Sustainable Commitment Contracts

Happy Earth Day! I know I’m a few days late, but better late than never right?

Unfortunately, due to the global pandemic the amazing three days of climate striking and activism that were planned have been effectively cancelled. Like most other environmentalists, I had lots of plans for what I’d be doing this Earth Day none of which panned out. I had just gotten involved in planning my local strikes, but then covid hit and my university shut down and I was making a last second cross country move back to my hometown.

Luckily, a whole host of environmental groups banded together to make sure the 50’th Earth Day was still marked by celebration and activism. This resulted in the 72 hour long Earth Day Live stream from April 22nd until the 24th that involved discussion with a diverse range of activists, musical performances, and like any good earthy crunchy event yoga classes. While the stream is no longer live, you can still watch a lot of the content on the Future Coalition youtube channel and I highly recommend it.

For my part, I think one of the best things you can do to celebrate Earth Day is write yourself a sustainable commitment contract. Sort of like New Year’s resolutions, but it’s a list of things you can do to help the environment.

I wrote one for myself in October 2018 and it truly marked a turning point in my lifestyle and mindset. I was wanting to change my lifestyle for several months prior, but I was feeling overwhelmed with how far I felt like I needed to go to get my lifestyle where I wanted it. At the time, I was very focused on going zero waste and it felt near impossible to get to the point I wanted to be at.

Writing the contract helped me focus on a handful of tasks I felt were most important and accessible to me instead of getting overwhelmed trying to do everything all at once.  It was my way of setting specific goals instead of having a vague desire to align my lifestyle with my values.

Writing things down and getting to check them off of the list also helped to keep me motivated and celebrate my wins as I went along. It felt so good to be accomplishing what I set out to do.

However, there are a few things on my list I haven’t accomplished yet. For example, refusing excess packaging and utensils when I order take out. I tried this, but usually employees are so in their habits they’re just going to give you the extra stuff anyways. I’ve heard of some zero wasters being fairly aggressive with employees but I personally don’t feel hassling service workers is a good way to represent the movement. Instead, I now preference restaurants who allow you to bring your own containers in store or have environmentally friendly packaging. For example, there’s a burrito joint in my college town that just hands you your burrito wrapped in foil, no bag or extra napkins to deal with.

As you might be able to tell from the commitment I wrote, I was focused mostly on going zero waste at the time and wasn’t nearly as educated on the multi-faceted concept we call sustainability. Overtime my focus has changed and I’ve taken up activism, vegetarian eating, and local shopping as equally powerful ways to green my lifestyle. So even though I haven’t done everything on my list, it’s important to allow yourself some room for flexibility and growth.

Now, what types of actions should you set out to do? You can of course get ideas from the picture of my commitment above, but here are some other ideas:

Reduce consumption of animal products in your diet. Get involved in environmental activism. Green your transit as much as possible. Start picking up trash in your neighborhood. Campaign for green candidates. Shop locally.

These are just some of the goals you could set, and the are hundreds of other options. I encourage you to set whatever goals are exciting and accessible to you.

Now that we’ve covered a little bit on how you can green your lifestyle and how writing a contract can help you, how exactly should you go about doing it?

  1. Carefully consider why you want to live more green. What is your motivation? What will make you want to keep trying to change your lifestyle when you are tempted to go back to your old ways? For me, it’s because I want to be a part of the solution and not the problem as well as protect the future of humanity.
  2. Carefully consider which goals you want to put on the contract. Once you write it down you are committed to do these actions, so make sure you choose things you can actually do. If you’re like me and were overwhelmed by all the possibilities, it may help to brainstorm a larger list. Then highlight the things you want to do most and recompile a shorter list.
  3. Be as concrete as possible when writing out your goals. For example, “buy gifts locally” is a lot more specific than simply “shop locally.”
  4. Put your contract somewhere you’ll see it often. For me, that’s my journal but hanging it up on a wall is also a good option. Doing so creates a natural visual cue to remind you of your habit change effort to help prevent you from going on autopilot.
  5. Make it look nice. This is more optional but worth doing especially if you’re going to look at it a lot. I included a quote I learned from the Shelbizlee YouTube channel, “You can’t do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good that you can do.” This quote always makes me feel better and energizes me when I reference my contract. Include any decorations that help inspire you.
  6. Sign the contract and get going!

The reason I love these sustainable commitment contracts for Earth Day is that they embody the concept of Earth Day every day. If you’ve been looking for the nudge or motivation to change your life for the greener consider this it! For me, when times are crazy like during this pandemic it helps me to have goals. I find the distraction beneficial and it helps me focus on something positive, so right now might actually be the perfect time to start changing your lifestyle!

