Here Are Ways You Can Live A Sustainable Way of Life
For ourselves and others. Easier than you think.
For Lent last year, I gave up plastic straws. Since I didn’t use them at home, I focused on not using them at restaurants. Even though it was a small contribution, I felt good about it because I believed I was making a difference for our environment.
Therefore, before this Lent season began, I was trying to think of a different way I could benefit the environment besides straws. It wasn’t until 24 hours before Ash Wednesday when an email provided an idea.
An immersion group from my college went to the Appalachian region where they not only helped those living there, but they also discovered a completely different way of living. A way of living that challenges things we take for granted such as water, energy, and food. A sustainable way of life.
Each week, the immersion group posted an email discussing their experiences while providing solutions for us to follow so we too can live a sustainable way of life during Lent. Here is my experience over the past 6 weeks.
FYI: Bullet points that are italicized I already was doing before the challenge, bold is where I challenged myself.
Week 1: Water
If you take an 8.5-minute shower, on average your using 17.1 gallons of water. For a family of 4, where each person showers every day, that is 478.8 gallons. And that is clean water.
In the Appalachian region, citizens get their water supply from the runoff of Mountaintop Removal (MTR). MTR is when large coal companies come into areas with mountains and blast off the top of the mountain with different explosives just to get the thinnest layers of coal.
This means that their limited supply of water for bathing, brushing their teeth, and cooking is contaminated.
The team challenged themselves to not shower for a week. After working in the fields and farms all day, your gag reflexes are surely being tested beyond their limits amongst each other every night. I guess you could say it was a true bonding experience.
The challenge for this week was, you guessed it, water conservation. Here were some tips they suggested:
- Don’t take a shower every day
- Take shorter showers
- Turn off the water while brushing your teeth
- Check for leaks on faucets (even a small drip can waste 50 gallons a day)
- Only run the dishwasher with full loads
- Only wash laundry when you have a full load
- Turn off the water while shampooing your hair
I figured on average I take a 10-minute shower. After timing myself for the first time, I actually take a 6-minute shower. I was shocked and proud of myself.
After multiple attempts at timing myself, the 6-minute mark didn’t change. I don’t have long hair, so to me turning off the water while shampooing my hair was pointless. What I did notice was how much more efficient I became while taking a shower. I know it sounds silly, but by focusing on cleaning myself, I prevented my brain from daydreaming too much.
We all love to sing or think in the shower, but that has a major consequence: waisting water. Try timing yourself and see how long you take a shower. If you’re unhappy with the results, then change your showering habit. You could give yourself more time in the morning instead of rushing out the door with two different colored socks on.
Like me, if you are doing any of their suggestions already, then you are helping the planet more than you thought.
Week 2: Energy
In the United States, we still rely on coal as our main energy source. Some of that coal comes from the Appalachian Region which impacts overall health and the environment. Coal pollution is linked to 4 out of the 5 leading causes of death in the U.S. Approximately 36,000 Americans die every year due to air pollution caused by burning coal
While the energy produced from coal power plants has gone down drastically, we need it to keep going down for our future generation’s health. Here are ways to lower the amount of energy used daily:
- Unplug items that are not in use. (Appliances use energy the whole time they are plugged in)
- Use your phone less.
- Turn the lights off when you leave the room.
- Know what you want from the refrigerator and freezer before you open them so the doors are not open as long.
- Use natural sunlight instead of overhead lights.
Even though major appliances like the microwave, coffee maker, and T.V. can’t be unplugged, there are everyday items you use that you don’t realize are still plugged in. Chargers for phones or laptops when not plugged into the devices, hairdryers, curling irons, straighteners, toasters, blenders, and makeup mirrors that light up are all great examples.
Regarding my phone, I love the feature on the iPhone that tells you how much on average you use your phone, along with the increase or decrease percentage compared to the week before.
When I was out of the country on vacation, not using my phone was easy to follow because of the limited WIFI. When I got back, I challenge myself not to use it as much and if there was a giant increase, make adjustments. FYI, having a puppy helps!
This is the best environmental tip to follow. When you use it as part of a weekly routine schedule, you might surprise yourself on how often you don’t need your phone!
Week 3: Sustainable Purchases
This section isn’t necessarily about what changes I made, but what resources are available for sustainable purchases. Even though “fast fashion” has changed significantly this past year, society still tells us that we constantly need more. This thought process of “needing more” and the ability to buy more is a huge privilege that those in poverty do not get to enjoy, but also get harmed by. Combined with our neglect to care about our impact demonstrates a vicious cycle where privilege remains supreme.
However, there are ways to combat this: reduce and reuse. For reducing purposes, we can borrow or swap clothes from friends/family, wear clothes you already have, or if you do buy new items, buy quality items that will last a long time.
If you love thrift shopping or donating your clothes to shelters or donation centers, then you are reusing successfully!
