Celebrating Plastic-Free July: Sustainable Living for Beginners

Ever since plastic was introduced to the world back in 1862, it has infiltrated every bit of our planet imaginable. Over half a million tonnes of it is produced every year and only 8-9% of it gets recycled - the rest ends up in landfills, oceans and our food chain. It may break down into microplastics over hundreds and thousands of years (not visible to the naked eye), but it can never fully disappear from the planet. No matter how convenient, cheap and versatile it may be, it is, at the end of the day, non-biodegradable. 

And trust us, sustainable living (trend or not) is the simplest way to tackle this global crisis on an individual level, considering how crucial it is for us to change our ways. While many of us are already doing a great deal, here’s sustainable living 101 for all the novices who want to start adding little eco-friendly practices into their daily lives, but have been dilly-dallying forever. 

Like Anne-Marie Bonneau, a popular zero waste chef (@zerowastechef) said: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

The What & How of Sustainable Living

Sustainability as a concept assimilates through the various aspects of our life - social, economical and environmental. Environmentally sustainable living can be defined as a lifestyle that allows all people to live well without perpetually damaging the planet.

Sustainability ensues when we strive towards reducing our ecological footprint by judiciously using our resources, eliminating harmful chemicals from our lifestyle, shopping consciously, saving money, simplifying life choices, generating less waste and of course, broadening our sustainability skills and knowledge base to amp up our game. And while there are countless ways to go about it, today we will focus on tapering the use of plastic and the not-so-necessary waste we produce in our everyday life. 

Sustainable Living at Home

The journey to a sustainable lifestyle begins right where we make most of our day-to-day choices - at home. Mind you, as overwhelming as it may seem, this is where we can make the easiest and smallest of changes that may have the greatest impact. 

Start with the age-old divide and conquer; look at your house in sections - there’s the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom and so on. Take up one section at a time and replace single-use items with sustainable, eco-friendly and/or biodegradable alternatives (plastic-free packaging is a given). But make sure to discard reusable plastics only when there’s absolutely no life left in them; otherwise we’d just end up creating more waste than less. Here are some ideas to get started:

  1. Swap single-use plastic bottles/containers with reusable metal/glass ones, even for the times that you go out
  2. Swap tissues with recycled paper napkins/tea towels/cotton napkins or even old t-shirt cutouts
  3. Use handmade, skin and earth-friendly multi-purpose bar soaps
  4. Swap plastic garbage bags with compostable ones
  5. Opt for refillable household products (shampoos, cleaners, etc.)
  6. Swap bathroom essentials like toothbrushes, soap holders, combs, loofahs etc. with eco-friendly ones, once they’re completely worn out
  7. Opt for reusable fabric food wraps/bags for sandwiches, snacks etc.
  8. Shop and support sustainable, earth-friendly and plastic-free brands

Sustainable Living Out and About

To start using less plastic outside of home, let’s think of the essentials first. What things do you take with you when you step out? What else would you probably need or use during that time? Which of those things would be single-use plastics and could be replaced with sustainable and eco-friendly options when they've run their course? Start there, briefly ponder upon each scenario every time you head out, eventually making this routine a habit. List the items that may contain single-use plastics. How and with what could you replace them? Here are some ideas:

  1. BYO reusable containers and bags for groceries, shopping and even take-out food and leftovers
  2. Shop long-lasting grocery items loose and in bulk from wholesale/bulk stores
  3. BYO reusable cutlery like spoons, metal/bamboo straws etc.
  4. Cut out on heavily plastic packaged eatables like processed foods, frozen foods etc. along with plastic carry bags for fresh produce
  5. Cut out on buying new plastic clothing made from synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic, lycra, spandex, nylon etc.
  6. Steer clear of the worst types of plastic like Polyvinyl Chloride (#3 PVC), Polystyrene (#6 PS), & Polycarbonate (#7 Other)

Imbibing the Change

Getting rid of the plastic in our life doesn't mean we trash the stuff that’s still good to use. Whatever we already have needs to be used till its very last breath. Let’s reduce, reuse and recycle every step of the way possible, plastic or not. We’ve got to be mindful of what we buy, how we use and discard it, since the entire process of making, using and disposing of a product matters.

We’re sitting here at a very crucial time and with a very big responsibility, which we can try and fulfill with the smallest of efforts every day. We might have unintentionally made choices without fully comprehending their impact on our environment, but starting small and starting now will lead to a more conscious, low-impact and sustainable living. No one is perfect and we don’t have to beat ourselves about missing a thing or two here and there. This is a transition that will take a while before we can begin to make a habit of it. We might not be able to change the world in a day, but we can make a difference if we start making the changes now.

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