item is easy when you have on hand a reusable bag, reusable cutlery, and a reusable cup. Refusing to buy an item like non-organic food, for example, is easier when you know there is a healthier alternative for yourself and the earth.
Those were the 7Rs of sustainability! But we don't have to stop there...
Takeaway: Raising awareness
As we know, education is a key tool in creating any kind of change. One can't begin to change if one doesn't know the effects of their actions. We can take all we've learned to use our voices and our social media platforms to raise awareness of environmental issues. This is important so that people can keep these ideas at the forefront of their minds. By doing so, we can educate and encourage one another on protecting nature. Please share this to inspire others around you that they too can live a sustainable lifestyle.
Kids in Nutrition is doing their part to educate kids on how to eat more sustainably, for the health of themselves and our planet!