Earth day is a time to remind ourselves of the environment we live in and that we need to take care of it for ourselves and future generations. Climate Change is getting worse every year with large scale natural disasters happening quite often. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. World goals of being climate neutral by 2050 is honestly too late. As an individual, there are so many things we can be doing to mitigate our impact. The debate about corporations vs individual change being effective is mute. We need both. Companies are made up of people and serve people. If you make habit changes, you might be able to convince others. This chain reaction will effect companies that want your money as well as governments that want your support. Going along with no change, insisting that corporations need to change, not you, isn't helping and is honestly a bit lazy & disingenuous.
Since the horrible day in San Francisco last year when thick smoke from forest fires caused an entire day to be orange and seemingly night time in my beloved city, I've been on a path to discover and try out any potential lifestyle changes to reduce my impact. I'd like to share what I've tried with you all. Before we dive in, you need to understand that I don't know your life and your situation. Only you can decide if something I mention here is right for you and you have the capacity to try. Although, try not to write anything off at first glance. If it sounds hard, try it. Even just for a week, a month. Worst case, you stop. Best case, you keep it going. Either way, you'll learn a lot! I use a lot of "you" language below but this isn't me telling you want to do. You do you. It's more a failing of my writing abilities. I hope you see what is outlined below as suggestions of things to look into if you're curious. It's a list of things I learned and try to do. I'm not doing all these things 100% of the time but they're in the back of my head always.
Let's start here. Minimalism is at the core of everything. Our capitalistic society has convinced us that we need stuff. All kinds of stuff. Once we get that stuff, there is always more. Always the next thing to get. Constantly acquiring stuff doesn't make us happy. I'd urge you to really take a look at what does make you happy and invest in that. Hobbies? Start slow. Learn how to do the hobby without buying all the stuff first. Then once you know you're really into it, invest. This is about conscious and intentional purchases. You should really have a reason in your head on why you need to buy the thing. Then ask yourself, “Do I really need it?”. Cutting down on the things you buy will save on packaging waste, emissions to transport your goods, waste if you decide you don't want the stuff and throw it away, etc. It's also the basis for so many other things to follow.
Avoid it! Plastic recycling is mostly a myth. Check the stats but it's embarrassingly low how much is actually recycled. So step one is to avoid. Step 2, reuse. Don't go throwing away all your plastic things to buy more sustainable material things. This get's back to minimalism. You already have the plastic thing, use it until you absolutely can't anymore. There are a lot of companies out there pushing sustainable products, but remember we live in a capitalistic society. There are companies trying to make money and “sustainability” is so hot right now. Sure, many of these companies are great and trying to do the right thing with their products but that doesn't mean you need to buy it.
Check in with your waste management company. See what they actually want you to put in each bin. I live in SF where we are lucky enough that they'll take just about anything. Still, when I looked at their website, I learned a lot about what goes in what bin. The little recycling icon printed on plastic material doesn't mean it's recyclable, it just signifies the type of plastic. Those tricksters!
Do it. If your city picks up compost then definitely do it. There are a lot of new bio-plastics coming out these days and many are compostable if you have access to the right facility. Again, luckily SF has a great system. Also note that "compostable" is not the same as "biodegradable". Biodegradable goes in the trash! If your city doesn't pick up compost, try composting at home or check to see if there are drop-off centers nearby. This is an important one as food waste will generate methane when left in the garbage. It needs oxygen to breakdown properly and this is what composting facilities do.
This can be a big source of plastic for some people. Especially if you shop at Trader Joe's. Try to find a local co-op that has bulk bins or even a farmer's market. You can definitely get most if not all of your groceries plastic free. You might need to change your eating habits to focus on fresh produce but that's probably a good thing too. Also, don't overbuy. One of the leading contributions to emissions by individuals is food waste. Try to only buy what you'll eat and make sure to compost if things do go bad.
You knew this was coming. This topic is probably the most talked about. Yes, mass animal farming/fishing is terrible for the environment. Can you reduce your meat intake? I use to think I couldn't live without a good burger. But turns out, you can … and you can still be happy! Wild. Another wild fact, you can live without cheese and eggs too … AND be happy!! I know it's crazy talk. I bet most of you are already admitting defeat and thinking there is no way you could do this. I dare you to try. It might require cooking at home more vs ordering out. It also might require you to think more about what you're putting in your body to make sure you're getting appropriate nutrition. I know these are all scary things but taking care of your body will lead to so many other benefits too.
Cosmetics and Cleaners
Take a look in your cosmetic drawer/bag. It's all plastic huh? Can you do better? Dr. Bronner's is a life saver here. Did you know it has 18 different uses? It can be your shampoo, body soap, toothpaste, general cleaner, laundry detergent, hand soap, dish soap, and so much more. Check out their website for dilution instructions. I use it for my toothpaste but alternate with a high fluoride toothpaste to keep my teeth healthy and also because I had some leftover. Once I finish the tube, I'm going to check out the fluoride tablets they make. I also use Dr. Bronner's Suds product for laundry and it's great. Finally, I've started using an Alum stone for deodorant. This might be the weirdest thing. Its a crystal the size of a baseball that you rub on your armpits. It will probably last the rest of my life too. But check it out, it works wonderfully! Oh ya, and don't forget about floss. Most of it is plastic and you wouldn't normally chew on plastic would you?
Try to conserve water as much as you can. Most of the time we're poisoning the water with our waste and it requires energy to clean it. Take fewer showers and use cold water as well, if you can stand it. Re-wear clothes, do less laundry. If you have old water in a glass, water some plants with it. Optimizing here can also help save on the water bill.
In a similar vein, try optimizing the heat in your home. If you can stand having the temp lower, that can help. And vise versa for the hot times and using an A/C.
Driving and Cars
Try to drive less. If you live in a city, public transit and biking (e-bike too) are great options. Also, don't buy a new car. There are so many great used cars out there. New cars require so much energy to make.
Don't have em. This might be a stretch. Some people believe that having kids and raising them right will set them up to help the environment more. They are a huge impact though and add up to more than everything else I've said so far combined.
Don't fall for fast fashion. Goodwill, thrift stores, and so many other places have awesome name brand clothes that you can buy used or out of season. There are even websites these days where you can exchange or sell clothes to others.
Vote with your dollars. When you do decide to buy something, pay more for something that will last. Before you do that though, try to buy something used. “Buy nothing” groups are gaining popularity on Facebook. Check there and Craigslist.
Your bank is also a culprit. They invest the money you have with them. Do you know what they're investing in? Probably not something you want. Check out local credit unions. I switched to Amalgamated bank and love it. This goes for Credit Cards too! Then there is your own investments. Your retirement accounts and likewise probably have some mutual funds, maybe some ETFs. Check those out and make sure they're investing in things you're cool with. There are so many great ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) funds out there now. Switching to those will help incentivize the future you want. (This is not investment advice)
Check out Ecosia search. It uses Bing so it's not the best but at least they're trying to plant trees with the ad money.
Finally, the last topic is You. Invest in yourself. A healthy, vibrant you will probably make better decisions for the environment and for you. Try and challenge yourself to do some of the things above if you can. We've all been living in a world that has made us OK with consuming and wasting so much. It might require some struggle to change your lifestyle and mindset. It might not be easy, but the sacrifice could be worth it.
Thanks for reading! If you have any other ideas or things you've tried let me know! I'm always on the lookout for new ways to reduce my impact!