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7 Sustainable Living Myths and Misconceptions, Debunked

There are many sustainable living myths and misconceptions that can prevent people from taking steps to better the planet. Here's the truth.

Written by
Morgan Cook

There are many myths and misconceptions about sustainable living that can prevent people from taking steps to better the planet. In the latest episode of Good Together, Brightly co-founders Laura Wittig and Liza Moiseeva debunk some of the most common ones.

From the idea that sustainable living is always more expensive to the notion that you have to be vegan in order to be sustainable, continue reading below to learn about why these myths aren't always true. You'll also find out how to make conscious living much less intimidating by taking small steps in the right direction.

Myth 1: Sustainable Living Is Expensive

Eco-friendly living can sometimes be associated with a higher price tag, but trust us—that isn't always the case. Buying less is actually the most sustainable thing you can do, and what's better for your wallet than that?

"I think it's really worth being more mindful about your purchases," says Wittig. "And saying, 'You know what, do I need this? Is it something I'm willing to have with me in my house for a long time?'"

While never buying anything is unrealistic, slowing down your purchases can help save the planet and better your bank account. Shopping secondhand is also a great way to live consciously while still saving money.

"Buying secondhand is very sustainable," says Moiseeva. "Probably the most sustainable thing you can do, because you're giving a discarded product a second life (and it's often much less expensive)."

It'll also likely be much more accessible in the near future. Secondhand fashion is expected to grow 185 percent in the next 10 years, while fast fashion is only expected to grow by 20 percent. That means you might actually have more luck finding fashion gems in thrift shops than at the mall. Pretty cool, huh?

One more note on the topic of cost: While some sustainable products can certainly be expensive up front, many of them can save you money in the long run. Case in point: Stasher bags. You can use them to store food, organize your drawers, or even make popcorn... and you only need to buy them once. That means Ziploc bags never have to be on your grocery list again.

Myth 2: You Can't Use Any Plastic

When you think of the sustainability or zero-waste movement, your mind might automatically go to plastic. It's common to assume that in order to be sustainable, you need to eliminate every last piece from your life. However, that's actually a rather lofty goal.

"Most stuff contains plastic, unfortunately," Wittig says. "So it's impossible to get away from it."

That doesn't mean you can't cut down your plastic consumption in the places that make sense for you. Wittig recommends buying bulk. "Or, you can also go to the farmers' market and grab some fresh produce," she says, naturally leaving plastic out of the picture. "There's so many ways to do it."

Ultimately, though, it's important to remember there's only so much you can do. After all, 20 corporations are responsible for 55 percent of plastic waste. So while our individual efforts matter, we'll see the biggest changes come when corporations begin to prioritize reducing their plastic waste.

Myth 3: You Have to Be Able to Fit All Your Trash Into a Mason Jar

When the concept of zero-waste living was in its infancy, a trend surfaced where people showed off all their trash fitting into a single Mason jar. It created this idea that in order to live sustainably, that's all the trash you can produce and anything more than that is a #fail. This is simply not true—or realistic—for most people.

However, just because you can't fit your trash into a tiny receptacle doesn't mean it's not worth trying to reduce your waste. To determine where to start, try conducting a trash audit.

"Look at your trash can and see where you're generating the most waste," Moiseeva says. "Is it the plastic container from your grocery store? Maybe you're still shopping with Amazon or other regular chain stores, and that's where most of your trash and plastic comes from."

Going through this exercise can help you identify one area of your life where you can focus on cutting down waste. Which, let's be honest, is much less intimidating than trying to figure out how to fit your pizza box into a mason jar.

Myth 4: You Have to Be Vegan

Plant-forward diets have been shown to be one of the best ways to lessen your environmental impact. So it's no surprise that one very common misconception is that in order to live sustainably, you have to be vegan.

There are many people who can't adopt a fully vegan lifestyle, whether it be for health purposes, accessibility, or a variety of other reasons—and that's okay. Any sort of reduction in your meat and dairy consumption can help the environment.

In fact, it’s predicted that if everyone in the United States reduced their consumption of beef, pork, and poultry by a quarter, we’d save about 82 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. Every swap makes a difference.

Myth 5: Recycling Is Easy

Recycling is typically pretty convenient with municipal recycling programs. Something many people don't realize, though, is that there's a right and wrong way to recycle.

Take plastic, for instance. There are several types that can't be recycled. On top of that, even materials that can be recycled can’t always be recycled. Confusing, huh?

"If any food touches anything that's recycled, it's already not recyclable," says Moiseeva. "So you have a perfectly-rinsed wine bottle, but then you have a greasy part of the pizza box and it touches the wine bottle, the wine bottle is contaminated."

So while recycling is a truly planet-saving act, it's an important topic to educate yourself on. That way, you can make sure your recyclables are being processed properly.

Myth 6: Sustainable Fashion Is Boring

Long gone are the days of frumpy hemp clothing. In today's world of eco-friendly living, there's plenty of room for the fashionista. "Sustainable fashion, just like everything else in the sustainability space, has come a long way," Wittig says. "There's so many brands out there that are producing ethically-made and fashionable clothing."

Rothy's, ABLE, and Amourt Vert are just a few. But sustainable fashion also doesn't mean you're only limited to eco-friendly brands.

"Just because you want to support slow fashion doesn't mean you never have to buy fast fashion again," says Wittig. "You can reduce your consumption of it and shop more mindfully, and you also shouldn't buy from sustainable brands just because you feel like you have to. Find something you really love, and find something that fits you well."

If there's a fast fashion brand you can't give up, no problem. Wittig recommends searching for that brand on secondhand shops, like ThredUP or Poshmark.

Myth 7: Sustainable Living Takes Too Much Time

Convenience is a really hard factor to overcome when it comes to sustainable living. Research is often required to find sustainable products, and things like composting or gardening take more effort than the conventional ways of buying and discarding food. Unfortunately, this lack of convenience often stops people from giving some aspects of eco-friendly living a go.

The good news is there are so many eco-friendly actions that can be seamlessly integrated into your daily routine. Take bringing a tote bag to the grocery store, for instance, in order to avoid going home with plastic bags. "That doesn't take any more time—it just requires you to think about it," says Wittig. "Same thing with grilling a veggie burger instead of a traditional meat burger."

It comes down to focusing on what fits with your interests and lifestyle. "Be realistic with yourself, start small, and see what works for you," says Moiseeva. "Sustainable living is really all about you. It will actually be better for the planet if you choose the right sustainability path for you."