Sustainability in a Studio – Small Steps in Small Spaces

Over the past few years I’ve really strived to become more and more sustainable/zero waste and I wanted to share a few things that I’ve applied to my daily life.

It’s easy to hear the word “sustainability” and just think of a trend or something hippies do in Colorado… 😉 I can assure you it’s much more than that and it means much more than that to me. As humans on this earth we are required to take care of and give back to this place we call home. 

We often forget about how big our small actions are. And we are so disconnected from the long term effects associated with our actions – we throw things away that should never be trash – i.e. organic materials/compostable products, recyclable items, things we no longer need but something somebody else is in need of – we eat without even thinking of where that food might have come from, we grow crops that aren’t meant to be grown in our specific climate/region which results in depleting our resources, we buy too much and therefore waste too much and the list goes on. It comes down to taking responsibility for our actions and putting an extra thought behind the small things we do each day. As of now we are accumulating 2.12 billion tons of trash each year and 1.3 billion tons of food waste each year. That is an incredible amount of unnecessary waste! And since landfills are not designed to break down waste – only to store it – this means the bacteria within the waste are forced to break down anaerobically, producing methane instead of breaking back down into soil. Methane is a greenhouse gas 35 times stronger than carbon dioxide which accumulates underground, traps heat within the atmosphere and contributes to harmful climate issues and sends toxic liquid substances into our waters.

With that being said there are a million problems to solve, yes. And it’s certainly going to take more than saying no to a plastic straw to clean it up. But there are also a million little ways to make changes and reduce waste within your own living spaces, all of which mean something very big. I believe that small things do indeed make a big difference. 

So where does one begin when it comes to reducing waste and living a more, shall we say eco-friendly lifestyle? 😉 

I’m certainly no expert and I have a long ways to go before I even come close to living as sustainably as I would eventually like… but here are some things I’ve incorporated to get myself headed in a cleaner, more responsible direction. 

1. BYOB! Bring Your Own Bags! Whether its the grocery store, clothing store, etc. we allllllll know that we have them. Use them! 🙂 Who needs another tacky plastic bag floating around your home anyway?! It’s an eyesore! 

2. Buy in Bulk! Bring your own jars and bags and buy the bulk section baking and cooking products! Purchasing items in this fashion means you’re eliminating the plastic packaging which also means you’re not paying for that plastic, resulting in a much cheaper product. When you can, just say no to plastic and it’s friends. 

3. Compost! Food does not belong in landfills and composting is a practical way to transform waste into value – aka kitchen scraps into nutrient rich gold! It also can reduce up to 50% of the waste produced in your home. When you compost you are shepherding the transformation of death into life. Without this cycle of decay and rebirth, life on earth in general couldn’t even exist. When it comes to soil there is no more powerful ingredient than compost. It increases the fertility of the soil, enriches the micro- and macronutrients, balances the pH, breaks down toxins, improves soil structure and prevents disease. Without organic matter, soil is dead. As humans, we are constantly taking carbon, organic matter and minerals from the soil and we must get in the habit of returning as much of our organic waste as possible in order to rebalance this nutrient cycle.

I have a small stainless steel restaurant grade third pan which fits nicely into a little bamboo box I have on my kitchen counter – this is what I use for all of my cooking scraps such as egg shells, walnut shells, banana peels, steeped tea leaves, etc. I also add paper products such as compostable paper towels, cardboard, egg cartons, etc. Pretty much anything that once lived or was made from something that was living can be added to compost. If you have a backyard garden, this pile of kitchen scraps is your new best friend! If you are an apartment dweller, try giving it to your gardening/farming friends, find a community compost to dump it into or see if you can take it to your local farmers market! The farmers will love you for that!

4. Walk or Bike When Possible! It’s not always convenient and especially when you’re in a crunch for time sometimes driving is the only way to go. But for those small trips and such it’s nice to enjoy the walk and give the engines a break. 

5. Open Up Your Blinds! Use the light through your windows instead of turning on the lights in your home. It’s also great to get some of that Vitamin D on your skin instead the artificial light! 

6. Don’t Buy Bottled Water. Ever. Always bring your own bottle! 

7. Make Friends With Farmers! Local wheats, milk, fruits, veggies, meats, herbs and eggs are the majority of what make up my diet (oh! and cookies!! shhh…) and when you volunteer a hand to local farmers, you certainly won’t leave empty handed. I have been working on a local farm for the past two years and not only have I had the opportunity to cut back on fruit/vegetable costs and plastic packaging/stickers that come with most produce these days, but I have had the incredible opportunity to get hands on experience with my food, its history and it’s upbringing. The connection and appreciation is such an important piece for every human and it’s good for us to have that understanding of our food before it hits our bellies. 

8. Invest In Better Quality Items. Buying quality means that you’re investing in something with a long-term commitment and longevity in mind. Buying cheap/plactic odds and ends in order to “fill space” usually results in a shorter life span of that product, as they break more easily and then are simply thrown out to be bought again. I only buy what I love – not what I like. I have a lot of old things and I’ll have them always. I have to be in love with what I have or I don’t have it at all. I have a lot of dear, dear kitchenware – a lot which has been given from my mother, grandmothers, etc. – clay and copper pots, wooden utensils and boards and rolling pins, handmade pottery mugs and plates, very old cast iron skillets, etc. – all of which are things I honestly plan to always have in my kitchen wherever I may be and then to eventually give to my own daughters. These are the kind of things that are more sturdy and solid anyway – built to last, if taken good care of.

9. Repurpose! Repurpose any and all glass jars! That old pickle jar comes in handy for drinks, on-the-go snacks, or storing all those bulk goods you started buying. 😉 

10. Scraps into Stocks! You thought you were going to compost all of those vegetable scraps? No!! You’re going to make the most delicious stocks and broths with them! Yeah ya are! Simply keep a bag of all of your veggie scraps (and fruit scraps such as apple, pear, even some citrus if you want..) in the freezer and when you’ve accumulated a good-sized amount, throw them in a large pot, cover it to the top with water and a handful of fresh herbs and simmer this all day long until your home is brimming with smells of harvest cheer. This is the gold you’re going to squirrel away for your winter soup making. 

11. Indoor Plants! Growing your own culinary and medicinal herbs in your home is a great way to reduce the purchasing of cooking herbs (which usually comes with a lot of plastic packaging) and also a great way to add some more green into your home. Especially in tight living quarters, there’s honestly nothing I love more than having little plants to brighten up my home. Plants produce oxygen and absorb the toxins in the air, so it truly is beneficial to have them in your little corners!

12. Turn Off All Devices At Night! Turn the phone off, take the apple watch off, get all your lights off including your wifi box! 

13. Make Things! Make your own products! Homemade cleaning products are easy and much cleaner than anything you’ll find in the store. I like to take citrus scraps with rosemary and infuse them in vinegar for a week for a little kitchen surface cleaner. Also baking soda and hot water works wonders. And then skincare is a whole beast that I’m working on blogging about separately – product-making options are endless and oh-so much fun all while being in absolute control of every single ingredient you’re putting on your skin. 

14. Shop Farmer’s Markets When You Can! This is such a great way to support the locals and shop package-free. Farmer’s markets also only have what is fresh and in season which contributes to buying more nutrient dense products. 

15. Forage! Use what’s growing around you! It’s package-free and also, just FREE. hehe (*but also, please be sure you are foraging responsibly and only coming home with safe, edible plants – this is verrrryyyy important.)

Article by Callie Longenecker. Callie is a Certified Clinical Herbalist, Professional Chef, and Waste Reduction Specialist. Check out more of her work at medicinemaiden.com

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