The topics of climate change, global warming and the end of the world as we know it can produce some daunting thoughts. As environmental protection becomes more politically polarized and words such as “costly” and “time consuming” continue to float around, it’s no wonder cleaning up one’s eco-act may seem like too big of a headache to deal with. It may even seem like something only superheroes, “fancy” or “hippie” people do.
This is neither particularly true nor particularly false. While not everyone has access to electric cars, solar panels or high end eco-chic retailers, making a difference doesn’t have to be as hard or as elite as it seems.
Here are four tips for modifying daily choices and finding alternative means so everyone can help save the planet.
Tip #1: Eliminate Plastic Straws
Plastic straws suck — both literally and figuratively. While the exact number has been disputed, some experts estimate as many as 500 million straws are used and discarded each day in the United States alone. Most plastic takes centuries to biodegrade and usually finds its way to the ocean from landlocked places via gutters and general littering.
Offshore, single-use products like straws are accumulating so quickly that not only are they causing detrimental health problems to marine life, but they’re quickly outnumbering the marine animals themselves.
Easy alternatives to plastic straws are budget-friendly, reusable straws. These can be found in-store or online and are made from materials such as metal, silicon and paper. Another alternative is to simply ask for no straw the next time you go out for a drink. It’s a small request that can lead to a big environmental impact.
Take it One Step Further
Eliminate plastic bottles, too, by investing in reusable water containers instead. Most workplaces and campuses have refilling sites and buying reusable containers will save money in the long run.
Editor’s note: If you haven’t seen the sea turtle video yet, which illustrates in very graphic terms how plastic drinking straws are adversely affecting marine life, you may want to check it out. (Warning: Contains graphic content.)
Tip #2: Meatless Mondays
This upgrade is not just something social media cooked up to get more hashtags and traffic on Monday nights. Designating one day out of the week for vegetarian or vegan meals greatly benefits the planet.
Meat production uses a disproportionately large amount of resources each season. In addition to significant land usage and pesticides, it takes an estimated 450 gallons of water to raise 1/4 pound of beef in comparison to only 50 gallons of water for one pound of corn. Opting for meatless alternatives also has several health benefits, including lowering the risk of heart disease.
Research savory vegetarian recipes that include beans, lentils, broccoli, soy or nuts to provide protein. Perhaps even try out faux meat options from brands such as Gardein. Brands that provide dairy alternatives include Califia Farms, Miyoko’s Creamery and So Delicious. Standard ingredients like olive oil and coconut cream can also be used in lieu of butter and cream in both baking and cooking.
Take it One Step Further
Try going an entire week without consuming meat and have fun cooking up vegetarian or vegan options. Many Middle Eastern and Indian dishes easily accommodate this, making a perfect opportunity to try cuisine from cultures you might not be familiar with.
Also, look around a local farmer’s market for vegetables and fruits. This supports local businesses, decreases energy used on long-distance food transportation and ensures you know exactly where your food is coming from.
Lastly, learn to read food labels to make ethical shopping easier, and research restaurants to ensure you’re eating foods that are ethically sourced. There are a number of restaurant apps available designed to help you eat sustainably.
Tip #3: Avoid Fast Fashion
Buying new clothes is necessary for everyone. Kids have growth spurts, things wear out and weight fluctuates. However, this doesn’t mean that clothes shopping can’t be approached with an envioronmentally-conscious mindset.
Fast fashion is the style equivalent of fast food — it’s easy to access and gets the job done, but it’s not necessarily the best choice. Fast fashion is centered around trends and quantity, not durability and quality.
This industry is responsible not only for water shortages and high rates of pollution and soil contamination — with more than 10 million tons of discarded clothing dumped annually into American landfills — but also for the sweatshop labor of women and girls. In fast fashion factories, long hours, low wages and sexual harassment are daily occurrences workers must endure.
To combat this, focus on buying well-made pieces that will be used time and again. Audit your wardrobe and figure out what you gravitate toward and invest in similar quality pieces. Research brands that focus on making pieces that will last decades, not days. This is particularly important for denim products, as it takes nearly 2,000 gallons of water and several heavy chemical rinses to produce a single pair of jeans. The higher quality a piece is, the more likely it will last longer and not end up in a landfill.
Also, research and support ethical clothing brands that follow strict humane production policies, and provide fair wages and safe working conditions for employees. Do these things, and you’ll be doing more than reaping what they sew.
Take it One Step Further
Try thrift stores. Thrift stores help give new life to used clothing, furniture and other things that would otherwise be buried in a landfill. Online thrift stores have also taken flight, providing larger selections from bigger brands.
Tip # 4: Stay Informed
Knowing better opens the door to doing better. In the age of social media and rapid-fire news, it’s easy to stay informed about the environment and the work many organizations are doing to help. Activists such as Greta Thunberg have social media accounts and sometimes provide links to other activists and informative parties.
Take it One Step Further
Word-of-mouth is free. Take the time to share what you’ve learned with friends, family members and co-workers.
Elite assemblies of superheroes aren’t the only ones capable of making a difference or helping the planet. Saving the world is a group effort comprised of many individual choices. It takes work and time, but the simple acts of modifying old habits and making the conscious choice to do better is enough to make a positive difference on the home planet.
Additional Reference Material:
Barenblat, A. (2017, July 26). Fast Fashion Is A Disaster for Women and The Environment. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/07/26/fast-fashion-is-a-disaster-for-women-and-the-environment/#1e9e2dc81fa4
Earth Day Network. (n.d.). Climate Change — Cutting Your Foodprint. Retrieved from https://www.earthday.org/take-action/cutting-your-foodprint/
The Fashion Law. (2018, November 22). How Many Gallons of Water Does it Take to Make a Single Pair of Jeans? Retrieved from http://www.thefashionlaw.com/home/how-many-gallons-of-water-does-it-take-to-make-a-single-pair-of-jeans
For a Strawless Ocean. (n.d.). Understanding Plastic Pollution. Retrieved from https://www.strawlessocean.org/faq
Hussein, H. (2017, September 25). You’re Jeans Are Ruining the Earth. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/kzzpjm/your-jeans-are-ruining-the-earth-v24n7
Meatless Monday. (n.d.). Environment. Retrieved from https://www.meatlessmonday.com/research/environment/
Spark, H. (2017, July 17). Straws: Why They Seriously Suck. Retrieved from https://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/straws-why-they-seriously-suck/
Mayo Clinic. (n.d.)Meatless meals: The benefits of eating less meat. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/meatless-meals/art-20048193
Webber, K. (2018, March 8). The Environmental and Human Cost of Making a Pair of Jeans. Retrieved from https://www.ecowatch.com/environmental-cost-jeans-2544519658.html