That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with not being that type of person. I know everyone is in different circumstances right now during this crisis and has different coping mechanisms. If for any reason at all you’re not up for a lifestyle change right now I 100% respect that.

Happy Earth Day everyone and stay safe.

16 Creative Ways to Upcycle Items in Your Home or Dorm Room

Hello!

This week’s post is going to be ideas for how you can reuse and upcycle items in your home. All these ideas are things that I’ve done whilst living in college dorm rooms.

Reuse is one of the best ways to reduce your environmental footprint, especially if that reuse allows you to divert waste from landfill. Personally, I’ve found that figuring out how to re-use items is as much about your crafting abilities as it is about your creativity and mindset. So I wanted to share my own most useful and most interesting examples of re-use because seeing what others have done online has been the most helpful thing for me when it comes to figuring out how to re-use.

These ideas are a good mix of easy and common zero waste swaps as well as some more creative ideas.

Mini Bookshelf

You can stack milk crates on top of each other or side by side to create a miniature bookshelf for yourself. Milk crates are the perfect size to fit a vast majority of books and can often be found in thrift stores or are given away when a local factory or plant shuts down. If you want to spice up the look a little bit you can also spray paint your crates like I did for an extra pop of color.

Mini Crate Seats

This second one is another milk crate hack. I created two of these miniature stool seats by cutting some bath mats to size to use on top for padding and then adding some ribbon so you don’t have to see the rough cut edge. This craft was fun, easy, and cheap to make and they’ve been awesome to have in the residence hall. The great thing about them is that they’re little so they can be easily stowed away when not in use and are great to have a around for moving as well.

Bedside Table

Need a bedside table? Stack two milk crates on top of each other, hit them with the spray paint, and you’re all set! You can also put a cute plate on top to prevent smaller items from falling through the holes.

Plant Stand

Alright, this is the last milk crate hack I promise. (It’s not my fault they’re incredibly versatile.) This one is great if you have a short desk or dresser but a taller window so your plants need some more height to get maximal lighting. In general, especially for a college kid I 100% recommend finding some crates before you go off to school. They’re perfect because they can serve so many purposes which is great when you’re moving around a lot like most students.

Soap Dishes

When I started using solid beauty products I didn’t really want to spend money on a nice sustainably made soap try so I just cut some holes in the bottom of this deli meat container (this is back before I went vegetarian). The lid is convenient because it makes it easy to carry my things to the communal bathroom down the hall and I can also rest the container on top of the lid to catch water so my dresser doesn’t get wet.

Conditioner Bottle

I was having trouble using my conditioner bar in its solid form so I decided to melt it down and add water to make it more like a conventional conditioner. I’d initially thought of buying or thrifting a pump top glass bottle like I have for my dish soap but realized I could reuse the old Dr. Bronner’s bottle from the soap I’d just finished.

Yoga Mat Bag

This is one of my favorite DIYs, its been so convenient and nice to have a proper bag for my yoga mat especially when I need to carry it in the rain. There are a ton of tutorials online about how to make jeans into a yoga mat bag and I also wrote a post about my personal experience doing so. This is a great way for you to save money and keep textiles out of the landfill.

Bulk Shopping Bags

The only thing better than buying bulk goods sustainably and package free is doing it upcycled bags you made yourself. There are a ton of bulk bags available for cheap on amazon but most have not been sustainably produced. Making some bags yourself is a great way to go the extra mile by diverting textile waste from landfill in addition to reducing your plastic waste.

Rags

This tip is such a quick and easy way to reduce waste. Instead of using paper towels and napkins you can cut up old t-shirts, towel, or any textile and simply wash them when you’re done using them.

Bulk Foods Storage

This is a classic and indispensable low waste tip. As you transition from packaged goods to buying bulk save jars from products like applesauce, salsa, or peanut butter. You’ll be able to store all types of food in them and even use them as cups.

Mouth Guard Case

Need a mouth guard for sports or late night teeth grinding? Save yourself a little plastic and store it in a re-used food container. Be sure to cut out a few holes in the bottom to make sure your mouth guard dries out properly.

Compost Storage

I’ve seen a lot of folks online who buy special containers to store their compost in, but because I don’t do my own compost and I bring it to a community compost location, I have no need for a special container. Instead of buying something I use empty yogurt containers or a disposable plastic bag.

Flower Pots

Are you like many Americans who have somehow acquired more mugs than a person could ever use in a lifetime? Well, if you answered yes and you’re looking to start potting plants, mugs are a cute substitute for flower pots. The one caveat is they don’t have drainage holes so you’ll need to be very careful about over watering.

