Sustainability has been a hot topic lately. It has become trendy to reduce waste and the care about the environment. I have become so fascinated by this “trend”, as well as greenwashing and the ethics of the fashion industry and other big corporations. But I will say that the trendiness of sustainability is a double-edge sword. While it’s great that climate change and other environmental crises are being brought to light, leading a more sustainable lifestyle can seem a bit impractical. And by impractical, I mean expensive. If living a low-impact lifestyle involves consuming less, then why are so many sustainable swaps things that you have to buy? Why are so many people telling others to buy fancy bamboo toothbrushes, a Hydroflask (love, but I gotta call them out here lol), and fancy reusable grocery bags?
The truth is that the most sustainable thing you can do is use what you have. If you have a plastic toothbrush, use it until it no longer functions and then buy a new bamboo one. You don’t have to purchase a fancy water bottle. You can just use whatever container you already have at home.
In this blog post, I want to explore sustainable swaps you can make easily and quickly without spending a ton of money. As a precursor to this, I will say that there is evidence that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. As individuals, we can’t do much to change this. All we can do is try to make noise that will cause the huge corporations and businesses to change. Every little bit we can do counts. And it also helps us feel like we have some power over the climate crises. Our individual efforts will hopefully push big corporations to change their wasteful ways and save the planet.
Here are my easy and cheap sustainable tips and swaps:
1. Skip the Produce Bag
Believe it or not, you don’t have to put your produce in a plastic bag while shopping! You also don’t have to buy a fancy Baggu, ChicoBag, or cotton string bag. You can just put the produce in your cart and then put them on top of your other groceries so they don’t get squished while bagging. It’s that simple. For some produce items, you might need a bag. These items would be greens, herbs, and other fruits and veggies that could get messy. In that case, you’d want to invest in a reusable produce bag. However, simply not using any bag at all is something you can do that doesn’t require any money or effort!
2. Shop Secondhand
Shopping secondhand used to freak me out. I hated the smell, I hated the fact that I had no idea who had these clothes before me. What if they had lice, what if they were a hoarder? What if someone of something peed on my clothes??
I’ve come to realize all of these things were irrational fears of mine. I think the reason why I was so put off by secondhand shopping (besides the smell) was that my mom always took me and my sister to Goodwill to find Halloween costumes. So I think, somehow, the idea got into my head that buying secondhand wasn’t something that people actually do. It was only for costumes, or for poor people. These thoughts are extremely problematic, and I’m glad I’ve acknowledged and dealt with them.
Recently, I’ve gotten really into secondhand shopping, whether that be on Poshmark, in a vintage shop, or at Savers or Goodwill. Shopping secondhand is truly one of the best things you can do for the environment in my opinion. And it’s cheap. AND you can find the coolest, most unique pieces of clothing ever!
The average American throws away 80 pounds of clothing per year. Additionally, 15 million tons of textile waste is generated each year in the United States. That number keeps growing. “Of this amount, 2.62 million tons were recycled, 3.14 million tons were combusted for energy recovery, and 10.46 million tons were sent to the landfill” (source: The Balance Small Business). On top of that, clothing made with synthetic fibers (nylon, polyester) take multiple lifetimes to decompose. By donating your clothes and giving other clothes a second life, this enormous amount of waste will be a little bit less.
You can also shop for electronics secondhand. I bought my camera secondhand on Mercari and I plan on getting a new phone (when I finally have to replace my iPhone 6S) secondhand as well.
3. Stop Buying Paper Plates
I have no idea why this was a thing when I was growing up, but we used to eat certain foods only on paper plates. Makes no sense, right? “Paper plate” foods were pizza, sandwiches, and little appetizers. The most simple thing to do is just not buy paper plates. But if you’re at a party where paper or, even worse, Styrofoam plates are the only option, you can kindly ask to use a glass plate. Or you can even bring your own reusable plate. Some people might find it weird at first, but you’re making efforts to be less wasteful- which shouldn’t be shamed at all!
Paper plates only exist for human convenience. Same with plastic cups and utensils. You have to put in the effort to wash a reusable plate instead of just throwing it away. Unfortunately, lots of things like this have been normalized in American culture and many others. Which brings me directly into my next sustainable swap:
4. Say No to Plastic Straws, Utensils, and Bags
Ah yes, plastic straws. One of the most popular sustainable swaps. Many companies (aka Starbucks) have attempted to replace straws with the weird sippy-cup cap thing. The sippy-cup doesn’t really solve any problems; it still is made of plastic and is not user-friendly for people with disabilities. Lots of coffee shops have converted to paper straws. Some brands of paper straws are better than others- Aardvark ones hold up the best in my experience. But, as we all know, paper straws have a tendency to… disintegrate. So what you can do is buy your own straw if you need one. My favorite brand of reusable straws is Simply Straws. They are women owned, a member of 1% for the Planet, and a B-Corporation- which is a topic I talked about in my leggings blog post. Their straws come in many different colors, sizes, and materials. They’re an awesome company!
Simply Straws also offers utensil kits. You know when you go to a restaurant like Chipotle and they only have plastic, disposable utensils? You can buy a kit of reusable utensils for that. Or, for an even better sustainable swap, you can bring some silverware from home that you already own!
There are lots of sustainable swaps you can make while eating out. You can go to a coffee shop that uses mugs instead of disposable cups for every drink. You can bring your own glass or Tupperware to put your leftovers in instead of taking the disposable box. Another thing is to not order too much food, especially when you know you can’t take leftovers for whatever reason. Remember to also say no to all the extras when getting food to go, like the plastic cutlery along with napkins, salt packets, straws, ketchup…. the list goes on. Just say no to the extras and use what you have at home!
5. Buy in Bulk
This is one of my favorite sustainable swaps that I recently discovered. I never quite understood the bulk section in grocery stores until now. Shopping the bulk bins helps to save quite a bit of money! I recently got some bulk organic brown rice from Whole Foods and only paid $1.99 for a pound. Looking on their app right now, I can see that a pound of packaged organic brown rice goes for a little bit more than the bulk rice. However, this is when buying a three pound bag. If I bought a three pound bag of rice, a lot of it would end up going to waste. And there’s the magic of the bulk section, you can buy as much or as little of something as you want!
Shopping in the bulk section can also help minimize plastic waste. Lots of pre-packaged foods come in plastic. Rice is a great example along with nut butters, granola, oats, and coffee. In many grocery stores, you can bring your own reusable containers and tare the weight of them before filling up with product. Shopping in bulk is a win-win for you and the environment!
And there you have it! My five super easy and cheap sustainable swaps! Do you have any other insanely easy or no-brainer things you do with the planet in mind? Let me know in the comments below; let’s continue the conversation!