Have you ever heard the Starfish Story? If not, read it here. You don’t have to donate your car and commute by bicycle, live off grid and never buy a plastic wrapped product from a store again to live a sustainable lifestyle. You don’t have to dedicate your career to the climate crisis. It feels overwhelming sometimes, that our efforts aren’t enough, but every little action you take moves the needle, even if ever so slightly, in the right direction. We need more of that!
We’ve compiled a short, simple list of every day efforts you as an individual and consumer can make. We feel that these simple efforts can serve to offer the biggest impact possible toward a more sustainable lifestyle. We will not include the more common efforts like using a reusable water bottle or turning the sink off while brushing your teeth. You know these and chances are, already do them!
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
One of the simplest, yet most effective things you can do is be a conscious consumer.
When shopping, consider packaging. Is the packaging recyclable? Compostable? Does one brand have an excess of packaging where a competitor on the shelf has much less or none at all? Can you buy bulk in one package? When purchasing something packaged in plastic, look for plastics 1 & 2 as these are universally the most accepted plastics at recycling centers.
Look for quality in products, especially products you intend to use or wear over and over, again. These products are often (but certainly not always) more expensive and if we’re looking at it exclusively from a financial model, buy a quality back-pack for $90 and have it for ten years OR buy a cheap back-pack for $35 and need to throw it out and replace it every two years. You can do the math here! Moreover, in regard to reuse, consider having items that are ripped, broken or no longer working fixed rather than throwing out, when possible!
Finally and maybe the least favorite (because deep down, we all like shopping), do you really need that product or that bottle of water?
The food industry is arguably the biggest key player in either being a solution to the climate crisis OR being the biggest catalyst for continued deterioration and exploitation of our natural resources. It all depends on where your food comes from and who your money is going to.
Organic and Other Sustainable Certifications
When you hear people say “vote with your dollars”, choosing to buy sustainably grown, produced or harvested foods is one of the most impactful ways you can do so. Certain certifications help us, as consumers navigate the dizzying array of food items on shelves. Choosing to buy organic produce, grass fed and finished meat, eco-certified seafood, etc. is not just making a healthier choice for yourself. When you choose to buy these products you are directly supporting the grower or food producer. You are helping to chip away at the industrialized, conventional food corporations that only have profit in mind and deplete our natural resources and use toxic chemicals. At some point, if the demand is high enough, we might even see a shift in what food and food systems are subsidized in our country. THAT would be a dream come true and a win for all life on earth.
Moreover, choosing to support your local food producers and growers who adhere to sustainable practices is maybe, single-handedly the best thing you can do as a consumer. Not only are you accomplishing all of the above, choosing to buy locally, especially from farmers markets and directly from farms, cuts down on transportation, supply chain demands and packaging. Even more, you are directly elevating your local economy, keeping money in the community and giving your dollars to neighbors.
We ran some numbers for our Howe Meadow Farmers’ Market. We found that food and other products at our market travel, on average, a total of just under 28 miles to get to the market each Saturday from May 1 – Oct 30. Do you know what the average transport is for food across the globe? 1,500 miles. Food that is at our market (or any farmers market, for that matter) is likely picked the day before or day of by the farmer and driven to the market by that same farmer. Food that travels 1,500 miles goes through many, many hands from harvest, packaging, refrigeration, distribution and finally to the shelf.
The world has no shortage of food, don’t let anyone tell you different. Our problem is that we waste almost just as much food as we consume. Yes, that means that nearly half of the food we grow or produce is thrown out, especially here in the United States where we average roughly 140 billion pounds of wasted food every year. It’s important to note that much of this is not the problem of the consumer (processing and distribution problems, overproduction, transportation, etc.) but there are still some simple actions we can take as individuals. As stated above, conscious decisions at the grocery store or farmers’ markets are most impactful.
Before you go grocery shopping, do some simple meal planning to get an idea of what products and how much you’ll need to get yourself through the week. The biggest contributor to individual food waste is lack of planning and over buying.
Consider composting in your backyard or purchasing a membership to a local composting business to have them compost your food waste for you. Only 5% of food in the US gets composted and uneaten food is the largest component of municipal solid waste. In landfills, food slowly breaks down and forms methane, a greenhouse gas that is up to 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Composting food waste drastically cuts down on methane release and ultimately ends up as organic matter, something we need much more of on earth!
These, again, are simple changes you can make in your life. We’ll certainly follow up on this blog with more simple actions you can take!
To summarize, simply slowing down and being a more conscious consumer can create waves in a more sustainable economy and society. Encouraging your friends and family to do the same creates even bigger waves and many more of them. Each, single effort you make is ultimately like throwing that one more starfish back into the ocean. It makes a difference!