Written by Rachel Karman
As of just recently, I have trying to implement sustainable practices in my life all while holding large corporations accountable for their colossal role in damaging the environment. I think the most important lesson I can pass on is that everyone does not need to be perfect at trying to be sustainable, you just need to show up imperfectly. You can still be an environmentalist while driving a car, producing trash, and eating meat. The expectation that you never make is mistake is very overwhelming, can lead to burn out, and is discouraging people from starting in the first place.
When conversing with my friends, a major hold back is that being sustainable is expensive. And to an extent they are right. I am in no way trying to shame people into buying a Reformation dress for $200 every time you have a school dance or even purchase fifteen Stashers reusable bags at once. However, I do find a lot of flaws in the comment. The first is that the most sustainable option is using what you already have.
As college students, it is very natural to want to stay up with the latest fashion trends. The pricing and aesthetics of the clothes at fast fashion places such as Shein, Zaful, Urban Outfitters, Free People, etc., make it very enticing to buy from them. I love clothing just as much as the next person, but after finding out that fast fashion is responsible for nearly 10% of annual global emissions1, I was discouraged from continuing to buy clothes in the same manner I always had. Some great alternatives are re-wearing your clothes, buying second hand, or even swapping with friends. It is unrealistic to never buy new clothes, but it is more financially responsible and environmentally conscious to only buy new things when you are in need them.
Other ways we can help decrease waste while saving money are fixing things when they break instead of replacing them. There is a beautiful Japanese art trend, called Kintsugi, where artists use a liquid metal to bring together broken pieces of ceramics to enhance the break instead of finding shame in it. When someone has suffered damage and went through a hardship, we tend to glorify them because of the strength they embodied while going through that situation. If we set this mindset on broken objects, we would inevitably hesitate before adding more garbage to the landfills.
My second counterargument is that sustainable items are a long-term investment so while it is more upfront, you end up saving money in the long run. For those of us with menstrual cycles, switching to a menstrual cup is actually the biggest way I save money as a college student. Research has shown that investing in a menstrual cup is only 5-7% of the price of buying pads, tampons, and liners throughout your lifetime. This is because you can leave menstrual cups in for 12 hours at a time and usually only need to replace them once every 5-10 years. Not only are they economically smart but they are also better for your body and the Earth. There is no evidence of microplastics as most cups are made with 100% medical grade silicon and there is no association to toxic shock syndrome. By switching to a menstrual cup, we can keep 90% of period product plastic out of landfills2.
My last argument is that being sustainable can have nothing to do with money but it’s rather a mindset. The easiest way to adopt this mentality is by learning to appreciate your backyard. This was something I only learned very recently by Erin Herock. We view that beach, or mountain range, or rainforest, that other place as “Earth” but the raw truth is that Earth is all the places we find insignificant too. We have a responsibility to take care of our ecosystem and everything that inhabits it. Some things you could start implementing right now are utilizing natural light instead of artificial, spending less time in the shower, and not letting the water run when you brush your teeth. Try to go through your email and delete all your junk and trash mailboxes. It requires energy to store them there. Another big key is understanding how to properly recycle. Take the time to learn what the numbers mean and do not contaminate recycling binds with landfill trash. Finally, the most effective way we can make an impact to protect this Earth for future generations, is to use our voice to support policies that make our Earth healthy. We have two homes, our body and our Earth, let’s take care of our Earth in the same way we strive to take care of ourselves.
1 Clothes and Climate Change: How a Fashion Choice Could Lead to Better Air Quality. GASP (2020).
2 Landsverk, G. Your period could be more than 90% cheaper if you switch to menstrual cups, new research finds. Insider (2019).