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Sustainable Living 101

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Sustainability is a popular topic and people making an effort to make households more sustainable is a trend for the better. While many people want to be environmentally conscious and make their households more sustainable, some may have reservations about whether implementing sustainable practice could be too time consuming, too expensive, or would not actually make a difference in helping the environment. In reality, anyone who wants to have a more sustainable lifestyle and household can and should. There are plenty of sustainable options that are inexpensive or free, often times options take very little time and involvement, and many residential sustainable efforts make a difference in the larger effort to become a more sustainable society. Individuals and households can take many steps in order to become more sustainable in their everyday lives, these steps include:

Recycling: Recycling is a fairly well practiced sustainable option for homes; there are almost 10,000 municipal recycling programs in the U.S. and several states and cities with mandates for recycling in residences across the country.[1] Despite the fact that recycling has been in practice in the U.S. longer than most other sustainable practices, there exists some skepticism about whether recycling really makes a significant difference in the environment and whether household waste really is recycled. In reality, recycling technology is being updated and developed, options such as single stream recycling exist because of this development, it is becoming easier to recycle in order to make it more common and in order to prevent the waste that is being recycled from ending up in landfills.[2] Recycling is a practice that makes sense for all parties involved for a variety of reasons:

●      It creates jobs and recycled goods are a commodity.

●      Making items from recycled goods can use, depending on the material, as little as 5% of the energy that making new goods does.

●      Approximately 1/3 of the waste in the U.S. is recycled meaning over 80 million tons of waste is kept out of landfills annually because of recycling.[3]

Recycling is a worthwhile, sustainable practice that simply involves getting a bin, making sure the right materials are put in it, and having it on the street when it is supposed to be picked up. Making an effort to recycle at home is an easy way to help contribute to a more sustainable society. Find out what you can recycle at home and where you can other materials use this database of recycling programs and centers.

Composting: Over 1/3 of municipal solid waste is compostable material[4] so composting organic food waste and lawn trimming is not only good for the land but it prevents waste from being put into landfills. Composting can be a simple step of donating compostable material to a local garden or a school that composts or a more involved step of composting at home. In order to compost at home one needs the space to create a compost bin and from there it involves composting the right materials, such as fruit and vegetable waste and lawn trimmings, rotating the pile, and making sure it does not freeze, smell, or get eaten by animals. Composting can reduce the amount of waste in landfills and fertilize gardens for little to no cost or involvement, it is a great way to get involved in a sustainable lifestyle at home. Check on this guide on how to compost at home and what you can and cannot compost.

Reducing transportation emissions: Transportation accounts for 29% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., the largest amount of this being carbon dioxide and smaller portions being methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbon.[5] There are many ways, as an individual or a household, to reduce the amount of emissions produced. The first includes a general awareness that vehicles do produce harmful emissions therefore it is important for one to think about the necessity of the amount he or she drives. Alternatives to driving include walking, biking, taking public transportation, and carpooling. In addition to these options, thinking about a car itself and fuel can lead to transportation that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Choosing a more fuel efficient car as opposed to an SUV or a vehicle with a larger is a more sustainable practice. Electric vehicles are also much more sustainable and considering investing in one allows for less harmful emissions as well as other benefits such as high safety ratings and less need for maintenance on a regular basis. While some options for reducing transportation emissions are more involved investments, changing some habits like driving less or maybe biking or walking more can actually save money in addition to increasing sustainability.

Wasting less:  Waste is a huge problem worldwide and the U.S. contributes significantly to this. Residentially there are steps that can be taken to reduce energy waste, water waste, and waste of other materials such as plastic.

  1. Energy waste can be reduced by the elimination of what are known as “energy vampires” in homes, energy vampires are devices that are plugged in and using energy even when not in use. Unplugging chargers, computers, and televisions when not in use can resolve this waste issue in a home. Lighting and HVAC also create energy waste; installing LED lighting, which is significantly more efficient than traditional lighting, and turning off lights in unoccupied spaces can save energy. Overcooling or overheating a home is also wasted energy and making sure all windows are closed when HVAC systems are running and that the windows are well sealed can prevent excess run time of HVAC systems.

  2. Water waste is also a significant issue in homes, 5.7 billion gallons of water are used daily in the U.S. for flushing toilets alone.[6] Water efficient toilets, shower heads, and aerators for faucets allow for much less water. Simple measures such as fixing any leaks and taking shorter showers also decrease the amount of water used in a home.

  3. Waste of other materials can be prevented in a variety of ways:

●      Stop purchasing and using single use plastic by doing things such as purchasing reusable water bottles and food containers.

●      Do not just throw away old clothes, donating or repurposing them eliminates a contribution to textile waste which is a huge problem globally.

●      Be conscious of purchases, do not buy items that are not needed or will not get used and buy from companies that prioritize sustainability and do not have unnecessary, excess packaging.

Waste reduction is not complicated and does not involve significant amounts of time or money, for someone looking to start becoming sustainable being conscious of not creating too much waste is a perfect way to start.

Becoming a sustainable household is more feasible than one may think.  Whether people have money and/or time to spend on sustainability or not there are options for everyone to reduce the harm to the environment that is occurring. Taking any of the above steps to change habits in order to become a more sustainable household is a step towards a more sustainable society and a healthier earth.


 [1] Kinhal, Vijayalaxmi. “United States Recycling Statistics.” LoveToKnow, LoveToKnow Corp, greenliving.lovetoknow.com/United_States_Recycling_Statistics.

[2] Clark, Josh. “Is What We're Recycling Actually Getting Recycled?” HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 4 Apr. 2019, science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/conservation/issues/recycling-reality.htm.

[3] “Municipal Solid Waste.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, archive.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/web/html/.

[4] “Municipal Solid Waste.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, archive.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/web/html/.

[5] “Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 8 Aug. 2019, www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions.

[6] “100 Amazing Water Facts You Should Know.” Seametrics, www.seametrics.com/blog/water-facts/.