maintaining ecological balance: exploiting natural resources without destroying the ecological balance of an area
Well, that sounds like a nice idea, now, doesn’t it? Here in America (and in many other parts of the world, to be sure) we are no longer living a sustainable life. Native cultures did it, and did it well. They utilized the resources they had on hand in their region. They wasted nothing. They cared for the earth as a provider. Us? We suck at sustainability.
Unfortunately, we can’t just decide to go back to being sustainable. There’s too much to undo. What we can do is start from here. From where each of us is right now. Each one of us will tackle sustainability differently, but we’re all headed for the same result. Consider these the guiding light in our joint efforts to make a difference in the world. Stepping stones to sustainability, if you will.
- Do it yourself. This covers so much, but is so important. The biggest tenet of sustainability as I see it is to stop depending so much on other people for our needs. One example is food. If you get all of your groceries at the local supermarket, you’re entirely dependent upon the food manufacturers, the delivery people, and the grocers. What if something happens and supplies can’t get to the store? Certainly, the odds of that are slim, but I’m making a point. If we grow our own food – or at least some of it – we’re less dependent on all of those cogs working perfectly and we can avoid the chemicals and poisons that are often used on conventional fruits and vegetables. And of course, we’re being more environmentally friendly because the effort it takes to get a radish from your garden to your table is much, much less that it takes to get a radish to your table via the grocery store route.
- Limit the amount of waste we generate. This means avoiding products that are packaged in those god-awful hard to open hard plastic cases. But it also means skipping a bag of any kind at every store you frequent – not just the grocery store. It means buying products in bulk or larger quantities to eliminate single serve or small packages. And it means eating the food we bring home – all of it. According to one study, American households waste 14% of their food purchases and the average family of four tosses out $590 per year, just in meat, fruits, vegetables, and grain products that perish before they’re eaten.
- Reduce plastic use. Certainly, this falls under the previous goal of limiting waste, but plastic waste deserves special mention. Plastic is a petroleum product. Severely limiting the disposable plastic we use reduces our dependence on fossil fuels. Sometimes the thought of recycling helps us to justify a plastic purchase, but in truth, plastic is labor intensive to recycle. It needs to be sorted by hand and once it is, it often has to travel substantial distances using even more fuel to reach a processing facility.
- Eat local. For me, this means producing and preserving as much of my own food as possible. Second to that, I’ll frequent my local farmers markets and seek out locally produced items at the supermarket when possible.
- Repurpose. Recycling is great, but what if we can get more use out of an item before we recycle it? Why not use that egg carton to plant seedlings or the oatmeal container as a drum for your child?
- Limit new purchases. Every new item on store shelves required energy for its production as well as distribution. If you don’t live close to the manufacturing facility, you can bet the item you’re coveting has spent some serious time on a ship, plane, or truck (or a combination thereof). It’s something I’m particularly aware of living on an island but it applies to all of us. Gently used items are available through plenty of options including second hand shops, garage sales, freecycle, and Craigslist. If you’re not taking advantage of these outlets, it’s time to start! Another benefit to buying second-hand items like clothing and linens is that they’re much less likely to harbor the formaldehyde vapors found on newly manufactured products.
- Make healthier choices. So many of us have come to love the taste of processed foods. We crave things like chips and crackers. We covet candy bars and ice cream. Sure, they taste good. But is this real food? Instead of giving in to a trip to the store for the processed foods that are calling our names, let’s try to eat what’s available in our gardens or pantry. It’s better for us, and avoiding those packaged foods is better for the planet.
What about you? What defines a more sustainable life for you?