I know I’m not alone when I say I get overwhelmed thinking about the current state of the environment. What I have found that helps me not feel as overwhelmed, is to make small changes that I can stick with. The following list is what I am currently trying to do to live more sustainably.
Using Reusable Hand towels in the Kitchen
I am an extremely messy eater and cook, and can go through paper towels like you wouldn’t believe. I knew I was being wasteful, so I decided to just stop buying paper towels. I would always use them if they were there, so I gave myself no choice. Making the switch to only using hand towels that can be washed took some getting used to, but now I see no difference than paper towels. I keep a small laundry bin in the kitchen that I simply throw used towels in and wash either when it gets full or once a week.
Using a (bigger) reusable water bottle
I can’t leave my house without my 40 oz. reusable water bottle anymore. I actually feel like I go into survival mode when I don’t have it. I’ve used reusable water bottles for a while now, and have found that I would run out of water quickly with my smaller 16 oz bottle and either resort to plastic water bottles or a headache from dehydration. Always having a large, filled water bottle makes it so much easier for me to choose not to purchase a single-use plastic water bottle.
Turning off shower/sink when not using
For me, turning off the sink while not using it is something I remember learning about in second grade and is like second nature to me. Whenever I’m washing my face, washing dishes or brushing my teeth, I will always turn off the faucet when I don’t need the water. The shower is a different story, and I’m still guilty of not doing it. Long, scalding hot showers is one of my favorite things, so the thought of turning off the water while I shampoo my hair sounds like torture. This is something I especially need to work on in the cold, winter months.
Over the past couple of years, I have started using more and more natural beauty products. This got to the point where I started making my own shampoo and conditioner. I quickly learned how much of a pain it was to do this, so I scrapped that idea (for now). I then chose to start purchasing the largest containers I could find of natural shampoos and conditioners. I was buying these products in larger quantities, and less frequently, so I felt like I wasn’t using as much plastic. I then came across shampoo and conditioner bars. They look like a bar of soap, and I quickly fell in love. Unwrapped Life has a variety of shampoo and conditioner bars that actually work on my thick, coarse hair and use zero plastic and have all natural ingredients. They are really easy to travel with as well.
Not purchasing (as much) brand new clothing
I’ve had a couple of jobs working retail over the years, and it really opened my eyes to how wasteful the retail industry is. Imagine your favorite clothing store and how many individual pieces of clothing there are. Now imagine each of those items of clothing individually wrapped in a plastic bag, and then grouped together in another, larger plastic bag. Every time I would get a shipment of clothing in that I had to unpack it blew my mind how much plastic was used. After a couple of years of this, I decided that I would try my best to stop buying as many clothes, and when I did buy clothes only purchase used clothing (with the exception of items like underwear and such). I’ve found that apps like Poshmark and Thred Up make it convenient to find used, fashionable clothing.
Bulk groceries and reusable grocery bags
Being charged $.10 for every plastic or paper bag I used in California when grocery shopping was a quick reminder for myself to stop being lazy and always bring my reusable grocery bags with me. I also try never to use the provided plastic bags to put my produce in. If there is produce I want to keep contained (like loose mushrooms), I have some reusable produce bags I will use. I always wash my fruits and veggies thoroughly before using them, so it doesn’t bother me when they are sitting directly in my cart. I love a grocery store that has a good bulk foods section. This is where I bring my reusable containers to fill with nuts, beans, and grains. Sadly, these grocery stores are harder to find (especially ones that allow you to bring your own containers and pre-weigh before filling), but I’m hoping they become more common.
I made the switch from tampons to a menstrual cup almost a year ago and haven’t looked back since. Cycle after cycle I felt like I was wasting so many resources, throwing so much away and spending a lot of money. If you change your tampon every 4-8 hours, as instructed, you end up using 15 – 30 tampons per cycle. This is a total of 180 – 360 tampons every year. That can really add up over a lifetime. It did take me a couple of cycles to get the hang of using the cup, but now it’s so much more convenient and less wasteful.
Using hand towels as wrapping paper
This one is a new one that I just tried this holiday season. This Christmas I challenged myself with only wrapping gifts with hand towels instead of using typical wrapping paper. Maybe it’s just me, but I would be really excited to receive a hand towel as an added gift. I found it to be really fun picking out fun, different hand towels that I thought the recipient would like.
Learning about recycling
My mom taught me the importance of recycling at a young age, and I am very fortunate and grateful for that. I still find that there is so much to learn about recycling. The most shocking thing I’ve learned is that everything I recycle might not even get recycled. Lately, I’ve challenged myself to not rely on recycling, but to try and purchase as little single-use items as I can and re-use what I can.
This post is in no way saying I am perfect when it comes to being sustainable, and I still have a long way to go on my sustainability journey. These are just ways that I am trying to do my part. I hope to continue to add to this list to continue my sustainability journey. Some of my future sustainability goals are: compost food waste, purchase health & beauty products in glass containers only and renting a Christmas tree.