Why Sustainability is Hard (But Not Impossible)

I have always been known as the “recycling girl.” If you think that’s a weird way to be known, I agree. Apparently it is a radical thing to see what trash is doing to our planet and to want to fix it.

I first became really aware of this crisis sometime in college. Somehow, I had come across a video showing the Pacific Garbage Patch and all the little animals that had died from not having a clean place to live. Everyone has always known about what used to be called “global warming” but is now called “climate change,” and the polar bears losing their homes, and the hole in the ozone layer, and pollution. But climate change, trash, and nonrenewable resources have been permeating discussions more and more as the years have gone on, and I would say that only in the past few months have we begun to recognize it as a crisis.

When I first saw those images of the Pacific Garbage Patch, I was disgusted: with people who don’t think twice about how their actions affect our planet, with humanity in general, and with myself. I thought, “That’s terrible, but what can we even do? Stop throwing things away? That’s impossible.”

The Recycling Girl

So I began recycling like crazy. And people thought I was crazy. I got really weird looks when I was taking out the trash at home and pulled out something from someone’s trashcan that was recyclable to move it to its respective receptacle. And recycling was next to impossible when I was at college. All we were really provided with were big trashcans outside the dorms, and if we wanted to find where to recycle, we had to hunt down the locations. One year, I had to take my trash, my plastic recycling, and my cardboard recycling to three different buildings. This was all only possible thanks to the recycling bin I had bought myself on Amazon, since the dorms provided none.

Recycling in college felt almost impossible, but I did what I could. I would take my roommates’ recycling for them as well, since I wanted to make it as easy as I could for others to live green, too. But to my dismay, I have recently been learning more and more that recycling isn’t really a total solution. Recycling is second to reusing. For sustainability, reuse is king.

Reduce, Reuse, . . . Recycle?

This is when it becomes really hard. It’s easy enough for me to buy my favorite shampoo and conditioner and recycle the plastic containers when I’m done. But recycling is costly and uses energy, and the production of that plastic is, too. And how much am I really helping if what I bought wasn’t made of recycled materials in the first place?

This began my real sustainability journey. For a few months, I have been trying different products that are healthier for the environment. The real difficulty here is that while I do my best to be green, I also need my products to work. This still comes first for me.

What Didn’t Work

One of the great things about people starting to care about the environment (even more than I do) is that more and more eco-friendly products are coming out all the time, and mostly making themselves known to me through Instagram ads. The first thing I tried, and was really excited about, was Myro deodorant.

Myro deodorant is really cool. They have a great mission, and they make it fashionable to be part of “the green movement.” They are a subscription service who initially sends you a reusable deodorant container in the color of your choice. Along with it, and subsequently, they send deodorant refills in the scent of your choice. I was really on board with all of this . . . up until I tried it. Turns out, I’m too sweaty for Myro. I need antiperspirant, not just deodorant. So I’m back to Degree antiperspirant until someone makes a powerful antiperspirant in a reusable container or no container at all. Fortunately, I gave my Myro deodorant to my mom, so maybe someone was able to get a good use out of it and switch to this less-waste product.

My other biggest change in hygiene products was trying to eliminate loofahs and liquid body soap that required a container. I definitely didn’t like loofahs, even though they worked, because for me they were always falling apart and I felt that it was so wasteful to constantly be throwing them away. Plus, ads for the Boie (boo-ee) body scrubber also claimed that loofahs store up bacteria. Thus, I made the switch to bar soap and the Boie body scrubber. It turns out that this body scrubber doesn’t work ideally with bar soap, so I think that once I run out, I will turn back to liquid body wash and stick with the Boie.

Along the same lines, my husband and I know that toilet paper and paper towels are a cause of deforestation, and therefore we tried out some recycled and bamboo paper products. It turns out that they’re just not as good. I know how important it is to save the forest, but it’s so difficult when it means your toilet paper disintegrates in your hand and your paper towel refuses to cleanly rip off of the roll.

What Works

Fortunately, there are a lot of products that I’ve been able to incorporate into my everyday life that help me to reduce the amount of trash, or even recyclables, that I produce. I think that the first product I ever purchased in this regard was my Hydro Flask, and, as you’ve probably heard from several people, I can’t recommend it enough. I will never understand why people use plastic, disposable water bottles when they can have a reusable water bottle that keeps drinks cold for 24 hours and can last a lifetime.

Similarly, we have been using metal drinking straws at home. Straws seem to be a point of contention for the environmentally conscious; we are told that bamboo straws are good for the environment, but I have also heard that they don’t hold up very well. I can tell you now that reusable metal straws are a game changer.

I have also used reusable shopping bags for years. I worked in retail for six years of my life, and I got in the habit of asking customers if they wanted a bag or not. I considered it a victory if they said no, and a double victory if I was able to sell them a reusable bag. I still use the bag that I bought there for myself, and I have a growing collection of tote bags for my grocery shopping. As a cat owner, whenever we run out of plastic bags for dirty litter, we’ve turned to these EcoLeo bags.

As far as feminine hygiene goes, this produces more waste than we ladies usually ever think about. There is so much unnecessary plastic involved in tampon wrappers and applicators! Luckily, my trial with applicator-free tampons has been a success. I also know, however, that a lot of girls love menstrual cups. I’m not opposed to trying them, but I haven’t yet.

You could use single-use pads or get these eco-friendly reusable pads with unicorns on them…your choice!

