“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a phrase we’ve heard for decades, so much so that maybe you skimmed right over it. We could all use a refresher on how these three simple words can be applied in everyday life.
The good news is there are myriad changes you can make — big and small — to reduce your carbon footprint, so let's dive into a whole range of ideas! We're adding a few new R's to the list: Repair, Replace, Rethink, and Raise Awareness. Keep in mind that you and I can’t shop (or even recycle) our way out of the climate crisis, so this is about how we can all make better choices. Pick a few that you find do-able starting today, and make a mental note for what you can do tomorrow.
- Consume less. How can we become more conscious consumers when our days are filled with instant gratification, fast shipping and ads designed to sway you to shop while you scroll? In this case you can do something by doing nothing: Take a pause and reevaluate if you actually need the item. One way to curb purchases is to simply wait 48 hours from the time of your initial discovery. Sure it takes willpower, but it’ll also have your bank account breathing a sigh of relief.
- Borrow, don’t buy. Before you invest in that new tool, look into local groups who promote a sharing economy! And, um, remember the library? The original borrow-don’t-buy resource, the libraries of today have evolved: Use your library card to listen to audiobooks with apps like Libby.
Eat your leftovers. Food waste adds up at a staggering rate: “Roughly a third of the world’s food is never eaten, which means land and resources used and greenhouse gases emitted in producing it were unnecessary.” –Project Drawdown. While part of the issue lies in industry, as an individual you can reduce the excess with more intentional grocery shopping and meal planning. And understand that "best if used by" and other dates are simply rough guides – here's a handy food-storage guide and a reminder:
In an effort to reduce food waste, it is important that consumers understand that the dates applied to food are for quality and not for safety. Food products are safe to consume past the date on the label, and regardless of the date, consumers should evaluate the quality of the food product prior to its consumption. –USDACompost if you can. And calculate your food footprint or “foodprint” to see where you’re doing well and learn how you can improve. BONUS HACK: Keep your produce in the door and your condiments in the drawer – no more "out of sight, out of mind" veggie spoilage!
- Optimize your thermostat. Save money on your electric bill and cut down on emissions — as a very general rule, 78º is cool enough in the summer, while 68º is warm enough in the winter. And if you have a Nest or smart thermostat, use ECO mode and set a schedule so it’s not running while you’re out.
- Bulk up. It sounds counterintuitive for bulk to help you reduce, but thanks to the “zero waste” trend, more places are popping up that sell goods with little to no packaging: Find a bulk retailer near you. If there isn’t one, at any store you can bring produce bags with you and choose items in minimal to no packaging, or those packaged in sustainable materials (glass is infinitely recyclable, whereas plastic can only be recycled once).
- Paper or plastic? Neither. Take reusable bags to the grocery store. And you can drop the “I forgot my bag” excuse with colorful, durable Baggu bags made from recycled nylon that pack down to fit in your pocket or glovebox. Not all reusable bags (or straws for that matter) are the eco-friendly option we’ve been sold, so the best option is to use what we have, and make informed choices when it’s time to shop.
- Nix single-use items. When it’s time to buy more paper towels, reach for a Swedish dishcloth instead; just one can replace as many as 17 rolls of paper towels! And cloth napkins at the dinner table are a great option if they’re made with sustainably sourced material. Bonus Points: Launder in cold water to save energy.
Stay hydrated with refills. Around the world, nearly a million plastic bottles are purchased every minute. Opt instead for a reusable container or a water filter and the glasses you already own. Plastic is problematic for many reasons, and whereas aluminum can be recycled many times, it unfortunately must be mined (causing its own set of environmental and human concerns) –
The only truly sustainable way to drink water is from a reusable bottle, a glass, or from a drinking fountain. –Treehugger
- Know the rules. Recycling only works if items make it into the system properly, so familiarize yourself with local recycling rules, or find a helpful resource like this one. Not sure if a certain item is okay for curbside? A quick Google search of “recyclable items + your county” is a quick way to find out. Clean what goes into your curbside bin (no greasy pizza boxes!), and take air-filled packing plastic and grocery bags to the grocery store for dropoff; some stores even collect styrofoam containers.
