As a follow-up to my last article [Start Reducing Waste: A Simple Guide For 2021], I asked the lovely people of Instagram ‘What is the hardest part of trying to live sustainably?’ I thought, 2021 is setting itself up to be as fun filled as 2020. If we focus on how hard the low waste life is, it might just distract us from the unbearableness that is the pandemic. No?
So, my actual train of thought was that, along with a beginners/where the chuff do I start guide, it might be helpful to workout what people’s stumbling blocks are. I hope to be able to offer a few possible solutions. If nothing else though, people can take comfort that they are not alone in their green struggles. It’s ok not to have achieved zero waste.
There were some clear similarities and themes as to what people found hard about living sustainably. I’ve focussed on the responses that cropped up most. Have a gander, take comfort, share your eco successes and failures in the comments and pat yourself on the back for actually trying to live sustainably.
With lockdown upon lockdown, working out whether you can still figure skate in pairs in tier 72 and perhaps (if you’re super duper lucky) suddenly entering into a most unwelcome career in teaching, we are the very definition of overwhelmed. Turns out, attempting to live sustainably has a lot of us feeling overwhelmed.
For some of us it’s not knowing where to start. For some it’s information overload; plastic and palm oil free, vegan, locally sourced/designed/made, affordable, recyclable, reusable, home compostable, second hand, fair trade. For others it’s balancing sustainable living (which can feel like a full-time job) on top of our actual job and our supply teacher role. Or maybe, no need to brag, it’s all of these.
Slow and steady
If you’re unsure where to start, have a read of Start Reducing Waste: A Simple Guide for 2021. Not just because I wrote it, but because I think it will help. For me, the key is one thing at a time. If there is something you use a lot, something you’re about to run out of or something you’re particularly concerned about the waste it creates; start there. Look for a more sustainable alternative, if you don’t already have a suitable replacement within your own home that is.
Decide what your priority is. It is difficult to find things that tick every box. For me the priority is second hand (with affordable also being important). The beauty of second hand is it ticks so many other boxes. I’m vegetarian so I wouldn’t buy a new leather bag, but if it’s second hand then no animal has been killed for me to buy this bag. I would rather the bag gets as many lives as possible given that an animal has sacrificed its life to make it. The same principle applies to a plastic or non-recyclable second hand item.
Learn as you go
Don’t beat yourself up about your choices, see it as an ongoing learning process. If you buy a bamboo toothbrush and then later realise it was designed in the UK but made in China (yup), remember to check that next time. The chances are if you had brought a plastic toothbrush it would have been made in China too. A compostable bamboo toothbrush is still better.
If all of this is still too overwhelming or second hand isn’t your jam, consider other ways to live more sustainably. Waste less food, less water, less gas, less electricity or make less carbon emissions.
This really plays into what makes us all feel overwhelmed. Many things that are quick and convenient are bad for the planet. Making things from scratch is a great way of cutting out packaging and you know what is going into everything you produce and consume, but it often isn’t quick. Particularly when you are starting out.
There are two things that eat away at my day. The first is going the diy route; cooking, baking, cleaning, growing food, repairing clothing and crafting. The second is sourcing everything second hand. Shopping second hand takes time in terms of searching and time in terms of waiting for just what you need. If I just brought everything from the shops, new, life would be ten times easier. However, I would not be happy. In fact, I would be bloody miserable. I wouldn’t know how to cook, I wouldn’t understand how my food came to be, I would throw things out when they needed repairing and constantly have to shop to replace things.
The trick is, spend time on the things you enjoy and the things you are quick at making. I can make tortilla wraps quickly in the time it would take whatever I’m putting in them to cook. Nothing to lose. I love to repair clothing and I’d rather not shop to replace things.
Some things, sometimes, feel like a chore. Baking your own biscuits rather than grabbing a pack from the shop for instance. It’s about mindset. Baking is a nice way to unwind and process your day, baking with kids is an activity they will love, homemade will taste better than store brought (mostly). Alternatively, stick on episode 6 of Bridgerton and your biscuits will be ready in no time.
Accessibility to the more sustainable options when on a budget is understandably frustrating for many of us. Often solutions are available but we simply cannot justify the cost. I don’t think there is too much that can or should be said on this. It is absolutely ok to only live sustainably where possible and within your means.
So, with this in mind I thought I would simply share a few swaps I’ve made that I think work and are affordable. Or at least no more expensive overall than there more wasteful counterpart. All of these are also dependent on what you have available locally.
Try swapping meat for vegetables, tissues for hankies, disposable wipes and washing-up sponges for cloth wipes, bottled water for tap, packaged fruit and veg for some loose fruit and veg, a plastic straw for no straw, plastic toothbrushes for bamboo toothbrushes, single use batteries for rechargeable and plastic bottled soap dispensers for bar soap.
There are a lot more swaps that save you money in the long run but they require more money up front. For example, cloth pads or menstrual cups instead of disposable sanitary towels and tampons. However, many of us struggle to justify the upfront cost and that’s ok.
Keeping loved ones on board
This is tricky (tricky tricky tricky). You spend hours meticulously meal planning and creating a streamlined shopping list that will minimise the need for packaged food and reduce potential food waste opportunities. Your partner takes the list and does the “big shop”. Returning home with every piece of fruit and veg packaged in plastic and condiments and oils in plastic bottles rather than glass. Whilst it’s smashing they took on the supermarket it’s hard to resist the urge to throw the plastic bag of bananas at their head! THEY COME IN THEIR OWN SKIN!
Despite wanting to sit your loved ones down in front of the latest Attenborough documentary, quote Greta Thunberg at them and buy them all socks made from recycled plastic bottles; this will not win them over. If anything they will revolt and purposely start drinking all of their drinks through single use straws.
You do you
Everything you do for yourself, make it sustainable (gradually). If you usually purchase certain things for the household, make them sustainable. Everything you pay for or organise; sustainable. If there are complaints just make it known that you’re happy for people to buy something different if they want to get it. Chances are they won’t bother.
If loved ones ask about your homemade dry shampoo, enthusiastically fill them in, but try not to preach. I have found the most effective way to get others on board is just to do what I do and they will take on board whatever suits them. Often they will do it for others reasons. Get their Starbucks in a reusable cup because it saves them 25p and they love to be thrifty (not that thrifty granted otherwise they would be making coffee at home). It doesn’t matter why they do it, what matters is that it’s better for the environment.
Sustainable in every sense of the word
The planet (and you) will be happier if you do some things sustainably for the rest of your life than if you do everything sustainably for the rest of the month. Living sustainably needs to be sustainable*.
*apologies if you can no longer stand to hear the following words; sustainable/sustainably/sustainability.