Simply Recycling Your Trash Won't Save the Planet
The world needs us to do more.
Even if for some reason you wanted to ignore the state of the world (looking at you, Big Oil), it’s pretty evident we have a very serious issue on our hands. Temperatures are rising, sea levels are rising, anxiety levels are rising, and for young people it sometimes feels like we're all on our own to be proactive in reversing it.
Luckily, there’s the opportunity for real change to be made on almost every front of this climate war we’re facing. The Paris Agreement became the new standard for what the world should aspire to do, and it has set many a rollback in industry production practices the world over. This is probably the best foot forward we can expect from people in power, but there’s plenty of new legislation being brought to the table to hold big businesses and politicians accountable for the future state of the world.
If you’re mistrusting, no one can blame you. Though single-use plastic may very well soon be a thing of the past (and using these plastic products can even land you in prison in some countries), we're at a point now where recycling your plastic just may not be enough. The good news is there are a lot more actionable steps we can take in our everyday lives to move the planet in a better direction. Can lifestyle changes be daunting? Totally. Am I here to help you get started? Absolutely.
What do I eat?
Vegans were a popular target for government officials to come down on in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and it’s mostly because they conjured up images of hippies and anti-war sentiment. But as veganism becomes more mainstream, it's clear that vegans are onto something: Global farming practices are one of the main contributors to the CO2 production directly responsible for causing the world’s increasing internal temperature.
One way that this is both true and relevant in today’s modern world made headlines recently, in the summer of 2019. The absolute decimation of large chunks of the Amazon rainforest allows for bovine to graze comfortably. And did you ever happen to think about how much all those cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens fart? Not the most pleasant concept, but a major player nonetheless.
So, if we’re counting tallies against the cultivation of meat as a contributor to global warming, there’s one strike for the massive deforestation occurring globally to sustain meat consumption and another for the amount of methane eating away at the already damaged ozone layer.
Converting to a completely plant-based lifestyle isn't always possible for everyone, and certainly not all at once. But even if you're not able to go fully vegan—for health and diet reasons, budget reasons, or even if you're just not ready to dive headfirst into a new lifestyle—there are still significant steps you can take to do your part.
If you are purchasing meat, try to find a local butcher or shop that sources meat and dairy from farms in the area instead of supporting factory farms with your dollar. Try replacing one, or two, or three dinners a week with veggie alternatives, or try going vegetarian for lunches if you're not able to commit to dinners.
If you're trying to simply reduce your meat and dairy intake, start to reframe the way you think about those choices: If you start to think of your favorite charcuterie board or takeout burger as a once-in-a-while treat instead of a go-to to fall back on when you don't have time to cook, you'll not only appreciate those foods more when you do have them, but you'll be forced to find healthier, eco-friendly alternatives to your daily staples. You don't need to change your lifestyle overnight—you just need to be willing to take the steps that are realistic for you.
What do I wear?
Of course we all want to look our best for that job interview, that date, or everyday life. Every season, there is an immense amount of pressure to get the hottest new styles at deals that can’t be beat. But with that amount of turnout, have you ever considered where the waste is going? For anyone who wants to learn more about how and where your clothes are made, I suggest doing a bit of reading about transparency in the apparel industry.
The bottom line is that nylon, polyester, and acrylic are some of the worst things to ever come out of the fashion industry, creating billions upon billions of products whose shelf-lives would last much longer than the total aggregate time humans have left on this planet if we don’t make serious changes. They're products that produce a ton of harmful emissions as they're made, and even though they're not built to last for the wearer, they sure last a long time in a landfill.
Luckily, there are brands who want to help as much as you do. In fact, some brands have even committed themselves to manufacturing their clothes out of single-use plastics, like water bottles. The best thing you can do as a consumer is vote with your support. Learning more about brands committed to making a difference and breaking the wheel of fast-fashion and unethical practices is a great first step, and costs you nothing.
What do I use?
In America, it's almost impossible to avoid being a consumer. Even when we make all the positive choices we can, when we're working or at school full-time, it's not always possible to make the best choices 100% of the time. In today's world we're often forced to choose between convenience and eco-friendliness, and sometimes despite our best efforts the former inevitably wins out.
Think about it: Thirsty? Grab a styrofoam or plastic cup at the water cooler. Hungry? Grab a bag of Lays and some M&Ms from the office kitchen to hold you over until lunch. Didn't have time to pack lunch for in between classes? Turn to takeout—with plastic containers and cutlery. How are you getting to your favorite dumpling place to get back for that 12:15 meeting? Gassing up and going turbo.
There are so many items we use and choices we make every day where we have the opportunity to make more eco-friendly moves. And that's exciting! It means that we as a community have a lot of potential to learn, and a lot of room to grow.
So what can I do?
It’s true that only so much can be done by individuals alone. Even if a huge portion of the population invests more time and energy into reducing their personal footprint, there are still massive changes that need to be made by governments and industries if the world is going to stand a chance. But that shouldn't discourage you—it should empower you to learn more, use your voice, and vote with your dollars.
So, together, let's commit to making a few small changes right now that can make a huge difference in the waste that you produce, and can help you avoid giving money to industries that need to make serious changes.
The first? Bring your own metal silverware and coffee mug to work for your meals. It's one of the simplest things you can do, but think about it: Most of us in the US work almost 250 days every year. A plastic spoon for your morning yogurt and a fork for your salad at lunchtime equals 500 pieces of cutlery a year, from you alone. That, plus a disposable cup for the Keurig coffee every morning, is a lot of waste for one office worker. Think about what a difference that makes if you could convince even just two or three coworkers to do the same.
Second? Grab yourself a few reusable shopping bags. 500 billion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year, and these end up in landfills or oceans, where they are consumed and transported by animals.
Next, whenever you're able to, avoid using gas. Go electric. Or get a bicycle. Or just walk. Or learn to better navigate your city's public transportation. Doing literally anything other driving around in a Range Rover is a fine step forward.
More than anything else, though, make sure that you’re acting as an informed consumer. Learn more about the practices that go into the products you’re investing in. Support the brands that align with your values, especially brands that are building themselves around sustainability. Make the conscious decision to support brands like Ruff Hewn, who's relaunching this year and committing themselves to create denim out of recycled plastic—keeping up with and spreading the word about responsible brands can do wonders in making sure they stand a chance against fast fashion and huge corporate retailers.
Simply understand that your choices have consequences, and learn to think more deeply about those consequences. Even the fact that you clicked on this article is a good sign that you’re headed in the right direction.