As the human race continues to proliferate, the global population is currently on track to number 8.6 billion people by the year 2030. This has raised a number of significant concerns regarding the negative impact that humans have on the environment, which in turn has inspired more people to find new methods aimed at reducing the alarming amount of waste that we generate around the world.
Unfortunately, this concept is easier said than done, as entire global and trading networks depend on the current fractured and unsustainable system in order to generate profit. Many industries continue to operate regardless of adverse environmental consequences, because the alternative means that these companies will lose money or go out of business. Because of this, consumers are also dependent on the same broken systems, unless we take specific steps to break out of the cycle.
Environmental conservation is not a new concept for those who grew up in the latter half of the 20th century, as there became a noticeable increase in the effort to shift global attitudes towards sustainability. This was evident with the creation of characters like Captain Planet, who taught kids the importance of being conscious about how their everyday decisions can impact the planet. “Recycle. Reduce. Reuse.” became the mantra of an entire generation.
The consequences of ignoring the inevitable could be devastating to future generations. This includes things like global food shortages due to the drastically declining bee population, which is thought to be caused in part by loss of natural habitat. Deforestation also causes loss of topsoil, which contributes to flooding, in addition to the extinction of numerous animal and plant species.
Change isn’t always easy, but it can start with little steps. Small but conscious adjustments will help to alleviate our individual impact, and if we all do this together, we have the potential to make a huge difference. Here is a great guide on how to be a more sustainable consumer.
Reduce Your Consumption
The first and easiest step would be to reduce your consumption. This involves decreasing the typical amount of shopping and spending that you may be used to. We live in a consumer society, which emphasizes that old things should be thrown out so that new ones can be purchased, as opposed to repurposing, mending, or up-cycling old materials.
For instance, you can rinse out and reuse old food containers instead of purchasing Tupperware; tubs used for yogurt, butter, cream cheese, and salsa are excellent for saving leftovers, and if you want to give someone else food, you don’t have to worry about getting the container back. Empty glass jars for pasta sauce or jam can also be repurposed for a variety of things, like storing fresh herbs or flowers, and they also make a great alternative for plastic water bottles.
When you drive to the store, you are burning fossil fuels, which contributes to air pollution, so it is important to be conscious about how many trips you make, and to walk whenever you can. Walking or riding a bike is a great way to get exercise and help the environment at the same time.
Make Simple Swaps
Plastic waste is one of the biggest issues our planet faces, which is why many people opt to bring their own reusable grocery bags as opposed to using the disposable ones that stores provide. Reusable bags fit more food, are more durable, and can have a huge impact on reducing plastic waste.
Other helpful swaps can include replacing disposable items like paper towels. Instead of throwing out old cloth t-shirts, they function perfectly as cleaning rags. You can also make your own soaps and detergents at home with simple ingredients at a fraction of the cost, and store them in old spray bottles. (After a thorough rinsing, of course.)
Choosing to purchase cloth made from hemp as opposed to cotton can have a big environmental impact as well, because hemp plants use considerably much less water, pesticides, and land mass than cotton does. In addition, hemp is an incredible phytoremediator, which means it excels at removing metals and toxins from soil, so it literally cleans the earth. When you make these simple swaps, you are helping to facilitate a healthy planet.
Research Companies & Brands
A big obstacle comes in the form of powerful special interest groups, who have the resources to combat sustainability efforts that they perceive as an attack on their livelihood. For example, “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss, which is a story that warns about the dangers of deforestation, was banned in 1988 by school districts in California because the region relied heavily on the logging industry.
However, many companies are starting to understand that sustainability is now a huge consideration for many consumers, which is why it’s important to research the companies and brands that you purchase from, so that you can see for yourself what kind of efforts they make to reduce their global impact.
This applies to every company that you purchase from, including your food, hygiene, and even CBD products. Making an effort to find out the environmental impact of a company can also lead them to make changes that will accommodate the growing concern of sustainability.
Double-Check Your Investments
This concept also applies to those who have 401K or IRA accounts, which is why it is important to double-check your investments. This may be a particularly difficult change, because you might find out that you are making money from a company who has values and practices that run contrary to your own beliefs. In the best case scenario, you should be able to financially benefit from companies who also care about their global impact.
A really easy way to reduce consumption is to shop used, which means going to thrift stores and flea markets instead of Target or Walmart when you need to purchase something. This can provide multiple benefits because you will end up saving money, and in some cases find products that have a higher value for a lower price. Best of all, it doesn’t end up in a landfill. It is also a great opportunity to support small, local businesses.
Dispose of Waste Sustainably
In Japan, they have an incredibly extensive system of laws that are designed to help people dispose of waste sustainably. All garbage is sorted into several different categories of compost and recycling that are color coded, with each type having its own collection schedule. The bags that are used for disposal are even linked to individual households, so if waste is not put in the proper container, it will be returned to the offending household in order for the issue to be corrected.
While most countries do not adhere to such strict protocols, in the United States we are still encouraged to sort our trash and recyclable items. Often, a product’s packaging will provide instructions on what type of recycling it can be used for. In addition, it’s good to get into the habit of selling or giving away items that still work, instead of just throwing them out. Although it is an inconvenience in the short term, the long term impact will be worth it if we want to leave a healthy planet for future generations.
Focus on Improvement
It may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s not hard to find small ways to make a difference in our everyday life. Once you start that initial shift in mindset, it becomes easier to find even more methods of promoting sustainability. If everyone works together, we can really start to tackle the very serious environmental issues that impact our planet.