Oftentimes, the inspiration to do something good comes before you have the means or knowledge of how to go through with it. When you want to live sustainably, you may only think it involves recycling a little more and switching to a hybrid car. In reality, the call to sustainability means uncovering creative ways to cut back on your consumption every day. We’re here to jump-start that creativity with a guide on how to start living a more sustainable life that’s full of ideas.
Learn the Language of Recycling
To get comfortable with recycling, you should first run through a crash course on what various symbols really mean. That way, you never face the uncertainty of what to do with your refuse.
The modern recycling symbol (three V-shaped arrows that follow one another, forming a Mobius loop) entered use in 1970. 23-year old Gary Anderson, a USC student at the time, won a design contest held by the Container Corporation of America with this iconic image. To this day, it’s a universal symbol that everyone recognizes.
That said, the recycling symbol may bring more confusion than clarity at times. While it often indicates you can recycle something, you won’t always know if your area can handle that specific type of material. Also, with only a few slight changes, that same Mobius loop can represent that an item was produced from recycled materials or has a certain plastic resin code. Neither of these classifications directly relates to its recyclability.
Made From Recycled Materials
When you see a recycling symbol surrounded by a circle, that illustrates that the packaging comes from some percentage of recycled materials. If the circle is black with a white symbol, this means the entire material passed through recycling. A white circle with black arrows, on the other hand, tells you there’s a mix of recycled and first-use contents. Sometimes, there is a number that communicates the percentage of recycled material the item contains. You’ll need to dig deeper to find if you recycle these items.
Plastic Resin Codes
Meanwhile, a pared-down Mobius loop with a number from one to seven also doesn’t directly speak to recyclability, but rather the type of plastic it’s made from. Here’s a list of what these numbers mean, with an example of household items constructed from each:
- 1 / PETE: Polyethylene Terephthalate
- Soft drink bottle
- 2 / HDPE: High-Density Polyethylene
- Milk jugs
- 3 / PVC: Polyvinyl Chloride
- 4 / LDPE: Low-Density Polyethylene
- Plastic shopping bags
- 5 / PP: Polypropylene
- Medicine bottles
- 6 / PS: Polystyrene
- Egg cartons
- 7: Miscellaneous
- DVDs, etc.
All except PETE and HDPE (1 and 2) are relatively hard to recycle. That said, some services take PVC (3) to turn into outdoor flooring, Polypropylene (5) to make bicycle racks, battery cases, and pallets, and even some miscellaneous (7) items for other uses. Additionally, there are specific store drop-off options for HDPE (2) and LDPE (4).
In recent years, How2Recycle initiated a broad labeling system that fleshes out the recycling details on packaging. These labels break down each element of a product according to material and recyclability. They provide instructions to recycle, check with local waste services, drop an item off in-store, and more, plus instructions on what to do before recycling. In all, they make your job easier, so you can save as much as possible from the trash and put it in the right place.
Dig into Composting (And Gardening)
If you want to turn your food scraps into plant fuel rather than discarding them, try composting. This is an oddly fun way to start living a more sustainable life, especially if you’re just getting used to this new lifestyle. Start by picking a spot to compost in your yard or, if you don’t have space, getting in touch with a community garden.
To start your own compost pile, gather mainly fruit and vegetable waste in your freezer. Then, create a good mix of green and brown waste. The “greens” here are nitrogen-rich, such as food scraps and grass clippings, while the browns, including dry leaves, sawdust, nuts, and egg cartons, are carbon-heavy.
You need to use a higher percentage of dry browns, so your compost pile doesn’t become too wet. This helps with aeration, as does your routine turning of the pile. It takes a few months for the pile to begin decomposing in earnest, but, in time, you’ll have rich compost ready to power a garden.
In the end, you’ll cut down on fertilizer use and may even be able to supplement more of your diet with organic produce than you did before.
Maintain and Repair Instead of Replacing
In America, the high disposable income per capita plus the constant availability of new things means citizens replace what they own rather than preserve what they already have. While convenient, this translates into tons of unnecessary waste. To make changes in your life, look at maintenance as a tool for sustainability.
Cars and devices come to mind here. Keep an eye on your car’s maintenance schedule and routine oil changes, tire rotations, and more to keep it out of a junkyard longer. When your computer or television breaks down, don’t immediately assume it’s time for a new one. Get in touch with a professional or, if you have some experience, try your hand at fixing it yourself. Gaining a few more years of use from your belonging will lessen your overall carbon footprint.
Start a Green Workplace Initiative
A sustainable lifestyle suffuses every part of your life, including how you operate at work. As you pick up on how your company handles waste, why not spearhead a green initiative? You can encourage workers to digitize their processes to save paper, invest in energy-efficient lighting, or enact several different sustainable policies.
On a larger scale, propose a company-wide recycling program. Convince management to fill the office with enough recycling receptacles to tackle your needs. Then, inspire some healthy competition by splitting workers into teams and competing to see who can recycle the most each week. Holding a weigh-off each Friday is a fun and dramatic strategy for motivating further sustainability.
Help Out Your Community
Apart from your work, there are many other ways to make a big impact. Your community handles tons of waste each year in its common areas. Helping finance new recycling practices could give your town the margin to pursue these goals.
One very practical way to do this is by gifting waste bins, which fit in practically any setting. Installing commercial trash bins in a park would limit the amount of waste that litters the ground, while simultaneously benefitting school campuses, trails, and public other spaces. When you match each space with clearly marked recycling bins, residents have a better chance of correctly recycling what they would otherwise toss in the trash.