New year, new planet, am I right? If there’s anything climate-related to be taken from this past year, it’s that it’s time to shift climate action into maximum overdrive. So what eco-friendly New Year’s resolutions can we make to reflect that? It’s a question I’ve pondered a lot this year, especially as the focus has shifted from individual action to systemic change.
The consensus is that using reusable straws is no longer the answer, rather we need widespread collective action from governments and corporations if we stand a chance of keeping the earth a habitable place. I agree, somewhat. Larger action is needed, but while some will argue that individual actions are pointless, I think they’re still necessary to perpetuate larger change, and studies support that.
It does all beg the question though, can I have a real impact as an individual? The answer is unequivocally, yes. As individuals, we have the power to push our policy makers and business leaders in the right direction. We can use our voices, vote with our dollars, reduce our own carbon footprints, and encourage those around us to do the same. So keep making your sustainable swaps and taking the small steps, but if you’re looking to really punch climate change where the sun don’t shine, here are a few eco-friendly New Year’s resolutions that can help you do it.
5 Eco-Friendly New Year’s Resolutions
1. Reduce and reuse
We’ve all heard of the triple “r’s”—reduce, reuse, recycle. However, it turns out in this case, the phrase “last but not least” doesn’t apply. Recycling, while important, is not nearly as important as reducing and reusing. If you haven’t noticed we’ve got an obsession with things in this country—shopping for them, owning them, taking photos of them so other people know we have them. In fact, the average adult in the U.S. spends $18,000 per year on nonessential items.
That immense accumulation of stuff is part of the reason why our climate finds itself in its current state of crisis. The resources used to produce all of our stuff, the transportation required to get it to us, the landfills it all ends up in when we decide we need to something newer and shinier—all of it contributes to the increasing population of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.
So the simple act of reducing—buying less, and reusing—using what we have, can have a significant impact. It signals to producers that as a society we want fewer things, things that last longer, and things that can be reused. The more we demand that the more likely it is that businesses will actually supply it.
So how can I reduce and reuse?
To determine where in your life you can best reduce and reuse perform an audit. For one week, take note of what you buy most frequently, and what you throw away.
Are you constantly throwing away single use plastic baggies, plastic wrap, water bottles? Are you frequently buying clothes, paper towels, plants?
At the end of one week, analyze. The things you consistently throw away—is there a reusable replacement? For example, Stasher bags are a great alternative to Ziplocs, Bee’s Wrap is a great alternative to plastic wrap, and Dream Cloths from Who Gives a Crap are perfect for replacing paper towels. Regarding the things you buy—are they items you really need? Could you buy them secondhand, could you simply go without? And again, is there are a reusable item that could eliminate your need to keep buying this frequently purchased item?
Related: 10 Easy Sustainable Swaps for a Greener Life
Start shopping secondhand first
Remember how I said we’ve got an obsession with things? Well good news is, that means there are a lot of perfectly good, lightly used “things” to go around.
When the time comes to make a purchase, whether it be a couch, a picture frame, or a new dress, train your brain to think “do I need this item brand new?” If the item is underwear, then the answer is probably yes. However, there are many instances where the answer will be no.
So before you head straight to Target, do a quick search on Facebook Marketplace or Offer Up to see if someone local has a pre-loved item for you. As for clothes, try your local thrift shops, or online marketplaces like Depop or Poshmark. The carbon footprint of a secondhand piece of clothing is 82% less than that of a brand new item. If that doesn’t convince you that second(hand) is the best, I’m not sure what will.
Related: Thrift Like a Pro—Everything You Need to Build a Pre-Loved Wardrobe
Learn to compost
Food waste makes up about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing the amount of food that ends up in our landfills can be hugely impactful. One way to do this is by composting. Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter into fertilizer. In other words, taking your food scraps, and turning it into food for the soil.
You can do this at home by setting up your own compost pile. Or you can check to see if your city offers a compost pick-up/drop-off program. With these programs it’s typically as simple as collecting your organic waste, and then letting a facility handle the actual composting process (although it does often cost a monthly fee).
There are also several indoor composting options, such as building your own worm box (not as gross as it sounds, I promise) or investing in an kitchen composter, like this one.
Reduce your meat consumption
According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, 14.5% of total man-made emissions come from the meat and dairy industries. This means we have a huge opportunity to impact the planet just with what we eat. And honestly, with vegan and vegetarian options becoming more commonplace by the day, reducing your meat intake is easier than ever. In fact if everyone replaced just a quarter of their meat-based meals with one of these delicious plant-based alternatives we could save over 80 million metric tons of emissions annually.
Not sure how to get started? Check out this beginner’s guide to plant-based eating.
Educate yourself and others
As I mentioned before, in order to drastically improve the climate crisis we’re in, we’ll need drastic measures. How do we get that? Through climate policy that holds big polluters accountable. And how do we get climate policy passed? We vote. And the only way we can vote for what believe in, is if we educate ourselves.
So set up Google alerts for “climate change,” or sign up for Feedly where you can create an environmental sustainability feed so you don’t miss out on any of the latest climate news. Committing to learning about the climate crisis is one of the most impactful things you can do. Even just reading one article a day can help you better understand the crisis, and what is needed to fix it. It also enables you bring it up as a topic of conversation and educate others.
Individual actions do matter. It gives us an accomplished feeling, and serves as a gateway to forming a bigger movement. Collective action is ultimately where we’ll see the most significant change though. And remaining up to date on the issues is a great way to ensure that collective action comes to fruition.
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