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

Organizational Trays

This is an idea that Marie Kondo has recently popularized that I’ve been doing nearly my whole life. Often, items come in absolutely adorable packaging that is reusable. Shown below, I have old teavana containers and cookie tins that I use to store office supplies and teas. I always keep a small collection of these boxes and often share them with friends and family who need organizational help.

Funnel

This is an idea I stole from a video on the Shelbizlee youtube channel. (I’d highly recommend her videos in you’re interested in zero-waste content.) You can cut the bottom off a plastic soda bottle and then you’ll have a funnel you can use for all kinds of purposes, I use mine the most when I’m making oat milk.

Toe Spacers

If you’ve got bunions or other foot problems like me you know that toe spacers are life savers. But personally I’ve found that the silicone ones never last more than a few months and there just aren’t any sustainable options. Solution, roll up some pieces of old t-shirt, throw a few stitches in to keep the spacer together, and you have upcycled and machine washable toe spacers. The other benefit to trying this is that you can customize your toe spacers to exactly what is most comfortable and beneficial for you.

That brings me to the end of my list!

I hope you’ve found this article helpful and I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What are the most creative or helpful ways to reuse or upcycle items that you’ve done or have heard of?

Online Thrifting + Mini ThredUp Haul

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

Online thrift shopping seems to have suddenly exploded and honestly I could not be happier about it.

I’ve personally always loved thrifting and have been doing it since I was a kid. Back then it was motivated by family financial troubles, and nowadays it’s motivated by environmental reasons.

However, my love affair with thrifting has been on  break since I came to college. My hometown is suburban, wealthy, and has a population of about 25,000 while also being surrounded by many other wealthy, suburban towns.

Then I came to my college town, small, rural, and in the poorest region of the state. Two thirds of the population is comprised of college students and the next biggest city is over an hour away. Suddenly, it became very difficult for me to thrift in town.

The stores have less variety, clothing is lower quality, and there is less size availability. 

Frustrated by all this I’ve been thrifting a lot less since starting school. However, in order to follow through on the sustainable commitment I made a year ago, thrifting and I will need to get back together. But the thrifting issues in my area still persist.

Luckily, online thrift stores have come to save me.

Over the past few months I’ve worn through a ton of items in my closet and therefore need a bit of a refresh. I was able to find plenty of cute tops in my local thrift shops but ABSOLUTELY NO GOOD PANTS.

So, to cover my butt, I decided to try ThredUp, an online second hand fashion retailer that sources clothing directly from consumers. Unlike some other second hand apps such as Let Go or Depop, ThredUp collects and preps all the clothing for sale in their own central facilities. Consumers send the clothing in to ThredUp’s resale centers and are compensated for their clothing via cash, store credit, or charitable donations.

I chose ThredUp largely because I’d already seen it promoted by sustainable influencers I trust and the ThredUp Choose Used campaign convinced me that the company wasn’t only greenwashing.

I spent an hour shopping and was able to find 4 items I was interested in.

The total price after promotional discounts, tax, and shipping was $58.17.

About a week later, everything arrived on schedule in some very adorable, and recyclable blue polka dot packaging.

Unfortunately all the pants I purchased are too large and unflattering as a result. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised by this, I have the same issue on every online retailer. Whenever I follow the size guidelines based on my measurements everything ends up being too big. Not sure if this is me measuring wrong or just some quirk of my anatomy, but I will be returning my pants for store credit.

The purse was really cute and practically brand new, just as the description promised. But I actually want a purse that’s larger so that I can more easily carry zero waste essentials like a coffee mug and empty Tupperware. Additionally, the straps of the purse are also the drawstring closure, which I found pretty annoying the one day I took the purse for a test drive so I will also be returning the purse.

Now let’s do pros and cons.

Pros

The variety on ThredUp is generally amazing. Tons of styles, good size availability for me (14-16 pants, L/XL tops), and a range of products from low end to luxury brands. ThredUp also curates their collection and only accepts clothing on trend and in good condition so you don’t have to spend time sorting like at a regular thrift store. Because the clothing is centrally managed all the photography is uniform, browsing is easier than on a site like Depop, this is a small detail but I appreciated it and it could be important for folks who are easily overwhelmed by busy websites.

Cons

ThredUp is definitely more expensive than traditional thrift shopping (thought still less than new). The major con for me is the return policy, which isn’t particularly generous. All returns have a $2 restocking fee per item and if you don’t want to pay the return shipping at $9 a box  you’ll have to accept store credit instead of cash.

