Last Mother-Lovin’ Monday, I launched the new Love Your Mother program (where MLM found its name) and it was a grand birthday. Trees were planted, giveaways won, Mother Nature loved. If you missed it, you can read all about it here!
In that blog, I talked about how I believe the best way to effect change is to do what we can with what we have whenever we are able. This has been my compass. My source of discipline and my source of grace. It has helped me come to terms with the fact that I can’t do everything—and that’s okay. It has pushed me to realize I can still do a lot—and since I can, it is my responsibility to do so.
Let’s break that down.
I wish I could say goodbye to any and all single-use items for good, this very second. The biggest area I see this in my life is our groceries. There is a lot of packaging involved with food—I mean, I get it, the production and sale of food requires a lot of rules to keep it safe for consumption. The amount of plastic casing, clingwrap, styrofoam, cardboard, etc. that comes home with us every few weeks is upsetting.
If I had my druthers, I would prefer to exclusively shop at farmers markets, buy in bulk, and never bring home plastic again. But that’s not in our budget or schedule at the moment. We’re working toward that so it will be one day. For now, we buy at farmers markets and in bulk from our local Co-Op when we can and give ourselves grace for every other time that we can’t.
There are some spectacular reusable products that we have invested in to limit our single-use consumption. I will talk about them in future Mother-Lovin’ Mondays, but not before laying down this very important part of the sustainability equation:
Use what you have.
If you’re trying to be more sustainable, you’re on a journey (I hate that language, but it makes sense). You didn’t wake up and say “Today, I will be more sustainable” to magically have all of your plastic straws, plastic bags, paper towels, and napkins turn into reusable versions of themselves. As Oscar says to Michael, “you can't just say the word "bankruptcy" and expect anything to happen.” A reusable water bottle and travel coffee mug didn’t appear in your cupboard at your declaration.
There’s work. And there’s transition.
I think every one and their mother should switch to my favorite Mother-lovin’ soap Redbudsuds® by the end of this sentence and, as they say, “get off the bottle.” But if everyone did that, all of those shampoo and conditioner and shaving cream and body wash bottles that you have in your shower right now would still be tossed (ideally recycled), but now you would also waste the soap that’s still in there. That is not sustainability. That is not Mother-lovin’. That is not eco-friendly, no matter how eco-friendly the product is that you bought to replace it.
Use what you have first.
At this point, it’s paramount for me to say this: sustainability should not equal more purchases. Sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes it only asks that you learn a new skill or reframe your perspective.
Another vital piece of this puzzle is taking it in manageable steps. If I initiated at one time all of the practices and products that we’ve invested in to limit our single-use consumption over the last several years, I wouldn’t be able to afford it nor would I have kept up with it. We took it in small chunks within our means, switched one thing at a time, and aimed to reduce and relearn everywhere else.
In order to use what you have, you must first take stock of what you have.
This year, I learned about this approach to reducing your waste in a manageable and sustainable—as in, maintainable—manner and it is brilliant. (For the life of me, I can’t remember where I read this, so if you’ve also run across it and remember, let me know and I’ll attribute it to the genius!) For one week, look at your trash and take account of what it is you throw away the MOST. This practice is where I discovered all the food packaging we were tossing each week. After the week spent observing, make a plan for how to dramatically reduce that ONE thing.
Look for creative ways to reuse containers you toss. I cut up cards and cereal boxes to use as repurposed packaging for my art. The glass containers for juice, oil, sauces, etc. function fantastically as "Tupperware" or various storage jars when washed out. In my house, screws, paintbrushes, pens, rubber bands, quinoa, chocolate chips, rice, chia seeds, chip clips, salad, coffee, lunches and more all have homes in jars that used to house pasta sauce or coconut oil. For an added bonus, use these jars as your bring-from-home containers to buy in bulk!
Research the recycling programs in your area—is there a place that recycles other numbers of plastics that your city doesn’t take? Where I live, our Whole Foods has a recycling bin for #5 plastics since the city only takes #1 and #2 and #5 plastic is a very common plastic used in food packaging.
The next week, do it again. Focus on one thing at a time.
This is how change happens! Do what you can. Use what you have. Act when you are able.