I don't know about you, but I've been hearing "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" since I was in preschool. It was drilled in my head before I even really knew what the point was.
I understand that the slogan is catchy. I understand that it's broad enough that it's not technically wrong. But it's also not accurate enough that it's technically right. It's a gray area. It just kind of exists.
But it's 2020.
We know the climate is being suffocated with our carbon emissions and drowned in our plastic addiction.
It's time we chose a better mantra—one that fits the needs of our planet.
I've come up with what I like to call The 5 Finger Rule:
Some of it might sound familiar, but let me break it down.
Research - take the time to research the brands you're buying. Look into what their products are made out of, what they package their items in, if they have any eco-labels. The Good Trade is one of my favorite resources for comparing brands. If they pass your analysis, awesome. If they don't, spend some time looking into brands that have an eco-conscious model. (Tip: just add the word "sustainable" in front of whatever you're shopping for in Google, and you'll get a bunch of options)
Borrow - we all like saving money, right? So, when you need a blazer for your big presentation, rather than run out and buy one for that one presentation, ask your friends. Want a good book to read but didn't find one at the library? Ask your favorite book nerd. It'll save you money in the long run, and it'll help keep you on the right track for caring about the environment.
Reduce - easier said than done, I know. It's hard to break the Starbucks or scented candle habit. But the trick is to tackle the easy habits first. For me, that looks like simplifying my makeup routine. I don't wear makeup very often, so that's an easy area of my life to look at and cut out any unnecessary purchases. I used to waste way too much money in Ulta on makeup I would wear once or twice a year. Now, I've got about half the size of my old stash, I save money, and I'm wasting less when I throw away all the expired, barely touched makeup. I would never dare to try and tackle my book obsession first. It's just too important.
Reuse - oh, this is my favorite. Buying plastic is almost unavoidable depending on where you live and your financial prospects. So my favorite trick for those plastic lotion bottles you keep stockpiling is to reuse them! I've used plastic jars to store hairbands, paperclips, whatever. It cuts down on money I would've spent looking for a basket at Target and ensures that the plastic is being used to its full extent.
Forgive - when people hear about the climate crisis, it tends to stir up a lot of anxiety and panic. It's important that we remember that it's more important to be imperfectly eco-friendly than it is to be guilt-ridden and trying to be perfect. You're going to make mistakes and be forgetful. You're going to give into that impulse to buy that fast fashion dress. And that's okay. Forgive. Move on.
"Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" is great, but it's not enough. We need to start bringing sustainability into every aspect of our lives if we want to have any sort of impact.
But the most important thing to do is to sign petitions, attend protests, call your representatives. Make your voice heard. Shopping sustainably will shift our free market system in an eco-conscious direction. Politicizing sustainability will shift our democracy in an eco-conscious direction.