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I’ve seen my fair share of “refilling” and “organization” sustainability videos on Pinterest, TikTok, and other social media platforms, and while it can be harmless, it can also deter others from wanting to become low waste. I mean, all I saw on the popular “sustainability” trends were people with all glass containers in their pantries and refrigerators, with a beautiful metal container to hold their food scraps and a plethora of Stasher bags in their drawers.

For the average person, that’s expensive! One sandwich-sized Stasher bag is about $13. A “Family Starter Pack,” filled with 13 bags is $205. If you want to pay for that, that’s absolutely fine. I’m not dogging on the Stasher brand because they’re an amazing company with innovative products. And you can definitely buy them…if you want to and have the money. But this whole “zero waste aesthetic” can easily turn into “Look at how much money I have.” 

Okay, but what is “sustainable living”?

Personally, I don’t like the term “zero waste,” because it’s a bit elitist and it sounds absolutely impossible. Luckily, a lot of people in the eco-friendly community feel the same way. “Low waste” or “sustainable living” is essentially minimizing how much trash you send to landfills, incinerators, and the ocean. This can include household items, clothes, and food. Low waste also means being environmentally and consumer conscious. It’s not just buying organic food, using paper straws, and putting your laundry detergent that was in a plastic container…into another fancy-looking plastic container. Low waste is done for a purpose, not for vanity. It can be easy and cost-effective and can be done with things you already have in your home.

Here are some tips on how to become more sustainable: 

Upcycle your Plastics:

If you’re like me and you eat takeout way too much, you’ll know that sometimes restaurants package their food in plastic containers. Instead of throwing away the empty plastic containers, reuse them for your lunch or storage. You know you’re just going to buy the same ones from TJ Maxx, anyway. 

Resin identification coding system: 

1: polyethylene terephthalate (PET) 

2: high-density polyethylene (HDPE) 

3: polyvinyl chloride 

4: low-density polyethylene (LDPE) 

5: polypropylene (PP) 

6: polystyrene (PS) 

7: other plastics, such as acrylic, nylon, polycarbonate and polylactic acid (PLA).

Refuse the Use and Purchase of Non-Recyclables: 

There are some items that are packaged in plastic that cannot be reused again. For instance, you can’t reuse plastic that was filled with liquid laundry detergent because the chemicals tainted the plastic, making it impossible to wash out. So, with those types of plastics, I suggest finding alternative companies like Blueland. This company makes household items in the form of tablets that you can simply put in water. They come in slim packaging so you don’t need a lot of space, and the packaging is recyclable! 

Recycle and Compost:

If you don’t need food scraps and excess plastic, recycling and composting are excellent options.

Image of compost bin, vegetables on a cutting board, and a plant

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Thrift:

This is cheaper than buying new $50 jeans. And you could find some unique gems. Plus, you’d be helping out with keeping clothes out of landfills. Fyre Vintage is an excellent place to find original statement pieces. There are other sites like BLK MKT Vintage that house clothing as well, but they also have home decor and books. Online stores like Depop and Poshmark are also great places to find thrifted and vintage items. 

Get Involved:

There are a ton of recycling, sustainable, and climate change organizations around the world. Nonprofits like The Sunrise Movement have locations nationwide to help young people fight against climate change. Their organization advocates for policies such as the Green Deal and other environmental policies. 

Project EATS is also an amazing organization that creates gardens for low-income neighborhoods to use and help grow. Low-income BIPOC neighborhoods are more likely to experience “food deserts.” This means these neighborhoods don’t have nearby access to fresh food and supermarkets. They mainly get their food from convenience stores and fast-food restaurants. However, communities like Project EATS help combat this.

Image of a man in public with a sign that says "Support Your Local Planet"

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If you are into low waste and have enough money to buy glass containers that are ethically made, then, by all means, do it! But, if you truly don’t care about how your kitchen looks or if you don’t have the money to make your pantry look “aesthetically pleasing,” you shouldn’t care. 

The whole point of sustainability is to reduce how much you send to landfills. If you find a way to reuse your single-use plastics, like reusing a Hawaiian Roll bag or a peanut butter jar, then you’re doing “low waste” right! You’re just finding an innovative way to use that plastic over again. Sustainability isn’t about how pretty your closet or pantry is, it’s about what you’re doing to save our environment.