Do you know that warm and fuzzy feeling you get in your stomach after upcycling something instead of throwing it away or after doing your part to recycle waste? Well, it’s not just vanity. Psychologists argue that leading a sustainable lifestyle can improve your mental health, promote self-sufficiency, and help you create meaningful connections. 

Recycling is a sign of environmental responsibility and, if we want to undo the damage we have done in the past century, it should become an essential part of our lives. But before we think of sorting home waste as yet another chore, there’s a huge benefit we should keep in mind: recycling and leading a sustainable lifestyle, in general, can improve your emotional wellbeing and help you develop a sense of purpose.

The connection between recycling and mental health isn’t that striking if we come to think of it. As humans, we thrive when we spend more time in nature and when we live in a healthy environment. In comparison, people who live in polluted areas, such as near industrial sites or landfills, are at higher risk of developing psychological disorders. But how can something as simple as recycling a soda can boost your wellbeing? Experts have narrowed it down to these five key benefits: 

Recycling gives you a sense of purpose.

Having a sense of purpose is essential for our mental health. When we are driven by something and make purposeful decisions, we tend to be more optimistic, have a better outlook on life, and generally feel happier. We no longer feel as if we are drifting aimlessly through life, we have more self-confidence, and we gain the satisfaction that we are growing as individuals. Unlike small daily goals, such as cooking something for dinner or learning for an exam, greater goals, such as fighting for a noble cause, instills a certain sense of worth and, in time, that protects us from problems such as anxiety and depression. Helping the planet is perhaps the greatest purpose of all.

When you adopt a sustainable lifestyle, you get an incredible sense of achievement. To the outside eye, it may look like you’re just sorting paper but, from a bigger perspective, you’re becoming a part of the change that Earth so desperately needs. What’s more, psychologists also point out that you can reap even more mental health benefits if you join an environmental club; this way, you’ll get the chance to engage with like-minded people, take part in activities that strengthen your sense of purpose and educate others to do the same.

Recycling boosts mindfulness

Mindfulness is something that the modern individual strives towards, and yet its definition can be quite elusive. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the moment, to evaluate yourself, and make sense of your surroundings. What does recycling have to do with it? The two are more connected than we imagine.

When we recycle, we slow down and have a closer look at our choices. We examine the environmental impact of our lifestyles, and we become aware of the things we can do to help the planet. For example, by noticing that you’re throwing away a lot of a certain material, you can re-evaluate your purchasing habits, understand why you need so much of it, and maybe even consider creative projects to stop wasting that thing.

Recycling helps you embrace minimalism.

Minimalism is more than a fashion or interior design trend. Minimalism is about responsible, purposeful consumption, reducing your carbon footprint, and gaining clarity, all of which can be achieved when you recycle. The ultimate goal of recycling isn’t to purchase things in huge amounts because you can later just toss them in the bin. It’s to reduce waste by purchasing less of those things, and only when it’s necessary. Here’s how this can improve your mental health in the long run:

  • You gain more clarity because you’re not constantly surrounded by trash.
  • You get a deeper understanding of your purchasing habits. Why do you buy what you buy, do you really need it, and how does it help you be a better person?
  • You gain inner peace by learning self-control.  
  • You learn to appreciate the effort (and natural resources!) that went into manufacturing things and not take them for granted.

Recycling indirectly reduces stress and creates a positive environment.

The best way to understand this benefit is to take the example of a local business that recycles. Denmark is perhaps the best case study because it has some of the most extensive sustainability policies, and it’s an example for the EU. No matter the industry, businesses produce a lot of waste, whether that’s food, cardboard, paper, or plastic, but the way that waste is disposed of has a major impact on workers’ mood and performance. In a company where waste is just left lying around, employees tend to be more distracted, unhappy, and motivated. Meanwhile, a company that uses dedicated recycling solutions, like those of Miltek in Denmark, will report a much healthier and safer environment. The same thing happens in your home. When you recycle, your home simply feels like a better place.

Recycling helps you have a deeper connection with nature.

When we understand the meaning behind recycling, we also develop a deeper connection with nature, and the scientific consensus is that this connection greatly improves our mental health. One study conducted at Harvard University found that people who are in tune with nature are at lower risk of anxiety and depression and lead all-around more fulfilling lives. By extension, this also helps you to better cope with stress and face life’s challenges with a healthy attitude.