humans are the problem, but we are also the solution.
Why should you care?
Arguably the biggest threat to the environment, greater than any piece of single-use disposable plastic, is that people just don’t care. They’re too set in their ways, their routine, their habits, whatever. But now is the time, more than ever, to care about the environment and our surroundings. We already know about the irreversible damage caused by global warming: glaciers melt, oceans swell, natural disasters destroy. That should be enough to motivate anyone to reconsider their how their values and lifestyle align. But if you still aren’t convinced, think about every interaction you’ve had with nature. Maybe you went camping or hiking or swimming in the ocean or a lake, maybe you heard a bird sing, or climbed a tree, or went sledding in fresh snow, or ran barefoot in the grass. Perhaps you picked some flowers or held a butterfly in the palm of your hand, played with roly-polies or fireflies at dusk in the summertime. Maybe you just went to the park, played outside, simple as that. It doesn't take much to appreciate the natural world. But if you’re anything like a typical teen you’ve most likely lost some appreciation, sucked into the screen thats always glued to your hand, your eyes. It’s okay! I’m just as guilty of spending far too much time on my phone, social media, all of it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want my future to be one without natural beauty. I want to be able to experience the world, travel to amazing places and see what they have to offer. I want to preserve and protect the Earth for future generations. I want to experience nature uncorrupted by humans, and I want you to feel the same way. Because I know that through all of our super modern interconnectedness, through all of our instagramming and tweeting and snapping and such, we all have a deep connection to the planet. Not necessarily spiritual, but actually scientific. Being in nature improves our sleep, eyesight, breathing, as well as being grounding and energizing. In short, everyone benefits from some fresh air, and everyone should have the right to benefit, regardless of where they live or what they look like or what their generation is. Because climate change isn’t an ‘us’ issue, and it isn’t a ‘them’ issue either. Its a human issue, and without change, we’re going to be the generation that misses out, all because of the generation that came before us.
what can you do?
The very first thing you can do is to stop using single-use plastic and disposables. It’s not as hard as it seems- just make sure you take your essentials with you wherever you go. That way you will never be stuck without your reusable utensils, napkin, jar, etc. Refuse unnecessary plastic when it is offered to you- samples at the store, plastic straws in your drink, free pens and stickers… you get the idea. Slowly transition the purchases you make to ones that are good for the environment and the world. Next time you need shampoo, buy it as a bar, not in a bottle. When you need toothpaste, make it. When you go grocery shopping, bring all your own bags, including ones for produce and bulk. When you need a new phone case, buy a compostable one. When you need new clothes, shop vintage or sustainable. When you need a new hairbrush, buy a wooden one, and keep it for life. When you need new tupperware, buy glass or stainless steel. When you need any condiment or dressing, buy it in glass or make your own. As you can see, there are infinite ways to reduce your waste. Check out my journal and instagram for more inspiration.
What about non-plastic waste?
Start composting! Once you eliminate the disposable plastic good from your life, most everything else is compostable. This was one of the very first things I did with my family when I embraced low-waste living. Of course, living in a big city, there was absolutely no way my parents would build a backyard compost. (If your family is interested in having a backyard compost, that’s amazing! Read this to learn how). It only took me ten minutes to research other ways I could compost living in Chicago, and I quickly found a company that caters to my neighborhood. We signed up, got two five-gallon buckets, and started to fill them up with all of our organic waste. Many people think the compost is reserved for food only, but I put many other things, like paper, q-tips, my toothbrush, and even hair in the compost! Here is a general list of what you should and shouldn’t compost.
If you can’t find a compost service in your city, don’t worry! Most farmers markets collect compost for free or a very small charge. In most scenarios you just collect your compostables throughout the week and drop them off in the bin at the farmers market when you can. If you don’t have an accessible farmers market, still don’t worry! Oftentimes there are already folks who have set up backyard compost piles, and are frequently willing to let you contribute to their pile. I used to babysit for a lady who gave all her compost to another man living in the neighborhood. So ask your neighbors if they or anyone they know has a compost pile going. Send out an email, even put up flyers. There is always a way to compost! If you are really stuck and have no idea where to compost or how to start, feel free to send me an email and I’ll willingly help you out with the research specific to your city or area.
Composting while traveling can be especially tricky. Check out this resource to learn about being eco on the go. However if I’m just out and about in the city with my friends, I will save whatever needs to be composted until I find a cluster of bushes and just chuck it in the dirt, never to be seen again! I say “natural compost!”, my friends laugh, and we move on.
If after all this you’re still wondering, why compost? Doesn’t organic material break down just the same in the landfill? You’d be flat-out wrong. Sorry my friend, but that simply isn’t true. What happens is that organic material, like banana peels, for instance, get trapped in between the millions of pounds of other matter in the landfill. This suffocation doesn’t allow for proper aeration of naturally biodegradable material, which causes it to sit for years. Yes, years. The main problem with this is that while all this biodegradable material is sitting there, it still produces greenhouse gases just the same as any old piece of trash, contributing to climate change and global warming.
If you’re still interested in composting and how it works, yay! Read all of this science-y stuff to learn more.
And don’t forget, 40% of all food in the United States is wasted. To learn more about how to reduce your food waste altogether, read this.
Consider Veganism or vegetarianism
This one’s a no brainer. The animal agriculture industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, and about 9 billion farm animals are slaughtered every year in the United States alone. A vegan diet has the lightest carbon footprint compared to most other diets, with about 6.4 pounds of CO2 emissions a day, while meat eaters create about 14 pounds of CO2 emissions daily- meat eaters produce over 2 times more carbon emissions than vegans do. If that alone isn’t enough to convince you to reduce your meat and animal product consumption, there are plenty of films that will- namely Cowspiracy, Earthlings, and Forks Over Knives. For more vegan/vegetarian inspiration, take a look at instagram accounts like hailethomas, carlytaylor269, stevieyaaaay, happyandhealthy96, and carlotabruna, para los que hablan español. The vegan community is not perfect, but these are some accounts and resources that I love. They do an amazing job showing that no matter who you are, you have the potential to reduce your consumption of animal products to heal your body, mind, soul, and fellow sentient beings.
Keep on truckin’ or… bicycling, as they say.
You’re probably thinking, okay so all this plastic stuff is great, but it’s definitely not the only thing that is destroying the Earth. (If you’re not thinking that, no worries, we’re talking about it now). There are a gagillion other things besides disposables that are damaging our planet. One things that often comes to mind is transportation. Cars, planes, boats, trains…. for the most part, they all emit exhaust, filled with hazardous greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and water vapor. How do we combat this? Choose to take public transportation, bike, walk, or carpool. Try to convince those around you to purchase an electric or hybrid vehicle. The transportation industry is extremely hard to avoid, but there are certainly ways to improve and mitigate our emissions. Learn how to offset your emissions while flying, or even consider some airlines that are pledging to remove some or all of their single-use plastic items.