Clearing up myths to provide practical ways we can all help save our planet.
Sustainability is such a buzzword these days, often overused and misused. So what does it really mean to be eco sustainable? According to Wikipedia, sustainability refers to the “capacity for the biosphere and human civilization to perpetually and harmoniously co-exist. It is the process by which humans act to reduce their impact on the environment to maintain healthy ecosystems.” Sustainability is achieved when there is balance, or homeostasis, of species and the resources within a given habitat, therefore, the goal is to maintain equilibrium so that available resources are not be depleted faster than they are naturally generated.
How can we, in our everyday lives, become more environmental sustainable? First, we can set our sights on the ideal vision of the planet we will leave for future generations: a clean planet where humans and creatures can coexist in optimal health; a safe planet where waste does not toxify the water, soil or air; a lush planet where abundance reigns and scarcity becomes scarce itself. When we envision a planet overflowing endlessly with natural richness, we tap into a power that extends far beyond mere manufactured wealth. We are then able to move intentionally towards a more prosperous, regenerative mindset and away from a harmful, extractive one.
A Planet In Danger: Dire Warnings
Scientists have been warning the world about self-inflicted annihilation for at least 30 years. The first World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity was written in 1992, describing severe damage to the atmosphere, oceans, ecosystems and soil. It warned that earth could become inhabitable if humans continued the same consumption patterns of natural resources and fossil fuels. It rang alarm bells if humans didn’t get a better handle on its own population and poverty increases. Scientists wrote a second warning to humanity in 2017 which noted some positive trends like slowing deforestation and reversed ozone depletion but emphasized that the other problems mentioned in the first warning letter went unheeded. More recently, in November 2019, over 11,000 scientists from around the world published a third letter declaring a climate emergency. It warned about serious threats to sustainability due to climate change. It urged policy changes to stop overconsumption, lower fossil fuel extraction, reduce meat eating, and stabilize the population.
Moving To A Circular Economy
For the most part, modern industry operates in a linear economy – one that moves natural resources from the ground, to production, to use, then to the landfill. This operating behavior is extractive, because the landfill is a dead end. It does not propagate the planet with anything useful. The goal is to migrate modern industry to a circular economy – one that enables us to continuously reuse and recreate goods derived from materials that have previously been manufacturered. According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, a circular economy takes three important steps into consideration: 1. designing out waste and pollution, 2. keeping products and materials in use, and 3. regenerating natural systems.
In order to move to a circular economy, industry needs to embrace the unpopular idea of producing less and encouraging prolonged product use. Unpopular, because it flies in the face of today’s pace of economic growth. However, in order for humans to have a chance at long term survival, we must course-correct our trajectory and be willing to shift the collective mindset towards sustainable conservation and consumption circularity.
Sustainable Corporate Trends
Fortunately, many large companies have adjusted their operations and product offerings, and many have made future commitments in an effort to operate more sustainably:
- Mattel pledged to use 100% recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastics in products and packaging by 2030.
- Microsoft made a historic announcement to go carbon negative by 2030, remove historical carbon emissions by 2050, and invest $1 billion in a climate innovation fund. It plans to achieve this by shifting to 100% renewable energy, electrifying global campus operations vehicles, attaining LEED Platinum Certification, and more.
- Starbucks announced a new sustainability commitment to become “resource positive” by giving more than it takes: by storing more carbon than it emits, eliminating waste, and providing more clean freshwater than it uses. To achieve this, it plans to expand its plant-based options, shift to reusable packaging from single-use, invest in regenerative agriculture practices, invest in waste management, and innovate to create eco-friendly stores.
- Mastercard, CitiBank, and partners including Saks Fifth Avenue, American Airlines, L.L. Bean, and more, announced the Priceless Planet Coalition, a platform to unite corporate sustainability efforts, and pledging to join to plant 100 million trees in 5 years.
- The Chinese government has announced a plan to crack down on plastic pollution by 2025. The commitment includes phasing out single-use plastics items, plastic bags and straws, and even single-use hotel items and eliminating plastic packaging in the postal service. China is one of the largest manufacturers of plastic in the world, accounting for more than 29% of the world’s plastic products.
- AstraZeneca committed to investing $1 billion to reach zero carbon emissions across its global operations by 2025, putting its decarbonization plan ahead of schedule by over 10 years. It plans to move to 100% renewable energy, reduce total energy consumption by 10%, and switch to an electric fleet.
- Governments from the U.K. to California announced plans to ban sales of new gasoline-powered cars in the next 10-15 years.
Sustainable Consumer Trends
Additionally, eco-conscious consumers are also helping turn the tide by shifting consumption and waste management behaviors to support the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ conservation principles:
- Trading single-use plastic shopping bags, beverage cups and drinking straws for reusable ones.
- Boycotting fast fashion, upcycling and reselling used clothing and accessories.
- Reducing reliance on fossil fuels by bicycling, ridesharing, working from home, purchasing electric vehicles, and transitioning to renewable energy such as solar and wind power.
- Voting with their dollars to support companies that have well-documented sustainable operations and commitments.