- Be smart with smartphones. When it’s time for a new phone, most carriers will give you an envelope to mail in your old phone so they can properly recycle it. And when Apple inevitably rolls out a shiny new must-have (including laptop computers), check out the Apple recycling program.
- Go beyond the blue bin. Putting a cardboard box in the curbside bin may feel good, and not to be discouraging but as we’ve discussed on past Earth Days, the impact of recycling and the recycling industry itself is sadly in question. So let’s explore another set of R-words that can help make a difference!
- Household fixes. Putting in a little effort to fix that wobbly chair can buy you many more years of use — and keep things out of a landfill. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be functional; be inspired by the ancient Japanese practice of mending broken pottery using golden lacquer, called kintsugi, and embrace the wabi-sabi nature of life. Or have some Sugru on hand, you’ll be shocked (and proud) of what you can repair!
- Stitch before you shop. As we mentioned when sharing tips for simplifying your wardrobe, try to mend items that are fixable before you rush to replace. Download the ebook version of Visible Mending to turn those fixes into moments of personal expression. Or just grab some needle and thread and get it done.
- A bright idea. This one’s easy: Got a busted lightbulb? Swap out incandescents, halogen and compact fluorescents (CFLs) with an energy-efficient LED bulb.
- Be an energy star. Consider energy efficiency when it’s time to replace an appliance (and look for rebates in your area).
- Where’s the beef? Consider skipping meat one day a week: Use MeatFreeMonday’s calculator to see how many tennis-court sized swaths of the rainforest you’ll spare from deforestation! As you can see, producing beef consumes far more water, land and other resources than protein-rich plants like beans. Even small dietary changes add up, and luckily there are more and more tasty alternatives — we’re not saying the Impossible™ Whopper® is healthy for you, but it is healthier for the planet.
- Efficiency everywhere! Think about energy consumption at home but also everywhere you go: hotel rooms where they leave the HVAC running. At the office. Even how you get from home to these places; a bike ride or stroll is better for your body, too, and public transport is an eco-conscious choice if that’s an option for you.
- Altitude adjustment. Instead of flying on a plane for a meeting, flex your Zoom skills and persuade the group to meet remotely. And if you must fly, pick the route with the fewest connecting flights.
- Break the fast-fashion cycle. That affordable clothing has a high hidden cost. Not only will skipping those cheap-clothing purchases help keep clutter from piling up at home, it helps cut back on consumer waste altogether. See how your favorite clothing brands rate on sustainability (and find a new fave if yours doesn’t measure up ethically).
- Put your (re)thinking cap on. Get creative with donations in your community! An art teacher may appreciate gently used supplies, and a local animal shelter may welcome your old (clean) bath towels. Carefully choosing your donation center can be the difference between something having a second life and it ending up in a landfill.
- Figure your footprint. Calculate your carbon footprint to get an idea of your impact. As you click through the questions, you’ll learn loads about what’s contributing to your footprint — and ways to reduce it.
- Think globally, act locally. Another common phrase that hopefully hasn’t lost its meaning, because it’s a good one! Shop locally in lieu of online. Sign up to volunteer with local groups. Call your state legislators to voice support for new eco efforts. Join 1% for the Planet. Ask trusted friends to hold you accountable to your personal sustainability goals. Find what’s important to you, and get involved!
Gain perspective. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by well-intentioned advice, and to wonder if one person can really make a difference. The answer, frankly, is no — it’s going to take many, many people a very long time with a lot of intentional effort. Before you throw in the towel (er, donate it to an animal shelter), spend some time flipping through Project Drawdown’s data-driven approach and know that the best minds are working towards the sustainable future we can achieve together.
No one company, country, or individual can solve climate change, and current efforts to curb emissions are nowhere near enough to keep warming below 1.5°C. To achieve drawdown, businesses must shift their entire operations to address the scope, magnitude, and urgency of the problem within this decade, and use their influence to transform entire sectors. Employees can help make it happen. –Climate Solutions at Work, by Project Drawdown
At Distil Union, we’re committed to doing our part as a business. And as designers we strive to create durable, classic everyday essentials that can make life a little better. For example, a pair of our “unbreakable, unshakeable” sunglasses that you’re less likely to lose means one less pair of sunnies lands in a landfill. But please, don’t spring for a new pair unless you actually need ‘em (see Tip #1).