The R's of Sustainable Living
I have come across many different R’s connected to living sustainably. Many of them have similar meanings and ultimately the aim is to reduce the impact on the environment. I have tried to compile some of the key things to consider when thinking about changes you can make to live more sustainably.
This is the first step to living more sustainably as the other steps all involve thinking about and understanding natural resources and how limited they are. Every choice we make about our consumption has an impact, so we need to stop and think. Do I need it? How will I use it? What is its impact? What can I do differently? Rethinking may take more preparation and thinking ahead however it will lead to you changing the way you make decisions and therefore changes in your lifestyle which should reduce your impact on the environment.
Refuse and Reduce
Refusing and Reducing are both about using or consuming less. You can refuse and reduce in a couple of ways. You can refuse to buy unnecessary products, single use products or products with excess packaging. You can also refuse to support companies or products that harm the environment. Thinking about a purchase carefully may help you to avoid unnecessary products, question your need for it and how much use you will really get from it. By being prepared you can more easily opt for packaging free products or avoid single use items for example carrying bags, straws, bottles etc. with you. Shop in refill stores where you can buy items without packaging by reusing containers you already have. You may also have the power to choose products that are less harmful to the environment such as more natural cleaning products or getting your energy from green companies. By refusing to use certain products you may also begin to reduce what you use. Another way to reduce is to think about your use of water, electricity and gas in your home. Simple steps like turning off lights when you’re not in the room, not leaving appliances on standby and turning off the tap when brushing your teeth. These things will also help you to save money, so an added bonus. When buying items designed for multiple uses try to buy the best quality products you can to reduce the number of times you need to replace items. This won’t always automatically mean the most expensive. Do some research and find products that will last.
Reuse and Repurpose
Many items may be considered single use but really this is only the case if they are only used once before being disposed of. Reusing and repurposing aims to extend the lifespan of items and prevent the, from ending up at landfill or needing to be recycled. Creative thinking can be helpful in finding ways to reuse or repurpose items. If you are short on ideas the internet can be a great source of inspiration. Even if you can’t reuse an item, someone else may be able to. Again, the internet can be great for this as there are many sites or groups where you can offer items to other people either for free or by selling on. Reusing or repurposing items you have is more sustainable than buying new as it reduces the need for new materials to be used. A simple jar offers many opportunities for repurposing. I have used them for storing loose dried foods, making my own pickled beetroot, storing rolled up wax wraps, storing homemade beauty products, making calm down jars for my children and I hope to come up with more ideas.
When an item becomes damaged or no longer works it can be really tempting to just throw it away. However so often it may be possible to fix or repair the item to extend its lifespan and save it from going to landfill or being recycled. Clothing is often quite simple to repair – if you have the necessary tools and skills. I did recently repair a pair or my daughter’s trainers as the part that held a loop in place came away. I managed to sew it back on meaning she could continue to use them rather than going out and buying new (saving resources and money!). Electrical items also can often be repaired. This may involve someone with a bit more skill, but it is possible to find people. You may find ‘Repair Shops’ advertised on social media sites or in your local press. Or you may have a friend with useful skills who may be able to help you out. I will be honest this is something I need to work on thinking more about.
Food and some other products can be disposed of through rotting or composting. It is important to understand the difference between something being biodegradable and compostable. Biodegradable means something will break down into smaller and smaller pieces sometimes these pieces will still be toxic to the environment. If something is compostable it will have been certified to break down into non-toxic products. Sometimes this can be down in your home compost bin however at other times it will need to be sent to industrial composting which your council may provide. Not all biodegradable items are compostable, so it is important to know the difference and check carefully before you compost things. Home composting can be a great way to deal with certain food wastage and some other items such as egg boxes, paper shredding and garden waste. By disposing of these at home or in council composting schemes it saves the items being sent to landfill where very often they will not break down in the same way as the conditions are not ideal and this leads to the release of greenhouse gases. The bonus of home composting is a supply of compost to use in your garden. If you don’t need all the compost you can also give it to friends and family.
If an item or product is no longer usable recycling may be an option but hopefully this would come after considering the other alternatives. Traditional landfill can result in harmful chemicals and greenhouse gasses being released from the rubbish. Recycling will help to reduce the amount of pollution caused as there will be less waste. When using raw materials to make new products huge amounts of energy are needed through recycling, natural resources can be saved and much less energy is required. Recycling varies greatly depending on where you live which can make it a bit confusing for people. Also, many products do not make it whether they can be recycled or not which can lead to people recycling the wrong things or not recycling them at all. It is important to check the guidance given by your local area for recycling. However, there are also other ways you can recycle. Local supermarkets will often have large recycling bins available for items such as glass and clothing. TerraCycle is continually increasing the number of products they will accept for recycling so definitely worth looking into them to find out more. Your local council may also have recycling facilities at their Household Waste Sites so worth checking with them too. They may be able to accept items such as electrical goods and scrap metal.
Thinking about and trying to follow these R’s of sustainable living will help to reduce your impact on the environment. You may not be able to do all of these but even a few changes will have an important impact.