It’s hard to remember back to a time when the threat of global warming was the hot topic of conversation on every news outlet. Between the global pandemic and streets across the world swelling with BLM protestors, it’s difficult to recall a time when our largest worry was about plastic straws and saving the turtles…
But as I strip my gloves off every half hour at work – going through sixteen pairs in an eight-hour shift – it’s not hard to imagine that plastic filling a landfill. My reusable shopping bags gather dust in my car trunk. My Starbucks personal cup is exchanged for single-use plastic. And in the interest of public health, I understand and support these changes, but they also make me more aware of my global footprint.
Logically, I know that the state of our world doesn’t fall squarely on the individual. In fact, statistics suggest that while minor changes help, global warming is a problem caused almost exclusively by large corporations, who refuse to change their model and risk losing profits.
“Just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, according to a new report.”the Guardian
How much effect can an individual’s choices even have? I often skeptically wonder. (Can you tell I’m a disillusioned American voter?)
Putting aside my cynicism, I’ve often felt that the sustainable movement is unapproachable and in some cases, elitist. Not all of us can afford Gwenyth Paltrow’s Goop holistic wellness lifestyle, after all. And in many cases, only those with a comforting cushion of wealth and privilege can consider making often more costly, ethical choices about the products they use and consume.
And like veganism, some sustainability touters can have a haughty, better-than-thou attitude that can make the subject difficult to approach. It’s hard be educated on factory farming and ethical consumption when the starting block is “you’re an animal murderer.”
But sustainability shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing approach. You don’t have to immediately replace all your toilet paper with bamboo wash-cloths. Even small changes can make a difference and often, minor changes lead to larger ones.
To me, sustainability means starting where you are and doing what you can.
To quote Winnie the Pooh:
“I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I have been.”Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne
During this global health crisis, I’ve been looking for minor changes I can implement in my daily routine to make the transition to a more sustainable model of living.
Upcycling, unlike recycling, means giving new live to an old thing. And honestly, I love a craft! Lately I’ve been using the leftover glass jars from Oui Yogurt to store hairpins, jewelry and small toiletries like Q-tips. And as someone who regularly traveled before the pandemic, old pill bottles served as great suitcase organizer for hair ties, my gemstones and other small items.
Make the Switch.
I’m using a room-by-room approach and started by making switches in my bathroom.
I’ve long used cruelty-free shampoos and conditioners that are sulfate, paraben and silicone free, but until recently I never considered how many plastic bottles I was going through. Recently, I made the switch to shampoo/conditioner bars. The paper packaging is easily recyclable and eventually the bar wears down to nothing. I really like these ones by Ethique. I have a few bar soaps, but much prefer a shower wash and I found a great one (albeit slightly pricey) by Plaine Products with a refillable aluminum bottle.
Another switch I’ve made is trading one-use cotton rounds for reusable, machine-washable bamboo wipes. I’m currently alternating between my organic tampons from Athena Club and a reusable menstrual cup by Saalt, until my supply runs out and I get the hang of things. I also switched to this gorgeous rose gold safety razor from EcoRoots, which will save me money on disposable razor blades in the long run. A bamboo toothbrush from Packagefreeshop was another easy switch I made when my old toothbrush wore down. I just ran out of my old face wash and ordered this Superfood Cleanser from Youth to the People as an alternative.
One of the most important things to remember is that it’s okay to make a slow transition. It’s not going to help the environment to immediately throw out all your plastic packaged products. Always use what you have before buying something new, so nothing goes to waste. Try not to buy things you don’t need. And most importantly, research the products you buy.
Tap Into Your H20 Potential.
Water is free, but what you get from the tap isn’t always potable or delicious drinking water. In my household, we’ve long resorted to buying cases of water bottles. Recently, we switched to a more eco-friendly alternative of having 5-gallon jugs delivered. These eco-sense bottles are returned, refilled and recycled and create less waste than plastic water bottles. Is it a perfect system? Not really. But it’s a good next step. Change doesn’t come all at once and for right now, this is a change I can feel good about.
Make it At Home.
When I have time, I try to make my own coffee at home and brew iced tea in a glass pitcher to keep on hand in the fridge. I’m also making use of my reusable cups when I have drinks on the go or have something to drink at work. The hardest part of this change is training your brain to remember to bring the cup / reusable straw with you when you leave the house.
If you’re still ordering in to support your local restaurants before their summer reopenings, consider asking for no plastic silverware or straws. Wash and reuse your takeout containers for future leftovers. And don’t worry too much about being perfect. It’s all about progress, not perfection.
Get a Green Clean.
Cleaning is another area I’ve wanted to become more conscious. I switched to a Blueland foaming hand-soap for my bathroom, which comes in a refillable glass bottle. I also switched to an all-purpose cleaner from Clean Cult, which comes in a refillable bottle.
And while microfiber isn’t the best eco-switch, it’s a step away from one-use paper towels and wipes. I like these mops and cleaning cloths by E-cloth that are guaranteed for up to 300 machine washes and are chemical free.
While physical shops aren’t open, buy clothes second-hand on resale sites like Poshmark or Mercari. Resell any gently used clothes on the same sites on your local Facebook “garage sale” groups. Try to buy staple pieces that will last a long time and not go out of style and avoid fast-fashion brands.
There is no better sensation than opening a physical book. That said, as a book blogger and avid reader, it’s easy to hoard books I have no intention of re-reading. One solution is to take books out from the local library. I also swap books with friends. When shops are open, I buy books second-hand from used book shops or resellers. I’ve found some real treasures in the Barnes and Noble used book section!
While a lot of libraries and bookstores are physically closed during the pandemic, my Kindle has been a godsend. I browse weekly Kindle book deals on Amazon, borrow Kindle books from my library’s e-book collection and request E-Arcs from publishers. For someone who travels and is an emotional reader, it’s amazing to have an entire library at my fingertips in one lightweight, portable unit. And when I move, as I have several times throughout the years, it’s easier not to lug boxes of physical books around.
Most of all, remember that trying to adopt sustainable practices is a lifelong and personal journey. It will take time to figure out what works for you, what’s in your budget and what you’re not willing to give up or compromise on. Every little bit makes a difference and there is no such thing as being a perfect “zero-waster”.
Have any of you tried to adopt zero waste practices? How have you adapted during the pandemic?
Until next time,
4 thoughts on “Sustainability During a Global Crisis”
Yes – it’s an ongoing issue. I do prefer using liquid soaps, rather than bars, because it makes less mess of the sink and is kinder to skin, but I have been making an effort to buy the refiller packs – ditto laundry conditioner and washing tabs… We are also vegan, but it took us a while to get there and we are still working out how to be more sustainable with our food choices. Like you say – it’s an ongoing process.
These are really great! Kudos to you! I definitely have to start making the switch to better/more gentle laundry and dish-washing practices once I finish what I have on hand. I have tried to be vegan but always end up missing cheese.
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There are cheese substitutes, but they are a mixed bag – the soya versions are revolting, but some of the cream cheese herby products are more successful and make good cheese-flavoured sauces. But it is all a journey and we are still progressing. The other big change we have made is to go for jugs with water filters instead of buying bottled water, which make tapoline actually drinkable – especially as our local supermarket recycles used water filters.