If you’re like many of us, you want to reduce your carbon footprint, but aren’t sure where to start. Nearly every day there’s a news story about the devastating effects of climate change, ocean pollution, or land degradation -— it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
The good news: We can all make a difference. Each of us may not be able to save the planet alone, but together we can make easy changes to reduce our environmental impact. This Earth Day, why not make a small change to do more good and less bad to the environment?
Our favorite sustainability hacks:
Reduce, reuse. If all else fails, recycle
You’ve probably heard the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle.” What you may not realize is that these three things are listed in order of priority. Reducing is better than reusing, which is better than recycling: Did you know that only 9% of the world’s plastic is properly recycled? That’s why so much ends up in the ocean. At this rate, by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
So, instead of simply recycling more:
- Buy items that use less plastic – rethink those single-serve “convenience” packages
- Invest in reusable goods, such as metal straws and cutlery, glass or metal travel mugs (which can get you discounts at coffee shops)
- Skip the straw
- Cut down on paper napkins and towels (or use cloth)
- Use cotton totes at supermarkets and big-box stores — New York State’s ban on single-use plastic bags starts in March 2020. So you’ll be ahead of the curve and have a cute accessory, too!
Ease up on online shopping
It’s never been so easy (and oftentimes cheap) to order your furniture, clothing, electronics, groceries, or dog food online and have it delivered right to your door. We get it. But online shopping, as addictive and fun as it might be, creates more waste and greenhouse gases –- transportation has beaten out power plants as the biggest producer of carbon-dioxide emissions, according to Vox, as more and more packages are being brought directly to residential homes by medium- to large-sized trucks.
Nobody’s asking you to kick your Amazon habit cold turkey. What about:
- Instead of your next online transaction, shop at a local store
- Take the CDTA bus to the mall (free with your student I.D., and no parking headaches)
- Walk to your neighborhood supermarket (hint: one block away from campus)
- Check out local boutiques that boast handmade jewelry, artwork, or skateboards (Hello Lark Street!). Good for the planet, good for your family-owned retail store.
Go outside once in a while!
Not everyone is “outdoorsy” — we don’t all aspire to hike the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, bicycle across the state, or kayak the Hudson River. However, we can all probably afford to walk or bike more outside, right?
Think about this: If you live off campus, and you walked or biked to school one day a week instead of driving, you could save up to 60 pounds of carbon dioxide (the emissions from driving a car 70 miles, according to the EPA). If all the students in the United States chose to walk or bike to school one day a week for a year, together they would save almost FIVE BILLION pounds of carbon dioxide.
- Turn off the lights, TV, video games, or other energy-using devices when you don’t need them
- Unplug your computer and phone charger when you leave the room
You cut down on your bills, help other people, help the planet: It’s what people in the sustainability biz like to call “the triple bottom line.”
Think about what you eat
Did you know that we waste about one-quarter of our food? That represents 30 million acres of cropland, 4.2 trillion gallons of water, and almost 2 billion pounds of fertilizer, according to the Washington Post.
Some easy fixes to limit food waste:
- Buy only what you need
- Keep an eye on “use-by” dates
- When eating out, share a plate with a friend; take a doggy bag home
- Pack a lunch once in a while
Another great way to help the planet is to reduce your consumption of meat. Nobody’s telling you to become vegan or vegetarian –- just consider cutting back.
The environmental impact of meat production is staggering: Cattle ranching is devastating the rainforest. A pig farm can produce as much sewage as a small city. Antibiotics in animal feed helps produce -– guess what? Drug-resistant bacteria.
A landmark study in the journal Science showed that, if we ate the crops that we use to feed livestock, we could reduce our farmland use by a whopping 75%.
So, what about choosing the veggie option over the meat entrée once a week? The Saint Rose dining hall offers a lot of choices. More and more tasty new vegetarian and vegan options are showing up at restaurants and grocery stores. Leave the meatballs off your pasta, try chopped mushrooms and zucchini in the chili, nosh on edamame, or stir fry some tofu in with the veggies.
You don’t have to make a lifelong commitment –- just try an occasional change. It’s good for you and the planet, and it can save you money (just see what happen to your grocery bill when you get a can of beans instead of a steak!).
Shorten your showers
It may not be obvious, but clean water is a precious resource. Yet, the average family of four uses 400 gallons a day, and by 2024, 40 U.S. states will face water shortages, according to the EPA. Now, think about how many people live in your residential hall or apartment building. That’s thousands and thousands of gallons of water wasted every day on showers.
Easy ways to reduce your water waste:
- Cut your showers down to five minutes (more time to linger over breakfast or catch up on the news!)
- Wait until you have a full load to do laundry (and consider line drying your clothes, if you have a yard)
- Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth.
Your wallet, your community, and the Earth will thank you (don’t forget that some retailers offer specials today, such as free coffee at Stewart’s). Happy Earth Day 2019!