January is a traditional time to take stock of our lives and create goals for the new year. The colder winter months lend themselves to quiet days with time to reflect on the past and evaluate priorities for the new year. I don’t think there was a single person that wasn’t knocked down by 2020… (it was rough!) but now its time to pick ourselves up, dust off and walk into the new year with a sense of hope for the future. What are your goals for this new year? If you are like me, you are making a resolution to live sustainably in 2021.
Although I have always been environmentally aware, I lost my way over the years living as an expat in the Middle East and vowed two years ago to reset my priorities and get back to living a more sustainable life. Where I live in the desert has yet to adopt even basic environmental practices. Recycling is nonexistent, produce is wrapped in styrofoam and plastic, sprinklers are allowed to run for hours and throwing trash on the ground doesn’t seem to muster even a small amount of guilt. Its enough to just give up trying. And I did for awhile. But eventually I emerged, determined to try again.
Is it possible to live 100% sustainably? Perhaps not for all people in our modern world. But it is possible for each individual to create a far more sustainable life with just a small amount of energy and focus. Not being perfect isn’t an excuse to not do better. Because you can’t exercise daily doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise at all. Right?!
Not exactly sure what it means to live sustainably?
Here is our blog post that breaks down what it means to live a sustainable life.
Building Positive Habits
A 2019 article, published by Forbes Magazine surveyed 913 adults from the United States and Australia about their interest in environmental issues. 93% of all surveyed expressed a concern for the environment and 77% wanted to learn more about sustainable lifestyles. Those surveyed listed plastic pollution as a top concern, but only 45% avoided single use plastic. The difference between knowing single use plastic is a problem—and being willing to stop consuming it—is most likely explained by our inevitable habits.
Studies show it takes, on average, 66 days to create a new habit. Although popular belief is 21 days, the research actually shows you need to stick with something for about two months before it will become second nature and stop requiring as much mental bandwidth. Logically, simple changes like drinking a glass of water before each meal, would take less time than quitting highly addictive cigarettes. But on average, think 66 days.
Get Started On Your Sustainable Journey
The first step to altering habits is acknowledging that you want to make a change. No significant change happens, however, without making a conscious decision and then committing to a plan. Use the guide below to help you get started to live sustainably in 2021.
The suggestions below are applicable no matter where you live in the world and are a solid beginning to creating a more eco-friendly lifestyle. (Note that countries have different covid restrictions, so some ideas might be more applicable post covid). Choose two or three at the most to get yourself started. Remember, stick with it for a few weeks until your sustainable practices become second nature and a natural part of your life. Once you’ve fully incorporated one change, adopt another one. Slow and steady wins the race! By this time next year your life will be far more earth-friendly and sustainable!
Eliminate Plastic Use
300 million tons of plastic is produced each year. 50% of this plastic is designed to be used only once.
Plastic has only been around for about a hundred years, but boy has it caused havoc! The convenience that plastic provides has come at a very heavy cost for the earth because plastic isn’t biodegradable. A crucial manufacturing step when making plastic turns petroleum into a material unrecognized by the organisms that normally break down organic matter. Because plastic does not decompose, it will last for hundreds of years in landfills. Plastic simply isn’t sustainable. We can’t keep manufacturing a product that has no where to go.
Plastic is also causing significant damage to the oceans. Plastic floats in the water for years, eventually breaking into tiny pieces, called micro plastics, and is then consumed by fish and other ocean animals. Although plastic gets smaller and smaller, it doesn’t biodegrade and return to the earth in a nourishing way as organic materials do. Microplastics are eaten by fish, damaging this vital food source.
“Experiments show that microplastics damage aquatic creatures, as well as turtles and birds: They block digestive tracts, diminish the urge to eat, and alter feeding behavior, all of which reduce growth and reproductive output. Their stomachs stuffed with plastic, some species starve and die.”
The only way to solve the plastic problem is to stop buying it. Here are my top suggestions to help you transition to a plastic free life:
- Transport water in reusable bottles. 1 million plastic water bottles are purchased every minute. These water bottles will sit in a landfill for hundreds of years. Keep a reusable water bottle with you throughout the day. I have three bottles in different sizes to provide options depending on where I’m going and the size of the bag or purse I’m going to use. Refill it from the tap or buy a filter for your house if your tap water isn’t the best. In Saudi I use a Britta Filter. In the States, friends have installed water filters under their kitchen sinks that work well for them.
- Bring your own shopping bags to any and all stores. Plastic bags from stores create an enormous amount of waste. Bring your own bag to the grocery store, but also when you shop for other items.
- Buy in bulk to skip all the plastic packaging. Bring your own bags and/or jars to fill and skip all the packaging that will end up in landfills.
- Choose products without plastic packaging. When you can choose between a food item, such as sugar, wrapped in paper or in plastic, always choose the paper option as it is biodegradable. Likewise, use bar soap and shampoo bars which eliminate the plastic bottles.
- Switch to Bees Wrap instead of plastic wrap. Bees wrap is an eco friendly way to wrap food for storage. The Bees Wrap will last a year and once they are worn out, the wrap can be composted.
Shop Locally and Seasonally
- Local farms preserve open spaces and the biodiversity of your community.
- Organic farming practices means fewer pesticides on your food and in your community.
- Buying food grown locally lowers the carbon footprint of your food as it uses less fuel to reach you. Fruit that traveled 20 miles down the road uses far less energy than fruit shipped half way around the world.
- When you shop locally, you keep your dollars in your community which strengthens the local economy.
Stop buying. Be happy with what you have. I stopped buying clothes this year due to an expected move next summer. I need to clean out my closet, not add to it, so I made a conscious decision to not buy any new clothes for one full year. I thought it would be difficult, but I have actually found it quite freeing to know that new clothes are not an option. The added bonus is all the money I am saving! What do you typically shop for that you could say “enough is enough” for the next six to twelve months?
Reuse—Shop Second Hand
Shopping second hand keeps highly useful items from going to the landfill and can save you hundreds of dollars. Remember the saying, “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure”? I had a door in my garage for 7 years taking up valuable space. Last year I posted it for free on a neighborhood network and a couple came and got it within an hour. They were THRILLED! They needed a new door and couldn’t afford to buy one. I was thrilled to have it out of the garage. To be honest, to see how happy they were made my day. Likewise, I once needed a patio set but didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars for a new one. I looked on Craig’s List and bought an almost new set for $100. Ten years later we are still using it. Shopping second hand is the definition of a “win-win” scenario.
Clean Your Home Naturally
Switch to eco-friendly household cleaners which eliminate dangerous poisons from your home along with the plastic containers they come in. No longer will you live in fear of your children or pets accidentally getting hold of cleaners that are potentially fatal. Beyond being a better choice for the environment, you’ll also save a great deal of money as commercially packaged cleaners are substantially more expensive.
Your entire home can be cleaned with these common and inexpensive ingredients:
- Baking Soda
- White Vinegar
- Castille Soap
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Essential Oils
Here is our blog post which explains in detail how to use these ingredients to effectively, and safely, clean your home.
We use only public transportation. I sold my VW Bug in July 2019. Saving $$ on storage, insurance, gas and other maintenance.
One of the things I loved about living in Japan was never needing a car. I hope to get back to that lifestyle again. Not only do you save a tremendous amount of money, but you walk more which is so much healthier.