Living sustainably means living a life that does not negatively affect the environment around you. This includes not wasting resources like food, energy, resources and water. There are lots of things that factor into sustainable living, from the residential aspect of how you live at home, to the wider political, economical, environmental and commercial factors- all of which you can help influence.
In a way, we’re lucky that it’s currently fashionable to live sustainably– with reusable mason jars being popular at the moment, upcycling being trendy and televised. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not going to last, however. Right now, we have a choice. We can keep generating unnecessary waste and creating pollution, or we can commit to the concept of living sustainably, and conserving the planet we live on.
But is it really that bad? Do we really have to worry about this? Short answer, yes. Long answer, hella yes. Let’s take a mental journey right now, of a simple plastic bag.
First of all, billions of years ago, a bunch of ancient creatures die, and fall to the bottom on the sea bed, and are squashed by the atmostpheric pressure for millenia. Oil is formed. Then, someone taps into this oil with a rig, brings it to the surface, where it’s transported to a refinery, where it is turned into loads of different polymers and mostly useful commodities. These materials are then transported to factories, where they are processed, coloured, heated and moulded through lots of technical machines. In our case, out pops thousands of rolls of plastic bags, which get transported to supermarkets up and down the country, and placed on the shelves amongst the potatoes and apples.
Here’s where you come into it. Along comes a shopper, pulls a bag or two off the roll (although there’s almost always one that’s already been pulled off and left on the loose carrots, but no-one wants to use that one). The shopper puts a loose onion in, ties is, puts it in their trolley with a few other loose veg. It’s then taken home, the onion is taken out and the bag gets thrown in the bin. Let’s pause here. This is the point where most of use stop thinking about the bag… however, let’s go on.
So the bag is then typically thrown inside another, thicker bag, which gets chucked in the wheely bin, collected by the bin man and taken to the landfill where it is dumped. Now what? Well, scavenging animals are going to get what they can from that landfill. They chew open plastic bags to get at the food waste within. They’ll pick through it, discarding the bits that don’t taste great, and it’s quite likely that the little plastic bag we’ve been following could get loose and blown away in the wind. Eventually, it’ll get blown into a water supply and it’ll make its way into the sea. This is where it gets interesting. As we all know, in the sea, plastic bags are often mistaken for jellyfish, and eaten by fish, whales, turtles… but this isn’t the only way they’re eaten.
We all know that plastic doesn’t biodegrade – biodegrading being a natural process where smaller organisms consume the waste, turning it into organic matter – but it does photodegrade in the sun. Photodegradation however, just breaks the plastic into smaller and smaller pieces, until we have millions of tiny pieces of plastic just hanging around in the sea. These small polymers get consumed by small organisms, fish and absorbed by plants and miscellaneous sea life. It is estimated that over 50% of all the fish in our sea contain plastic. This means, without a doubt, that we are consuming plastic and the majority of plastic, as a fact, is a toxic carcinogen. Even if you don’t eat fish, other animals that we eat are fed fish and fish is used also for organic fertiliser so it’s getting into plants we eat too. We can’t avoid it… but we can stop it getting worse.
So what can we do? What can I do? It’s simple:
- We make the conscious decision to make eco-sensible choices.
- We reduce demand for disposable products.
- We increase demand for sustainable products.
- We educate those around us.
What are these eco-sensible choices? They can be as simple as using cotton produce bags instead of the little plastic one we followed above. We can use a reusable bottle instead of buying bottled water. We can use refillable pens instead of discardable biros. We take our own tupperware to the deli instead of getting a single use plastic salad box every day. We purchase a good quality raincoat instead of getting cheap cag-in-a-bags that are going to break within a few months. We look after our clothes and belongings so that we can donate or sell them on when we no longer need them. We can use a refillable lighter instead of buying plastic ones whenever we lose ours. You can make these changes to your habits now to reduce your environmental impact. You can start using reusable alternatives to disposable products – for example facial wipes, cling film, plastic cups can all be replaced with washable cotton wipes, waxed cotton wraps and reusable cups.
You can also put pressure on companies and corporations by taking active actions. Active actions include returning unnecessary packaging to the company that produced it, or (recently becoming very popular) leaving it at the supermarket checkout. You can practice Consciencious Commerce by buying products that aren’t heavily packaged, that are seasonally available and locally sourced. Also, importantly, we can lead by example, and use social pressure to encourage others to do the same.
There’s a lot we can do without making major sacrifices to convenience, and I think that most of us feel guilt that we are destroying this beautiful planet for future generations of all species. On the grand scale of it, I’m happy to be slightly inconvenienced whilst generating new habits if it means we get to keep our planet that bit healthier.
Drinking straws. Plastic forks. Juice cartons. Moisturiser bottles. Vitamin blister packs. Cotton bud stems. Bottle tops. Hairbrushes. Chewing gum tubs. Coffee stick packets. Crisp wrappers. Bubble wrap. Ink cartidges. Biros. Razors. Keyrings. Cracker toys. Air fresheners. Takeaway containers. Tampon applicators. Bin bags. Card wrappers. Cucumber packaging. Confetti. Cling film. Just think about it. Think about where they came from and where they go. Think about what you can do.