Whenever I feel overwhelmed or confused I turn back to these five Rs. They remind me of the basic principles that guide us to sustainability and in a way, they’re “foolproof.” You still don’t understand recycling? Don’t know what goes in which bin? Are you trying to pursue an ethical wardrobe? Start with these Rs. They will help you with what you can do to live more sustainably.
This word changed my life. So simple: Refuse what you don’t need. It starts by taking an inventory of your consumption. When you look at your trash, is it mainly composed of plastic? When you’re buying clothes are you buying new from fast fashion retailers? What areas of your life need you to say no?
For example, to me, the kitchen (more specifically my refrigerator) is one of the hardest areas in my home to say no to plastic. We buy food in packaging like our cashew milk. Even though it comes in a cardboard container, I know it’s lined with plastic. Instead, look for alternatives. Need toilet paper? Buy it without plastic packaging. Love Starbucks? Take your own container. It’s small changes that can make a difference.
Most importantly, know that you are refusing to support products and habits that aren’t making our environment from our personal to the earth’s environment better.
Reduce what you do need. This concept points us back to reducing the number of natural resources we need. For example, using our clothing more reduces how often we need to do laundry. Less laundry then equals less water and energy used to clean our garments.
If there is something that you cannot refuse in your life, try to reduce it. Sustainability can be that simple.
Reuse what you consume. Reusing cuts down on the need to buy new and using more resources. Thrifting is the best example. You’re reusing clothes and other items that have been used before. In return, you are extending the life of the product.
Reusing halts the need for new resources and keeps items from entering the landfill.
Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse. See how all of these go hand in hand? When you cannot refuse nor reduce, opt for items that can be recycled. Cardboard, metal, and glass along with certain plastics can be recycled. Recycling uses what we consider as “waste” and converts it into new materials. Recycling prevents us from having to use new raw materials, yet recycling still requires a lot of energy for the conversion of items.
As my husband says, “recycling is one step above landfill” and what he means is that it’s not the best option, but it’s still better than throwing something away…since there’s no “away.”
Rot the rest or aka compost. Composting is nature putting back ‘waste’ back into the ecosystem. There are a lot more items that we could compost yet we simply don’t. Food waste, paper scraps, hair and nails (yup), natural clothing fibers.
Rotting is a great way to give back the earth what came from it. I encourage you to go observe your trash and see how much you could actually be composting.
Other Rs to consider
They will help you with why you should live more sustainably.
This planet and our local environments aren’t ours to keep. Not to sound morbid, but we’re here on borrowed time and I believe that we should respect our surroundings. As someone of faith, it’s hard for me to watch something like Our Planet or look outside my window and see Pikes Peak “America’s Mountain” and believe that these beautiful sceneries happened by accident. Beauty such as this should be respected.
I refuse to believe that we need to do things the way they’ve always been done. I work with a lot of people who are 50+ years old and every time something new is suggested I hear iterations of “that’s how it’s always been done” or “this is how everyone does it,” and honestly, that’s a load of bull.
Again, going back to my faith, I believe we were made on purpose for a purpose. We aren’t meant to live like everyone else and our lives are supposed to be an example to others of the things we believe and care about. So I encourage you, rethink the system. Rethink what sustainability is now and what sustainability can be. We wouldn’t be in this environmental crisis if the way we were doing things was perfect.
Lastly, be part of the restoration. We can part take in beach and park clean ups. Donate to the restoration of coral reefs or foundations that restore damaged habitats. We live in a time of connection. Even if we ourselves cannot go and make a change, we can enable others to do the things we wish we could do.