Personal Sustainability Practices for Day-to-Day Life
There are many ways that your lifestyle impacts various aspects of the world around you, from your local air, water, and ecosystems, to the climate and environment at large. While this may seem like an overwhelming issue to confront, even small changes in our daily lives can make a largely positive change on the environment if we all do our part. Many helpful changes will barely be noticeable in terms of disruption to your daily routine.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Reduce, reuse, and recycle is a basic sustainability philosophy that is important to understand and fall back on in the course of your efforts. This philosophy recognizes that harmful waste is created not just through discarded products, but also as a byproduct of the production itself. Therefore, it promotes both recycling and minimized product consumption.
According to a report from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), industrial processes accounted for 21% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010. With this in mind, everyday items create harmful emissions from their very production. Therefore, an important component of sustainability efforts is the overall reduction of items that you use, as well as the choice to consume products that will last longer than their competitors.
Efforts to reuse products seek to increase the longevity of products and reduce consumption in a similar vein. This can be accomplished by replacing disposable or short-lived products with reusable ones, or by repurposing items. For example, you might avoid buying new shorts by cutting up an old, unused pair of jeans.
Recycling involves choosing recyclable products, and ensuring that they are properly prepared for and/or delivered to a recycling facility. This is done to prevent as many items as possible from going to a landfill where they will take up space and produce harmful emissions.
There are many disposable items that people commonly use on a day-to-day basis that can be replaced with reusable items. The following are a few common disposable items that can easily be replaced with reusable alternatives:
- Styrofoam coffee cups;
- Coffee filters;
- Disposable k-cups;
- Plastic straws;
- Plastic bags;
- Plastic water bottles;
- Menstrual hygiene products;
- Paper towels;
- Swiffer wipes;
- Plastic wrap;
- Soap dispensers.
Efficient Appliance and Device Usage
Another significant source of greenhouse emissions is found in the production of electricity. According to the same EPA report, electricity and heat production accounted for 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010. Therefore, another way that you can promote sustainability is by reducing your usage of electricity.
In addition to simply not using electricity unnecessarily, it can also be beneficial to upgrade your appliances to more energy-efficient options, or even just to use appliances and devices more carefully. For example, you can reduce the effect of “energy vampires” by unplugging things like televisions, chargers, and coffee makers when you are not using them.
Structural Updates and Maintenance
Many other household updates can also promote sustainability. Most notable among these updates are upgrades to your HVAC system and the installation of a water softener.
Upgrades for an HVAC system will typically involve things such as improved insulation and ventilation, installation of a programmable thermostat, or even use of a water softener to improve the efficiency of your boiler. All of these are examples of efficiency upgrades that can significantly reduce the energy needed to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home.
Water softeners reduce the amount of soap you need to properly clean something because they remove calcium ions that much of the soap would otherwise bond with. As a result, you will need less water for household cleaning and personal hygiene efforts. In short, by installing a water softener — or even just ensuring that you have a properly-sized water softener to promote an efficient capacity — you can reduce your overall water usage.
In addition to recycling whenever possible, it is also important to responsibly dispose of non-recyclable waste. Irresponsible disposal (or lack thereof) of waste can cause damage to the environment in many ways. For example, dog feces left untended can cause water pollution when parasites and bacteria in the excrement enter local water sources through runoff. Other items and substances that may require special or careful disposal include:
Just like material production, food production can produce harmful emissions and byproducts in myriad ways. This is all the more reason to ensure that your food doesn’t go to waste. One of the best ways that you can prevent food waste is by meal planning. Meal planning can prevent you from buying too much food and from allowing food items to spoil.
If you do need to throw out food products, you may be comforted by the fact that they are biodegradable; but that does not necessarily mean that they will have the opportunity to decompose properly. When food is placed in a landfill, it is stacked with massive amounts of other waste, and therefore is not in an environment conducive to aerobic decomposition. Instead, it will go through a process of anaerobic decomposition, which produces harmful greenhouse emissions. Additionally, the poor environment for decomposition causes the discarded food material to contribute to land usage dedicated to landfills.
Composting can prevent this from happening by allowing you to reuse discarded food products rather than simply throwing them out. There are many different methods of composting, but essentially it involves creating an ideal environment for organic compounds to decompose and create nutrient-rich soil. This soil, in turn, can be used for plant cultivation. It is important to note, however, that not all food items are appropriate for composting, so it is important to do some research.
It is important to understand the value of small changes made by a large number of people, and the positive changes that can result.