How To Eat Sustainably: 10 Tips For Sustainable Eating!

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“We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to.” These words were spoken by Terry Swearingen, recipient of the 1997 Goldman Environmental Prize, and it is a scary thought. Until we find that alternate place, how can we adjust our daily grind to maintain the world we live in?

Each spin class comes with a new water bottle, tables are full of plasticware, and Sunday BBQ’s invariably feature red meat. Ordinary practices that we perform might seem innocent, but the lasting impact is immeasurable.

Hold back the eye-rolling at another “save the planet” speech. You might find it surprising that some simple tweaks in your normal routine that will save you money and time and benefit your health.

10 Tips For Sustainable Eating

1. Reusable Water Bottles

Profile of woman drinking from a reusable water bottle.

Help the environment by switching to reusable water bottles.

As the weekly crate of water bottles arrives in your kitchen, think twice before flipping open the cap. Over 17 million barrels of oil are used yearly to produce more than 50 billion disposable plastic water bottles. Of these plastic bottles, only 1 in 5 people properly recycles them. Landfills have more than 2 million tons of bottles of waste. Every year, the amount of waste from plastic that builds up in the oceans can essentially create an island made completely of garbage. Not a hot vacation spot.

Not only do plastic bottles deplete resources from the world, they also affect your wallet. The average consumer pours out around $5 per week on bottled water alone, adding up to an average of over $200 a year.

Further, disposable plastic can let out a spoiled taste and harmful chemicals into the water they contain. This is particularly true when they’re placed in high temperatures for prolonged periods of time.

The splashing solution? Reusable water bottles. Take note to select bottles made from BPA-free plastic, stainless steel, or glass (the most ideal option). BPA (bisphenol A) is a serious chemical, as it can cause reproductive issues, breast cancer and dizziness.

Don’t feel tied down to drinking only water- these reusable containers can hold the beverage of your choice. They can keep hot liquids steamy and cold ones chilled. Hello, iced caramel latte.

2. Use Reusable Bags And Containers

Even if you don’t feel the global impact from overusing plastic, jump on the bag-wagon. One plastic bag can take from 10 to 1,000 years to decompose.  This results in landfill sites full of plastic bags and smelly garbage mounds across cities.

Many stores are trying to help this global issue by imposing an extra fee per plastic bag. That additional charge adds up fast! Using reusable bags and containers is the way to solve this matter. Not only are reusable bags durable and last for years, but they will save you those extra few cents per bag. Checkout time will be a lot more efficient, as reusable bags are sturdier and larger than flimsy plastic ones.

Keep reusable bags easily accessible, like in your car trunk, so you can swoop them up on your way to the store. Get creative and use them for other purposes, like storing old clothes, papers, or laundry.

Along these lines, it’s time you invest in some reusable containers. Not all reusable containers are recommended, as the material they’re made of matters. Most plastic containers have BPA, a chemical that can lead to breast cancer, reproductive issues and dizziness. Look out for BPA-free or glass containers, which come in all shapes and sizes. They are perfect for carrying your lunch, snacks, and leftovers. You can even use glass containers for cooking food instead of tin pans or tinfoil.

Take note of companies that support BPA-free materials for other items as well, including beauty and hair products. Manufacturers are working towards creating bottles from recycled ocean plastic and other eco-friendly materials. For example, 100% recyclable eyeshadow palettes and shampoo sold in compostable containers. It’s all in the packaging.

3. Eat What You Buy

Woman look at pineapples in the supermarket.

Plan what you want to buy before going grocery shopping.

Like most hungry shoppers, do you over-purchase food you will likely never eat?

On average, we waste 30-40% of the food supply. And according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, there’s about “133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food” that was lost in 2010.

This wasted food could have assisted those in need, but instead, it was sent to landfills. According to the USDA, wasted food also uses tremendous amounts of resources to be produced, processed, transported and discarded. These resources include land, water, labor and energy.

So how can you “save the food!?” Eat what you buy, and don’t create waste to begin with! On a consumer level, plan a shopping list before entering the store. Shopping lists will increase the odds you’ll buy what you’re actually going to use (not to mention help you stick to a diet). If you have leftovers, be creative and try to whip up another dish.

If all else fails, find a hunger-relief organization to donate your leftovers to feed those in need, such as the Salvation Army or homeless shelters.

