How to live a more sustainable lifestyle by incorporating reusable items into everyday tasks

It seems like an easy task — just throw it in the recycling bin, reuse it or better yet, refuse it. Refuse that plastic water bottle at the airport and fill up a Nalgene instead. Why is it so difficult for us to carry a reusable coffee or tea mug, bamboo utensils or a cloth grocery bag while we travel, camp or attend conferences and community meetings?

When I earned my Master’s Degree in late 2012, I immediately started a position with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, an all-Navajo environmental organization in the Four Corners region. I knew then that I would need to “lead by example” if I was at the forefront advocating for the protection of land, air and water. For me, that led to carrying my own reusable items to every community meeting, conference, EPA hearing, rally and educational forum.

reusable tote
The author with a reusable tote. Photo courtesy of Colleen Cooley.

At one particular event that I assisted in organizing and coordinating, there were over 100 people in attendance. Based on the theme of event — “Food Sovereignty and Traditional Knowledge Gathering for Climate Change Resiliency,” the planning team and I decided to keep waste at a minimum. To accomplish this, we provided reusable plates, bowls, utensils and mugs for the attendees and a dish washing station. 

In addition, we printed off one large copy of the agenda for attendees to view and a recycling bin for aluminum cans. It was a successful event and everyone was pleased. Not only was this a cost savings strategy, but it also sparked unique conversations among the organizers and the attendees. For some, it brought up memories of the good ol’ days while herding sheep or attending family gatherings, where everyone brought their own blue enamelware mugs and leather water pouches.

Given these examples, will my efforts at a smaller or larger scale help change or bring more awareness of the amount of waste we generate as humans? Will more people return to their respective homes and begin recycling or reusing plastic, aluminum or glass? I do not know nor do I have control over it. What I do know is that I can do my part to always make certain I carry a Nalgene, a coffee mug, a grocery bag, a bowl and a set of bamboo utensils during my travels across the country and around the world as I camp, take a day trip to the nearest city or attend a workshop. I strongly encourage you and your loved ones to do the same.

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