There a many ways to incorporate sustainability into your life!

Ways to Live More Sustainably in Memphis

So you’re ready to go green?

Getting started with your zero-waste lifestyle can be a little daunting and you might be unsure of where to start. Have no fear! There are several baby steps you can take to ease into the process. Remember, every little effort counts when it comes to saving our planet so you don’t have to be an all-in eco-warrior just yet. 

This article was written by Heidi Rupke, Food Waste Specialist, from Clean Memphis. 

Is it just me, or is the news filled with environmental crisis after crisis these days? From flooding in Pakistan to hurricanes in Cuba and Florida, to fires in the Western United States, we seem to be inundated with natural disasters with no end in sight.

For physicists like my husband, environmental issues are scientific processes. We burn too much carbon, which results in some of the sun’s energy getting trapped in our atmosphere, which warms our planet and creates severe weather events. Equations and graphs are his language for understanding climate change.

As a non-scientist, I feel a certain amount of overwhelm at natural phenomena that seem to be more severe and more regular than even a few years ago. Charts and graphs don’t help me sleep better at night. 

But you know what does? Individual habits and community actions.

Since 2019, I have worked at Clean Memphis, a local environmental and educational organization that works to educate community members—from students in local schools to neighborhood change-makers to local government leaders—about ways to protect our local resources and build a more resilient future. We catalyze small changes that lead to a large collective impact.

A group of children from Memphis posing for a photo on a school bus.
Photo: Clean Memphis takes Compass kids on a field trip to TO State Fuller Park

For example, one of Clean Memphis’s programs, the Memphis Food Waste Project, has been working to keep good food out of landfills and flowing to people. This is especially important since up to one in five residents of Shelby County experiences food insecurity. With dedicated volunteers, we’ve rescued more than a ton of food from local farmer’s markets every season. And we’re creating a network of organizations who can share resources like fridge space or surplus food with their neighbors.

Clean Memphis focuses on environmental education at all ages.
Clean Memphis' team took a field trip to the Agricenter where they collected 410 pounds of fresh produce.

If you don’t work at Clean Memphis, what can you do to support local sustainability and build better patterns in Memphis?

Start with a few simple practices, or maybe just one, to build a cleaner city.

Connect with nature

This may sound sentimental, but it’s absolutely true that we cannot protect what we don’t love. Spend a few minutes each day outdoors just listening, watching, or taking in your natural surroundings. 

Consider your purchases carefully

One of the most powerful ways we can impact our environment is by using what we have rather than buying more. When you need to buy something, explore if you can get it with less packaging. Is there a way to borrow or get an object secondhand? Could you build a meal from food in your pantry or freezer before you go to the grocery store? 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Prevention is the most impactful way to reduce your environmental impact. But since we all have materials that can be recycled into new products for our community, taking advantage of this service is one way to live greener.

The City of Memphis offers free curbside recycling to residents. Recycled items should be clean, empty, and dry. For a complete list of items they accept, check out their page. You can request a 96-gallon bin if you don’t have one. For businesses who want to recycle, check out Get Green Recycleworks.

Start Composting

Composting is a great way to reduce methane produced from landfills as food decomposes without oxygen. (And did you know that food is the largest component of landfills by weight?) 

You can compost with a local service like Atlas Organics. They provide the buckets and the pickup service. You just separate your scraps. Easy! 

Discuss sustainable habits with your friends and family

If you’ve discovered a meal that deliciously uses up odds and ends from your produce drawer, tell people about it on your social media. Have you started biking to work once a week? The people who care about you will have lots of questions about this. Do you take your own containers to bring your restaurant leftovers home? Great! Curious people want to know why you do that. You can effect change by sharing your own sustainable learning journey.

Support a local organization dedicated to environmental work

In addition to Clean Memphis, there are a multitude of local organizations doing great work to protect water, air, land, plants, and animals. Choose one or three of the following to research and become a regular donor and/or volunteer. Wolf River Conservancy, Protect Our Aquifer, Memphis Community Against Pollution, Memphis City Beautiful, and Overton Park Conservancy are just a few of the local organizations who are creating a cleaner city and need your support. And for a terrific story about how environmental advocacy works, check out the podcast Broken Ground. Season five documents how ordinary citizens came together to stop the Byhalia Connector Pipeline in South Memphis.

Compass Students learn about the wildlife at TO Fuller State Park

It's Time to Get Green Memphis!

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