When faced with increasing numbers of headlines warning of looming climate change, you could easily get madder and more frustrated than Greta Thunberg at a Hummer dealership. But to make an impact of our own against this crisis, it’s important not to lose hope. Instead, focus on what steps we each can take to live more sustainable lifestyles.
Let's be real — not everybody has the money for a luxury Tesla or premium grade solar panels. While a 3-minute cold shower every day might save water and electricity over time, it's just not realistic for everyone. And though airplane travel is another major contributor to greenhouse gas, sometimes it's impossible to avoid (you can't rollerblade from New York to Houston). You can drive instead, but that’s just burning fossil fuels and contributing to air pollution.
Unfortunately, when it comes to sustainable choices, our fossil fuel-based economic system sets us up to fail. But don't despair! There are a few simple, budget-friendly ways to reduce your carbon footprint -- with everyday, approachable changes like investing in a stainless steel water bottle and sticking to reusable bags.
In fact, cutting down on everyday plastic consumption is a great place to start. Not only does plastic pollution affect the oceans and other bodies of water, but it also accelerates climate change. As Kerri Major from WWF-Australia explains, "At every step in its life cycle. . . plastic creates greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to the warming of our world." According to the Center For International Environmental Law, the effects of plastic production on the world's climate in 2019 was the equivalent of 189 coal-fired power stations.
It might be challenging at first, but with a few tips from our favorite sustainability pros, we'll all be able to slow down the plastic industrial complex and help make the world a better place:
1. Bring Reusable Shopping Bags to the Store
It seems obvious, but it's important enough to mention: Bringing reusable shopping bags to the store with you means less plastic ones being used (that will most likely end up in landfills emitting greenhouse gasses or lodged in a whale's stomach). Even better, many grocery outlets feature inexpensive shopping bags made from plastic water bottles upcycled from oceans. Beth Terry from My Plastic Free Life blog recommends keeping a few in your car, backpack, or purse; that way, you’ll always have some on hand for toting electronics, clothing, or any other purchases.
2. Plant a Garden
Even if you bring reusable bags to the grocery store, many fresh vegetables and fruits come in plastic bags. And it's the single-use plastic that does the most damage to the environment. One way to combat this everyday problem is by growing your own food. If you don't have a green thumb or a yard, there are several affordable hydroponic systems available that are specially designed to help anyone become a backyard, windowsill, or balcony farmer. And when it comes to healthy and flavorful eating, fresh is always best.
3. Shop at Your Local Farmers Market
As sustainability expert Beth Terry points out, "Farmers markets are a great way to buy fresh, local produce without plastic, as long as you remember to bring your own bags." She recommends bringing your own container or bag for small fruits like cherry tomatoes and berries. If the produce comes in a plastic container, simply use your own bag to hold the fruit or small vegetables and then hand it back to the vendor for reuse.
4. Use a Stainless Steel Water Bottle
Another single-use plastic and major pollutant is the plastic water bottle. It might be convenient when you're out and about, but like the plastic shopping bag, a plastic water bottle that you use once could end up polluting the Earth for hundreds of years. Plastic also affects the flavor of the water, especially if you have sensitive taste buds. We recommend a stainless steel water bottle and lid made with premium materials that don't contain harmful chemicals like BPA, making it a smart choice for both the environment and your health.
5. Bring Reusable Containers For Takeout
More and more restaurants are using biodegradable and compostable materials such as cardboard for takeout orders, which is a step in the right direction. But there are businesses that still use styrofoam — not always recyclable — and plastic, which requires fossil fuels to be produced and adds to the mounting pollution and warming of the planet. We recommend stainless steel containers, which are available at camping supply stores and other sustainability shops such as Life Without Plastic, Eco Lunchbox, and others.
6. Carry Reusable Utensils & Straws
As we've mentioned before, single-use plastic products are among the worst contributors to climate change and pollution. A simple fix for this everyday problem is to carry a set of reusable utensils and straws in your purse or in the glovebox of your car. It might not seem like a big deal, but just remember that poor turtle on Instagram that had a plastic straw lodged in its snout (and thankfully removed!). Those cute little turtles and other marine mammals have enough problems; let's give them a chance by simply investing in some inexpensive utensils and straws made with sustainable, biodegradable materials such as bamboo.
7. Say NO to the "Plastic Saver" When You Order Pizza
Ordering pizza for takeout is as American as apple pie, but it can also cause a surprisingly large amount of plastic pollution. The culprit is the plastic saver, the white mini-table inside of the pizza box that restaurants use to keep the pizza from touching the top of the box. When your pizza arrives, you’ll most likely be eating it right away, making the plastic pizza separator an unnecessary part of your order. You should also ask for no extra sauces or spice packets, which are more sources of single-use plastic.
8. Cut Out Sodas & Other Plastic Bottled Drinks
It might be difficult to say goodbye to your favorite drinks, but it's healthier not only for your body but also for the planet. If you like bottled juice, try eating fresh fruit instead. The flavor will be fresher tasting and the juice naturally non-pasteurized, giving you the full amount of vitamins and nutrients. Soda is another major source of plastic, and many brands contain a significant amount of sugar, which is known to lower your immune system and cause weight gain. But if you're having a serious craving for a fizzy drink, look for sodas that come in glass bottles; it will probably taste better and you can also reuse the bottle or recycle it.
9. Buy in Bulk
Unfortunately, many — if not all — of your favorite snacks and kitchen staples like nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and whole grains come packaged in plastic bags. One way to combat this persistent plastic problem is to buy in bulk using your own containers. Katherine Martinko from the Tree Hugger blog uses the Zero Waste Grocery Guide from Litterless, which features a list of U.S. grocery stores that sell bulk goods.
10. BYOB To the Bakery
Many bakeries use paper bags for their bread and pastries, but if your favorite loaf comes in a plastic bag, an easy fix is to bring a cloth bag designated for baked goods. A large cloth drawstring bag or a clean pillowcase works great for baguettes and country loaves. They also work well for smaller items like buns and bagels, which should be transferred to an airtight container when you get home.
11. Rethink Your Personal Care Routine
Personal care products are a major source of single-use plastic. One solution is to buy bar soap along with specially formulated shampoo and conditioner bars, which are available from Lush Cosmetics and other companies. The great thing about bar soap is that it reduces plastic waste and also lasts much longer than traditional shampoo and body washes. Store it in a tin container and you’re one step closer to a nearly plastic-free personal care routine.
12. Reusable Food Wrap
A practical and inexpensive alternative to plastic wrap — which is incredibly wasteful and often ends up in the ocean — is beeswax food wrap, which can be used up to a hundred times. As the bloggers from Forage and Sustain point out, beeswax food wrap "is reusable, made ethically, and actually lets your food breathe, ensuring you're not just eliminating plastic waste, but also reducing the amount of food you throw out."
13. Support Environmentally Friendly Companies
Considering the current state of world politics, making significant policy changes to save the planet might seem like a losing battle. But remember: As a conscientious consumer, you can vote with your dollars, and there's a long list of companies that are making an effort to protect the planet. Corporate Knights feature a list of the top 100 most sustainable corporations in the world for 2019, so take note and spend your money wisely.
If you truly care about the future of the Earth (which is most likely the case if you're reading this article), stop being a “fossil fool” and try incorporating some of these simple sustainability tips into your daily routine. With the planet in peril, it's more important than ever to reduce, reuse, recycle, and repeat!