Minimalist, alternative, no-waste, and greener lifestyles are wonderfully in vogue right now. Creating less waste and streamlining your daily life isn’t just a concept for ‘tree-huggers’ and ‘dirty hippies’. People of all incomes and walks of life are realizing that living mindfully can have some great perks!
At the same time, those trying to live green can often carry some misconceptions about the lifestyle. What should a new eco-warrior know about their personal environmental impact? One person can only do so much. Here are just a few misconceptions that are important for any eco-conscious citizen to fix so they can understand their individual impact.
Misconception: Recycling Gets Recycled
You know “reduce, reuse, recycle”? Did you know that those are in order of importance? “Recycle” is a much less important step than reducing and reusing. Why? Not everything you’re sorting into recycling gets recycled. Recyclables are valuable commodities for manufacturers who want to use recycled goods for their products and materials. After all, recycled materials are often cheaper than new materials, and slapping a notice that their product uses recycled materials is a selling point for eco-conscious consumers.
But many products cannot be recycled. Dirty cardboard and paper typically go to the landfill — bye-bye, pizza box. PVC and bits of glass are big offenders. On top of that, if there is a surplus of material that manufacturers aren’t interested in buying for recycling at a given time, then those unsold goods will be trashed. If manufacturers don’t want to buy and recycle magazines for a few months, to the landfill those magazines go.
So is recycling helpful? Yes. You’re giving those recyclables you can’t reuse the best chance at avoiding the landfill. But is it the best solution to overproduction of human waste? Not by a long shot.
Misconception: Traditional Homes Can’t Be ‘Greened’ Easily
Tiny houses and other modes of minimalist living are appealing for some. Others have resigned themselves to traditional homes. They think that they can’t possibly be as adapted to eco-friendly living… so why bother?
Actually, making small eco-friendly choices in your home can be quite simple. Most homeowners will need to do some sort of cosmetic or structural work on their home at some point. Not everyone can avoid a total green home overhaul, but little steps are still steps in the right direction.
For example, the next time you need work done on your roof, use eco-conscious roofers and choose your materials wisely. It’s fairly simple to opt for environmentally friendly and recycled materials. The best materials can also help to reduce your home’s energy needs by as much as 30% by insulating and using sunlight efficiently.
Replacing piping and bathroom or kitchen fixtures is a great opportunity as well. The EPA estimates that $1.5 billion in energy costs and 70 billion gallons of water can be saved if just 10% of homeowners upgrade their bathrooms with energy efficient appliances and fixtures. It may not seem like a big number, but it’s taken decades to convince 10% of Americans that efficient appliances are worth it.
Misconception: There Aren’t Influential Organizations to Hold People Accountable for Green Standards
There are many public and private sectors and groups that are organizing official standards for green living. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is one such group. The ISO has around 22302 polished and published international standards under its belt. The standards cover everything from country codes to calibrating medical devices. They have several concerning sustainability and green living, including ISO 14020 on green labeling (especially helpful for consumers), ISO 14000 Environmental management, and ISO 20121 Sustainable events.
Even some of the greatest energy-consuming sectors are working at improving their impact. Data centers are one of the biggest consumers on the world energy grid, but green computing standards are pushing for rapid change. At least 80% of data centers are installing or already use systems called or hot or cold aisle containment that regulate server temperatures and drastically reduce their energy use.
If a particular field or business is of interest to you in terms of making their practices more ‘green’, chances are there is an organization or authority that can hold them to new, greener standards.
Misconception: Anyone Can Live Green If They Try Hard Enough
Living green is becoming slightly more accessible and affordable with time. Still, ‘greener’ options often have extra costs tacked on to them. Organic and fresh foods can come at a premium. Solar panels are still limited in urban areas and to renters. Many elderly and people living with disabilities need things like plastic straws in daily life. Not everyone has easy access to recycling or biking to destinations instead of driving. If you find easy ways to live a greener and/or more eco-friendly lifestyle, one of the most helpful things you can do is share your tips, resources, and general privilege with those who want to follow suit but find it difficult.
Going green to improve your life is an amazing and freeing choice. But if you’re also going green to make a positive environmental impact, remember your waste is only the waste of one person out of almost eight billion people. The best way to make a truly lasting large-scale impact is to lobby, petition, and vote your way to changing local and international policies for the better. Put a little focus on the big picture. The environment will thank you!