First of all.....
"Do Not Allow Perfect to Become The Enemy of Good.
And do not allow anyone to belittle your honest attempts or journey towards bettering yourself and your lifestyle. Period.
This list is not about the perfect. It is not about the Platonic ideal of Zero Waste that no one can (or does) live up to. This is simply 10 Steps Towards a More Sustainable Lifestyle That Anyone Can Take. And if you can't take any one of them or only ONE right now, or if you are focused on other areas of sustainability that fit better with your own individual ideals, goals, and morals, that is perfectly fine.
Sustainability is not a one-size-fits-all approach. There are many paths to the same goal.
This is not my excuse to proselytize. It's just a list. A list you may find helpful. Or not.
Some ideas are easier to implement than others of course, and my list is not a quick-fix I will be totally honest. Most of these take time and some careful consideration, some require money you may not have right now, and that is okay.
Do not let anyone shame you for not doing something that is outside of your grasp.
Above all, I hope this inspires you to start thinking about your life, your habits, and the many different ways you as an individual can take back control and make a difference, even if it's just a teeny-tiny one.
I firmly believe in the individual, it is a concept that is almost sacred to me. I also believe that you cannot affect change on a larger scale without taking inventory of your own life and choices first. There is also something incredibly powerful of taking control of your life. It has a tendency to bleed into other areas too and help so many more than just yourself.
Remember, it takes one tiny step taken by the many to start a movement, and we don't have to walk in unison the entire time.
Start Composting (Vermicomposting)
40% of the food produced in the United States ends up in a landfill or is left to rot in the field. More than 365 million pounds of food is wasted every single day, enough to fill an entire football stadium. In Canada, Some 2.38 million tonnes of food, or more than HALF of all food produced is wasted.
Yes, vermicomposting means composting with worms.
No, it is not messy, dirty, or smelly.
I have an in-depth article that shows you exactly how to do this, even if you live inside a small condo as I do:
The benefits are obvious: you are diverting food scraps from the landfill and even if your municipality does pick up food scraps for large composting facilities, when you take over the job (even just partially) you are also making your own rich and nutritious fertilizer.
If you go fishing, the worms can also be used fr your bait.
Which brings me to my next tip:
Grow (At Least Some) Of Your Own Food
Even if it's just culinary herbs.
Again, even if you live in a condo like I do there are ways to do this:
Join a Community Garden
Your city or town might have numerous opportunities for you to join a community collective that allows you a small plot of land to grow your own food on. This was my first year with my own plot and it was a lot of work, but very rewarding. I can't wait for next year! Some community gardens even offer raised beds and assistance for people who have special needs regarding their mobility.
Grow Food on a Balcony
My introduction to this whole concept and hat got me started was growing food on my balcony. I started with small pots and then moved up to a custom cedar planter with a trellis for tomatoes to climb. It was amazing watching the seeds I had planted turn into an abundance of healthy, organic, food. You might be surprised at what is possible in small spaces.
Grow Food Indoors
My latest venture! It will be a fall and winter season of experimenting with this full-force!
You do not need one of those expensive, trendy all-in-one systems that are starting to pop up thanks to enterprising start-ups. They are definitely beautiful and wonderful, but they can also cost thousands of dollars which is outside of the reach of most people.
A $100 wire rack from Costco and cheap grow-lights will do. Better yet, search your local classifieds for used products.
This is a subject you can expect many more articles and videos from me.
This is next on my list of things to master.
It makes little sense to me to eat tons fruits and vegetables transported from halfway around the world in the dead of a Canadian winter.
But a pantry stocked full of locally grown produce picked at the height of freshness? That absolutely makes sense.
I've always wanted a pantry stocked full of my own canned fruits, vegetables, sauces, salsas and ferments.
Start Thrifting For Household Items & Furniture
The majority of my home is second-hand items.
Thrift stores and classified ads are full of old, cheap, perfectly serviceable furniture that can be made into beautiful and unique items.
Most of us can learn how to paint, sand, stain, and make minor repairs. Even basic reupholstery can be mastered.
YouTube is an absolute treasure-trove to learn ANYTHING.
Start Thrifting Clothing
In 2015, the global production of polyester reached 52.8 million tonnes for the textile industry. Polyester is made using a chemical reaction involving coal, petroleum, air and water. It may take 200 years or more for this non-biodegradable manmade fabric to degrade in a landfill.
In 2018, my New Year's resolution was to not buy a single new piece of clothing.
I succeeded easily because the world is quite literally FULL of amazing second-hand and vintage clothing. The dress in the above picture became one of my favourite pieces and I lived in it all summer.
This was also a liberating experience for me, because despite growing up poor, my mother always refused to buy us second-hand clothing. I'm so very glad to see the tide turning against the shame so many people living in poverty can feel when it comes to their choices. I know that feeling well.
I have found so many cheap thrifted clothing that looks barely worn, alongside exquisite vintage pieces that cost more. I have a more feminine personal style, so vintage dresses from decades past are way more to my taste anyway.
I still buy most of my clothing used, but I do also support small designers and dressmakers too now.
Thrift stores are also great potential sources of cheap material, which brings me perfectly to my next point:
My current (future?) resolution and how I will be spending my winter!
My mother is a seamstress by trade, but sadly I thought I was "too cool" for such a traditional and feminine hobby growing up, so I never learned much beyond the basics.
(I did take to cross-stitch and embroidery, weirdly enough.)
My goal is to be an accomplished little seamstress by the summer of 2020. I'm writing it down here first for accountability.
I found an old sewing machine from the 1960's second-hand for $30 and it's in perfect working condition. Sometimes those old machines are better than new ones which tend to contain a lot of plastic parts. Old machines are pure and sturdy metal.
