We live in a plastic world, where almost everything we own is made from materials that cannot be composted. Instead, when we eventually throw our broken and used items in the rubbish, they end up in landfill to live for millions of years exactly as we left them.
Although this might be the world in which we live, that doesn’t mean we can’t fight against the rising tide of plastic. Many of us are aiming to live a sustainable life. If you’re reading this, then you probably want the same thing.
To help you begin this journey, we have created this guide to walk you through the basics.
What Is A Sustainable Lifestyle?
Before we show you the main areas you should focus on, we first want to explain exactly what sustainable living is.
Sustainable living is a philosophy rather than a rule book. It is when you actively try to reduce your negative impact on the climate and environment around you.
It’s impossible to live a modern life and avoid using plastic completely. Unfortunately, it is everywhere around us. Instead, the aim is to reduce your carbon footprint as much as possible.
This could mean swapping from one brand to another which is more eco-friendly, changing your cleaning products to something more natural, or picking up groceries that don’t come in plastic wrap.
We have mentioned plastic several times, but being sustainable doesn’t just mean trying to avoid this material. It means living your life in a way that minimizes the permanent damage to our earth.
For example, solar panels are sustainable because they are a constant source of energy which doesn’t take from the world around us. The same can be said for wind turbines and hydropower.
Coal and gas, however, are a limited resource. Ignore the damaging CO2 effect they cause when burnt, we only have a limited amount of these materials. Using them as often as we do is not sustainable. Soon we will run out and will not be able to maintain our current way of life.
Explaining Your Carbon Footprint
We are going to talk about carbon footprints a lot in our article. If you don’t know what this term means, it’s time you learned.
The concept is simple, really. It is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by the activities, products, or anything you have interacted with. The more carbon you release, the bigger your footprint on the world is.
For example, driving to work has a larger carbon footprint than walking.
To reduce your footprint to zero, you need to find a way to absorb the carbon you have produced. When companies say that they are carbon neutral or have a carbon net zero balance, this normally means they are planting trees that absorb carbon dioxide naturally. This means that although they are producing carbon dioxide, they are absorbing it too, so they aren’t impacting the environment.
Most of us cannot plant a tree every time we drive. Instead, we aim to lower our carbon footprint as much as possible.
Why Choose To Be Sustainable?
So why should we choose to be sustainable? Of course, we could go on and talk about why caring for the environment will help it survive through the horrors we have put it through, but some people need a less abstract reason to become sustainable.
For these people, we want to show you why being sustainable is a great investment for you as well as the environment.
1. Renewable Sources Are Cheaper
Because coal and gasoline are a limited resource, and we can start to see the end of these materials, their prices are increasing. Of course, other world issues are causing this price hike too, but their rarity is one of them.
Renewable energy, however, is becoming cheaper as more and more companies make the switch. With more money and research being put into these projects, we are able to buy solar panels cheaper than ever before. This in turn means our energy sources will be cheaper too.
Wind, sunshine, and water will never run out, and so as long as we know how to harness this energy, we won’t risk price hikes due to scarcity.
2. Cheaper Products
You can clean your home, buy your groceries, and redecorate your home in a much cheaper price bracket if you do so sustainably.
You don’t need to rely on other companies to create products for you if you know how to create them yourself. A couple of simple tips can be all you need to have the best kitchen cleaning products in your home.
Lemon, water and bicarbonate of soda can remove grease and grime from your kitchen as well as any brand, and you can buy these without purchasing plastic.
Acting sustainably can reduce the amount you pay for everyday items
3. It’s Less Fuss
Once you get started on the sustainable living journey, you’ll notice that your home will be filled with less and less plastic. This means you’ll have to take your bins out less and there will be less clutter around your house as wrappers and cans will be less frequent.
Even looking through your bills in email format instead of through letters in the post will mean you’ll have more control over your life, as you can save this data without worrying about where it has gone.
Those are just a few reasons why you should live a sustainable life, but now to explain how to get started.
Before you get too invested and start planning for every inch of your life to become more sustainable, you need to take a breath. Becoming sustainable won’t happen overnight, and you cannot change everything in one go. It will take years of looking at your own actions to know how to become more sustainable.
A lot of people start this journey with high hopes and end it shortly after, succumbing to the overwhelming feeling of failure when they release just how much plastic and landfill they have in their life.
