Tips on how to make your life more environmentally friendly are everywhere, from using less plastic to taking public transportation more often. But while any effort to improve the environment is a positive step, some of these tips may not be as simple as they appear and could result in unintended outcomes.
For instance, while reducing plastic straw usage can benefit marine life, outright bans on straws can be problematic for the disabled community. This highlights the fact that our daily habits are not always as simple as being good or bad for the environment.
Here are 5 habits that may not be as sustainable as they appear.
- Buying Organic Food
Organic fruits and vegetables are usually free of pesticides and insecticides, but they may have been imported long distances, which involves air miles and exhaust fumes. Organic farming also requires more land to produce the same amount of food as conventional farming.
Determining whether food is eco-friendly depends on many factors, from how it was grown to how it was harvested, transported and cooked.
What to Do Instead: Shop Locally
Organic isn't an automatic signal that the food on your plate is the greenest option. Instead, look for locally-grown options when available and accessible, and research where your food comes from.
- Shopping Eco-Friendly Fashion
The fashion industry is responsible for approximately 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and runs rampant in its exploitation of natural resources. And the answer to this problem is quite clear—shop less and shop better.
But how do we deal with brands with a clean line that isn't entirely sustainable? Or those that claim to be sustainable yet still use synthetic fabrics in their pieces?
What to Do Instead: Research Brands or Shop Secondhand
It’s important that you research the brands you’re shopping from to ensure that they are truly eco-friendly.
And if you don’t have the time or energy to do a deep dive into a company’s transparency, there are a few general rules you can follow as a consumer. Natural threads leave the smallest impact on the planet (if it's stretchy, it's not natural) and plant-based dyes are the way to go.
Also, try sticking to the four S's of sustainable fashion the next time you go shopping: simplify, share (or rent), secondary market (buying secondhand) and sustainably made.
- Aspirational Recycling
No matter how pure your intentions are, not recycling properly is one of the easiest recycling mistakes to make.
Aspirational recycling, or wish cycling, often results in the disposal of recyclable items in landfills because of one incorrect item. For example, when you recycle paper goods in a plastic bag, they'll no longer be recycled (you must remove paper goods from plastic bags!).
If you’re unsure about how to recycle something correctly, it's better to avoid doing it altogether.
What to Do Instead: Know What You Can Recycle
Familiarize yourself with your city's recycling guidelines.
Avoid recycling soft plastics, including cling wrap, items with food residue and to-go coffee cups. Although Amazon packaging is mostly non-recyclable, the company's website provides information on how to bring it to a store drop-off location.
For electronic products, keep them out of the recycling bin. Instead, look into private recycling companies like ecoATM or check local retailers for electronics recycling opportunities.
- Replacing Everything You Own With Sustainable Options
Although we have more eco-friendly options than ever before, the issue of sustainability isn't just about using the right products. Overconsumption is also a problem. Purchasing excessive amounts of sustainable products to replace your current ones can worsen the problem of pollution and incorrect recycling.
Replacing less eco-friendly items with options labeled green or sustainable might make you feel better and is positive in many instances, but overdoing it contributes to even more trash in the landfill.
What to Do Instead: Upcycle What You Already Own
You probably already have what you need. If you no longer want an item, consider ways to put it to another use — like donating, selling, upcycling or turning it into art.
- Assuming Ride-Share Apps Are the Greenest Option
Although ride-share services like Uber and Lyft are convenient and some have touted them as eco-friendly options since they allow passengers to carpool easily, studies have shown that they have led to increased congestion and traffic.
The miles traveled and greenhouse gasses emitted end up being higher because cheaper fares enable drivers to increase their travel distance.
What to Do Instead: Walk, Bike or Use Public Transit
For those with Mother Earth at top of mind, the best options, when available, are still walking, biking or taking public transit. Or consider using all-electric-vehicle ride-share apps, such as Revel.
It's crucial to research and make informed choices about our daily habits to truly make a positive impact on the environment.