Sustainable Wins, Challenges, and Goals

Instead of spending this week taking a gloomy, despairing look back at 2016, I want to focus on a few big personal accomplishments, as well as how to build upon them in 2017.

I spent much of the year thinking about consumption and environmental issues. After a number of discussions with a dear friend about sustainable living, I decided to get a little more serious about tracking my waste production and living habits. I’d love to some day live a trash-free life.

In 2016 America, this is simply a ludicrous goal. Our culture isn’t designed for environmental consciousness.  It’s designed for consumption, production, alienation, and disposability.  As such, there are certain restrictions that I’m still thinking through and goals I’m not ready to tackle. But I have made progress and have my eyes set on new tasks and objectives.


  • Down to 1 bag of household trash per week
    • This includes paper rat bedding.
    • This sometimes includes cat litter, though occasionally cat litter calls for a separate bag.
  • Started composting
    • My roommates in Santa Fe began the process and taught me a lot about it.
    • Since moving to Illinois, we’ve been fortunate enough to have space for a compost heap in the back yard.
    • Almost all food scraps are now being composted. Since I’m a vegetarian, there are very rarely occasions where we have food in the house not suited for the compost heap.
  • Baking break weeklygoal-2
    • No more plastic bread bags.
    • We purchase flour in enormous cloth bags. When we are finished with the bags, we repurpose the fabric.
  • Switched to “no poo”
    • I’ve officially cut shampoo and conditioner out of my hygiene routine. I recommend going to /r/nopoo for more information if you want to learn more or try it yourself.
    • Challenge: I do still dye my hair funky colors. I’m having a hard time letting go of this aspect of appearance/personaility. I have a goal to either stop or find a sustainable alternative.
  • Make all of our household cleaning products
    • This includes floor cleaner, all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, and dish soap.
    • Making our own cleaners give us a greater understanding and control over which chemicals are in the house.
    • Challenge: Cleaners require ingredients, which usually come in their own packaging. My goal this year is to record how much packaging waste we’re producing for cleaning products on a monthly basis and see where we can make cuts.
  • Swapped almost all light bulbs from incandescent to LED
    • LED lights use far less energy and last a much longer time.
  • Started an indoor gardengoal-3
    • This project is in its infant stages, but I can’t wait to see how it goes! Andy has built a light box, and is current trying to grow a variety of spices, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Utilizing dairy alternatives
    • While we still use butter and milk in some things, I’ve been substituting vegan options in a lot of my cooking.
  • Buy bulk…all the things
    • Beans, chick peas, rice, sugar, oats, etc.
    • Bonus: We bring our own containers to the store, so that we don’t have to rely on disposeable bags.
  • Bicycling is currently my primary mode of transportation
    • Though my wonderful friends are willing to give me a ride when I need it.
    • Occasionally rely on Uber in a time pinch or if the weather is too nuts.


  • Find a reliable, non-plastic alternative for our trash bags
  • Start making more staples
    • Broth, tortillas, crackers, vegan butter, non-dairy milk, etc.
    • Head start: My amazing sister got me what seems to be a super awesome cookbook for Christmas that teaches how to do just this!
  • Reduce can reliance
    • Tomato paste and coconut milk are the biggest offenders here.
  • Learn to make soap
    • Similar to cleaning products, I’ll need to figure out how to do this in such a way as to end up with less packaging waste.
  • Make my clothes or rely on second-hand itemsgoal-1
    • My next project is to try knitting a sweater for this winter.
    • I need to learn to alter clothes.
    • I need to learn to follow a sewing pattern.
    • I need to learn to knit socks.
    • Stretch goal: Learn to dye fabric and yarn. Rely on second-hand fabric or plain fabric to create my own clothing.
  • Feminine care alternatives
    • I’ll spare you the details.

I’m excited to continue this path next year! Admittedly, there are times when I still just buy a can of black beans instead of soaking them, or forget my Tupperware when I go to the store. But overall, I’m proud of the progress and look forward to doing more research and learning more skills.

Quick note: I recognize that I’m privileged to be able to do some of these things. I have no children, I work from home, I have a full-time job, I have a decent amount of living space, etc.. I’m very fortunate to get to spend so much energy on a project that de-prioritizes  convenience and focuses so much on sustainability.  I don’t want to preach a certain lifestyle, but I do want to celebrate my successes thus far and recognize the work I have left to do!


3 thoughts on “Sustainable Wins, Challenges, and Goals

  1. Nice work! This is inspiring to me as I look to make some changes in my life. For instance, the indoor garden is something I plan to explore in the coming year. Keep it up!!!


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