Sustainable Swaps

Switching to sustainable items and habits can be a challenge for many, but it is one of the best ways to help fight climate change. Giving up on items and habits that you have grown accustomed to can pose several difficulties; however, here are some sustainable swaps that are easier to integrate into your daily routine and a great start to becoming more sustainable:

10 Sustainable Swaps:

  1. Reusable Lunch Bag and Utensils- If you take your lunch to work or school, consider investing in a reusable lunch bag rather than using plastic bags. In the long run, this will save you money as well.
  2. Choose to Bike or Walk-  If you aren’t traveling far and the weather is nice, try walking or biking to your location rather than driving or using public transportation. It emits less carbon dioxide, and spending time outdoors is good for the mind and can prove to be very relaxing.
  3. Don’t Choose the Pre-Cut Fruit- Bring your own bag when going grocery shopping (pro-tip: always keep some in your car or by your door) and choose the produce that isn’t wrapped in plastic or pre-cut. This cuts down on waste.
  4. Upcycle Clothing/Thrift- Clothing and textiles are one of the top contributors to waste, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. If you have  a thrift store near your home, you can get more affordable clothing and help reduce waste. Upcycling clothing is reusing your old clothing to make something new, such as turning an old pair of jeans into a tote bag or can even be as easy as reusing a shirt as pajamas.
  5. Buy Reusable Containers- Instead of plastic bags and plastic wrap to store your food, consider investing in silicone bags and reusable plastic wrap. You can find many options to purchase.
  6. Bring Your Own Cups and Straws- If you are planning to grab a cup of coffee instead of making your own (an easily more sustainable option), bring a reusable thermos for your drink. If you can, try to always carry with you reusable straws. There are many different options of straws that you can choose, such as  silicone (which are more like traditional straws) or bamboo. However, due to the current pandemic, many stores may be unable to offer this.
  7. Keep Hand Towels Around- Instead of always reaching for  single-use towels, keep cloth napkins around in your kitchen to use more often for simple things like drying your hands or wiping up a small spill.
  8. Buy Used- Clothing isn’t the only thing that you can find at thrift stores. Books, dishes, art, and home decor are just a few of the many other items and products that can also be bought from thrift stores.  These items can also easily be found at a local flea market!
  9. Cut Back on Ordering In- Most take-out options include a lot of packaging, plastic bags, and utensils. If you can, try to limit ordering in. Find recipes that you genuinely enjoy, that fit your time frame, and aren’t too hard to make. Prepping meals or ingredients can also be a useful strategy to save time.
  10. Reduce Waste When Buying Food- If you have a farmer’s market nearby, getting your produce from there helps to support local businesses and often allows for you to bring your own reusable bags. Buying from other small local businesses often reduces the emissions from transportation. As previously stated, remembering to bring your own reusable bags when shopping is key to reducing waste.

While it can be exciting to make the switch to more sustainable items, it isn’t sustainable to throw away the products you already own. Sustainability is important, but can be hard for some as well. Try to add habits and items into your lifestyle to the best of your ability. Keep using the items you have until you get the most use out of everything. Reducing your waste is also a crucial part of this process.

Sources:

Compton, Julie. “8 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Use.” NBC News, NBC News, 18 Mar. 2019, www.nbcnews.com/better/lifestyle/8-simple-ways-reduce-your-plastic-use-ncna984396 McFall-Johnsen, Morgan. “How Fast Fashion Hurts the Planet through Pollution and Waste – Business Insider.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 21 Oct. 2019, www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10

The Benefits of Growing a Garden:

There are so many different things that you could do  to make a positive impact and help the Earth, and starting your own garden is one of them! It might seem daunting at first, especially if you don’t have experience with gardening. However, it is easier than it seems and can even be relaxing and calming.

Location can be a constraint, but that  doesn’t make it impossible. If you live in a city, there are many places that have community gardens. If not, you can grow one in your home! Starting a herb garden in your home, even though it seems small, makes an impact and can reduce your carbon footprint and waste. Growing a garden is, essentially, a fun and exciting way to help the Earth.

Different locations, growing spaces, and climates impact what you need to know about gardening. Therefore, it is important to research your specific area. Reach out to friends, family, and people you know that could give you advice on growing a garden. If you are completely new to gardening, start small and build up. Learn about which plants grow best, when they grow best, and how to plant them before getting started. 

Planting flowers, trees, herbs, and vegetables can add color and vibrance to a garden. You can cater what you plant  to where you live. For example, if you live in a dry area, don’t choose a garden that requires enormous  amounts of water! Gardening should be both relaxing and a positive thing to do for the environment.

