I’ve proudly embraced my status as the hippie in my friend group: I’m the veggie munching, plant loving, trying-to-save-the-world mom of my friends. And lately? I’ve really been focused on the “trying to save the world” portion of my personality my reducing my environmental footprint.
My dad tries to protect my bleeding heart by always telling me, “You can’t help everyone,” and I’ve made it my mission to prove him wrong. (Love you, dad!) The truth is, there are ways that I can help everyone and I’ve been trying to be really conscious about making choices that not only make my own life better, but that benefit the people and world around me.
1. I’ve stopped using plastic bags at the grocery store
This one is seriously so simple, but seriously so effective, too. When I go grocery shopping I forgo all plastic. That means I don’t put my produce in the little plastic bags, and I bring reusable grocery bags for check out (I’m not perfect at this – I definitely forget!)
When I get home, I do a big wash in the kitchen sink to scrub my produce from any cart germs that may have transferred and I take my reusable shopping bags out to my car.
Many big cities have banned single use bags altogether, while others are taxing them. The problem with plastic bags are that they’re often used only once or twice before being discarded (or carried by the wind into our rivers, lakes, and oceans) and that has negative implications for our environment.
Between animals eating (and choking on!) plastic bags and the toxic chemicals plastic leeches into our soil, we’re better off using reusable cloth bags.
2. I eat a (mostly!) vegan diet
First things first: this is what works for me, I know it’s not realistic for everyone. With that said, I do think everyone can (and should!) consider look into how their diet impacts the environment.
Factory farming and the mass production of animal products contributes to the destruction of our environment, plain and simple. You don’t have to give meat up to make a positive impact, though. By just participating in Meatless Monday (eating vegan or vegetarian one day a week!) for just one year, “it would be equivalent to taking your car off the road for 320 miles.”
Beyond that, reducing your meat intake can help a handful of health issues such as endometriosis (why I quit eating meat originally,) arthritis, and heart disease. This can mean less time that you have to spend at the doctor, reducing the strain on the medical system. (Disclaimer: a lot of the health benefits are anecdotal and more scientific research in the area still needs to be done. In the meantime, try it out for yourself and see if there are any health benefits for you. No two people are the same, and what worked for me may not work for you.)
Side note: I love honey and buy locally. If you’re buying consciously farmed honey it can actually have a positive impact on the environment and local bee populations. Unfortunately there is a bee crisis and honey bees are dying in startling numbers which has the potential to be catastrophic in the next decade. By supporting local honey businesses you’re supporting the very people who are supporting the honey bees.
3. I bring Tupperware to restaurants
This one I’m still working on, and forget as often as I remember, but I’ve been trying to bring Tupperware when I go out to eat so I don’t get stuck with deciding between leaving my leftovers behind and accepting a styrofoam container.
Long story short: I try to say no to all single use items. If it’s sole purpose is to be thrown away after use, I avoid it.
Sure, I’ve gotten some funny looks from waiters, but at the end of the day it feels a lot better to bring my own to go container and avoid the waste.
4. I switched to a glass water bottle
There is nothing that drives me battier than people who live in areas with accessible drinking water using single use water bottles. This especially rings true in my community, where our tap water is award winning in taste. In fact, our water tastes better than most bottled water because you don’t get that plastic-y after taste.
Again: this one isn’t perfect for everyone. I’m lucky to live in an area with great water readily available, and if you are in the same position take advantage of that and buy a reusable water. This will save you money, reduce waste, and make the world a little bit greener.
5. I am buying second hand
I used to have a serious Amazon addiction. With two day shipping and everything I could possibly want at the click of a button, it was easy.
Now? I try to check Goodwill before ordering anything online.
I’ve found so many goodies at Goodwill over the past few months. From denim to planters to a ($2.88!) table. To be honest, thrift shopping can be super addicting, and I promise you’ll be 10x more exciting to find the perfect thing at Goodwill than it is to just order something online.
6. I buy in bulk (where I can)
As a vegetarian, I go through a lot of beans, rice, and lentils. I used to restock on those staples weekly or bi-weekly, but I recently found that I could put 3 pound bags of each that I can hydrate in my Instant Pot. Unfortunately, I haven’t found anywhere locally where I can fill up my own reusable sacks for my bulk produce, but I’m working on it.
At the end of the day, I’m not perfect at reducing my environmental footprint.
I am working my way closer and closer to a zero waste lifestyle, but I still do a lot that isn’t great. It can be overwhelming to think about all of the things that you do to harm the environment – from driving to running the air condition – but taking steps in the right direction is all anyone can do. Instead of worrying about the bad you’re doing, think about all of the good that really simple changes to your lifestyle can make.
Luckily, we don’t need every person to be perfect. We just need every person to do a little bit better. Even the smallest changes can have a huge impact, especially if you urge your friends and family to follow suit.