Problems with Recycling
Consumers generally believe that recycling is helpful, but they aren’t always compliant. First, recycling isn’t always convenient. Not every township has a curbside recycling program, not all companies mandate in-office recycling, and not all residential or commercial properties offer recycling receptacles for their communities. The Pacific Northwest has been perhaps the most progressive region in the United States for green living practices, but it’s not the case in various parts of the Midwest. It takes considerable effort on the part of consumers to reduce landfill waste in these areas and instances.
Second, in many cases, consumers don’t know what items and materials are recyclable. Oftentimes, items will be thrown in the recycling bin, only to be received by the recycling center and deemed unrecyclable. Those items must go through the extra effort of being sorted out and then sent to the landfill. Third, with ever increasing focus on the pandemic and the resulting physical-mental human health crisis, consumers may be inclined to deprioritize recycling behaviors as a method of streamlining daily effort. It stands to reason that even small changes make quite the difference when the human psyche feels overtaxed and is striving to survive today, let alone tomorrow.
When it comes to proper recycling, there are some general rules of thumb, and then there are details that will vary depending on your township. It is important to remember that recycling is a commodity business. Therefore, it must be economically viable for a recycling center to go through the effort of recycling any given material. A major issue that consumers do not realize is the detrimental effect of material contamination. Grease or food residue that is placed into a recycling bin may render a whole batch of recycling useless. Furthermore, items that are too small to be sorted properly or too difficult to separate serve to slow down the process of recycling and ultimately end up in the landfill. It is always important to check with your township to see what items are in fact recyclable and how you should properly prepare items for sustainable recycling.
Here are some general guidelines to recycle items most efficiently:
- Clean Glass (soda bottles, wine bottles, beer bottles, spaghetti sauce jars, cosmetic bottles, etc.) is widely recyclable.
- Check with your township on any restrictions regarding colored glass or decorated glass.
- Most recycling centers do not accept standard light bulbs, window pane glass, auto glass, crystal, ceramics, or mirror glass.
- Clean Paper (newspaper, office paper, shopping bags, magazines, brochures, junk mail, gift wrap, greeting cards, etc.) is widely recyclable.
- Check with your township on any restrictions regarding shredded paper.
- Mixed material paper such as foil or glittery wrapping paper, or paper cups that are wax or plastic coated (poly-lined) are typically not recyclable.
- Soiled napkins and paper towels are typically not recyclable.
- Clean Cardboard (boxes, cartons, etc.) are best recycled when they are flattened. Paper tubes such as inside paper towels, toilet paper and gift wrap are recyclable.
- Do not recycle cardboard that is contaminated with food waste, such as greasy pizza boxes.
- Mixed material cartons such as cardboard beverage or broth cartons lined with plastic or foil (poly-lined) are not recyclable.
- Clean Metal Cans (aluminum and tin cans for soda, vegetables, pet food, tuna, etc.) are widely recyclable.
- Be sure to rinse and dry cans out before tossing into the recycling bin.
- Package components mixing metal with other materials (such as personal care pumps and overcaps with metal and plastic affixed parts) are not recyclable.
- Metal crimpled tubes (such as toothpaste or hand cream tubes) may not be recyclable because (a) they are typically not clean inside or (b) they are fused with another material, often plastic (polylayered).
- Flexible bags, pouches, packets, wrappers, and sachets (such as those for snack foods, coffee bags, cosmetics samples, single-use face masks, pill packages, chewing gum, etc.) are not recyclable because they are fused with another material, often plastic (polylayered).
- Aluminum bottles that are lined with plastic to avoid rust or metal corrosion are not recyclable (polylayered).
- Check with your township to see if clean aluminum foil is recyclable. Some centers may accept aluminum foil if it is scrunched into a large ball.
- Plastic made of monolayer polyethylene terephthalate, PETE or PET #1 (such as soda bottles, water bottles, prepared food trays, etc.) is widely recyclable. Plastic made of high-density polyethylene HDPE #2 (such as milk jugs, water bottles, shampoo bottles, yogurt tubs, etc.) is widely recyclable.
- Check with your township to see if these other plastic materials are recyclable:
- Plasticized polyvinyl chloride or polyvinyl chloride, or PVC #3
- Low-density polyethylene, or LDPE #4
- Polypropylene, or PP #5
- Polystyrene, or PS #6
- Other plastics #7
- Check with your township to see if small items such as plastic bottle caps, monolayer sample sachets, or clean cling wrap is recyclable.
- Check with your township or local supermarket to see if single-use plastic grocery bags are recyclable.
- Check with your township to see if these other plastic materials are recyclable:
- EWaste – Check with specialized collection centers for accepting batteries, printer cartridges, computers, smart phones and other e-waste for recycling.
In truth, the goal of a circular economy is to encourage the population to consume in such a way as to avoid the need for recycling altogether. This would mean refusing acceptance of wasteful items, eradicating single use disposables, buying in bulk, buying used goods, bringing one’s own packaging to stores, reusing containers, and composting carbon-based waste matter. By training ourselves to use less, we will then throw less into the trash and recycling bins, and move our planet toward a more sustainable, zero waste economy.
For more information on Humanist Beauty’s sustainability efforts visit the About Us page.