Along the same lines, I also considered how much trash must pile up with my daily pantyliners, so I made the switch to reusable cloth products. They have their pros and cons in comparison to the traditional disposable ones, but I don’t hate them and they help me save the planet, so I consider them a success.

Finally, I am still in the process of making one of the toughest lifestyle changes for a former shopaholic (this ensues from working in retail and being constantly surrounded by pretty new clothes). I am trying to buy fewer new clothes and more used clothes, after hearing about what the textile industry is doing to our planet and to its own workers. I have sold/donated 30 pounds of my clothes to ThredUP and also started shopping there. (Here’s the stuff I’m selling if you’re wondering!)

Why Not to Give Up

There are several reasons why being sustainable is hard, and it can even seem impossible at times. Yes, I recycle my beer bottles, and I can even do my very best to always bring my lunch in my reusable Pyrex containers, but there are still so many people who literally DON’T RECYCLE AT ALL (WHY???) and produce an armful of trash with every meal. But do you know why it’s still worth it?

A big part of being sustainable is setting an example for other people. The people that bring their own grocery bags will get fewer and fewer weird looks as more customers show up with their own bags in the future. The louder we can be, the less afraid people will be to join in.

14 Replies to “Why Sustainability is Hard (But Not Impossible)”

  1. I think we all do what we can. For example I use re-usable canvass shopping bags. That diverts a lot of plastic. And I really want to start composting. It’s funny I’m known for two things, I’ve been called a hipster and a prepper. The last because I always have a two way radio with me. Always. Plus I have my amateur extra license and my commercial radiotel license. And I do own guns too. Just a couple of them. Oh and a 200mW green LASER.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Where we live, the “recycling” that will be picked up has been limited to (certain) cans and corrugated cardboard. That’s it. They used to take paper and plastics, but since that hullabaloo with China, they changed their standards.

    As far as our household, we take our drink bottles to a recycling center and we use cloth grocery bags. We still have to use plastic bags for doggie poop, but I just discovered some biodegradable ones via Amazon, so will be switching to them when I need more.

    The Pacific Garbage Patch is sickening. And, IMO, demonstrates that no matter how much publicity recycling gets, there will always be slobs in the human race.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m with you on this. My family recycles more than we throw away, and I’m still trying to find ways to reduce what we throw out.

    I never buy those stupid single use water bottles, and if I wind up with one that I was handed at an event, I’ll try to use it at least several more times before it goes in the recycling. And for clothes, I do a lot of mending and patching on them to get as much wear out of them as I can. (Just recently I had a shirt with a big stain on the front, and I painted a big peacock feather design on it to cover the stain. I’ll get several more years of wear out of it probably.) Hand-me-downs are great for kids, and all the baby equipment I had got passed along to others via freecycle.

    And canvas bags – we’ve been good about those for a long time. Tim Minchin helped:

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for the links to Myro and ecoLeo…We have been searching for a way to avoid using plastic for cat litter and this looks like a great option. Have been using cloth shopping bags for decades…can’t believe people are too lazy to do this! I also become extremely annoyed with the auto idling issue…we must speak out and never give up!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I definitely recycle about 50%. I could do better, but the disposal company has limits. In WA we composted and that was an interesting, if messy, effort.
    To me, the problem is the politics. And that is where I feel that people who care about the environment are loosing the battle.
    I prefer reuse as a first choice. At least that way I know what happened. Lastly,
    I’m not buying that anyone cares more about the environment than you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good for you. It is hard, particularly when you read stories about how some of the materials that are collected for recycling end up being shipped to the third world, or dumped in landfill. What drives me mad these days is people who sit in parked cars with the engine idling. Don’t they know they’re poisoning the air we breathe for no reason? Particularly bad in the UK, where most vehicles have diesel engines, which produce particulates which cause cancer and asthma.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m the elderly version of “recycling girl” (and good for you, Rebekah)–one thing we found that does work for us, is using inexpensive paper napkins (that come in stacks and are a “green” product to start with) instead of rolls of toilet paper. As one friend said, it’s basically portion control. The paper has more body, and it does work. I keep the stack in a container comfortably nearby.

    And we recycle almost everything that comes into the house, from plastic store bags (they are either returned to the store, or used as catbed fillers, or insulation –really–in the walls), to buying things that are eco friendly in other ways. It does take a bit of effort to sort stuff out (burn this, save this, reuse this…) but it works.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Spot on. I’ve recycled everything I can since 2003. It’s infuriating when I go to the bins outside my apartment block (right next to the recycling ones) and people have just hurled their potential recycling into the bin without a damn.

    There have to be tougher measures from governments. But businesses also need to focus more on biodegradable packaging so we don’t have this issue in the first place.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m seeing a great many innovations in shipping, from cardboard pellets to recycled- already packing materials. What truly annoys me is ordering a heavy metal tool that is nearly indestructible, carefully wrapped in a ‘protective’ plastic package that protects nothing.
      Did you know that those “air bags” you get can be cut apart and made into handy little plastic bags for holding beads or jewelry or nails…g

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great thought but my guess is a little too late. I hate to be a downer, but if we don’t solve the climate crisis – and really soon – it’s not going to matter what we leave behind. The clock is ticking and there is still much resistance on the other side.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It may be too late, but that doesn’t mean we should just fling our hands in the air and our trash into the river, either. You do what you have to. I’m always reminded of the signs you see when you enter a state park: “pack it in, pack it out. “

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I get a bit nuts about plastic and am forever trying to find ways of using less of the bloody stuff.
        These days, We never use bags from the supermarket. It’s easier to wheel the trolley to the car in any case.

        Like

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