Instead of tackling everything at once, we suggest picking one thing you know you can handle and trying to make that area more sustainable.
Let’s start with food and drinks.
Home Grown Food
We said to start small, and we mean it. Although we are about to talk about homegrown foods, that doesn’t mean you should have a massive garden that grows every vegetable you’d normally buy at the grocery store.
Instead, you should pick one vegetable that you enjoy and try to grow it in whatever green space you have.
The easiest vegetables to grow are tomatoes, salad greens, and potatoes. They don’t need a lot of space, can handle rough conditions, and are used in almost every meal!
If you live in an apartment, you can grow these vegetables in plant pots or carrier bags. No garden is necessary.
For an easier start, try growing herbs. Not only will they make your home smell lovely, but you can keep them on a windowsill and know that they won’t take up too much space.
Even replacing one food from your shopping list with a homegrown alternative can help reduce your carbon footprint. The amount of plastic packaging which shipped the product and the gas needed to bring the food to your grocery store, will all be nonexistent.
You don’t need to grow your whole dinner, but removing one vegetable from your basket can do a lot of good.
Avoiding Bottled Water/Drinks
In America, we have a culture of drinking bottled water even though our tap water is safe enough for us to drink.
Of course, there are some areas such as Flint, which do not follow this general rule, but if you don’t live in a town or state with contaminated water, you should consider drinking from the tap.
Consider Water Filters
If you are worried about the limescale or other materials from natural water entering into your appliances or even your body, there is a way for you to still live sustainably without drinking straight from the tap.
In these cases, you should either install a filter into your facet, or you should buy a water filter. The filtering system removes all of the materials in your water. This allows you to drink clear, clean, and fresh liquid with almost no taste.
A lot of water filters are made of plastic, and you may think that buying a product such as this counteracts all of the good you are trying to achieve. However, buying one life-long filter is a lot better for the environment than buying thousands of disposable bottles in your lifetime.
Using one plastic item to replace thousands means you are still helping to reduce the overall plastic emergency we are currently facing.
Flavor Your Water
In the UK, it’s common to find a bottle of “squash” in the cupboards. This squash isn’t a vegetable, it’s cordial. In the US, the most similar item we have to compare it to is syrup.
When you add syrup to a coffee you include a sweetened version of a specific flavor. When you add cordial to water, you add an artificial flavor to your beverage.
This means that people in the UK can drink tap water even if they don’t like the flavor, as they can add a drop of squash to make it taste how they like.
We don’t suggest shipping in squash from across the world in an attempt to reduce your carbon footprint, as the travel of that bottle will counteract the good you are trying to do.
Instead, we suggest using this idea to make your own flavors naturally at home. Add cucumber, lemon, or oranges to your water to give it a new flavor.
If you or someone in your home finds it difficult to drink water due to the flavor, use this technique to create a new taste in the beverage.
Being sustainable in the home is much easier than you may think. Sure we could talk to you about installing solar panels and living without electricity, but for most people, those big changes aren’t possible.
If you can afford to buy a solar panel, do it! They will save you money in the long run and will help the environment. But that type of gear will cost you thousands of dollars, and your home might not even be facing the right direction.
No, we want to aim smaller. Changing the small things can have a domino effect on the big things, as these “small things” are often part of our daily lives. Changing one thing in your home, and doing that consistently can have a massive impact on your overall carbon footprint.
Let’s jump into these small things now.
When winter comes around, many of us turn to our thermostats and instantly bring our homes back to that perfect 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
The thing is, we don’t need our home to be toasty all the time. This practice not only costs us a lot of money, but it forces us into producing more CO2 than we need to.
Instead of turning on the heating, you should start wearing warmer clothing instead. For most of this, this means putting on a sweater, slipping into your slippers, and pulling out the blankets.
At night you can swap from a summer blanket to a winter duvet so that your bedroom stays cozy when the temperature falls even further.
How To Layer Up Efficiently
If you live in a particularly chilly location, you’ll know that an extra layer of warmth won’t be as helpful as you hoped. Cooking in a giant Oodie isn’t exactly practical.
In these situations, you need to include multiple layers – 4 in fact.
