• Namrata Jain

So You Compost. What Next?

As environmentally-conscious individuals, we try to incorporate the basics of sustainable living day-to-day. We remember to carry our grocery bags to the store. We pack our reusable water bottles for work or the gym. We bike to work. We even carry our own cutlery and use bamboo toothbrushes. We compost.

If you, like me, are hoping to level-up your commitment to living sustainably, join me as I try to include the following 9 easy-to-adopt personal sustainability strategies.

1. Appliance efficiency

In addition to buying eco-friendly bulbs and discarding my phones sustainably, something I learnt way too late in my adult life is that the condenser coils behind/under the fridge need to be vacuumed occasionally (every 6 to 12 months).

The thick layer of dust covering the condenser coils acts as an insulator, leading to decreased cooling efficiency and shortening the life span of the fridge. Well-maintained appliances and vehicles are more energy-efficient and consume less power. So while vacuuming discreetly around the fridge is convenient, it may be worth taking a peek at the back too.

2. Understanding the 3 R's

It doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves why Recycling is the last in the 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). How many of us triple-rinse our plastics before recycling them, as is advised by most cities? Is it even worth cleaning that greasy container of peanut-butter using so much detergent and hot water, given the use of fossil fuels in the production of soap and heating of water?

I invite you to reprioritize your commitment to the first two R's and place more importance on the reduction and reuse of products. Considering the minuscule percentage of our used products that get recycled, decreasing commodity purchases is a far more effective way to live sustainability. Thrift shopping is a great way to promote the recirculation of merchandise.

3. Gifts and giveaways

With the surge of zero-waste and eco-conscious companies, sustainable gift-giving is easier than ever.

For formal occasions though, a standard choice of gifts is still a bottle of expensive wine, a thank-you card or a bouquet of flowers.

The next time a gift needs to be bought for that corporate guest though, how about a small potted-plant, a recycled paper notebook, and perhaps a reusable tote bag/travel mug?

Or for extra brownie points, a donation to a charitable organization in their name? The same suggestion goes for buying a birthday gift for a friend or whenever it is hard to find sustainably-sourced chocolates or flowers.

4. "Meatless Mondays"

This one is for those of us who understand the impact of livestock rearing on global greenhouse gas emissions and the resource intensiveness of food produced through non-plant-based sources. I will be honest, my primary reason for being and staying a vegetarian is my upbringing during which I got conditioned to develop an aversion to meat and eggs. As much as I would like to spin it into an environmentally-conscious choice, it really isn’t that. I understand that our relationship with food is deeply personal. However, small-term commitments to plant-based eating in a household can really make a difference.

5. Avoiding Wish-cycling

Picture a scenario where you're at the bus stop just about to gulp down the last sip of coffee from that to-go cup. The bus arrives and in a moment of urgency, the cup gets instinctively tossed in the blue "recyclables only" bin.

As much as we want it so, the city's curbside recycling program does not recycle soiled coffee-cups. Plastic grocery bags, greasy pizza boxes or single-use plastic spoons are not recyclable either. Despite our good intentions, we end up contaminating the entire batch of recyclables by throwing plastics soiled with organics in the wrong bin. So let’s not partake in the wish-cycling and take that additional moment to figure out waste segregation. A great Vancouver-specific resource to figure out where a specific waste product should go is the city of Vancouver's waste-wizard.

6. Business Travel

Due to high carbon dioxide and water vapour emissions, aviation is the most resource-intensive way of transport and directly responsible for about 5% of global warming. Avoiding non-essential business travel and encouraging our teams to attend conferences and meetings remotely could be one way to lower our carbon footprint. For unavoidable travel, it is advised that taking direct flights is more sustainable than multi-legged routes as take-off and landing cause higher emissions than cruising.

7. Becoming label-savvy

To be more conscious of my role in advancing sustainable industrial practices, I try looking for eco-labels. Fairtrade is one of the major global labels which certifies products like honey, wine, and textiles. Other labels in North America include ENERGY STAR and Ocean Wise.

In India, Ecomark certifies food, textiles, cosmetics, and packaging products. The EU Ecolabel is a good one to look for if you are in Europe. Supporting sustainable business practices through strictly enforced standards is a great way to take that next step towards social, economical, and environmental sustainability.

8. Donating

What could be a better way to strengthen your personal values than donating to a charity that reflects your principles? The next time you look for a cause to divert your charitable donations to, consider a non-profit organization promoting sustainable practices, locally or internationally. Better yet, sign up as a volunteer for those institutions.

9. Making it popular

Personal sustainability advice aside, one of the best ways to contribute is by talking about your experiences and knowledge to other people.

I struggle with these conversations myself and totally understand why someone would not want to be the know-it-all, finger-pointing preacher telling others how to live life. Except we really must bear the burden of uncomfortable conversations with our communities. Like any ongoing movement, sustainability needs the "make it popular" piece and using one's social clout to voice relevant opinions would help that very much.

To wrap this article up, I have compiled the following ice-breakers for people who want to start a dialogue about sustainable practices with their community members:

  • Ask your partner/roommate if they would want to get groceries from a local grocer instead of the big-brand store this week.

  • Take the office operations manager out for coffee and see if they would be willing to switch to eco-friendly bulbs or rechargeable batteries in the next office supplies purchase.

  • Recommend reading and listening materials on the topic to your friends (like this Planet Money podcast episode on recycling).

  • Organize clothing swaps or thrift store trips with friends (shameless plug of my previous post on thrifting).

Let me know your thoughts on this article. Did I miss anything or get something wrong? Would you adopt any of these in your life? What are your own personal sustainability tips?

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