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'I never anticipated the eye rolls.' 9 things I wish I knew when I started living more sustainably.

When I first started my sustainability journey four and a bit years ago, major supermarkets still used plastic bags, menstrual cups were taboo and reusable coffee cups spent more time on Instagram than actually in use. 

I am improving and getting better at this lifestyle every day, but it hasn’t been simple or easy by any means.

Caveat: I know I'm a pretty extreme case. I fell head over heels into this journey. 

Two weeks after taking my new year’s resolution seriously – to do better for the environment – I started a business, Banish. I wanted to help others who, like me, wanted to live more sustainably but felt overwhelmed, alone and confused.

While you're here, watch these 7 eco-friendly habits that aren't so green... Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

It turns out I wasn’t alone, and four years later, here are a couple of honest truths and words of wisdom that I wish I knew back when I first started.

1. A 100 per cent plastic-free lifestyle isn’t for 99.99 per cent of people.

Do you remember that trend where families would fit a year’s worth of waste into a glass jar? I tried this, and as a singleton, filled up my jar in less than a week. I love the enthusiasm, but I think a realistic demonstration of living sustainably is doing what you can, and for most people, this won’t be being completely plastic-free. And that's fine. 

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Use your reusable coffee cup, say no to plastic bags and receipts when you can, but don’t beat yourself up about it when you slip up. Just remember next time.

2. Myth: Australia doesn’t recycle anything so there’s no point even trying.

False. We recycle 87 per cent of all papers, making Australia one of the best paper recyclers in the world! Yes, we used to send our waste overseas, but because of the Waste Export Ban, millions of dollars are being spent on onshore recycling facilities so we can handle it here.

3. Don't compare yourself to anyone else.

One of the first things I did was follow a long list of sustainable influencers on Instagram. And while yes, it was inspirational, it only gave me a sepia-toned highlight reel of their life - and not a very realistic one at that. 

On top of comparing my habits to people online, I caught myself comparing myself to my friends as well, who purchased more clothing, and who used more plastic. 

But remember, each of us leads a different lifestyle, so it makes little sense for each of us to do the same thing. Your friend who uses her coffee cup religiously might be the one who drives everywhere, whereas you don’t drive but forget your cup more than you remember it.

4. No two alternative milks are the same.

It’s now the norm for cafes to offer a rainbow selection of alternative milks, from oat to maca. Each one tastes different and has a different environmental impact. Pick a few that work for you and don’t get caught up in the hype.

5. Living sustainably is an oxymoron.

Yes, living sustainably is a sure-fire way to save you money, but it is also expensive! Often, sustainable swaps require an upfront investment. Take a razor, for example. Plastic razors are cheap but not so cheerful, taking over 400 years to break down. A safety razor will set you back around $43, but you will have it for life - you simply buy replacement blades (at around 29c each). 

When you can make the sustainable switch, you’ll reap the rewards in the long run.

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6. You can eat your way to a better planet.

Fact: Your diet is the single biggest contributor to your carbon footprint. Giving up meat for one meal each day or having a meat-free day is a more effective way to help the planet than to stop driving. So if there’s one thing you do, let it start on your plate.


7. Everyone gets fooled by greenwashing.

Everyone. I'm a sustainability expert and I sometimes get caught on the web. As consumers get smart, companies get smarter. It seems like every time I walk into a supermarket aisle there’s a new brand with green packaging, littered with buzzwords from 'biodegradable' to 'planet-friendly'. But they aren’t all they seem. Don’t fret if one of these products lands in your lap. Learn how they tricked you and then you’ll know for next time.

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8. I never anticipated the eye rolls.

One thing I wasn’t expecting was other people’s reactions to my sustainable lifestyle. From comments like, "What’s the point? Nothing gets recycled anyway," to "I can’t believe you’re still trying at this sustainable thing," I heard just about every piece of judgement or criticism in the book. The saddest part was that it wasn’t just from strangers but often friends and my closer circle. I now know that people’s reactions and opinions are a cover for their own guilt, but at that moment, it hurts.

9. There’s more good than bad.

A question I get asked often is, "Working in the sustainability industry, are you worried about our future?" The short answer is no. There is more good happening than what's making news headlines.

We can be very quick to circulate the negative news, but so much innovation is happening every day. Surround yourself with the good news, the educational, the fun, and enjoy the journey.

Lottie Dalziel is the founder of Banish, with a mission to help Australians reduce their waste with the right products and information. For more from Lottie, follow her on Instagram.

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Feature Image: Instagram @banish.au.

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