October 3, 2022


The Most Sustainable Items Are Ones You Already Own

By: Kelvey Vander Hart

Want to make your everyday life a little more sustainable? Me too! And, we are not alone—a Google search for ‘sustainable swaps’ pulled up nearly 5 million results. Living sustainably is a common desire now. Is the best route to doing so through purchasing more sustainable products? 

No. The best route to living more sustainably is to start where you are, with what you already own. 

I am as guilty as anyone of wanting to swap out all my belongings for more sustainable versions of things. After all, who can resist upgrading old plastic Tupperware for aesthetically pleasing glass containers? But doing so does not increase your life’s sustainability—it just grows consumerism. 

When you purchase new items, what happens to the old ones? At best, they end up with a friend, family member, or organization that lets them continue to be used by someone else. At worst, they end up in the trash.

To be sure, there is a time and a place to buy sustainably. Finishing things such as makeup, cleaning supplies, or shower products offers a perfect opportunity to make a low-waste swap. Containers breaking, clothing getting holes in it, and other similar scenarios also signal an opportunity to pivot to better options. 

And there are certain products that it is better for the environment to stop using than to finish. The plastic cling wrap, plastic cutlery, paper plates, and the like can certainly continue to live in your drawers or be used very slowly and only on specific occasions. That is better for the environment than continuing to use these products until they are gone. 

What about the rest of the things we use on a daily basis? Should we switch to toothpaste tablets when we still have two whole tubes left on our shelf? Should we toss out the plastic hairbrush to switch to a wooden one? How about throwing away our plastic sponges for eco-friendly versions? 

The most sustainable answer is to keep using these things. 

One of the biggest problems with the sustainability movement is the drive to use products that match the stereotypical sustainable aesthetic. Scroll through sustainability Pinterest for about five minutes, and this truth becomes very apparent. What is talked about less is living a more environmentally friendly life with what you already have. 

So wear the clothes you have until they can’t be worn anymore, and then buy replacements from thrift stores or sustainable companies. If the products you’re using do not hurt the environment with every use, finish them up before upgrading to their more sustainable counterparts. Use the plastic tumblers, water bottles, coffee mugs, and containers you have before buying more visually pleasing glass or metal containers. 

Our world is moving more and more towards sustainability, which is a really good thing. But excessive consumerism is not aligned with sustainable living, regardless of whether the product in question is environmentally friendly. As free-marketeers, we know that our buying choices influence the market. Resisting excessive consumerism in the name of sustainability is a great way to wield that influence.