When you think about sustainability, it can be easy to fall into the trap of buying more stuff: that sleek, minimalist bento box that you’ll use in your new meal-prep routine, the compost bin that looks pretty on your countertop, and the tote bag du jour that you’ll use on your trip to the grocery store. The thing is, though, you already have everything you need to make your life more eco-friendly—you don’t have to buy a single thing.
For Dominique Drakeford, the founder of the blog MelaninASS (or Melanin and Sustainable Style) and cofounder of SustainableBK, a newly launched organization that aims to promote sustainability to targeted communities in Brooklyn, living a eco-friendly life is all about becoming conscious about what you already have and working with that.
One of the problems with sustainability is that when there’s a cost barrier for entry, too many people get left out and too many people aren’t given credit for the earth-friendly practices they’ve long held. For Drakeford, the need for more representation and access in the world of sustainability is a driving force. “I wanted to bring people of color into the conversations since sustainability has been such a major avenue for indigenous communities and people of color globally for a very long time,” she says.
With degrees in both business environmental management and sustainable entrepreneurship under her belt, Drakeford knows how to initiate change on a larger industry-size scale, but conservationism, of course, also starts at home. Here, she shares her tips for being kinder to the planet without spending a single extra dollar.
Go DIY on Your Cleaning Supplies
“For many of your basic cleaning needs, you don’t have to go out and buy new ‘green’ cleaning supplies—many of which are green-washed (meaning, they’re made to look like they’re eco-friendly even if their ingredient list suggests otherwise),” Drakeford says. “Make your own cleaning products with orange peels, lemon peels, vinegar, and tea tree oil or baking soda.”
Reconsider Your Tote Bag Habit
“There are so many types of totes out there varying in size, color, design, material, and purpose,” Drakeford notes. “Many of us already have at least one tote—if not many—and buying new shiny totes when you have viable ones aids in what I call ‘eco-capitalism.’” Essentially, when you buy more products in the effort to be sustainable, you can end up deepening your carbon footprint.
Go Low-Maintenance on Your Laundry
“Air-dry your clothes often as possible. When you hang-dry your clothes (either outside or on a rack), you save your household’s carbon footprint and your electricity bill,” Drakeford advises. “Also, only wash what needs to be washed—denim, for example, doesn’t need to be frequently washed. Minimize the purchase of manmade fibers (polyester, nylon, acrylic) because when you wash them, their plastic microfibers get into the ocean and, subsequently, into the aquatic life we consume for food.”
Reuse the Jars You Have
“You don’t have to go out to buy new cups for your home or buy a new to-go mug for juice, coffee, or tea. You can simply rinse out and reuse your old pasta sauce or salsa jars, which can be your at-home or on-the-go cups,” Drakeford says. “A cool trick I learned from @sustainablesabs is to put rubber bands around a mason jar when you plan on using it for warm liquids [to protect your hands from the hot glass]. Repurposed jars are also great storage container for dry cabinet food, refrigerator storage, and miscellaneous home supplies.”
Consider the Teachings of Marie Kondo
“We often hoard things that don’t bring us joy, solitude, or clarity. Decluttering is a continuous process of getting rid of items in your home that don’t aid in your practical or spiritual well-being,” Drakeford says. “Find a sustainable way to get rid of unfilled items throughout your home, as this is sustaining your happiness and wholeness. Be conscious of the items you bring into your home—don’t declutter just to reclutter. This effort is not about minimalism per se but rather about conscious curation, aligning your space with things that complement your values so that you can be the best version of yourself.”
See more sustainability advice:
The Most Eco-Friendly Place to Find Furniture Isn’t a Store
Want to Cut Down Your Plastic Use? These 3 Startups Can Help
How One Person Finds Home Decor Treasures in Other People’s Trash