4. Eat Foods That Are In Season

Ever wonder why watermelons are at every summer BBQ and butternut squash soup warms the winter heart? Different foods have their “in-season,” the most optimal time to harvest and eat food at its peak. Eating seasonal fruits and veggies has many benefits, including high nutrient-content, freshness and price.

When food is shipped across long distances, it must be harvested early. This causes it to lose its full nutrient content. To withstand the shipping process and to kill germs along the way, produce is usually treated with radiation and preservatives. This is compared to seasonal produce, which can naturally ripen on the vine or in the ground, is picked at its peak, and maintains its complete nutrient and vitamin makeup.

Seasonal produce has a ton of flavor and freshness. When food is not in season, it generally comes from a hothouse or from across the world. This affects its taste. Since crops are usually harvested early and refrigerated, it affects how they ripen and prevents them from maturing to their full flavor.

In addition, locally grown in-season goods are cost-effective for consumers. Since farmers harvest their crops in abundance, the price of the produce decreases. From the food producer’s perspective, locally grown produce is cost-effective since it eliminates transportation and storage costs.

Mother nature knows best, as seasonal foods correlate to season-related needs. The various foods we eat “can help our system prepare for the external elements.” For instance, in those steamy summer days, foods that are in-season help cool down the body and are full of beta-carotenes that help protect against sun damage. If you eat the same foods in the winter months, it can cause a dampness from too many cooling foods and can lead to feeling too cold, gassy, and bloated. Further, winter foods are full of Vitamin C, which helps prevent infections, colds and the flu.

So always try to eat foods that are in season. For a quick crash course on the “in-style” produce in the fall, stick to: carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic and apples. In the winter eat: root vegetables and animal proteins. In the spring opt for: leafy greens (spinach, romaine lettuce, scallions). And in the summer, choose: berries, plums, peaches, watermelon, corn, broccoli, summer squash, and green salads.

5. Meatless Monday

Hands holding a burger.

Help yourself and the environment be healthier by limiting your red meat intake.

#MeatlessMondays may be a hashtag trend you don’t want to ignore. Although beef burgers may be a mealtime favorite, the health studies don’t seem to agree.

Red meat is high in saturated fat. This raises blood cholesterol, increases the risk of heart disease, and is seen to increase the chances for colorectal cancer. According to the National Institute of Health, individuals who ate a lot of red meat had higher levels (three times as high!) of a chemical linked to heart disease than people following a diet full of white meat and plant-based proteins.

Besides limiting red meat consumption, replacing meaty meals with vegetables and whole grains can lower the risk for cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Vegetables have other beneficial features. They have a plethora of antioxidants, fiber, protein, zinc and iron. Therefore, changing the perspective from “cutting out” to “replacing” red meat is key. All meat dishes have a vegan cousin, waiting to be swapped out, such as: white bean meatballs, lentil-loaf, portobello mushroom burgers, and black bean brownies. They’re special.

Besides for a healthier YOU, Meatless Mondays help our environment. The meat industry uses an incredible amount of fossil fuels and water. Feeding livestock takes a tremendous amount of grain. This is an inefficient method of using resources, since that food can be used to feed people instead. Raising livestock also requires a considerable amount of water. About 1,847 gallons of water is used to make a single pound of beef, as opposed to 39 gallons of water that’s used to make a pound of vegetables. If we adapted to a total vegetarian diet, water consumption could be lowered by about 58% per person. What’s for dinner this Monday?

6. Buy Locally

Supporting local stores is not only more convenient for you, but for your community as well. By purchasing from locally sourced shops, you’re circulating dollars within your area and supporting local farmers. This helps maintain farmland, which thereby assists in preserving the land, air, and water.

Buying locally grown produce saves you money. Farmers grow in-season food in large quantities, making it cheaper for consumers to purchase. Since produce is harvested locally, farmers save money used on fuel and storage needed for transporting.

When you look at your dinner plate, consider that the average meal has food from five different countries on it! Diversity is great, but when it comes to food, we like to be clique-y. Food produced closer to home is fresher, tastier and full of nutrients. Look out for a farmers’ market or local farm near you.

7. Buy Drinks On Tap

Lots of plastic bottles.

Say goodbye to plastic bottles.

