On September 20th, the earth shook as 4 million people made their way into the streets to strike for our climate. Our destructive consumerist behavior in this throwaway culture has accelerated climate change, leaving the youth concerned about the fate of their future.
I heard about the strike through social media the night before, so I grabbed some paint and a couple boards I scored from a different protest, peeled off the letter stickers, painted (not-so-pretty signs) and hit the streets!
The sad thing was, I was the only one I saw with a sign the whole day. I guess I missed the small group that was protesting in my hometown, so I walked around holding signs for a while before I had to head out of town.
On the way out of town, they wanted to stop at an outlet mall. I thought about when I briefly worked at an outlet mall as a teen, and hated it. This time, I walked around wearing my earth cape and refused to buy anything on this day when millions of people around the world were striking for our climate. It was just so sad to see people mindlessly buying, and either not caring or oblivious to the destruction we’re doing.
I understand… I used to mindlessly buy things I didn’t need all the time! It used to satisfy me. And even though I was Co-President of The Environmental Club in middle school (nerd), I didn’t stop to make the obvious connection that buying things contributed to our global pollution problem!
But I can’t go back to the way I was, after all that I’ve learned.
After extensively studying the effects of consumerism for my Master’s thesis, I am always thinking about where our products come from, where they go and what impacts they have on the planet. This is why you can find me in the store, staring at the olive oil for 20 minutes.
I know that you wanna treat yo self, and you also just want to make things easy, especially if you’re a parent! I’m not saying you shouldn’t. I want to enjoy my life too! I just want to share some information and ideas.
And although I’ve become a conscious consumer, I still buy things that’s aren’t the best for our earth or for other people. Sometimes we don’t have access to sustainable products, or we are just busy and need convenience. We don’t always have time to go across town to the farmer’s market, the co-op, or the thrift store. We don’t always have time or money to get all the good stuff from Whole Foods in our bulk bags.
Check out this book by Kelsey Timmerman that will change your life:
I often feel guilty shopping for new stuff, because I think about how much of it could have been made by a slave in a sweatshop that dumps toxic waste into freshwater sources, and tons of crap into the atmosphere.
Although it’s hard to imagine a life free of waste and pollution, there are some reasonable things you can do to help reduce global pollution and your carbon footprint:
Aside from toxic factory pollution from the sheer volume of packaging and products we routinely go through, most people don’t consider where their trash and recycling go once it’s out of sight. Our busy, throwaway, consumer lifestyle has trained us to turn a blind eye while we go about our day. We somehow have become okay with digging a hole in the earth and hiding our trash, and we just assume that “recycling” means it will get processed into usable material.
Amazingly, roughly 75% of the population in the US that recycle. But, did you know that of the 34.5 million tons of solid waste produced in the USA each year, only NINE PERCENT is actually recycled?
That means that 26.01 million tons of recyclable PLASTIC goes into our landfill every year…. This doesn’t include the 8 MILLION METRIC TONS of plastic that goes into our oceans every year!
Marine animals get tangled up in fishing nets, plastic waste and are consuming enough plastic to the point of dying. Smaller fish are eating micro-plastics, and it works it’s way up the food chain to us humans. Yep, we eat plastic!
The best thing we can do is REDUCE our waste by not buying as many things to begin with. Not only do we save material from going to the landfill, but we reduce the amount of raw materials that need to be extracted from the earth in the first place! Another reason to reduce and reuse is because a LOT of the factories that produce our stuff have no environmental regulation and just spew toxic crap into freshwater (well, not fresh anymore), the air and soil.
A great way to reduce is to reuse bags, cups, mugs, containers, etc. Which leads me to…..
Making the conscious effort to reuse materials can be easy, we just need to be more mindful of where we can make the changes and make habits out of it. It’s sometimes hard to make the time in our busy lives to go 100% zero waste (in my case, too busy as a single mom to always be able to use cloth diapers). But, I’m trying and I make some effort everyday.
I’ve made a pretty healthy habit of using my stainless steel water bottle, my cloth grocery bags, my bulk and produce bags and my container for the salad bar (they can tare the weight at the register before you fill it). You can also find some fun products like these vegan beeswax wraps or reusable snack bags.
Upcycling is when you take something that might otherwise be thrown in the landfill or recycling and breathe new life into it. If you get creative, you can personalize a unique item and bypass all of the energy used in the recycling process. Here’s an old t-shirt, up-cycled into a produce bag:
As we already know, only 9% of plastic put in recycling bins in the US is actually recycled. Other recyclables have a higher percentage, but recycling is still not as effective as we think it is. I’ve always thought that throwing it into the recycling bin is much better than landfill, but it turns out that most of the plastics end up in landfill or waterways anyway!
Let’s think harder about where we can reduce and reuse before we toss it into the recycling bin!
