Personal History: Imperfectly Sustainable

by Kalina Mioduski

Until a year ago, every time a sad truth about the current state of the environment came up, that is all I’d consider it: a sad truth–nothing I had any control over. 

What triggered a change in me was a quote one could find on a bumper sticker, a quote often mistakenly attributed to Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Inspirational, I know. Despite the cheesiness of the quote, it made me think that maybe I did have some sort of influence on the way things are. My point is: so do you. 

The first step I took was the most basic: using a reusable water bottle and carrying it around EVERYWHERE. I tried dodging it at the beginning, claiming it was unpractical and too heavy to carry around, but now I’ve gotten so used to it that it feels wrong if I forget it at home. For your minor inconveniences, I have solutions. Don’t feel like carrying it around? Find a bag or backpack you love and carry it in there. Don’t think it looks cute? Decorate it with stickers. Don’t know where to refill it? You’re in luck! Tap water in Warsaw is super healthy and there are very harsh restrictions that determine what standards the water has to meet to be certified, according to Miejskie Przedsiębiorstwo Wodociągów i Kanalizacji w Miescie Stołecznym w Warszawie. You can go to any public bathroom in the city and fill up your water bottle without worry. If you still don’t feel comfortable drinking the tap water, get a filter for your water bottle or go to a cafe to ask them to fill it up for you. Don’t want to be a VSCO girl? Too bad–get your hydro flask and get over yourself. 

The second step I took in my attempt to single-handedly save the world was using material bags and denying single-use plastic bags always. You most likely have a material tote lying around somewhere at home so you don’t actually need to go out and spend your money on a new one. They are super compact and will even fit into your smaller purses, so you can always take it with you and be prepared for any scenario. The times that I forget to take my material bag with me, watch me attempt to carry everything in my arms so that when the cashier pulls out that plastic bag I can confidently decline. It’s okay to look a little dumb sometimes. Be proud. You’re doing it for the sake of your Mother E. 

My friend Zoey carrying our groceries in her arms after receiving an awkward stare from the cashier when she announced she would not be taking a bag. Photo by me. 

I can proudly announce that I am six months sober…. of shopping for fast fashion. This most likely isn’t as impressive to you as I would wish it would be, but because on most days my outfits were almost completely put together by underpaid workers in terrible conditions who used up the earth’s resources a mile a minute, it’s a HUGE deal to me. 

The first time I researched fast fashion was when I was in 8th grade. I wasn’t planning on changing my shopping habits. I took what I learned about the sad effects of globalization and placed it in my mind under the category  “things I can do nothing about.” Six months ago I saw on someone’s Instagram story the quote “If not now, when? If not you, who?” and decided it was time to clean out my mental filing cabinet. Don’t tell me you’re surprised… All of my generation’s motivation comes from Instagram quotes, didn’t you know? 

I’m not going to say it was easy because it wasn’t. Personally I love clothes and I love fashion, and Zara was my source of the “new! new! new!” Don’t think, though, that my closet has stayed at the same capacity for the past six months. I just learned how to shop without contributing to the industry that was rapidly killing our planet. Some of the things I have done were thrifting in-store, thrifting online (think sites/apps like Depop, Vinted, Poshmark, thredUP), and finding brands with a mission statement to protect our earth. If you’re not yet ready for this step, at least shop mindfully. Think whether you really need to get this new shirt: Are you going to wear it or will it end up in the back of your closet? 

I don’t expect you to go vegan right away and never touch plastic again in your life. I don’t expect you to be perfect in your efforts to be more sustainable. I just want you to know that trying won’t kill you, and persevering through the awkward or slightly less comfortable moments will make you feel stronger in the end. You probably knew about most of the things I’ve told you before reading this, but maybe, just maybe, my story will make you realize that being sustainable isn’t unattainable and that it is necessary. We don’t need a small group of people being perfectly sustainable. We need the whole world doing it imperfectly. Starting with you.

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