As I’ve learned more about the long term environmental consequences of over consumption in the clothing industry – from carbon emissions that contribute to catastrophic climate change to polyester fibers entering our oceans – I’ve simultaneously started bumping up against similar issues in my everyday consumption of hygiene products, toiletries, and food.
I’m ashamed to admit it now, but as a teenager I had this weird compulsion to leave just a little little bit of shampoo, lotion, and other liquid toiletries in their containers when I tossed them into the trash (strike two is that I rarely thought to take the bottle down from my bathroom to the recycling bin). That type of behavior was wasteful and unthinking no matter how you look at it. I’m training myself out of it, trying to remember to add a little water to the solution to get every last drop and always recycling my containers.
And, while I’m not fully on board with the Marie Kondo minimalism trend, I think we can take an important lesson from all this clearing out and wasting not hype:
Reducing our consumption in small and big ways matters.
Every single thing we consume must be created from raw materials, produced or processed in a factory, and shipped to us from who-knows-where. All of this takes energy. And then when we’re done consuming the product, whatever it may be, we’re left with plastic bottles and wrap, paper packaging and single use containers.
This isn’t just about the environment – though I think at this stage, when climate scientists say we’re experiencing the hottest year on record and it’s too late to correct course, we must start seeing the environment as more than an object for our use. This is about ecosystems and animals and people, and it’s about the entire system working correctly to biodegrade waste, filter the air, and bring us nutrient rich food.
While I suspect I’m preaching to the choir here, I want to reiterate that caring about the environment and “believing” in global warming (i.e. taking the evidence collected and analysis of trained scientists seriously) is not a political issue. It is a “I don’t want everything I love about this planet to suffer” issue, and I think we can agree on that. Making personal changes won’t change everything – we need to elect leaders who will take renewable energy and other forms of pollution reduction seriously (ahem, and caring about clean water for Indigenous peoples – sign the petition here), but we can start somewhere.
I’m also well aware of the fact that choosing sustainable options is often a matter of class and privilege. For one, having the time and money to discern between products and lifestyle habits isn’t always possible, and there are lots of towns and neighborhoods that simply don’t have infrastructures that assist in living a more environmentally friendly life. If everything at your grocery store is wrapped in plastic, you can’t immediately do anything about it, but perhaps over time you can help influence store and local policies on plastic waste.
That being said…
In addition to being an aware and active citizen, I’m ready to take the leap to a zero waste lifestyle. It won’t come all at once, and I don’t anticipate being entirely zero waste for a very long time, but I can continue to make small changes that add up.
I’ve already switched to cloth menstrual pads and it’s been an amazing, practical, easy experience overall. I don’t buy plastic water bottles. I’ve also stopped using as much plastic wrap to cover leftovers, instead covering my ceramic bowls with small plates to keep out any dust and debris in the fridge.
I use cold water when I wash my face instead of waiting for the hot water heater to do its job, thereby reducing my water usage. And I buy lots of my toiletries in bulk to reduce overall packaging waste. At the suggestion of a reader, I’m being more mindful about how much and what type of packaging ethical companies use to ship their products, too. Where possible, I opt to buy reusable products since they have a lower negative impact on our environment.
But there’s plenty more I can do. I learned a lot from my friend Holly’s recent video about her Zero Waste Sustainable Switches, so I encourage you to watch it below…
Have you reduced waste in other ways? I could use some more suggestions! It’s easy to overlook things.
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Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.