I always liked to consider myself a sustainable human being. I bring my reusable bags with me to the grocery store, I recycle all the things and I even bought reusable straws! How much more can I do for this earth?
Turns out, quite a bit. Let’s look at 3 simple steps that we all can take to be a little bit more sustainable in our everyday lives.
Step 1: Determine what is and isn’t recyclable.
About a year ago the county that I live in (Howard County, MD) initiated a strong media campaign to re-educate their residents on the dos and don’ts of recycling. Turns out, most residents, thinking they were doing good by recycling all the things, were actually tossing more trash in the recycle bin than actual recyclable materials. When it came to that final decision of “is it or isn’t it recyclable?” most residents, thinking they were doing right by the environment, chose “it is recyclable” and threw non-recyclable material in their blue bins.
So, what is recyclable? The short answer to that question is “it depends on where you live”. What can and can’t be recycled can vary by county, town or state. For example, Howard County, MD residents can go here for a comprehensive list of what can and can’t be recycled. People in my hometown of Syracuse, NY can hit up the Onondaga County Recycle website here. If you really don’t know, it’s always best to check the website(s), what was once recyclable 10 years ago may not be recyclable today.
Once you find your list, print it.
If you’re wondering where those non-recyclable items go, they go to the landfill. I know it’s not what we want to hear, but you can throw that non-recyclable material in that little blue bin all you want, it will still find its way to the landfill. There are literally people at these recycling facilities weeding out non-recyclable material, putting them in bins and sending them to the landfill. One way or another, they will end up exactly where we don’t want them to be.
Step 2: Find sustainable options.
At this point, you’ve visited your county website and printed the list of recyclable items. If you’re like me, you were probably surprised by the realization that all of those little plastic items that you put in the recycle bin wound up at the county dump. So, what do we do? We start replacing those items with sustainable options.
To get started, take a tour of your home and list all of the non-recyclable, unsustainable and even the recyclable items in your home. Pretty much anything that is made with or has plastic components to it. You don’t have to list everything at this point, but a list of 10-20 items is a good place to start.
Step 3: Make the swap.
With list in hand, let’s start the replacement process. What on your list can be replaced? Start writing down some ideas. Is there anything that you can implement right away? If so, do it! Why wait? Are there replacements that will take a little research. If so, write that down, research it and make sure the swap is the right move for you.
Can you replace everything on your list? It would be nice, but I really doubt it. My suggestion is to start small. Start with the easy stuff and go from there. Every little bit will count in the long run. Every little replacement that you make will reduce your carbon footprint by that much. Don’t stress it, that list will end up being really, really long, but your small changes will make a world of difference.
(Optional): Reduce, Reuse, Recycle worksheet
I created this worksheet to help me with this process. Feel free to download a copy for yourself. It’s a super simple google doc that will help you track your unsustainable items, list replacements and track your progress when a replacement has been found and made. You can see an example of the worksheet below. Feel free to make as many changes as needed to this worksheet.
You can download a copy of the worksheet HERE.
Read more about the 7 Simple Swaps that we’ve made as a family to be more sustainable here.