Environmental Benefits of a Garden:

  1. Food without the waste: Store-bought food often comes with a lot of packaging to be thrown away. Growing your own food allows you to get fresh, homegrown produce without the plastic or packaging.
  2. Improves air quality: Plants, through photosynthesis, need carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water to release oxygen and improve overall air quality. 
  3. Decreases food mileage: Food shipping takes a lot of carbon emissions, and growing local decreases that factor.
  4. Connect with nature: Many don’t get the time to be outside, but having a garden tends to allow people to take the time and connect with nature. This is important because it creates empathy for the environment and animals and has other positive effects.
  5. Transform vacant lots into lively gardens: Many city gardens started as a bare empty lot. Gardens can transform a space and make it more enjoyable to be in.
  6. Reduce Carbon Footprint:  Growing your own food reduces your overall carbon footprint by reducing packaging, shipping, and many other factors in the process.
  7. Makes for a nicer environment: A city or home garden can improve the space and add elements of greenery and life.

Sources:

BBC. “What Is Photosynthesis?” BBC Bitesize, BBC, 5 Sept. 2019, www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/topics/zvrrd2p/articles/zn4sv9q .

Cho, Renee. “State of the Planet.” State of the Planet, 8 June 2011, blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2011/05/26/why-we-must-reconnect-with-nature/ .

DeMuro, Katie. “The Many Benefits of Community Gardens.” Greenleaf Communities, 7 Dec. 2015, greenleafcommunities.org/the-many-benefits-of-community-gardens/.“Planting Seeds for Clean Air | Green America.” Www.Greenamerica.Org, http://www.greenamerica.org/your-home-detoxed/planting-seeds-clean-air. Accessed 27 Sept. 2020.

The Problem with Food Waste and How to Help

The U.S. produces $160 billion worth of food each year, and about fifty percent of it is thrown away annually by the farms themselves, grocery stores, or even consumers. Many people are trying to fix this problem or better themselves and their habits, but many still contribute to the ongoing issue of food waste. People need to decrease the amount of food wasted because it leaves a huge carbon footprint and it takes away from the food others need to thrive. 

Beginning at food production, farms create a massive carbon footprint and throw away food that is adequate to eat. The production of food in the United States takes up 15.7 percent of the total energy budget, as well as using 50 percent of all land. In addition, the production of food takes up 80 percent of all freshwater the United States uses yearly. One would assume that with this significant amount of resources being used that the food produced wouldn’t be wasted, however, 20 billion pounds of, mainly edible, produce is lost or thrown away on farms annually- while some food is even left unharvested. 

As for the food that gets to the stores, according to a recent study, supermarkets throw away 43 billion pounds of food every year. Most of this food is unexpired and edible. It is thrown away because massive shipments of food for grocery stores arrive before people have had the chance to buy the previous shipments. In addition, at home people follow expiration dates too strictly. Expiration dates are determined by the producers of the food, and expiration dates signify when the food is at the end of its peak of taste. Food is still edible after the expiration date, but companies want their food to taste its best so consumers buy it again. Also, people overestimate the amount of food they can eat. U.S. consumers waste nearly 150,000 tons of food per day. Many believe that since food can decompose, it is okay to throw away. On the contrary, as food rots, it releases methane, which is a greenhouse gas that has a far greater negative impact on the atmosphere than CO2.

30 to 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted. Around 300 million people live in the US, and around 41 million are facing hunger. If we were able to use that 30 to 40 percent of food wasted, national hunger could potentially be ended. Many take for granted the food they have and don’t stop to think about the impact that wasting food has on the planet. 

People ignore the problems around them because they assume that others will fix them, and it is only “one meal wasted,” but millions of people are thinking the same things. By implementing small changes, tips, and tricks to waste less food, your carbon footprint could significantly be reduced. Food waste is an apparent and growing issue. It’s important to recognize how much food waste you produce, do your research, be more mindful, and help spread the word to others. Unfortunately, this issue cannot be fixed by a single person.

Ways to Help Save Food:

  1. Compost: Instead of throwing away the scraps of food you may have leftover, you can compost them. You can purchase a composter online and manually take your composted food to your local recycling and disposal facility or use the broken down scraps as dirt for your garden. 
  2. Buy Foods with Less Packaging: Try to avoid buying pre-cut fruits or packaged veggies. In addition, try to bring reusable grocery and produce bags instead of using single-use paper or plastic ones.
  3. Save Your Leftovers: Freeze soups or stews for later and bring your leftovers for lunch the next day. You can also freeze your fruit which can be used in smoothies, oatmeal, baking, and so much more!
  4. Find Multiple Uses for Foods: If a watermelon is mushy, make popsicles. Pickle your vegetables or make applesauce out of your old apples. Be creative with the ways you save food.
  5. Eat the Skins: Many people peel their apples, peaches, cucumbers, and kiwis. But did you know that those are all edible? You can also eat the stems of strawberries and save carrot tops for broths or juices.
  6. Don’t take expiration dates too strictly: This is not saying to force yourself to eat your moldy bread or turned-blue yogurt. However, if it is a little after the expiration date and it looks, smells, and tastes fine or if it is not even opened but a few days after the expiration date, check before you chuck it.
  7. There are many creative ways to avoid wasting food. Implementing some of these strategies into your life can reduce your carbon footprint and help combat this issue of food waste.

