Thinking about the environment and climate crisis can be very overwhelming. And thinking of what you can do on an individual level can be even more so. While it’s important to think about overarching actions we need to be taking as a society, I like to talk about the individual wins.
These are small actions that we can start taking in our day-to-day lives that, when compounded by thousands or millions of people, can really make true, impactful environmental change. To celebrate Earth Day, I’m going to share with you ten things that you can start doing for the environment right now.
1. Ditch Disposables
I’m sure this one’s not surprising. Plastic pollution is a huge threat within the climate crisis. In fact, more than 50% of the plastic we produce is single-use plastic. While plastic definitely deserves the bad rap, we as humans were pretty foolish when we decided to use a material that we know takes thousands of years to “degrade” for a product that has a five- minute lifespan… whoops.
To ditch disposables for good we need to take a page out of Scar’s playbook and Be Prepared (you sang it in your head, didn’t you?). But in all seriousness, disposable plastics are everywhere. If we want to avoid them we need to get way ahead of the curve. Start making it a habit to always walk out the door with the basics in tow. This will be different for each of us, but I never leave the house without a reusable bag and my trusty water bottle. Then, think about and plan what you are going to do that day.
One thing that I’ve learnt over the past few years is that living sustainably is synonymous to living consciously. Being more present and aware of what is going on around me and less living in “automatic” mode. If you know you are going to be getting takeaway, for example, be sure to pack a container. It’s not an exact science by any means, but it’ll help you avoid a big chunk of those pesky plastics that carry such an environmental impact.
2. Meal Plan
Have you noticed yet that one of the biggest sources of waste in your home comes from the kitchen? Whether it’s food packaging (a big one!) or food waste, planning ahead can really help save the environment and some money.
By meal planning you are able to better anticipate what you will need to buy when you go grocery shopping. This leads to less food waste and more dollars in your pocket. And if you already buy at bulk stores and/or farmer’s markets, you’ll be better prepared with the number of containers and bags you actually need. If you don’t already buy at bulk food stores or farmer’s markets (no judgement!) give it a try if you are able! It’s super fun and rewarding to know where all your food actually comes from and support local farmers.
Why reduce food waste? According to the EPA, in the U.S. alone 55.9% of food produced in 2018 went to waste and ended up in landfill. Contrary to what we might believe; food does not break down in landfill. Landfills are built for storage, not decomposition. The food is just left there and starts releasing methane. Methane is a gas 30x more powerful than C02. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the U.S.
3. Start Composting
Another great way to stop your food waste from ending up in landfill is composting it yourself. Consider trying it at home if you don’t live in an area that offers compost pick-up or drop-off. I know it can be daunting, but there are a few simple ways that you can start.
There are many different types of composting, so I highly recommend doing a little bit of research to see which method would work best for you. To save you some time, these are the two methods that are the most apartment-friendly: Bokashi and vermicomposting. Bokashi composting basically consists of putting all your food scraps in a bucket and adding enzymes that will dissolve anything you put in there. Vermicomposting on the other hand uses a type of worm to do the composting for you. I promise none of these two options are smelly, so do a little bit of research and give it a try!
4. Grow Your Own Food
Starting a veggie garden is the ultimate way to take back control. It’s more and more obvious that what is in and on our food is almost always a mystery. It seems like no matter what we decide to eat, it’s never good for us or the environment. When growing your own food you decide what goes into what you grow and… talk about eating local!
Start small, perhaps an herb garden. That really is the easiest and fastest thing you can cultivate! Food is empowering because it’s the cornerstone of everything we do as humans. And growing it as an amazing way to connect back with mother nature and our environment and bonus points: it gives you a place to put all of your new compost!
5. Go Meatless
Before you start panicking, no, I’m not suggesting you should give up all meat tomorrow. Take it slow. Start by cutting out meat once a week and gradually take it from there. Perhaps you never give up all meat entirely and that’s perfectly ok. Reducing your meat intake can have an incredible impact on your health and the planet’s.
