Sustainability for All: Reducing Waste in our Lives

This guest contribution is authored by Ariel Green of Sustainable Brown Girl

Growing up in a single-parent household with limited income, we had no choice but to live "sustainably". For my family, that looked like shopping at thrift stores, not eating a lot of meat, and using and reusing everything until it begged to be thrown away.

These days, sustainability is somewhat of a buzzword. From stories of people fitting years worth of trash in a single mason jar, to an influx of thrifting haul videos on YouTube, to companies scrambling to meet the demand of earth conscious packaging - sustainability is the new hot topic.

Like most people of color, although I may have grown up practicing sustainable habits, it was more a necessity rather than a choice. Once I moved out and had my own income, those habits were thrown to the wind.

However, in 2016, I began to be more conscious about the health impacts of the beauty products that I bought. It was then that I began using a menstrual cup in place of a tampon and became more interested in the ingredients listed on my deodorant, shower gel, and shampoo. It wasn't until 2018 that I also examined the environmental impacts of the products I was buying.

When I started being more conscious about my impact on the planet, one of the first things I did was search for people on Instagram and YouTube to gain inspiration and knowledge. Most of the people I found created posts of perfectly curated, aesthetically pleasing photos and videos with zero-waste goals. A year or two ago, the frontrunners in the sustainability movement were young white women with sizable disposable incomes living in cities like NYC, LA, Seattle, and London.

As a black woman living in the southern part of the US, I've gotten pushback and weird looks for simply wanting to put a package of frozen fruit in a cloth bag (the cashier was worried it would make my bag wet). In many ways, I felt invalidated while watching these women ride their bike to shop at package-free stores or order takeout from a restaurant that uses cardboard or compostable containers. Where I lived, those options weren’t available to me, and I probably wouldn’t be able to afford it if it were.

If I couldn't be perfectly zero waste, then why even try?

Good thing that flawed thought process didn't last for long. Truth is, anyone can incorporate sustainable practices in their daily life to reduce their environmental impact.

After participating in Plastic Free July two years in a row, I now know that being zero-waste or completely plastic-free is not attainable for my lifestyle, nor the majority of most people.

A few days after the close of my first Plastic Free July in 2019, which I documented on my YouTube channel Naturally Mermaid, I started the Sustainable Brown Girl Instagram page. Although the top influencers in the sustainability movement were white women, after digging just a little deeper, I found so many black, brown, and indigenous women who were making moves that benefit our planet. Women who are sustainable packaging engineers, urban farmers, zero waste shop owners, climate justice lawyers, and regular girls who just want to make better choices for Mother Earth. I created the platform to help connect and inspire women of color to live more sustainably.

As we all know, representation is so important.

Seeing other women of color make sustainable choices, as simple as carrying a reusable water bottle to starting a backyard garden, is so empowering. And the best part - it's not all about being perfect. The main goal is to be intentional.

Be intentional about the products that you purchase and bring into your home. Overconsumption not only drains our wallets but also clutters our homes. Before making a purchase, consider if you truly need the thing that you probably just want.

In addition to being more intentional, here are three actionable steps that you can take to be more sustainable.

1. Think about how you drink water

If you have already quit plastic water bottles, kudos to you! This was a difficult transition for me because I hated the taste of tap water. However, I learned that with a decent water filter and a squeeze of lemon juice, I actually prefer tap water to bottled water now. Carrying a reusable water bottle has also been a game-changer because not only am I diverting plastic waste from landfills and the ocean, but I'm always hydrated.

2. Cut back on shopping

In the age of haul videos and endless targeted ads, it can be tough to say no to buying something new. Especially when those new things come from fast fashion brands like Forever 21, Fashion Nova, Zara, etc. Not only are the clothes cheaply made to withstand only a few wears and washes, but they also treat workers unethically (that's a topic for another day). To help with this feat, unfollow influencers who engage in haul culture. You can also hide ads and unsubscribe from emails that tempt you to buy.

3. Do a trash audit

It may sound gross, but dig through your trash one week and see what types of things you're throwing away. By doing this, you can determine what you use most and find any sustainable replacements. For example, if you put your kid's snacks in disposable sandwich bags, consider purchasing reusable bags. Or if you use cotton rounds to remove makeup or nail polish, invest $15 into reusable cloths (there are some cute ones on Etsy).

These are just a few steps to help you get started on your sustainable journey. Keep in mind that it's a journey - not a race - and everyone's path will look different.

Ariel Green is the creator of the Sustainable Brown Girl community and podcast, a platform created to connect and inspire black, brown, and indigenous women to live more sustainably. Ariel also has a YouTube Channel, Naturally Mermaid, where she shares tips on transitioning to a low waste lifestyle. She lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband and spends her free time volunteering in the local community garden and reading celebrity memoirs.

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