Your first layer should be light and long-sleeved. Thin clothes will stop your sweat from absorbing into your outfit, and will therefore dry faster. A dry outfit is a warm outfit after all.
Your next layer should be made of polyester or wool. You can even opt for a mixture of the two. This layer is where the warmth of your body will be trapped, and prevented from escaping into the cold air.
Layer three should be a puffy jacket that includes a hood. The hood should protect your head from winds and cold temperatures, while the body will be protected without releasing heat.
Lastly, you need a waterproof jacket to go over everything else. This will protect any rain or snow from settling on your body. If the rain comes in, this warming technique will be made redundant.
Really this information is designed to help you when you are out and about, but use it to help you learn about laying up at home.
If you notice your dressing gown is making you sweaty and gross, change into a thin base layer and then top up with a wooly sweater.
Low Energy Appliances/Bulbs
Once you’ve made the swap from heating to sweaters, you should consider looking at your home appliances.
Buying appliances that use less energy will reduce your electric bill and your carbon footprint.
To find these appliances you need to look for the Energy Efficiency Label. This label will show you how much the appliance will cost you to run. You can use these figures to figure out which will be cheaper for your lifestyle and in turn, which will reduce your carbon footprint.
Starting off easy, a simple way to reduce your carbon footprint is to replace your light bulbs with LED ones. You can either do this when the light needs replacing or straight away so you don’t have to worry about it again.
Once they are screwed in, you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint without even trying.
If you have a dish that could be cooked in the microwave, then use this appliance instead of the oven. Ovens are less energy efficient than a microwave, even if you have bought one with an A + + + rating.
This is because ovens have to heat up the space inside them to ensure your food reaches the right temperature. Microwaves, however, can heat your food without focusing on the empty space around them.
Lastly, if you use a dryer to dry off your clothing, know that there is a cheaper and eco-friendly alternative – a clothing line.
Hanging your clothes to dry can benefit you in a number of ways. Firstly, it will cost you nothing in terms of electricity. Secondly, if the sun is shining, it can take less time than a dryer would. And thirdly, your clothes will smell fresh like the air. This means you don’t need to spend more money on fragrances to achieve that pure scent effect.
Recycling and upcycling are the two ways in which you can prevent waste from ending up in the landfill. Although the idea of recycling has been around for years, upcycling is a relatively new concept.
To help you understand the difference, we will explain both in detail.
What Is Recycling?
Recycling is when you turn something that would have been thrown into a landfill, something that is considered a waste product, into something new.
When we put items into a local recycling center, the people who work there turn the old materials into something new. They may convert your car tires into pencil holders or old climbing ropes into dog toys.
Recycling is normally done in a big factory which reduces the original material down to small parts and then builds it back up again into something new.
The idea is to bring the item back into the cycle of life, but through a new pathway – re-cycling.
What Is Upcycling?
Upcycling is very similar to recycling, however instead of breaking the materials down to their tinies parts to recreate them into something new, you work with what you have to bring new life into the object.
For example, your desk might have a broken leg. Instead of throwing the whole furniture away, you could upcycle it by buying some wood and fixing it yourself. Perhaps you inherited a chair, but this chair doesn’t match the aesthetic of your house. Instead of throwing it away, you could paint it or stencil it so it has the right colors.
Many people upcycle items as a hobby. They will go to thrift stores or yard sales and buy other people’s junk. They then give the item some tender love and care, and turn the rubbish into a centerpiece.
You don’t need to buy anything to be part of the upcycling community though. The best way to use this method, when trying to live sustainably, is to think of ways to repurpose items when they break.
A broken wheelbarrow could turn into a stationary plant pot. A broken mug could be turned into a pen holder. An old-fashioned couch could look modern with new fabric and an industrial stapler.
How To Add Recycling And Upcycling To Your Everyday Life
If your local council or government doesn’t already have a recycling system in place, you should search for a local company that focuses on recycling.
Once you know which area you should be looking in, you should search through their list of recyclable items. Print these out and stick them on your fridge, or put them somewhere noticeable.
From there, you can ensure that every time you go to throw one of these items away, you can double-check against your list. If the item is on the list, put it in a separate container. When you have collected enough of these items, take them to your local recycling center.
