By Ashlee Piper. Photos: Courtesy of CNP Montrose.
If you’re anything like me, you woke on November 9th, 2016 feeling like you’d been on a bender of collegiate proportions. Whatever your political leanings, the potential danger of an Administration filled with folks who’ve profited from Big Oil, Big Agriculture, and well, BIG climate change-denial is real. You’ve signed petitions, unloaded your rage on social media, and marched your heart out. They’re all fantastic routes to progress, but it’s important to remember that there are plenty of environmental solutions that start with our day-to-day behavior.
If you’re feeling helpless as pipelines are built, protections around water quality are demolished, and the existence of the Environmental Protection Agency is threatened, let this be a primer. Here are five simple things you can do right now to protect our ecosystem and its inhabitants–no petitioning, lobbying, or raging against the machine required. This list isn’t exhaustive, so don’t feel limited by it, but it's a start.
Ditch Disposables: Does your day look like this? Coffee cup. Trash. Burrito wrapped in foil and a soda cup with a straw and lid. Trash. Water bottle. Recycle bin. America has an obsession with convenience, and that means disposability. Today, the average American generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day, a 169% increase since 1960. Sure, some of these items can be recycled, but according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while 75% of our waste is recyclable, we only recycle about 30%, and recycling requires a tremendous amount of energy. We treat recycling as a magic cure-all, as opposed to the last-resort it’s intended to be. The first rung of sustainability is “Reduce,” friends. Lessening our reliance on disposables is important for both ends of the spectrum–it reduces energy use and associated emissions for newly-produced disposables, as well as waste and recycling strain.
What you can do: Grab a reusable water bottle, shopping bag, coffee cup, cutlery, cloth napkin, stainless steel straw, and a storage container and keep ‘em with you. That arsenal will help you refuse disposables in any life situation. Want more? My pals Bea and Lauren lead stylish trash-free lives that’ll inspire the heck outta you.
Cut the Meat: This one may sting at first, but it’s the single biggest shift you can make. Countless respected institutions, including the The United Nations and Oxford University have named animal agriculture as one of the biggest contributors to climate change, with some studies attributing 51% of global warming to the raising of animals for food. FIFTY-ONE PERCENT. Among other things, animal agriculture is also a leading cause of deforestation, water use (One pound of beef requires 2,400 gallons of H2O), resource inequity (feeding 10 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat when countries experience famine), worker exploitation (many slaughterhouse workers are undocumented immigrants with zero labor protections), ocean depletion due to overfishing, and animal abuse, just to name a few.
But there’s hope—A 2016 study published in Proceedings of National Academyof Sciences estimates that widely-adopted vegetarian diets cut emissions by 63%, while vegan diets can reduce ecological strain by 70%. Not ready to go meatless? No worries. Even tapered consumption can cut emissions by 29%, and sends a powerful message that consumers want more sustainable options.
Switch to Cruelty-Free Products: Did you know that a majority of beauty, personal care, and home cleaning products lining the shelves today are tested on animals? While animal tests are often ineffective in determining product safety, vivisection exists because it’s big business. Millions of rabbits, rats, mice, guinea pigs, and other animals needlessly suffer for our vanity and convenience. Sure, it’s always been important to opt for cruelty-free products, but that ante was upped last month when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) intentionally deleted inspection reports around the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) from its website. These reports detailed findings and violations of 9,000+ facilities that use animals, including animal testing laboratories. While some inspection information has been released in response to public outcry, most egregious violations of the already lax USDA inspections are still shrouded in secrecy (unless you have the wherewithal and patience to submit a FOIA…and wait and wait). The best thing you can do is to opt for cruelty-free products now and forever.
What you can do: Look for the PETA Bunny, Leaping Bunny, or Vegan symbols on products for assurance, and if a product you’re scoping doesn’t mention animal testing (or states “this finished product not tested on animals”), ditch it—it’s a dud masquerading as a good guy.
Buy Secondhand: The burning of fossil fuels for energy is also a huge contributor to climate change. You know what requires a lot of energy? Producing stuff. You’d think that after buying so many nice, new things we’d cherish them forever, right? Nah. Instead, Americans toss 14 million pounds of clothes in landfills each year (that’s 80 pounds per person, FYI). And those clothes take thousands of years to biodegrade, producing methane gas and leaching synthetic chemicals into the ground. And that’s just the 4-1-1 on clothes. We’re not even talking shoes, accessories, furniture, and other life items. Buying secondhand is a great way to spare the landfill and avoid the energy-consuming, life-ruining ills of fast fashion. The EPA estimates that diverting just clothing from landfills would be the eco-equivalent of taking 7.3 million cars (and their attendant CO2 emissions) off the road.
Adopt a New Pal: Remember when I mentioned the AWA transparency debacle a hot second ago? Well, breeders and kennels are also part of the 9,000 animal facilities subject to USDA inspection. Allow me to drop some truth here: The term "puppy mill" (cue the Sarah McLachlan tunes) is just a bad animal breeding operation left unchecked. And there are a lot of them. You know what else there are a lot of in the United States? Wonderful animals in shelters and rescues. About 6.5 million of ‘em each year, 1.5 million of whom are euthanized, largely due to lack of space or homes. Give those guys a hand by fostering or adopting your next best bud instead of buying from a breeder or pet store. An aside: If the election has caused your blood pressure to skyrocket, studies show that pets are rad at calming stress.
What you can do: Get on PetFinder and get busy, or if you’re not ready to commit, your local shelter will gladly accept your volunteerism and charity.
Ashlee Piper is political strategist turned nationally recognized eco-lifestyle expert. She regularly appears on MSNBC, FOX, CBS, NBC, ABC, and her writing can be found in Women’s Health, Refinery29, and Reader's Digest. She holds a BA from Brown University and an MSc from the University of Oxford, UK and wears red lipstick on the daily. You can learn more at www.ashleepiper.com.
This story originally appeared on Glamour.
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