To end off another plastic free July, I wanted to talk about ways you can continue reducing waste and more importantly: how to be an imperfect environmentalist. Because you don’t need anything other than a passion for preserving the planet to be an environmentalist. Oh, and you won’t be perfect anyway so don’t stress yourself trying.
Take it from someone who has been on this journey for a few years now and is chronically ill and relies on medication in little plastic bottles: being perfectly zero waste isn’t attainable. And that doesn’t make us bad environmentalists. The fact that we care and are trying makes us amazing environmentalists.
How to be an imperfect environmentalist:
1. Use what you have
If you take anything away from any of my posts, videos and other social media let it be this: using what you have is the most sustainable thing.
Before you go out and buy reusable ziplock bags, compostable toothbrushes, or metal straws, use what you have first. If you buy the sustainable counterpart, what happens to the non-sustainable item? Does it get sent to the landfill or sit in a drawer collecting dust? Either way, it’s now waste and the opposite of what we’re trying to create.
I always say “waste isn’t waste until you waste it”. So use up what you have in its entirety and then go out and purchase the sustainable version.
2. Re-use “single-use” items
As I just said, “waste isn’t waste until you waste it”. This goes for everything. You might look at plastic utensils or plastic takeout containers and immediately throw them into the trash. But chances are they could be reused. No, they probably won’t last a life time but you can prolong their life fr a while.
And there are other plastic items and things we might view as “single-use” that could be reused or even upcycled! Turn an old plastic yogurt container into a planter, a plastic water bottle into a funnel, or learn how to make yarn out of plastic bags!
When we change our mentality from seeing things as single-use or “waste” we open up a whole world of waste saving possibilities. It’s not always aesthetically pleasing but it’s always sustainable!
3. Eat fewer animal products
I won’t tell you to go vegan. It’s not attainable for most and there are so many cultures that have significant ties to consuming and using certain animal products. it would be very privileged of me to suggest veganism is right for everyone. However, I do feel comfortable suggesting consuming fewer animal products.
North Americans consume more meat than most of the entire world. It’s like our meals are centred around what meat we’re going to eat. whereas most other countries will plan a meal that is focused on other food groups with a smaller portion of meat for protein and sometimes no meat at all!
When I started cutting out meat, my family couldn’t understand how you could have a meal without meat or a meal not centred around meat.
Factory farming is a huge contributor to climate change. And it’s because there’s so much demand for meat! If every person in North America cut meat from only one meal per day, it would significantly reduce the methane gas that these farms produce.
So I challenge you to reduce your animal intake. Try meatless Mondays or just cutting meat from one meal a day. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to be a vegan to be a good environmentalist. Just do what you can, when you can.
4. Use the 80/20 rule
Not everyone has access to bulk either which can make shopping sustainably more difficult. My closest bulk store is over an hour away and while I visit when I can, I don’t go every week when i go grocery shopping.
So I like to use the 80/20 and encourage everyone else to do the same. This just means that when shopping try to get about 80% of your groceries in more sustainable materials like glass, cardboard, tin cans, recyclable plastics like PET(1), HDPE(2),and LDPE(4).
And about 20% of your groceries in whatever kind of packaging they come in. Because if you told me I could never have chips or junk food again in order to be sustainable, that would not have gone over well. This can just help you be more conscious of buying pasta in a plastic bag vs a cardboard box or a glass jar of peanut butter over a plastic one.
5. Do a trash audit
This probably won’t happen in one day, but try and pay close attention to how much waste you’re producing and where. Look at your kitchen garbage, your bathroom garbage, laundry room, etc. What are the areas where you’re most wasteful?
Is it food packaging? is it makeup and beauty products? Most of us have our patterns and routines that we’re set in and specific areas that we waste more in. Don’t get discouraged. This is such helpful information to help you now reduce waste in that area.
Some helpful guides:
6. Invest in swaps that would be useful to YOU
Now that you’ve done you’re trash audit you should have a pretty good idea of what sort of things you waste most. When you can and when you’ve used up everything you own, invest in the swaps that will help you reduce waste!
Maybe that’s a safety razor, or stasher bags, or refillable makeup. Whatever you need to reduce waste. Getting a reusable coffee mug when you don’t get coffee to go would be pointless. There are a million and one zero waste swaps out there, find what you need and when you can, invest in it.
Here are some ideas to get you thinking:
7. Educate yourself
Never stop learning. When we’re educated about the climate crisis and the pollution problem we can make better choices and we can teach others too! Watch documentaries, listen to podcasts, read books, stay up to date with the news, follow sustainable content creators. Do what you can to stay in the loop and educated.
Some of my recommendations
- The true cost
- The game changers
- Our planet
- The story of stuff
- Cradle to cradle
- Climate justice
- Sustainability for the rest of us
- How bad are bananas? The carbon footprint of everything
- Sustainability defined
- Hot take
8. Get Involved
Your actions have power. Not just your individual, personal actions, but local actions have power too. If you aren’t already and of age, register to vote. Get up to date on politics and align yourself with politicians who care about climate change. Not just for big elections but for small towns, counties and municipal elections too.
Organize a pick-up-and-walk where small groups meet and pick up trash in your community. Start a community garden! The possibilities are endless! Just get involved and get others involved too!
This isn’t a definitive list on how to be an imperfect environmentalist but it’s a start. Everything you do, no matter how big or small, if it’s for the better of the planet, it makes a difference!
As always thank you so much for reading. Please don’t forget to share this post and follow me on Instagram for daily low waste living inspiration!