To put things in perspective: producing 100 grams of protein from beef emits 25kg of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2eq) on average. Compare that to the 0.65kg of CO2eq for the same amount of protein from beans. Understanding the impact of what you eat can help you make more informed decisions, even if they are not perfect. The example that I made here is just one piece of a very large puzzle. If you are interested in learning more, I highly suggest taking a look at this study.
6. Switch to Renewable Energy
If you are able to install solar panels or other types of renewable energy to your home, that’s fantastic. But even if you can’t, you’d be surprised how easy it could be to go green. An increasing number of electrical companies now have part of their grid connected to renewable energy. A simple call or email asking if you can be switched to renewable energy might be enough.
If more people ask to switch to renewables, these companies will invest more money in this type of energy. And that’s good for all of us! If your supplier does not have that option, consider switching to a green supplier. You might even save some money!
7. Buy Second Hand and Help the EnvironmenT
There are already so many things on Planet Earth made by humans. The odds that someone already has something you need and is looking to get rid of it is quite high! It’s always better to buy something used than new. Why? Because the resources needed to make said product have already been used . Plus you’re extending the life of something that might have otherwise ended up in landfill. It’s not always possible, but next time you need something, take a look around a thrift store, Facebook Marketplace or other local apps and sites to see if you can maybe find it second hand.
8. Don’t Buy Anything at All
You can also go extreme and just stop buying things full stop! I’m only partly kidding with this one, not buying anything at all could be really tricky. But! You’d be surprised what you can get for FREE! Join (or start!) your local Buy Nothing group, swap things with friends and family or reuse and repurpose things that you already own. A big part of living sustainably is being creative and building community. Remember, using what is already in existence is always better than getting new stuff!
9. Buy Better to Save the Planet
If you can’t get what you are looking for second hand or for free, the only way to go is to buy better. And the only way to buy better is to be informed. Instead of buying from the first company that comes along, maybe take some time and do some research first.
Try to choose ethical companies. An ethical company is transparent about where they source their raw materials, where they make their products, how much they pay their employees and what their sustainability goals are.
Rule of thumb: no company is perfect, but if you have a hard time finding this information about a company… ask yourself why.
10. Educate Yourself on the Environment and Climate Change
Issues regarding the environment and climate crisis are complex. Keeping yourself questioning and educated is key. Never take anything for granted. Look at everything critically. Always continue to ask questions. To really understand and peel back the layers of this environmental crisis it’s important to read, listen and watch. Here is a list of interesting books, podcasts and documentaries to critically consume.
- Zero Waste Home by Bea Jonshon
- The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells
- Estrogeneration by Anthony G. Jay
- The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard
- Sustainability: A History by Jeremy L. Caradonna
- 101 Ways to go Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellogg
- Don’t Even Think About It: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change by George Marshall
- As Long as the Grass Grows by Dina Gilio-Whitaker
- This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein
- Green Dreamer by Kamea Chayne
- Climate Conversations by ClimateX
- Costing The Earth by BBC Radio
- The Mercast by Kate Nelson
- No Place Like Home by Ashley Ahearn
- Warm Regards by Jacquelyn Gill
- The True Cost
- A Life on Our Planet (available on Netflix)
- Chasing Coral (available on Netflix)
- A Plastic Ocean
- Before The Flood
- Kiss the Ground
We Won’t Save the Environment Overnight
The key thing to remember here is that living sustainably is a journey. Not a destination. No one on the planet lives a perfectly sustainable life with no impact on the environment, so don’t expect to be that person tomorrow – or ever! It’s less of a checklist of things to do or not do. It’s more about understanding the issue and taking steps to educate ourselves, our community and society at large. Do what you can, where you can and remember to always be kind to yourself.
By Kimmy Costa
Kimmy is an environmental activist and entrepreneur that believes in the power of people. Born and raised in Spain but a citizen of the world, she is currently building her empire from the comforts of her home in Valencia, Spain. She loves being in nature, eating chocolate and has recently found a love for watercolor painting and all things plants. She also currently serves as one of the Global Community Leaders at GGI.