By Khera Alexander
Conversation around living a greener lifestyle continues to garner more attention, but what does that actually mean? Is it affordable? Can it really make a difference? Living ethically and sustainably is a journey that takes time to cultivate and maintain, with no singular way to do it. However, if you’re looking for some small steps you can take to make a difference in your own way, consider these 7 ways you can live and shop a little greener.
1. Rethink your everyday essentials and switch to reusable and eco-friendly items.
No one can deny the convenience of taking a short trip to a local drugstore chain to pick up another toothbrush or the ease of ordering household items online from Amazon, but there are ways to maintain that ease without having a negative impact on the environment. About half of the 300 million tonnes of plastic produced each year is for single-use and other disposable items (like that toothbrush) waste resources, leach toxins, and can take hundreds of years to decompose. Many of us have gotten comfortable with using something once and throwing it away, but purchasing items that are reusable or made of recycled materials is a helpful first step towards living more sustainably and being eco-friendly. There are options available for just about any everyday item you may need. From paper towel substitutes to reusable bags and beauty products, many sustainable and environmentally friendly products exist.
2. Shop and eat locally or grow your own produce.
While shopping and eating locally is not accessible to everyone, if you’re able, there are several benefits to it: it’s a financial investment in your local community, you have a better understanding of where your money goes and who it helps, and most often, the food you purchase is sourced from a farmer right in your city or province, which helps reduce packaging waste and gas emissions that arise from transportation. These benefits of local shopping and eating are direct results of community-driven actions taken towards sustainability. You may not be able to get everything on your list, but picking up your produce from a local shop or farmer’s market is an action that helps you, others, and your environment.
“You may not be able to get everything on your list, but picking up your produce from a local shop or farmer’s market is an action that helps you, others, and your environment.”
If you’re interested in taking on a personal project, growing your own produce is an alternative to purchasing locally. You don’t need a ton of space to grow vegetables, fruits, and herbs, either — you could start with a container or a small box that can fit comfortably by a window. This is a larger undertaking than simply heading to your local store, but growing your own food can be an enjoyable and meditative way to spend your time — and you happen to be doing something that’s eco-friendly in the process.
3. Rent, repair, shop secondhand, or invest in sustainable clothing and accessories.
Finding trendy or runway-inspired clothing at a reasonable price is ideal for just about anyone, but fast fashion heavily pollutes the environment and exploits poor garment workers around the world. To produce fashionable, affordable clothes, businesses use cheap and toxic materials and inhumane working conditions, making trends available for purchase in as little as two to four weeks. Most of these laborers are women, and almost all of them do not earn a living wage. If none of these harsh realities sit well with you, there are several ways you can be a more conscious clothing shopper.
A great method is to purchase clothes made sustainably. Though there is no singular definition, “sustainable, ethical fashion” can be thought of as clothing, shoes, and accessories that are made in the most mindful ways possible, with positive environmental and socioeconomic impacts factored in their production. All elements of the production process, from the type of materials used (whether it be recycled, organic, or a combination), how it’s made, and who makes it, to the transportation process is considered and designed to contribute to sustainability. While purchases from brands like Free Label, Tentree, Brother Vellies, Omi Woods, or Girlfriend Collective are investments — sustainably made pieces don’t have fast fashion prices — you can feel good about where your items come from and they will last you for years.
“Although purchasing sustainable clothes is a wonderful alternative, it’s a luxury and privilege that isn’t available to all of us. If paying for an eco-friendly item is something you can’t do, you still have options.”
Although purchasing sustainable clothes is a wonderful alternative, it’s a luxury and privilege that isn’t available to all of us. If paying for an eco-friendly item is something you can’t do, you still have options: try sewing up holes or tears in any worn clothes you already have and shopping second hand. There are several stores that provide quality used clothing at affordable prices, from your local thrift store to boutique in-store and online vintage shops.
Another way to be a little greener is by renting clothes. Canadian rental platforms like dresst or The Fitzroy give you the feeling of having gone shopping without constant consumption and a lot of clothes piling up in your closet. For a fee, these services will ship a select number of items right to your door and you can wear them for an allotted amount of time. All you have to do is ship the clothes back (often for free) and the company will take care of cleaning the items for the next rental.
4. Repair, shop secondhand, and try purchasing other sustainable goods.
Most, if not all of us love a good deal on things like electronics and home furnishings. Being able to spend money on items we consider fairly priced and of value is important, but we often don’t have the full scope of the damage it can do to the people that made it, our own bodies, and our planet. In 2019, electronics contributed to 53.6 million tonnes of waste globally, and in the United States alone, over 12 million tonnes of furniture is thrown out every year. There are smaller, simpler steps you can take to be more environmentally friendly if you need a new nightstand or another smartphone.
