What Does it Mean to be Eco-Friendly?

What Does it Mean to be Eco-Friendly?

When it comes to leading an eco-friendly lifestyle, the first thing many people think of being plastic-free. With viral videos of plastic trash in the ocean, and staggering statistics about plastic pollution, plastics have become quite villainized in recent years. Many of my art pieces have even had a focus on plastics. But in reality, there is a lot more to leading an eco-friendly lifestyle than reducing plastic waste. While waste is a major consideration, but things like the production, emissions produced, and resource footprints of the things we buy are also important to keep in mind.

For one example, glass is sometimes seen as an alternative to plastic- I mean, it is endlessly recyclable. But considering other factors, glass may not necessarily be a better choice. Glass is heavier than plastic, and uses more fuel/creates more emissions to transport. And in many areas, glass is being recycled less often.

Recycling itself is a business. If there is no demand for recycled materials, objects we put in our recycling bins does not end up getting recycled. To add more complications to the mix, demand for recycling depends entirely on where you are. In the US, different states and different areas also have very different recycling regulations. In short, just because something is recyclable does not guarantee that it will be recycled.

Going back to the example of buying a product in glass packaging as an alternative to one in plastic packaging, making a responsible decision requires for a bit of critical thinking. In a scenario where the product in glass was locally produced, and glass is being recycling in your area, the better option would most likely be glass. In a scenario where the product in glass was shipped over a greater distance than the one in plastic, and plastic is being more reliably recycled in your area than glass, the better option may be plastic. And that's without considering the other materials in the product itself, and their resource footprints (amount of water used to grow, etc.). Complicated, right?

Looking at clothing as another example, there are so many different things to consider. How was the item produced? How much emissions were generated in shipping and production? Will it shed microfibers/microplastics when I wash it? Am I supporting large corporations and fast fashion (an industry with many human rights concerns, in addition to eco-friendly concerns), or am I supporting small businesses and small creators? 

Food is another wildly complex one with many nuances. Going vegan or plant based is often pushed as a planet-friendly lifestyle. If you live in a first-world country, yes, that is often the case. From a strictly environmental point of view a major consideration is that meat and dairy use massive amount of resources, and are responsible for a massive amount of emissions. The commercial seafood industry is also plagued with issues, such as bycatch, over-exploitation of given species and pollution. But with factors like culture, physical health and mental health (i.e. eating disorders) tied into to the issue, food is an especially complicated one. 

Some Examples of Positive Steps You Can Take

Being low waste and eco-friendly currently takes a lot of effort. It is frustrating that this responsibility is largely placed on us at a consumer level.

For now, we can only do the best we can to stay informed and to make informed choices. Here are a few tips:

  1. Use Reusables Over Common Single-Use Plastics - This one may be an obvious one that many of us do already; use reusable water bottles instead of buying plastic water bottles, use a reusable bag when shopping instead of using plastic bags, carry re-usable utensils so you don't have to use disposable ones while dining. When less single-use items are uses, less of them need to be produced and less waste will be created. 
  2. Stay as Informed as You Can - As mentioned above, there are so many factors that go into being eco-friendly. Try to be familiar with local recycling regulations and what materials are actually being recycled. Consider if any part of your purchase of an item will be donated to a non-profit. Ask questions about how things are produced and how far they are shipped before making a buying decision. We can all only do our best on this one. 
  3. Buy Things That are Built to Last - Some things we can’t live with out, like clothes, hobby gear, smart phones, cars etc. Whatever these items may be for you, invest in ones that will last you a long time. Cheaper options usually break down sooner and need to be replaced, which uses more resources, causes more emissions in production and shipping, and creates more waste when they become unusable and need to be thrown away. 
  4. Buy Second-Hand - Some household items can be found at thrift and second-hand stores, such as dishes, mugs, furniture, and clothing. Buying second-hand gives items a chance to get re-used instead of being sent to a landfill. 
  5. Eat Planet-Friendly - If you can go vegan or plant based, that’s great. Other than that, try to choose foods that are locally grown or locally made. Or even try growing food yourself!
  6. Keep in Mind, Sustainability Doesn’t Look the Same for Everyone - Depending on where we are in the world, leading a lifestyle that is better for the planet can look very different. Don’t finger-point or shame others for not doing the same things you are doing. Be encouraging and keep an open mind to continue learning new things.

I think it’s also important to keep in mind that simply by existing we will always leave a resource footprint- our impact will never be 0. 

Sharing Some Personal Experience 

I am far from an expert on being eco-friendly, but I do what I can, and to use my art to share what I learn.

Lately I have been trying to do my clothing shopping second hand, or on Etsy. Etsy offsets carbon emissions, operates on renewable energy and offers the opportunity to support small businesses and artists! 

When I first started my venture as an artist I did not know much about plastics. Back then, I primarily made and sold acrylic charms and jewelry. Upon learning more about plastics and realizing the waste that was produced in the process of making these charms, I shifted my work to traditional art (pen and ink). The more I learned over the years, the more I adapted my prints and stickers. Right now, I have wood stickers as one sticker option, and digital prints as a print option. 

In my journey of continual learning I also came across some random eco-friendly products that have now become household staples (not sponsored, I’ve just tried these with my own money and have found that I really like them):

  • Canson Recycled Bristol - As an artist, art supplies are necessary items, and paper is one of them. Using paper that contains post-consumer material instead of paper made from all-new material requires less resources to be taken from the planet. 
  • WGAP Recycled Toilet Paper - This TP is made from recycled fibers, is plastic free and has carbon neutral shipping.
  • Bamboo Toothbrushes - No specific brand to recommend at the moment. Bamboo grows extremely fast, and when grown and harvested responsibly it can be a sustainable resource.
  • 12 Tides Kelp Chips - A healthy and sustainable snack! Kelp for these chips is sustainably grown at regenerative ocean farms in the US.
  • Okabashi Flip Flops - I’ve purchased one pair, and expected them to last a long time. They are sustainably made, and when you are done with them you can ship them back to the Okabashi factory where they will be recycled and re-made into new goods. Bonus, you can find these at Target!

Another thing I want to throw in is that I adore going to Disneyland. Disneyland is not the first place people think of when they think of eco-friendly places, but it is wildly a popular place and is not likely to go away any time soon. Like most other businesses, Disney responds to consumer demand. When more demand for plant based options arose, Disney partnered with Impossible foodsAs park visitors we can continue to “vote with our dollar” and encourage Disney parks to continue adapting to be better for the planet. During my visits I always bring a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated (there are fill stations in the parks), and carry a reusable bag. I also try to make my food choices in the parks plant-based (Happiest Vegan on Earth has amazing vegan food guides), and choose snacks that have less plastic/packaging involved. Visiting the parks is something that brings me joy, and in that way is important to me. 

Anyways, to sum things up there are many things to keep in mind when going out into the world as a consumer. Make informed decisions, do what you can, be kind, and don't forget to relax every now and then and have fun.

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