For The Hillsider
When people think of New Year’s resolutions they usually think about lifestyle changes for weight loss, healthier diets, and exercise routines. This year, along with any resolutions you might be making for your personal health, I encourage you to make resolutions for a healthier planet. Plastic pollution and climate change can seem like too daunting of a challenge to make any real difference, but, by incorporating one or more of the small lifestyle changes listed below, you really can make a big difference in reducing the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill and decrease your carbon footprint.
Ethyl’s, the cat, first bus ride! She went to get her nails done and brought smiles to the the people she sat by on the bus.
(Photo by Rebecca Yaeger-Bischoff)
Here are some small steps you can take to make a positive impact on environmental change.
- Carry your own reusable water bottle instead of purchasing bottled water or accepting bottled water at an event. Single use, plastic bottles create a lot of waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only about 31% of plastic bottles are recycled. Bottles that end up in landfills take thousands of years to decompose. When they do start to decompose they leach out toxic chemicals into our environment. Many plastic bottles also make they way to rivers, lakes, and eventually the ocean where animals mistake the plastic for food and starve to death or get stuck in them. If you are concerned about the quality of your tap water, consider investing in a water filter or go to www.findaspring.com to find a natural spring near you.
- Bring your own mug to work or your favorite coffee shop. The EPA estimates over 100 billion disposable cups that are thrown away each year. These cups of often made of Styrofoam or paper lined with thin plastic coating. Neither can be easily recycled. Styrofoam is especially problematic because it made up of very toxic chemicals and never decomposes. It breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces that can leach toxins into our water sources and animals mistake for food. Coffee shops often give discounts for bringing your own mug. And besides, having a coffee (or tea) in a real mug is more fun!
- Bring your own reusable shopping bag. If you’re starting to see a theme in switching out one-time use, disposable items for reusable ones you’re onto something. Plastic bags are the second most common form of litter after cigarette butts. As with the plastic bottles and Styrofoam cups, plastic bags are very hazardous for animals and take thousands of years to decompose in a landfill. All are made of oil, a nonrenewable resource and large emitter of greenhouse gases (the ones driving climate change) and take a lot of water and energy to manufacture. Remembering to bring your own bags into the store can be the trickiest part of switching to reusable bags. There are companies that make foldable bags that you can carry in a purse or attach to a keychain so you’ll always have a bag with you. I’ve also seen signs in store parking lots asking customers if they remembered to bring their inside. Many stores like it when people bring their own bags because it saves them money.
If you’re starting to see a theme in switching out one-time use, disposable items for reusable ones you’re onto something.
- Compost your food waste. The EPA estimates that 33 million tons of food waste ends up in the landfill each year. About 40% of that waste is food that never even made it to anyone’s plate according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Not only does food waste in landfills take up unnecessary space, it anaerobically (without oxygen) breaks down, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Composting your food waste is a great way to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in a landfill and recycle nutrients back into the soil. It breaks down food waste faster and more efficiently food waste in the landfill. Here in Duluth we are lucky to have a large-scale composting facility operated by Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD). If you're like me and not able to compost at home, you can drop off food waste at WLSSD’s 27th Avenue West location or check their website www.wlssd.com for a drop-off site near you.
- Bus, bike, or walk to your destination. Reduce your carbon footprint, improve air quality, save money, and get some exercise by using alternative transportation. Duluth celebrates Bus Bike Walk month in May but it’s never too early to try alternative transportation. I work downtown and hear many complaints about paying for parking or finding parking near businesses. Taking the bus, biking, or walking makes that part of the trip a lot less stressful. While I realize that the these alternatives may not be as convenient for you, I encourage you to check Google Maps to see if there’s a bus or bike route near you. I started by biking and taking the bus for fun and eventually become confident enough to work it into a regular routine.
(Rebecca Yaeger-Bischoff lives in Lincoln Park, has a degree in environmental science, is a 5 Gyres Ambassador, leads Zumba classes and is interested in health and wellness. Full disclosure: She is also the daughter of The Hillsider editor Naomi Yaeger-Bischoff.)