4. BUY SECONDHAND
I love thrift shopping! Years ago (after my Fashion Institute years), I stopped my habit of constantly buying NEW trendy clothes and accessories. I started to realize that every dollar I spent would either support or boycott certain industries or practices. VOTE WITH YOUR DOLLAR!
Buying second hand will not only offer you some really cool, unique things, it will also decrease the demand for new clothing from factories that have no environmental regulation. The less new stuff we buy, the less toxins they’ll spew into the environment, and the less resources it’ll take to get you fitted. Also, instead of clothing going to landfill, it gets another life in someone else’s wardrobe!
5. BUY LOCAL/ SUPPORT LOCAL FARMS
VOTE WITH YOUR DOLLAR! Farmer’s Markets are great for so many reasons! Not only do you get a bunch of tasty, seasonal, diverse, organic, locally grown food, but you also lower your carbon footprint! And more often than not, you get to meet the people who actually grew your food and ask them questions.
As I look at some bananas on my desk, I wonder about their journey. Where did they grow? Sticker says “Mexico”. Who grew them? I don’t know, but it says they were “fairly traded”. They traveled many food miles* to get here, in trucks, boats, maybe even planes! They probably were packaged, passed through many hands and lands, un-packaged and passed through many more hands before they got to be on the shelf that I picked them up from.
That shit is bananas! B-A-N-A-N-A-S! So, okay… I might have to reconsider bananas.
When shopping at the farmer’s market, you can go shopping, guilt free, knowing that the food miles are minimal. You can also give yourself a pat on the back for not supporting large-scale industrial farming techniques that aren’t so na-na-natural for the earth. MONO-CROPPING IS TERRIBLE FOR THE EARTH!
*Food miles is the distance that food travels from source to consumer. They’re one of the factors considered when considering the environmental impact of food.
Not only are you diverting food waste from landfill (where it won’t compost for a long time, and will actually give off greenhouse gases in the meantime), but you are creating delicious organic matter that is GOLD for growing plants, and for the soil.
You can find or make different vessels to suit your living space. Compost can nourish your garden, but if you don’t have a garden, find a local farm, garden or neighbor that would take your scraps. Otherwise, toss it in your city green bin.
7. GROW YOUR OWN
There are so many benefits to growing your own food! You’ll reduce your carbon footprint by reducing the food miles and the amount of resources needed to package and distribute your food to your plate.
You become so connected with your food and with the earth when you grow it yourself.
Even if you live in an apartment, you can grow some of your own food! Try a vertical garden by your windowsill or balcony, or see if there’s a community garden nearby that you can join. Or maybe start with one potted herb that can grow in your windowsill and grow from there!
8. BUY IN BULK
You can use your upcycled t-shirt bags to buy things in bulk! Search around your area to find stores that offer bulk foods.
I love shopping in bulk when I can, because it reduces packaging and saves money. I use cloth bags at the store, and then transfer the goods into jars when I get home.
9. EAT LESS MEAT, ESPECIALLY BEEF (AND DAIRY)
Many people disagree with the idea that humans should be eating less beef and dairy, but the reality is that the livestock industry is the biggest contributor to climate change!
The global livestock industry emits more greenhouse gases than all cars, trucks, trains, boats and planes combined. Beef and dairy alone make up 65% of all livestock emissions, with pork coming in second.
Farming livestock is also a major factor in the decline of biodiversity. Forests and native lands are being cleared for ranching and to grow feed, usually mono-cropped. We NEED biodiversity for so many reasons- soil health, resilience to pests and disease, diverse flora and fauna, resilience to natural disasters, saving water, etc. Factory farming also drains local freshwater to grow grain for animals.
There are farms that practice more sustainable methods of farming, like letting their animals graze. But, let’s all reduce our meat consumption, starting with Meatless Monday! Can you dedicate one day of your week to eating no meat?
10. DRIVE LESS
Although agriculture takes the cake on carbon emissions, there’s no doubting that our reliance on fossil fuels is taking it’s toll on Mother Earth.
For many in cities, there’s the luxury of public transportation, or even being able to use those boots for walkin’ to everything you need! But, with a family, dogs, a busy lifestyle, a spread out lifestyle, it can be difficult to plan life around the bus schedule.
If you can’t ditch the whip, try to become more mindful of your driving habits and where you can cut down. Fit as many activities/errands in each trip as you can. Walk or ride your bike more, if you can.
The problem here is… I LOVE TO TRAVEL! And I plan on doing a lot more of it. I recently read about a couple who offsets their carbon emissions by planting trees every time they fly somewhere. I’m going to do this!
- Engelhaupt, E (2008). “Do food miles matter?”. Environmental Science & Technology. 42 (10): 3482. doi:10.1021/es087190e.
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