Do you need a 10-step skincare regiment and a bathroom full of plastic bottles? A daily sheet mask that also comes wrapped in disposable plastic?
Probably not. Or maybe you want it, and that is your escape or your special "thing" — cool. We all have our things. I'm not giving up coffee or mineral water or avocados.
Take a look at the things you buy on a regular basis and see where you can just stop. We buy way too much crap. Decluttering your life is a worthy goal that anyone can make a priority. How that looks is up to you.
Reduce & Reuse FIRST!
Recycling something takes energy, lots of it. Reducing consumption and reusing things come first.
Oh and a lot of the recycling we send off in a blue box here in Canada actually gets shipped off to China for them to recycle for us.
I'm no expert but that sounds pretty insane and contradictory to me.
Buy more fresh food (as you can afford to) and skip the plastic bags. Skip the plastic bottles of harsh chemical cleaners and make your own at home. Buy your kids second-hand toys — they will grow out of them or become bored before you can blink anyways.
Buy Better Meat & Seafood
"The methane emissions arguments commonly cited against beef are also overblown. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, greenhouse gas from beef cattle only represents 2% of emissions in U.S. By contrast, transportation accounts for 27% of emissions in the U.S., representing a far more impactful opportunity for reducing greenhouse gas emissions." ~ Diana Rodgers, 20 Ways EAT Lancet’s Global Diet is Wrongfully Vilifying Meat, Sustainable Dish
Meat and seafood are absolutely a part of a sustainable lifestyle.
The carbon emissions of cattle are usually presented as being considerably higher than they actually are. Take out the transportation aspect of the emissions, and here is what it actually looks like:
Focusing on reducing transportation emissions seems like a considerably better goal to me than reducing nutritious animal-based foods in our diet.
As is buying meat and dairy from farms that are closer to home.
And do not forget that properly managed cattle on grasslands are one of the best ways to sequester carbon and rebuild crucial topsoil — things that monocultures and conventional industrial agriculture destroy.
For yourself personally, shopping for LOCAL and grass-fed/pastured meat is a good possibility — if you can afford it.
One way to drastically cut down on the costs of this type of meat is to buy a whole animal for slaughter and split the meat between a few families or friends. We did this for the first time and it was well worth it. The cow was the 14-month grass-fed offspring from the dairy herd I get my raw milk from and the farm is less than an hour away.
A small chest freezer from Costco costs less than $200 and you can find used ones for way less online too.
Worth saving up for if you cannot afford it right now.
The pork I buy is also pastured. The pigs are heritage breeds raised by a passionate farmer here in Ontario:
The taste is beyond anything you can find in your typical grocery store. Pork is my favourite meat, it's an important one to Mediterranean cuisine (outside of the Muslim and Jewish traditions obviously) and I eat it multiple times per week.
If you are trying to incorporate more liver into your diet, try pork liver pâté, it's my favourite.
I even have a recipe here for it:
As far as seafood goes — farmed mussels are one of the most sustainable foods, period, and one of the most nutritious superfoods on the planet. They are also an affordable seafood option. Oysters are a great choice too, but they tend to be considerably more expensive.
(The shells of oysters and mussels can be used to add calcium to your soil too.)
If better meat is beyond your budget, that's perfectly okay. Another thing to think about is eating nose-to-tail as a sustainable dietary philosophy that is still (mostly) cheap in North America.
Eating nose-to-tail is how we thrived growing up — livers, hearts, tails, gizzards, blood, heads, fat — cheap, nutritious, delicious poverty food that has sustained people for ages, my family included.
And if that is beyond you right now, just keep doing the best for you as you can.
Get Into Foraging, Fishing, & Hunting
Maybe controversial. Definitely not for everyone. Is it for you? Why or why not?
The fish you legally catch yourself in a country or province/state that collects license and other fees and puts them directly back into the environment is always going to be a sustainable choice.
If you target invasive species of fish, all the better.
And if you live on top of a lake as I do — it's a no-brainer.
Ontario spends 100% of hunting and fishing revenue on fish and wildlife management.
Hunting and fishing IS CONSERVATION. Whether you like or approve of the activities or not, the facts are pretty impossible to ignore. Modern hunting has brought back so many species from the brink of extinction. It continues to be a vital part of our society and a proud tradition.
I have been fishing for several years, and now I'm now taking the steps to become a hunter as well.
And don't worry, we decided pretty unanimously some 12,000 years ago as a species to quit the hunter/gatherer thing. You or I getting the urge to go hunting won't suddenly inspire millions of other people to join in as well. We decided farming is more comfortable long ago.
Hunters are on the decline. The one area where they are not — women. Women are making up record numbers of newly licensed hunters.
As for foraging, it can be surprisingly productive even if you are in a city.
Please do your research and bring a trusty book or guide with you especially if you are going after mushrooms.
One of my favourite edible species to forage for — wild garlic mustard — is also crazy invasive and destructive to native wild plants while also being basically useless to wild animals for food.
But it's delicious. Tastes like, wait for it — garlic and mustard, and it can easily be blanched and frozen for later use.
Targeting invasive species ensures you are not over-harvesting delicate native flora.
Honestly the best thing out of all this? Time spent outdoors. Either with yourself or with loved ones.
Nothing will make you more aware of the natural world than actually spending time in it. It is easy to lose sight of what is important living in our cities and condos, sheltered from nature. But nothing is better for self-care than a walk in the woods.
In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
~ John Muir
So that's my list, 10 Steps Towards a More Sustainable Lifestyle That Anyone Can Take.
Let me know what you think in the comments, I love hearing from you.
And remember, we are all on our own individual journey, do not feel bullied into anything. Do not feel shamed into not doing something.
If a community is making you feel any of those things, it's okay to just leave it behind.