Every area will have a different method. Some will already have recycling trunks coming up and down your street, ready to collect every week. Others will require you to drive to their centers. Once you learn what these local methods are, you can adjust your weekly or monthly routine to slot a recycling endeavor in.
For upcycling, you should have the same structure in place. Whenever you think you throw something out, question whether you could fix it yourself. Even if you don’t want to keep the end product, upcycling it can prevent it from reaching the landfill. Once you’ve finished elevating it, you could sell the item, giving it a new life.
The last topic we want to share with you today is about travel. Most of us prefer to drive to get to our destination. When we’re driving we have space alone in our cars, we can take the routes which make the most sense to us, and we get a sense of freedom from the experience.
However, a typical passenger vehicle emits around 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, making it the biggest contributor to your carbon footprint.
So how do we make travel sustainable for the environment?
The first thing we can do is drive less. This might mean carpooling with friends or family when going to destinations, taking public transportation when it’s available, or exploring activities closer to home.
If you and your friends all go to the same school, job or activity, it makes sense for one person to drive and the rest to become passengers. This will save all of your vehicle’s mileage and gas money, as you can each take turns being the driver.
If your journey to work isn’t on the same route as your co-workers, you could take public transit instead. 30 people on a bus mean 30 fewer cars on the road.
Take The Stairs
Although gas and coal are major contributors to the decline in the earth’s health, so is electricity. This includes unexpected devices such as elevators. Researchers at Cambridge University found that 15 seconds in a lift uses the same amount of energy as leaving the lights on for 1 hour. If you use your elevators every day, this number can dramatically affect your carbon footprint.
If you normally take the elevator to reach your workplace or home, consider taking the stairs instead. Not only will this add to your workout for the day, but will reduce your carbon footprint without much effort.
When it comes to travel, most of us consider how we get from work to home and back again. But there are many ways for us to travel. Going to the grocery store, seeing our friends, and even going on vacation include moments of travel.
In these instances, we still have the mentality of getting from A to B, but that is where we can make a change. Instead of seeing the journey as a chore, we should learn to see it as an adventure in itself.
If your friends live 5 minutes away by car, but 30 minutes by foot, then walk to their house. Use that time to experience nature around you.
Even if you don’t live in a natural environment, you can use that walk to learn about the streets around you. You will be more likely to pick up on new shops opening, and community events being advertised, and you may even meet new people on your journey.
Walking is great, not just for the environment but also for your mental health. Breathing in the fresh air and moving your body in a regular rhythm gives your mind an alertness which is attributed to positivity.
All of these positive attributes come from taking life slowly. Not only will you be saving money from walking to your destination, but you will also be saving your mental health by allowing yourself a period of time to breathe and relax as you take in the world around you.
Many of us count the days until we can head off to a sunny destination. Vacations are a needed part of life, and you shouldn’t limit yourself on these days of freedom. However, just because you need to set yourself free, doesn’t mean you need to travel far.
Traveling to a nearby country, area or state could be all you need to get into the holiday spirit. Traveling to a local area will reduce your carbon footprint for the journey, which is the main aim when it comes to sustainability. However, it can also reduce the amount of travel time, and allow you to experience local interests that you may not have been aware of before.
With more time added to your vacation experience and less time waiting for the travel to end, you get to experience more time doing the things you love.
Staycations became popular during the financial crisis of 2008. The tourism industry was failing as more and more people couldn’t afford to go on vacation. In an attempt to drive up business, people started advertising to local areas instead of far-off locations.
The idea was to boost the industry by showcasing the amazing activities you could explore right outside your front door. It was an instant success as people still wanted to experience vacation even if they couldn’t go far.
This movement showed people that you don’t need to spend lots of money to feel like you’ve had a true rest, and there are thousands of amazing sites and activities all around you.
From a sustainable living point of view, the answer is clear. A staycation is a perfect way to indulge in a holiday without putting too much pressure on the environment.
Living a sustainable lifestyle has to start somewhere. You don’t need to live off the grid, own a solar panel or have a massive vegetable garden to get started. All you need to do is focus on one area of your life that you know you can change.
Changing your light bulbs to LED alternatives is a great first step. It might take an hour or two out of your day as you travel to a DIY store and replace the lights, but once it’s done you don’t have to think about it again.
The best switches are the ones you don’t even notice. Start there, and continue to adapt one step at a time.