If you have a tablet that’s glitchy or a chair with a wobbly leg, try repairing it first. Taking the time to send a product in or fix a piece of furniture as a DIY project can save you a little to a lot of money, depending on the item. Many times, we can be more interested in replacing or repurchasing things because of how affordable a product might be or to simply have something new, but the items we’re quick to throw away are salvageable and might just need a little sprucing up.
“Many times, we can be more interested in replacing or repurchasing things because of how affordable a product might be or to simply have something new, but the items we’re quick to throw away are salvageable and might just need a little sprucing up.”
Have you ever considered purchasing electronics and furniture second hand? If not, this option is a way to have exciting, new items while reducing the number of products that end up in landfills. Refurbished electronics, furniture stores, vintage shops, and community-based marketplaces are an internet search away, and they can save you money while you take home a product that’s as good as new or unique with tons of character.
If you need a new couch or new headphones, try shopping with environmentally friendly brands. While we can’t ignore that eco-friendly electronics can be harder to find, brands like The House of Marley and Nimble provide products made from natural and recycled materials. Furniture and other home goods that have been made sustainably are also not the easiest to find and are more expensive, but if you can afford to invest in eco-friendly furniture, it’s something worth considering — and there are brands making quality, timeless items that will outlast any furniture that was made with cheap materials, preventing you from throwing out goods every few years when you move or redecorate.
5. Purchase from B Corp businesses.
Businesses that are B Corporations operate with the environment and people in mind. These certifications are given by B Lab, a non-profit organization that created standards for environmental and societal change organizations need to meet in order to be certified. Certified organizations don’t just focus on money — making a positive change is integral to their business goals as well.
B Corp companies use their businesses and profits to address environmental issues, social inequalities, and treat their employees fairly. Not all businesses are able to become certified; the process is extensive and rigorous, which adds a level of legitimacy and credibility to any business that successfully becomes a certified B Corporation. To be certified means that the company operates ethically and does exactly what they claim to do, from their production processes and work environments to their environmental and societal initiatives. If you want to be more eco-friendly, you can put your money toward buying products from certified organizations that align with your ethics and beliefs. In doing so, your money can contribute to the environment, the community, and employees.
6. Recycle, donate, and sell thoughtfully.
Instead of reflexively putting items you no longer want in the trash, consider donating them or selling them to family, friends, or on online marketplaces and consignment shops. In many cases, people would love to purchase an item you already own because they can’t afford the full price or have to prioritize more important purchases. You can help them by donating, gifting, or selling your pieces.
There will always be items that you won’t need more than once after you’ve used it or unboxed it. Recycling the right things as much as you can is a helpful way to reduce trash and responsibly get rid of items. Recycling is different depending on where you’re located — you may need to do some research to properly dispose of items in your area — but there are a couple of things you should keep in mind as you recycle. Clothing, containers with leftovers, food waste, appliances, electric cords, plastic bags, and propane cylinders can’t be recycled alongside your traditional (clean) glass, steel, and paper products. Confirm what can be recycled in your area and learn how to responsibly dispose of these items. Combining recyclable material with what can’t be recycled will not be organized by someone else — and your entire collection of items could end up in the trash.
“Combining recyclable material with what can’t be recycled will not be organized by someone else — and your entire collection of items could end up in the trash.”
In addition to the packaging we recycle, our old appliances and smartphones should be disposed of more mindfully. The University of British Columbia reported that in 2016, only 20% of our global electronic waste — otherwise known as e-waste — was recycled properly. E-waste is made of any electronic equipment that we no longer want such as cables, batteries, fluorescent lights, and of course, our smart devices. Casually discarding these products is more common than we realize; globally, we created 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste in 2019, with that number projected to increase as the years go on. Donating or safely recycling our electronics prevents toxic components like mercury and lead from leaking, and any material that is salvageable can be recovered and reused. Check with your local municipality on how to properly dispose of your electronics, but organizations like the Electronic Products Recycling Association (EPRA), BestBuy, TerraCycle, and Recycle My Cell offer services as well.
7. Resist the urge to purchase something unless you actually need it.
It’s easy to get swept up into the idea that by shopping, we will feel restored. We get excited about having new things — and we all succumb to that in our own ways. Although this is something many of us can relate to, our collective over-consumption has a detrimental impact on others and the environment. Though resisting the urge to have new things is challenging, one of the most vital ways we can shop greener is to buy less. Wait until you actually need something to make a purchase, and if you find yourself suddenly having several items in your cart, ask yourself, do I really need this? Taking a moment to pause and reflect on your potential purchases could help deter you from buying something “just because.”