It wasn’t that long ago when recycling was something that many of us didn’t bother to do. Today recycling has become commonplace and is something we don’t give a great deal of thought to. We consume and we toss. And then every week we drag the recycling bin out to the curb right along with the garbage.

You may be surprised to know that the concept of recycling dates back to historic times. Historians believe that recycling — in some form or another — has been happening since 400 BC or earlier. Archaeologists also deduced from waste remnants — about the history of recycling — that recycling was a popular practice during times of distress. When times were more difficult — like during wartime — jewelry, coins and other items made from metal were recycled and used for weapons. Much as it was in ancient times, the popularity of recycling today is impacted primarily by supply and demand.

But is recycling enough? As citizens of this planet, don’t we have a responsibility — an obligation — to do more? Can we honestly say that we are doing our ‘part’ for the planet and future generations? What does it even mean to be a good ‘partner’ with our planet?

Interestingly, recycling is not even the best place for us to start. Recycling is awesome so keep doing that (or start if you’re not yet doing it). Along with recycling, we have to look at reduction and reuse. We all have the ability to eliminate waste before it gets created in the first place. Creatively reusing items not only helps the environment, it’s good for your budget!

Consumerism in the US is at an all-time high and increasing every day. An article published by PBS on the ‘Rise of American Consumerism‘ said the following: After World War II, consumer spending no longer meant just satisfying an indulgent material desire. In fact, the American consumer was praised as a patriotic citizen in the 1950s, contributing to the ultimate success of the American way of life. “The good purchaser devoted to ‘more, newer and better’ was the good citizen,” historian Lizabeth Cohen explained, “since economic recovery after a decade and a half of depression and war depended on a dynamic mass consumption economy.”

That was then, but what about now? Is mass consumerism really serving us as a human race or our planet? How do we start making better more responsible choices and become good citizens of the only home we will ever have?

Here’s a place to start. I’ve created 5 practical ways for cultivating a more sustainable lifestyle. And this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg!

:: 1 :: Waste Reduction — Waste reduction means cutting down on the amount of material you throw away. There are a number of ways you can do this at home, in the office and in making small changes to the way you shop. Here are a few ways that you can get started.

  • Buy only what you need and try to avoid over-packaged products (bonus: whole foods are also a better choice for your health so this tip yields multiple benefits!).
  • Use cloth or mesh bags for shopping to cut down on plastic bag consumption (I keep a stash of reusable bags in my car). Say ‘no’ to plastic bags — and not just in the grocery store. For more ideas on living a plastic-free life, go here.
  • Purchase items in bulk or economy sizes and avoid items that are packaged with non-recyclable materials (also known as pre-cycling). If possible, switch to a brand that uses recyclable or compostable materials instead.
  • Consider taking a complete inventory of your waste and recycling for at least a 2 week period. You’ll get tons of ideas on ways to reduce your waste!

:: 2 :: Reuse — Look around your home, office and community for items that can be reused and repurposed. Be creative!

  • Use rechargeable batteries whenever possible.
  • Reuse empty boxes for storage or shipping and shredded paper or newspapers for packing materials.
  • Leave grass clippings on your lawn. Clippings return nutrients to the soil and avoid the work of bagging. Composting grass and leaves eliminates yard waste and collection costs, and drastically reduces the need to purchase most fertilizers and planting supplements.
  • Use cloth napkins and towels instead of disposable rags or paper towels that cannot be recycled.
  • Buy or find used equipment, appliances, furniture, clothing, etc. Consignment stores and online sites like Craigslist and Freecycle are great resources!

I recently had to have a very large tulip poplar tree taken down on my property. I was thrilled to be able to ‘gift’ much of the wood from the tree to my neighbor Linda whose home uses wood-burning stoves for heat in the winter. Though the wood from a poplar tree burns really quickly, Linda is a happy camper with wood stores to get her through the winter … and then some. There was also this big, beautiful hole in the middle of that tree. Another neighbor, who works with wood and builds furniture, also walked away with a nice ‘slice’ from the thickest part of the trunk and plans to make a one-of-a-kind coffee table with it. I can’t wait to see the finished product!

:: 3 :: Green Energy Choice — Since the start and spread of energy deregulation, many consumers now have the ability to choose who supplies the electricity and natural gas used in their homes and businesses. Would it surprise you to learn that the majority of consumers don’t know they have a choice and many of the ones that do know haven’t yet made the choice? The potential to make a huge collective impact here is tremendous just by making this one simple and responsible choice.

To learn more about options available in your state and city, check with your utility and take a peek at my other site here. You can also drop your zip code in the comments below and I’ll provide additional information and resources just for you.

:: 4 :: Simplify Your Life — De-cluttering or downsizing can seem stressful, but the long-term benefits are tremendous. When you remove all the things and activities that simply don’t bring you joy, what you are left with is the space, time, energy and resources to spend on that which you really love. This doesn’t mean you have to go to extremes and become a minimalist (unless you really want to do that). Start with one area and build momentum from there. Ultimately your surroundings will impact what your mind focuses on.

:: 5 :: Education and Life-Long Learning — Awareness is key. Reading blogs and books and watching videos, taking classes on sustainability and joining local sustainable communities and volunteer efforts — these are all effective ways to shift your mindset towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Taking small steps and making incremental changes over time will organically uncover more ways that you can make better choices.

If you’ve ever asked yourself ‘What difference could I possibly make in tipping the scales to a more positive and healthy planet?’, you just took the first step by reading this post. Rest assured that the choices each of us makes on an individual level will have a huge collective impact for years to come. So start with one simple thing that you can change today and be consistent with it. Make it a life-long commitment to live more sustainably.

p.s. I’d love to hear your ideas! Share in the comments below things you are already doing or will do to cultivate a more sustainable lifestyle.

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