Sources:

“Food Waste Is a Massive Problem-Here’s Why.” FoodPrint, 15 Apr. 2020, https://foodprint.org/issues/the-problem-of-food-waste/ .

“Food Waste Set to Increase to 2.1 Billion Tons Annually by 2030 – Yale E360.” Yale E360, https://e360.yale.edu/digest/food-waste-set-to-increase-to-2-1-billion-tons-annually-by-2030#:~:text=Food%20Waste%20Set%20to%20Increase%20to%202.1%20Billion%20Tons%20Annually%20by%202030,-Discarded%20food%20at&text=Each%20year%2C%201.6%20billion%20tons,third%20of%20all%20food%20produced . Accessed 12 Sept. 2020.

Kubala, Jillian. “20 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 20 Nov. 2017, www.healthline.com/nutrition/reduce-food-waste.

“Reducing Wasted Food At Home | Reduce, Reuse, Recycle | US EPA.” US EPA, 18 Apr. 2013, https://www.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-wasted-food-home .

Why Do We Waste Perfectly Good Food In The U.S.? | AJ+. YouTube, 28 Aug. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkbOpCRyKvQ .

The Importance of Protecting Beach and Dune Ecosystems

It is summer, and to many, that means trips to the beach. People are traveling coast to coast just for a day in the sun. Unfortunately, many are unaware of how fragile and important our beaches are, with some beach goers being unaware of the damage they could be causing.

Coastal sand dunes are found in every continent except for Antarctica. Generally, they are located behind the sandy areas of beaches. These dunes are made up of three zones: the pioneer zone, the intermediate or scrub zone, and the back dune or forest zone. Dunes form when wind, rivers, or waves carry sediment from eroded land or animal skeletons, and that sediment is held together by vegetation. The ecosystems that coastal sand dunes create provide a plethora of uses. They protect inland communities from severe storms by absorbing the impacts, provide homes to many beach plant and animal species, and act as a natural barrier against wind and waves.

However, many forms of degradation are hurting dune ecosystems. Hurricanes impact the dunes the most, and it can take up to five years for dunes to recover from such events.  To make matters worse, global climate change is causing hurricanes to increase in intensity and occurrence. Sea levels are expected to rise due to an increase in ocean temperatures causing ice caps to melt, leading to a greater threat to the dune ecosystems. While hurricanes have a large impact on the dunes, the effect that humans are having is relatively worse.  Housing and building developments on or in the vicinity of dunes as well as service pipelines built over dunes weaken the roots of vegetation, causing erosion and overall destruction of dune wildlife. Even recreational use of beaches and sand dunes are a large factor. A lot of people don’t understand the importance and fragility of dune ecosystems. Many trample, pollute, litter, and even  drive over coastal sand dunes. These are only a few of the many forms of degradation. Others include overgrazing and invasive species.

Some groups are trying to help restore these ecosystems with native plant species and wildlife, though this is an extremely difficult feat. Attempts at restoration are only part of the solution. Until people are educated and aware, coastal sand dunes will continue to be harmed. 

It is important to protect dune ecosystems and many other ecosystems because too often they are being degraded or built upon. After years of degradation, it is near impossible to restore an ecosystem to its original state. Many natural ecosystems are at risk and even experiencing permanent damage. You can get involved through beach cleanups, spreading the awareness of dune importance and fragility, taking advantage of opportunities to participate in restoration, and incorporating habits into your lifestyle that reduce your carbon footprint. While it may seem like one person can’t make a huge difference, if everyone made an effort and rejected that mentality a lot could be done.

Ways You Can Help Protect Dunes:

  1. Use the boardwalk: Many beaches have a boardwalk over the dunes to the sandy part of the beach. It is important to use this to avoid trampling the plants.
  2. Don’t Litter: This goes for anywhere you travel. Don’t leave your trash on the beach or toss it to the dunes. It might seem convenient, but it hurts the ecosystem. Instead, try to bring a bag or leave extra room in one to carry your trash with you.
  3. Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: A lot of factors contribute to the size of your carbon footprint, but small changes in your daily routine such as remembering to turn off the lights or walking instead of driving can help so much if everyone does their part.
  4. Get involved: Research ways you can get involved in your area. Find beach cleanup opportunities or ways you can participate in restoration practices.
  5. Educate Others: Help spread awareness of the importance of dune ecosystems.

Sources:

Perrow, Martin R, and A J. Davy. Handbook of Ecological Restoration. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

“Coastal Dune Habitat Restoration Projects: Why Is Dune Restoration Important?” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/management/planning_dunerestoration_importance.htm