This is part 2 of my Reducing Plastic and Waste series (see part one here). Just to quickly recap, one of the best things we can do individually to help our world be a better place is to reexamine our consumerist habits. It may not seem like it matters, but our individual habits are one of the few things we have 100% control over. If we aren’t even willing to change our own lives to create and inspire change, how can we expect anyone else (whether it be the government, corporations, etc) to do it? The more we demand a society that fuels consumerism, the bigger the (literal and figurative) mess we are making of our planet. Now, I don’t believe all consumerism is bad–it drives our economy and has made the world a better place in many ways. But there are some very bad things about it that are wreaking havoc on our planet that we must take responsibility for.
The two steps I described in part one of this post series were to reduce our use of single-use items, and to reconsider our shopping habits. I encourage you to check out part one for more details on those steps.
In this post, I will outline three more actionable steps we can take as individuals to create and inspire change in reducing plastic waste in the environment.
Adopt a Minimalist Approach
At it’s core, minimalism is essentially intentional living. I hesitate to even use this term because I don’t want to turn people off by trying to talk about a trendy idea. However, I don’t think this is just going to be a fad, and it is what it is! So I will use the term. With minimalism, you work on a continual process (it never really ends) of eliminating things from your life that you do not need or love. If we embrace this philosophy, we can turn away from some of the worst things about consumerism by buying less and wasting less.
You do not need to become a tiny-house living, 5-item owning person to do this. There are some very extreme versions of minimalism out there, and all the power to them! But the average Joe-Schmo can do this without taking a vow of poverty.
There are a number of different minimalist philosophies out there, and I don’t necessarily endorse one particular model over another. But you can start with the Netflix documentary I suggested in part one of this post series (simply called Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things). You can also try the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Or, you can simply type “minimalism” into Google and search a wide variety of blogs on the topic. All we really need to proceed with this step are the basic principles.
The reason I suggest this as an actionable step to reducing plastic waste in our environment is because we need to get to the root of the problem: our consumer greed. Take a minute to process the fact that America is only 5% of the global population, but generates 40% of the world’s waste. (One-third of that waste is product packaging, by the way!) We can do something about this!
The biggest way to reduce our waste is to buy less stuff to begin with. This is where minimalism principles can be really helpful.
Basic Minimalism Principles
- Do not buy or keep anything that is not a true need, or that doesn’t make you happy. You are in charge of this step, there are no rules. I’m not telling you that you can’t buy something you really want just because it’s not a need. But I am challenging you to think about if the item is really going to bring you joy, or if it is just an impulsive idea that sounded neat at the time, but will end up in the trash or cluttering your house later. Be intentional about your purchases from now on.
- Find contentment in your life. Forget trying to keep up with the Joneses. The Joneses probably have a lot of credit card debt, anyway. 😉 And even if they don’t, buying more and more and chasing the next big purchase (whether it be a house, car, new clothes, whatever it is that you keep looking for) only makes us more stressed, more anxious, and more depressed. Plus it just fuels the worst things about consumerism.
- Simplify your life. Removing clutter is a big part of minimalism, but this goes beyond physical items. Remove mental clutter, or the clutter of a busy schedule as much as you can. You will be so much happier.
Donate Items You No Longer Need
This naturally goes hand-in-hand with minimalism. As you are working to declutter your home and life, you will naturally come upon things you want to get rid of. If they are in decent condition, donate them! Even if you think no one would want them, you’d be surprised. Most thrift stores have a list of items they will not take. Read it carefully to make sure you’re not just using the store as a garbage dump, but if it fits their criteria, go ahead and donate it. Donating items and giving them a second life is preferable to sending them to the garbage dump.
It’s good to do a little research on the store before you donate the items if you can. Make sure they responsibly recycle or dispose of any item they choose not to sell. Some stores just throw items in the garbage if they don’t think they can sell them. You can do your part to make sure you are donating things to a store that takes the proper steps to dispose of things they choose not to keep.
Depending on what the items are, you can call around to various homeless or women’s shelters to see if they have a need for anything you are getting rid of. There are also charities that take household items to help out lower-income families. Do a search for charities in your area and make some calls. It is an extra step than just throwing them in the garbage, but you will be so glad you took the time to do it.
When you do need something new, buy second-hand whenever possible. At the very least, just check and see if you can find what you’re looking for second-hand. If you can’t or it’s not what you would have picked for yourself, then purchase as necessary.
Let’s talk specifically about clothes for a minute. You may have heard about “fast fashion”–fast fashion is cheap clothes created to appease the newest trends. There are a lot of ethical concerns with this, first of all with the environmental impact of constant mass production of clothing that is essentially disposable, and also the fact that many of the retailers that conform to fast fashion use child labor.
Buying second-hand takes a sale away from these companies. Even if the item you buy second-hand is from one of these companies, it’s an item that they have already received money for and is already circulating in our society, so you are preventing them from receiving new purchases. Doing this is an example of voting with your dollar. It shows them that we care about people and our planet.
Perfection Isn’t Possible
I feel I need to throw this out there for some all-or-nothing personalities: you do not have to be perfect! Maybe you just absolutely cannot stand the idea of purchasing second-hand clothes, so you compromise by not purchasing new clothing for every seasonal change, but instead only purchase clothing when absolutely necessary. That is awesome!
Maybe you just want to adopt one or two new habits instead of overhauling your life. That is wonderful, too! Once you have those new habits down, maybe you’ll be up for more.
You don’t have to be an environmentalist or a “Green Peace” person to make responsible consumerist decisions that benefit our planet. It’s just a matter of choosing to live a little differently than maybe you have in the past. We will not get anywhere if we don’t live differently. Just like the quote from the Netflix documentary I shared in part one of this post series said, we can not achieve what we are trying to achieve environmentally without changing our lifestyles.
What Are You Going to Change?
I’d love to hear from you! What is one thing you think you could change that would make a difference, even if it’s a small one? What is your primary motivation for this change?