If you have to shop brand new, then look for companies that are conscientious of promoting and incorporating sustainability within their mission. For example, as an Administrative Assistant, I always look out for products from Office Depot that are made with recycled content such as hand soap, trash bags, legal pads, staples, tape, etc. Office Depot makes it easy by having the option to select “recycled content” when you shop. And the best part? You are not sacrificing quality.
With all of these options at our fingertips, try to remember to limit what you need to buy. Your wallet will thank you too.
Week 4: Food
In the United States, food waste is estimated to be between 30–40 percent of our food supply. This percentage encompasses all of the food waste produced from households to restaurants to grocery stores. That childhood saying “eat everything on your plate” at the dinner table is symbolically needed more than ever.
It makes me sick knowing how much is wasted considering there are adults and children who are either starving, don’t know when their next meal is, or who have to travel for miles to find nutritious food. Besides eating everything at your disposal:
- Limit waste, only get what you will eat
- Make food at home
- Eat and shop at local non-chain shops or markets
- Start a compost or find a local compost yard
- Take a day or two to go meatless unless you are allergic to seafood
These are all great ideas for ourselves individually but think about others as a way to limit food waste as well. If older people or those with disabilities can’t go to a store, go for them.
Or make a neighborhood list with one person in charge of going to the store. Or have a community pantry. In a way, the essence of food connects us all, so why not work together for the benefit of our planet.
Week 5: Plastic
The big one.
Everyone knows that it takes thousands of years for plastic to decay. While it’s decaying, microplastics are created. Microplastics are so small that we don’t even see them and they soak up all kinds of toxic chemicals. Better yet, these microplastics and the chemicals get eaten by all kinds of creatures — including us! They are in the water we drink and even the food we consume.
Until more products are made with a biodegradable material, we are stuck with plastic. Therefore we have to use the 3 Rs as much as we can: Reduce Reuse, and Recycle!
- Say NO to single-use plastics such as straws, K-cups (I really need to consider this one in my life), plastic utensils, cups, etc.
- Use a reusable water bottle
- Seek products with less packaging (these aren’t only more sustainable, but they are fresher!)
- Invest in a pack you can carry with you (utensils, straw, cloth napkin)
- BYO_ = Bring your own _____: bring your own bag (reusable bag for the grocery store), bring your own box (for takeout food, restaurants, leftovers at events), bring your own mug (when getting coffee), etc.
Reuse and Recycle:
- Reuse plastic jars or boxes for storage, crafts, or gifting
- Check-in with your local recycling center for items they can/cannot recycle
- If in doubt, throw it out: putting unclean or wrong items in a recycling bin can prevent the rest of the items from being recycled
- Reuse cleaning bottles — find recipes to make your own green cleaning products or find companies that have green cleaning products.
My father was unaware that plastic can end up in the ocean beyond the streets and landfills. Therefore, it’s important to educate ourselves while following the 3 Rs. Benefiting the environment requires getting the basics right and if we can’t do that, then our progress will seem inadequate.
Week 6: Personal Sustainability
As you can tell, living sustainably requires the mind to thinking about others throughout our everyday actions; however, it’s important to have personal sustainability too. This means we are living our best selves.
We live in a fast pace world, but sometimes we need to pump the brakes and listen to what our heart is telling us. If we need to give ourselves self-care, love, and attention, then that is what we must do. We only have so much energy stored within us and we need to refuel once in a while.
Here are ways to achieve personal sustainability:
- Eat Healthier
- Clean / Organize
- Spend time in Nature
- Spend time with friends and family
It’s important to not lose yourself during a time of helping others because if you don’t know your purpose or understand your importance, how can you help others properly? There needs to be a balance between focusing on yourself and others.
If anything disrupts that equilibrium, you are unbalanced physically, mentally, and spiritually. Being unbalanced brings about chaos and since when has chaos solved anything?
The overall goal of living sustainably was to continue doing it beyond the season of Lent. Before we know it, our privileged resources will be obliterated from our lives. It’s hard to convince others about the dire situation our planet is facing.
Sometimes it's because people refuse to believe that something will be gone forever “since it has been around throughout my life”, or they can‘t handle it because they suffer from depression and presenting this fact would be catastrophic. Maybe presenting the following solutions mentioned in this article is the best thing you can do for them.
In conclusion, it is possible to live a sustainable way of life. Incorporating these actions has really changed my life. I have become way more conscientious of my actions individually.
So far I have used my phone less (some days are better than others) unplugged devices, not in use such as my hairdryer, researched “green” products or non-single use plastic alternatives, and recycled products that I didn’t know could be recycled.
Use these tips and you will live sustainably as well, especially since the world population keeps growing. Efficiently use your resources. In the words of Harrison Ford, “people need nature, nature doesn’t need people”.