Living Sustainably – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover

We see them all the time: the words “sustainable” and “green” are everywhere, but what is their meaning? Is this another fad for elites?

As human beings, and no matter where we come from, we all want and need the same basic things: fresh air and clean water, healthy food, a life worth living and a good future for our children. In order to have these things, we need to learn to respect our planet: if our planet is sick, we are sick, as we are all Earth’s people.  Living sustainably or “green” means  that the decisions we make today won’t negatively affect the quality of life and access to resources of future generations, and that our own life will be worth living. It also helps the budget!

While we all agree on this, when it comes to live more sustainable, we don’t know where to start, or what decisions are the “right” ones.

According to Beth Hurford, from B.E.S.T. (Better Environmentally Sound Transportation) people can live more sustainable just by choosing to live in smaller houses and change the way they travel: small houses require less energy to be heated and cooled and allow for less “stuff” to accumulate (therefore, discouraging consumerism), for transportation, you can bike, walk or take public transportation (this helps with the family budget and keeps you and your children stronger and healthier). Instead of two cars, you can live with one or none.

Oliver Samonte, a Canadian-Filipino funder of and known as “Dr Recycle” adds: “Changing our mindset could be discouraging sometimes, but I use a simple and practical approach to motivate myself: Start simpleSet a reasonable goal, and make it fun.”

These are simpler things you and your family can do to help both your budget and our planet:

  1. Reduce: buy and use less. Plan ahead what you really need, buy bulk or with friends or join a buyer’s co-op. Avoid too much packaging, bags, cardboard, etc.  Have an impulse? Wait for a few days…it will go away.
  2. Reuse: Most things have more than one life. Old clothes can be used for cleaning. Others can be converted to cloth-napkins.  Food containers can be used to store small objects, dry food or plant herbs.
  3. Recycle: most municipalities now have a recycling program. Learn and follow their guidelines. Kitchen scraps can be recycled in your own yard through composting or in your basement through vermin composting. Some recyclables can be exchanged for money at bottle depots.
  4. Repair and Recover:  Many old or broken things can be recovered. Consult the websites on the “resources” section for ideas and tips on how to repair electronics.
  5. Refuse:  refuse what you don’t need, such as store bags (bring your own), buying things in a whim or “retail therapy” (resist the temptation!)

Mr Samonte shares: “Thinking of many ways to reuse containers, old clothes, and almost just about everything was our way of life (back in the Philippines).  Out of necessity, our family had to adopt a very sustainable lifestyle.   When we did not have much, we made sure what little we had could last for the longest possible time.” This is still true in many countries and across Canada. The fact that we have moved to a new country where consumerism pushes us to “buy, buy, buy” and “throw, throw, throw” doesn’t have to change our basic values of respect for the place where our air, water and food come from.  Studies show that many newcomers gain weight and develop illnesses due to the lifestyle changes that involve eating more fats and carbohydrates, leading a more sedentary lifestyle and relying more in “entertainment” and “consumerism” instead of the healthier choices such as community and outdoors activities and sharing with family and friends. These changes usually lead to depression, illnesses, abuse and isolation.

The choice is ours, I invite you to start reviewing the four “R’s” with your family and friends, and look forward to activities and lifestyles that are healthier, simpler, less expensive and more in line with your true values. As Mr Samonte says: “Celebrating Earth Day is FUN, but it’s the little things we do every day what really counts”.

This article was published on the print edition of the Canadian Immigrant Magazine – April Issue (2013)

Resource section:

Environment Canada (What you can do website):

US Environmental Protection Agency:

How to repair about everything:

Waste reduction guide for schools and groups:

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