In advancing our collective consciousness to help curb climate change, sustainability has been at the forefront of modifying consumer choices and lifestyle habits. Catchphrases like, “clean energy,” “green living,” and “eco-friendly,” have influenced awareness about the products we buy, the amount and type of energy we use, and our environmental health. Often, those labels permit sellers to raise prices for green products causing consumers to assume that sustainable living isn’t practical or cost-friendly.
Although the current shift towards sustainability may seem like a fairly recent and trendy phenomenon, there are tried-and-true eco-friendly and cost-effective methods familiar to Latine families that have been passed down through generations. Droves of us have inherited our parent’s lifestyle and wallet-hacks for regulating indoor temperatures or keeping electricity usage low with heeds such as, “apaga la luz cuando salgas de la habitación” (turn off the light as soon as you exit a room). These types of adages from our various Latine upbringings have historical roots in Afro and indigenous conservation and sustainability practices and are survival skills of refugee/migrant and low-income communities who’ve had to ration and become engineers of being resourceful–both because of circumstance and because of our communal values to maximize use and minimize waste.
Here are five sustainability philosophies that exemplify Latine ingenuity while saving money and the planet.
Single-use items frequently end up in landfills–non-recyclable plastic breaks down into microplastics, which contaminate and pollute our and other animals’ food and water sources. Numerous Latine families have the proverbial drawer or cabinets chock-full of single-use plastic bags collected from stores. However, many have found practical ways to reuse them for different purposes e.g. for trash, to carry items for future shopping trips, for storage, etc.
Reducing or banning single-use plastic altogether to support a more environmentally-conscious culture may be a future goal and several Indigenous-Latine societies have had a jumpstart on that as well. Traditional ixtle-fiber reusable shopping bags, created by the Hñahñu people of Mexico are made from the Maguey plant and are often sported for outings to the Mercado.
Reduce & Save
Mindful conservation involves being better aware of our consumption habits to reduce the amount of energy and resources we use. When temperatures drop and it feels cooler in the house, a familiar Latine parent phrase is, “Ponte un suéter or chompa” (put on a sweater). The loving command is issued in lieu of turning the heat up–to save energy. Similarly, in the summer some of us recall doing the wet towel on your neck trick to cool off rather than cranking up the A.C. We may also remember our abuelas having an outright aversion to using a laundry dryer and insisting on air/line drying– which consequently helps clothing to remain vibrant and last longer while saving energy.
Fix & Repurpose
Latine fix and repurpose philosophies have carried on through generations even as our societal norms have become more accustomed to acquiring the shiny and new. This has led to excessive discarding of household and clothing items that can be given a second life. How many of us recall memories of something breaking and asking for a replacement just for our parents to swoop in with a “¡No te preocupes,yo lo arreglo!” (don’t worry, I will fix it!) declaration? This often results in endearing, sometimes odd ingenuity that gives those items more longevity.
Clothing too worn out to be donated are also frequently sewn into quilts or repurposed as cleaning rags along with socks used as cleaning gloves. A game of, “what’s behind this closed door” (in this case, lid) tends to occur in Latine families with our many repurposed jelly jars, olive oil bottles, and restaurant containers that commonly get recycled to organize; leftovers, grains, herbs, spices, beans, or even as a catch-all for Dad’s surplus tools, nuts, and bolts.
Numerous Afro and indigenous Latine communities have zero-waste values integral to protecting biodiversity in the environment and leaving a minimal carbon footprint. Many of these values have endured within families that have tenets against food waste, which makes up about 30-40% of the United States food supply. Thus, Latines have been adept at strategizing how to optimize ingredients and cherish food by imparting an ethos to their family members to “come todo lo que está en tu plato” (eat all of the food on your plate). Minimizing food waste may resemble squeezing leftover condiment packets into repurposed bottles to use for later, making sure to freeze or use up all the vegetables that are about to go bad or to make a large pot of sopita, and inviting family or community members to come over to eat for, “una barriga llena, corazon contento”(belly full, happy heart).
Gathering people to share and distribute food is an act of love for many Latine families and communities that keeps in mind the needs of others and values togetherness.
Sustainable materials that are harm-free to us and other organisms have recently become more of a commodity for health-conscious folks opting for natural products that reduce CO2 emissions and toxic chemical vapors. Several now-trendy DIY cleaning recipes are age-old customs learned from our moms, dads, tías, tíos, abuelas, and abuelos. Their homemade concoctions such as vinegar and water to clean surfaces, baking soda and lime to clean drains and toilet bowls, cooking potatoes to clean pots and pans, and soaking rusty items in Coca-Cola are environmentally-friendly relics that have endured the test of time and have inspired others to maintain sustainable lifestyles.