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What is Sustainability?

What is sustainability really? Oxford Dictionary defines it as, “an avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.” Environmental Science defines it as, “how we might live in harmony with the natural world around us, protecting it from damage and destruction.” Basically, keeping the environment healthy. 

But how does this relate to us on the individual level? We can get involved by making small changes to our routines and household products through re-purposing pre-owned items or using reusable products. Even though we may not be able to make as big of an impact with small personal changes as we might desire, the small dent we make is still beneficial towards the environment and a place to start. 

Be Mindful of Sustainable Purchases 

If you want to live more sustainably, before you go out to buy the latest eco-friendly product, look at what you have at home that could be re-purposed. Sustainability means preserving and protecting the environment, and throwing away useable products will only accomplish the opposite goal. 

With this in mind, there are countless ways to re-purpose household items that either you don’t use or have lost their original purpose. TikTok account @brightly.eco focuses on this exact principle. The account has numerous sustainability life hacks including ways to reuse sink water, how to properly recycle, and how to upcycle plastic containers. Living sustainably isn’t always trendy, or aesthetically pleasing; it truly is, at its core, only about preserving and protecting the environment. 

Sustainable items are frequently bought based on trends. Though an eco-friendly movement is fantastic for the environment, sometimes it can bring about environmental damage. When items are bought based on their trendiness, the allure diminishes as the trend does, and as a result, the item may lose its usage and be thrown away. Because of this, sustainable items may not always be good for the environment. Therefore, we need to be mindful of our sustainable purchases.

When Shopping for Sustainable Items, Answer These 3 Questions:

  1.  Do I already own some form of the item, and is it in good condition?
  2. Do I frequently use and dispose of my version of the product I am looking at replacing? (and will purchasing this item eliminate the frequent disposal?)
  3. Is this a high-quality item that will last?

As a result of consumerism, the disposal of working products in favor of new eco-friendly products poses a threat. Right now, a popular product is glass Tupperware, as opposed to plastic. As appealing as this product is, if your plastic Tupperware is in good condition and you don’t need an upgrade, keep using it. Buying the glass Tupperware will only force you to prematurely throw your plastic away, which will harm the environment. Use your already owned items as long as you can!

California, among other areas, has majorly opted out of plastic straw usage so reusable straws have become increasingly popular. Before buying a reusable straw, consider how much you truly use them. If you need a reusable straw for your pre-8am class latte then, by all means, get one. But, if you think you'll forget about it eventually and adapt to sippy cup lids for your iced drinks, don't splurge on a reusable straw. On this same note though, many coffee shops offer discounts for using reusable cups at their stores, eliminating some of the waste from single-use plastic cups.

The quality of the items may not benefit the environment. If we buy a product that is marketed as sustainable but is poor quality, it will have to be thrown out and rebought. This is the same effect that the original, non-eco-friendly product had, it was just in different packaging.

My Favorite Sustainable Products

When I decided to purchase sustainable products to reduce my carbon footprint, these are the key changes I made, and the products I swear by:

1: Re-usable Straws: Glass, Bamboo, and Metal

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Easy to clean and carry with you everywhere you go. I have the metal straws and keep them in my car, backpack, and kitchen!

2: Re-usable Ziploc bags: 

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This is by far the best switch I have made. They’re easy to clean and keep food as fresh as disposable Ziploc bags. 

3: Re-usable Water Bottles and Cups

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I have two Hydrapeak water bottles; they’re cheaper than Hydroflasks, come with more accessories, and work just the same, if not better.


Most Starbucks locations offer a $.10 discount for using a reusable cup at their stores, not exclusive to the reusable cups they market! But, if you are interested in Starbucks brand reusable cups, their cheapest reusable iced to-go cup is $3, and right now they have a limited edition Earth Day style (promo temporarily stopped due to COVID-19). 

4: Re-usable cotton swabs 

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I found this product through the TikTok account @brightly.eco. Cheap, easy, and functional swap!

Sustainability is a complicated topic and a moderate lifestyle change. Though there is much more to delve into when it comes to living sustainably, this is a great way to take the first leap and make the switch.

Madi is a senior majoring in Political Science and minoring in International Security and Conflict Resolution at San Diego State University, where she served as the Vice President of New Member Education of her sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, and currently is the Social Media Editor and Secretary for the ISCOR Student Society. She eventually wants to become a criminal defense attorney and work for the Innocence Project. Among the things that hold a special place in her heart like her perfectly curated Spotify playlists, day-long painting projects, and her dog, Steve, she admits that the Oxford comma holds the title for MVP (most valuable punctuation, that is).
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