Packages of water bottles are one of the heaviest products to transport around the country. They require tremendous amounts of fossil fuel to carry them.  Let’s not forget about convenience for consumers- tap water is the cheapest, most available beverage out there! Goodbye buying, carrying and disposing of heavy water bottles.

Strict laws govern the cleanliness of the water supply. You may find it surprising that testing for dangerous pollutants occurs more often for tap water than bottled water. In fact, at least 25% of bottled water that you buy is just re-filtered tap water. Tap water may also contain more fluoride (a chemical that is beneficial for good oral health) than bottled water.

In most areas, tap water has a pretty good taste. For places where the taste of water is subpar, water filters are a simple solution. According to a study of blind taste testers, only one-third of 67 people were able to correctly identify the difference between tap and bottled water.

There are other factors that make plastic bottled beverages a taboo. Plastic waste is detrimental to our oceans, wildlife, environment and our bodies. Recognize companies that support eco-friendly practices, such as recycling plastic to create new products. You can solve these adverse effects from plastic bottles by a switch of faucet. Buy drinks on tap, and let it stream.

8. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

What’s the best way to reduce waste? Don’t make it to begin with. Creating new items requires materials and resources. This leads to excess energy, increased pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and marked-up prices. So, how to stop the cycle? Reduce, reuse, recycle!

First, reduce. Try cutting back on the amount of trash we create. Look for items made with less packaging, use refillable water bottles, bring real silverware to work, and pack lunch in BPA-free plastic containers.

Not everything is a onetime use. Find ways to reuse common items, such as donating unworn clothing, appliances, equipment or furniture. When cooking, use baking dishes instead of disposable metal tins. For items you occasionally use (party décor, specific tools) -- borrow, rent or share it with others.

The final “R,” is recycling. We can theoretically recycle over 75% of waste, yet we only recycle about 30% of it! Place a bin in the kitchen, and throw in magazines, paper, plastic, metal, tin cans, and cardboard boxes. These objects may seem like waste, but you can turn them into raw materials to make other goods. Don’t be nervous about buying eco-friendly notebooks.

9. Purchase In Bulk

“Bigger is better” in most cases, but watch out for bulk buying. There are many benefits to buying in bulk, when done correctly. It can reduce packaging waste, it can be cheaper, and it can save you shopping trips.

However, beware of potential pitfalls of purchasing in bulk. Make sure to purchase in bulk gradually, especially if you’re a newbie. Although it may be tempting to buy an army supply of snack bags to last your first grader through middle school, hold back! Perishable foods won’t last forever. Unless you’re sure the members in your household will zip through it, better keep slow and steady.

When you see newly featured items, it’s not the time to start buying in bulk. If you’re not positive you love that flavor, you (or your trashcan) will have to go through it. Stick to what you know before you make the purchase.

10. Compost

Woman holding halved avocado.

Avocado pits are just one of many things that you can compost.

Dig deep into where your produce comes from. Commercial composting (handling a high volume of organic wastes) has harmful toxins including human and animal feces, medical wastes, pesticides, and home cleaning products. These substances then spread into the gardens and ultimately into the food we eat. How can you solve this dirty problem? Make your own.

Compost is basically a type of fertilizer that is made from organic matter that decomposes on its own under oxygen-rich conditions. Almost anything that pops out of the ground can be composted, including apple cores, avocado pits, carrot ends or any other veggie or fruit scraps. You can even throw in bread products, cereals, tea leaves, herbs, nuts and eggshells. The list of items to avoid includes animal products, such as meat, fish, butter, and milk.

This decayed, organic matter is quite useful. It lowers landfill waste and adverse fumes. Even if you live in the city with no garden around, try to find a local curbside compost service to pick up your bin once a week. More than 150 U.S. cities have this service available. You can use it as soil for your plants at home or at work, or share your compost with neighbors who have backyard gardens. Spread the apple cores.

Conclusion

It’s not enough to do less harm; we must do more good. Each person can contribute to maintaining a flourishing world with easy modifications, starting from the comfort of your home. These adjustments have the perks of being healthy, convenient, and cost-effective as well. While you sip tap water from your insulated thermos and prepare locally purchased in-season veggies for Monday night’s meatless dinner, don’t forget to use glass dishes for storing leftovers. And treat yourself to some black bean brownies.

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