Written by: Sarah Haley
The UN World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
There are multiple definitions for the word “sustainability” depending on the context it’s used in. For example, there is environmental sustainability, sustainable living, sustainable travel, sustainable fashion, and even sustainable gardening.
The UCLA Sustainability Committee’s charter defines sustainability as “the integration of environmental health, social equity, and economic vitality in order to create thriving, healthy, diverse and resilient communities for this generation and generations to come.”1
In simplest terms, sustainability is about taking care of the planet so that our future children have a prosperous and nourishing home. This can mean reducing personal carbon emissions, purchasing green products, educating yourself on the environment, or limiting plastic waste.
Anyone can start reducing their environmental footprint and living a more sustainable lifestyle.
To get you started, here are six sustainable tips to help ensure a healthy world for future generations.
1. Purchase Metal Straws
Single-use plastic straws are hard to escape from. Many fast-food restaurants, bars, and coffee shops still supply them to customers with iced drinks. In addition to businesses, people still buy them in bulk for their drinks at home.
Shockingly, single-use plastic straws are actually among the top ten contributors to plastic marine waste. In fact, during a five-year cleanup research project in the U.S., approximately 7.5 million plastic straws were found on U.S. shorelines.2
Plastic straws pose a threat to marine life in multiple ways. Threatened and endangered sea turtles are especially at risk because they mistake floating plastic debris for food and consume it.3
Compostable straws are an alternative to plastic straws, but they still aren’t great.
Compostable straws require oxygen and sunshine to break down in most cases. Since both oxygen and sunshine aren’t readily available in oceans and landfills, these “compostable” plastic straws can end up being just as bad.2
To avoid contributing to the plastic straw waste problem, purchase some reusable metal straws. They are durable, easy to clean, reusable, and environmentally friendly.
Metal stainless steel straws can be purchased online or from local stores. You can even find metal straws that fold up and can attach to a keychain for easy use on the go.
2. Pay Attention to your cleaning products
Having a clean home and work environment is important to maintain good health. But, it can be hard to know what cleaning products are bad for the environment.
If you look at the ingredients on the back of a cleaning product, they are mainly chemicals with long, foreign-looking names. These chemicals often have adverse effects on ecosystems.
The best way to find eco-friendly products is to look for products with verified eco-labels. These eco-labels are certified by organizations like the Green Seal and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Eco-labels are marks on a product's packaging that tell a consumer if it meets specific environmental performance criteria.4
One of the main reasons why it’s critical to purchase green cleaning products is because they are often released into the environment through drainage systems.
The next time you are at the store picking up cleaning supplies, try paying extra attention to what the labels say and look for products with eco-labels.
For more information on environmentally friendly cleaning products, check out NBC News’ 15 best eco-friendly cleaning products, according to experts.
3. Start Composting
There are many benefits to having a compost. It creates a fantastic plant fertilizer with tons of essential nutrients for plant growth, improves soil, and helps control weeds.
But, composting is not only for gardeners.
Composting can also help reduce garbage volume and decrease the need for costly watering.5
Each year in the United States, 30% of the materials landfilled and incinerated are food scraps and yard trimmings. If all the organic waste got composted instead of thrown away, it would eliminate one-third of the waste sent to landfills and trash incinerators.6
If you want to start a compost at home, check out Green Mountain Blog’s composting for beginners. If you don’t want to build your own, but you’re still interested, look up your community's local composting service to get started.
4. Start Thrifting
Thrift shopping is good for the environment and good for your wallet too.
When you purchase clothes from local thrift shops, you help the environment in a variety of ways. Not only are you reducing excess waste from packaging, but you are also reducing shipping carbon emissions.
When you order clothes online, you contribute to the plastic waste problem and the burning of fossil fuels. Many online stores will individually wrap each piece of clothing you purchase. So, if you buy ten items of clothing, you will also receive ten plastic packages that will most likely end up in a landfill.
To save a few dollars and avoid excess packaging, try shopping at a thrift store. Plus, when you choose to thrift, you are also helping your community and its local businesses.
5. Go a Day Without Eating Meat
The meat industry is known for its controversial impact on the environment. On the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) website, it mentions that “more agricultural land is used to raise cattle than all other domesticated animals and crops combined.”7
Additionally, the meat industry has an enormous water footprint. On average, it requires 1,766 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef and 576 gallons to produce one pound of pork.
For comparison, corn requires 108 gallons and soybeans 216 gallons.8
But, It doesn’t stop there.
The meat industry is also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane. Ruminant livestock actually accounts for 7-18% of global methane emissions.7
So, the next time you are planning your weekly shop, try going a day without eating meat. For some meatless meal inspiration, check out the food network's favourite vegetarian recipes.
6. Stop Wasting Your Food
When living in a consumer world, it’s hard to notice how much food goes to waste. Shockingly, 1.3 billion tonnes (or one-third) of food produced for human consumption is wasted or lost globally.9
There are multiple problems associated with food waste. Farming, producing, and shipping food require the burning of fossil fuels. Greenhouse gases are also emitted during these processes.
Additionally, the large quantities of water needed to produce food are also wasted when food is. For example, if 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted globally, then approximately 45 trillion gallons of water are also wasted.10
An Olympic-sized swimming pool holds about 660,253 gallons of water.11 Therefore, the amount of water wasted globally equates to 68.2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Another problem is that not everyone has proper access to food. According to a United Nations report, in 2019, almost 690 million people in the world were undernourished.12
If you want to reduce the amount of food you waste, check out the spruce eats for recipes to make with your food scraps.
Another good tactic to reduce food waste is to plan out weekly meals and grocery lists. Pre-planning will ensure that you use everything you buy and that you don’t overshop.
Sustainability is necessary to ensure future generations have a prosperous world to live in.
If you want to live a more sustainable lifestyle, start with minimizing your environmental footprint.