written by Sara Forsgren, Huntington Beach
You’ve seen all of the headlines.
A trash pile as big as Texas floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, ice caps melting, glaciers receding, animals found with stomachs full of plastic and now chemicals leaching from plastics are shown to cause harmful effects on the organisms surrounded by it.
I knew I wanted to do something to help, but how? When I started looking up solutions, I was overwhelmed. It immediately discouraged me because it seemed expensive and I felt that if I couldn’t do it all within a month, I wouldn’t be making a difference. Two years later, I’m still learning and I don’t want anyone to feel like I did when I first started. Here I share some tips on not only eliminating waste, but also how we can reduce carbon emissions. Climate change and plastic pollution are very big issues, but with just a few little steps and the awareness, it’s something we can fight.
Start to eliminate some of your plastic waste.
- Waste Auditing. This isn’t absolutely necessary for implementing a sustainable lifestyle, but it can help see where you’re at in terms of how much waste you produce and what you should tackle first. To do a waste audit, you’re essentially gathering all of your trash whether it be during a week or two weeks and then taking tallies of all of the items. This can help you assess where you need to start and help you realize how wasteful our lifestyles can be. This process can also be a bit more overwhelming so if it doesn’t sound like something you’d want to do right away, start on the next step.
- Write a list of your top 3 most-used items. I could tell off the top of my head, mine consisted of water bottles, beverage cups, and grocery bags. These were very easy swaps that I could find at any store (consider doing DIY grocery bags!) around me and already eliminated so much waste every day.
- Gradually swap more items. If you were to make one big swap at once, it could be pretty expensive. Buy things as you need them, like you normally would. Items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper, etc. The goal is to be less wasteful, so if it doesn’t need to be replaced right away that’s ok!
- Up-cycle and get creative. This is probably one of my favorite ways to reduce my waste. Whenever I buy condiments or pasta sauces, I always look for glass jars. This way when I clean them out I can use them for bulk items, to go glassware, or to store other recipes. You can also up-cycle old T-shirts into grocery or produce bags. Broken mug or done with your candle? Use them as pencil holders or cute pots for succulents.
- DIY-Do It Yourself. DIY isn’t for everyone but I highly recommend that you give it a try. There are tons of recipes online for just about anything. Especially when making your own body products you’re omitting tons of toxic chemicals and your body will thank you. After you’re done whipping something up you can always store it in your upcycled food jars too! A win win.
- Buy second hand. The amount of energy, water, and labor something needs to be made is mind-boggling. When you’re able to buy second-hand you’re saving tons of resources and even more money.
When it comes to reducing our carbon footprint, it seems like this is something that is so far out of reach there is not much we can do about it. That is not the case, just like slowly eliminating waste you can slowly reduce your carbon footprint. I knew I wouldn’t be able to ditch my car and travel by bike everywhere or adopt a totally plant based lifestyle but I knew I could make some modifications to my lifestyle.
- Go plant based one day a week. Not only is going plant based one day a week beneficial for your own health, but by doing so you’re saving an upwards of 100 gallons of water and reducing tons of carbon emissions.
- Food waste. Food waste emits methane, a gas that plays a factor in greenhouse gasses-even more so than carbon dioxide. Some of my favorite ways to avoid food waste is to buy bulk. This way you can buy only what you need and nothing has to get thrown out. As far as prepping veggies and having leftover scraps, you can always freeze and boil them later to make a delicious homemade vegetable broth. Lastly, if you can’t avoid wasting food, look into a compost bin. They are known as the armpit of sustainability, but they are amazing at breaking down food scraps into fertilizer. They even have worm composts that are great if you live in a smaller space without a yard.
- Walk or ride to destinations within a half mile radius.You can either choose one day a week where you ride or walk everywhere you need to go or choose a radius around your home you’d feel comfortable traveling to by foot. I found that a lot of my most traveled places are within one mile, not only am I wasting gas but those are emissions that don’t need to be released into the environment. (Do it within your means, if it’s not safe, please don’t feel like you need to.) Plus, when you travel by foot you have the opportunity to stop and smell the flowers… Literally!
- Save energy. I’m not saying you need to go out and replace your fridge right now (broke college student here, so definitely not in my cards) but when replacing lights bulbs, look for energy efficient, turn off your lights/appliances when not in use, and find a day every other week to completely unplug.
I hope you found these tips useful. Converting to a more sustainable journey can be incredibly stressful and turns a lot of people off from even trying. I tell everyone that even if you just do something, just one thing, you’re making a difference! Especially if you’re communicating with your friends and family, it can start a domino effect. One last important tip: don’t compare your own progress to other people, you’re all in a different part of your journey. Always ask for advice, tips, and do your research for your local area. There may be a low-waste shop near you that you can stop by and start to build your own earth-friendly community.