Overall

Would I recommend online thrifting or ThredUp? Yeah, BUT I would still preference brick-and-mortar thrift stores, they are cheaper and sizing clothing in person is much easier. However, I think sites like ThredUp are a great resource if you lack access to thrift stores and/or prefer the curate shopping experience. I will likely buy from ThredUp again, even if only because I now have store credit.

What are your experiences with online thrifting? Any advice for why everything I buy online is too big? Let me know in the comments below.

What is Sustainability Lifestyle Activism?

Photo by Vincent M.A. Janssen on Pexels.com

Impending environmental doom.

It’s an issue a lot of us are concerned about, but apart from becoming a conservation biologist or otherwise dedicating your career to the environment what is the everyday average person supposed to do?

The answer, in my opinion, lies in lifestyle activism.

Now, there is a lot of misconception about what lifestyle activism actually means, in my research for this post I found very little consensus about what actions qualify as lifestyle activism or not. The most common theme? That the term was used in a negative way and seen as lesser than true “activism”.

The problem with this is that nearly every article I found critiquing lifestyle activism failed to compare it to anything other than “activism” in a general sense, simply presuming the reader might intuit what it is exactly that the writer believed true activism to be.

Overtime, I discovered the particular brand of activism many of these critics were comparing lifestyle activism to can be more specifically defined as civic change. Activism aimed at civic change involves addressing issues through political channels and pushing through governmental policy changes. This includes actions such as voting, lobbying, attending marches, or calling your senators. Lifestyle activism includes basically everything else from posting on social media, buying activism merch, reducing personal waste, and shopping at the farmer’s market. This brand of activism aims not to create civic changes but cultural changes and engender shifts in how we live our day to day lives.

However, as I mentioned before there is very little consensus on how lifestyle activism is actually defined. I have seen both attending marches and becoming an artist who focuses on social justice both negatively referred to as lifestyle activism.

However, I just find this hate of lifestyle activists a bit confusing. What is wrong with activism becoming a part of the broader American lifestyle? Isn’t that kind of the dream? Isn’t it wonderful that it doesn’t make you an outcast to have attended a climate strike or women’s march?

Particularly when it comes to sustainability, I feel that there is a unique and strong connection to lifestyle activism with the low waste, minimalist, and plant based eating movements all becoming trendy and gaining a lot of steam. Environmentalists are more or less expected to make lifestyle changes such as having reusable water bottles, coffee cups, and shopping bags in a way feminists or other activists aren’t expected to. I’ve never seen feminists encouraging each other to ditch fast fashion so as to not take advantage of vulnerable women the way I see environmentalists ditching fast fashion so as to not take advantage of our vulnerable planet.

Isn’t it admirable to not be able to just talk the talk but walk the walk as well? If you protest fast fashion outside city hall and encourage governmental policy for sustainable clothing production it’s going to look hypocritical if you’re always shopping at Forever 21.

At the end of the day I believe that all this hate on lifestyle activism is uncalled for and unhelpful. The amount of sustainable products and alternatives that have popped up for consumers, governments, and businesses alike in the last decade is staggering. These changes can only happen if there is a public interest in and desire for sustainability, lifestyle activism is the engine that drives these cultural changes.

Now, I say none of this to detract from modes of civic activism at all. Voting is important. Lobbying is important. Calling your senators is important. I just don’t see any reason that the importance of civic activism has to detract from the power and potential of lifestyle activism.

For there to be policy changes people have to care enough to fight for those changes, and the way to get more people interested is through cultural shifts that are driven by lifestyle activism. Civic change alone isn’t going to create interest in the hearts and minds of the people.

As much as sharing posts on social media is generally considered to be the most lazy form of activism, no one would ever argue that social media hasn’t been instrumental in spreading ideology and awareness about sustainability. Sure, one individual sharing a post doesn’t change the world. But to focus on that fact completely misses the point that millions of people are posting and sharing and that does create massive cultural changes.

Take for example the video of that turtle with a straw in their nose, sure no one individual is a hero for having shared that video. But you’d have to be blind to not have noticed the sudden changes taking place after that video went viral. Coffee shops have changed the shapes of their cups to ditch the straw, some restaurants have stopped giving them out altogether, and a ton of people have begun to carry their own reusable straws.

Even the most commonly cited form of lazy and false activism has created potent, fast, and tangible changes.

Even if most people who shared that turtle video aren’t engaged in any other forms of activism does that really mean they shouldn’t have shared that video? Would the environment be better off if these folks had not shared the post?

At the end of the day, this idea that lifestyle activism is bad and civic activism is good, is just a false and oversimplified dichotomy. Both are vital and important to achieving sustainability goals and saving our planet. So, why don’t we just stop wasting time hating on people who aren’t doing activism the way we are and just focus on working together.