It’s that time of year again! It’s time to put an end to this chaotic, unpredictable year of 2020 and welcome the new one. While this year was exhausting and relentless, we did reach a few environmental milestones. This year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Yes, we celebrated in a quarantine, but we did not do so silently. Earth Day went digital with 24 hours of “conversations, calls to actions, performances, video teach-ins and more”. 2020 also marked the first year that renewable energy sources exceeded coal consumption. This achievement reflects the decline of fossil fuel energy, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. This year, we started seeing more companies making efforts at reducing their environmental impacts. Companies such as Barilla and Lego are taking action over the pollution crisis by eliminating plastics from their products.
These are wins. Climate wins and environment wins. Celebrations.
But it doesn’t end there. This is the year for more wins and climate solutions. Solving the climate crisis will not be easy, and we might not be able to single-handedly combat climate change and transform society’s disposable culture, but we can make a difference. Change starts with individual action, and what better way to start the new year than making small impactful changes to save the planet?
1. Meatless Monday
Some of us are considering food choice resolutions but let me offer you a different perspective here. Don’t start a strict diet, you are already beautiful, but do consider Meatless Mondays to help save our planet! Animal agriculture has one of the biggest impacts on our climate and is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. 80% of agricultural land is used to raise animals and food for animals – that is nearly half the total land mass of the lower 48 states. Half of all water used in the U.S. goes to raising animals for food, and those animals emit methane, and greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Animal agriculture is also the leading cause of deforestation, water and air pollution, and biodiversity loss.
Shifting diets from high meat consumptions can minimize these environmental impacts. Yes, even just one day a week. Even just one MEAL a week can make a big difference. This isn’t a drastic alteration to your diet, but this small change will have a lasting effect on the planet and will reduce your carbon footprint. In other words, if the entire U.S. did not eat meat or cheese for just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles --- or taking 7.6 million cars off the road, says the Earth Day Network.
Remember Methane? That greenhouse gas that’s 84x more effective than CO2. Well, that is what food produces when it sits in a landfill. Contrary to some assumptions, food does not break down in a landfill. Since landfills are not aerated, there is no oxygen to decompose organic material and instead it releases methane into the air. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of green house gases, after the U.S. and China. Composting can be an easy solution! It can be easier if you have a community garden or a local farmers market that would accept your food scraps, but backyard composting is pretty effortless, and can make a huge impact on your waste output and reducing your carbon footprint.
3. Skip the plastic-bag
My fellow New Jerseyans, we are coming closer and closer to the bag ban that was signed this year, so why not start early. Using your own reusable shopping bag is such a simple resolution that can make a bigger impact than you might think. It takes 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture one years’ worth of plastic bags for Americans. According to Waste Management, only 1% of plastic bags are brought back for recycling, which means over 99 billion bags are sent to the landfill. These plastic bags are only used for 15-20 minutes on average but take over 500 years to photo-degrade and break down into microplastics, which is the leading causing of ocean plastic pollution. It can be easy to forget to bring them with you when you go to the grocery store, but make it a resolution this year. Stick one or two everywhere around you - in your car, your purse, you could even attach one to your keychain! If we can all remember to wear our masks to the store, we can remember to bring our bags. Imagine how many plastic bags we can refuse by bringing our reusables.
4. Practice conscious consumerism
I haven’t met anyone that didn’t want to save more money, am I right? Well, the best way to do that is simply by buying less. Or at least, buying less crap that isn’t going to last. As a consumer, we hold the power. Every dollar spent is a vote towards what we want companies to produce. If we buy crap, companies will continue to make crap, without second-guessing the environmental impact of these items.
If we spend our money on socially good and ethical products, companies will be forced to adapt to these changes. Conscious consumerism is making purchases that have a positive social, economic and environmental impact. Start by only buying what you need. If you need something, look for a secondhand option first. If you can’t find it, go for something with higher quality. It might cost more upfront, but if it is going to outlast a cheaper version, that you’ll save money in the long run while reducing your environmental footprint.
This year, 73% of global consumers said they would change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment. Let’s work together and increase that percentage in 2021.
5. Ditch the disposables
It's no secret that we live in a disposable society. The convenience of disposables has become ingrained into our daily habits that we might not even notice it! Unfortunately, it's suffocating our planet. More than 8 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year. By the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish. Changing even just a few of our habits can reduce the environmental impact caused by disposables. Some easy swaps are using a reusable water bottle, shampoo bars instead of shampoo bottles, a safety razor instead of disposable ones, and instead of dryer sheets use wool balls. There are tons of sustainable swaps you can make to start reducing your environmental impact this year, these are just a few great ones to get you started.