Leila Monroe, Staff Attorney, Oceans Program, San Francisco
Let’s face it – New Year’s resolutions are overwhelming. Quit the internet for a year! Lose 50 pounds! Give 2 weeks’ notice and travel the world!
Lofty goals are fantastic, but don’t always stick as the year progresses. This year, after the turkey and tinsel are put away, why not start small and plot a sustainable course for success? Use the Natural Resources Defense Council’s tips for a more sustainable 2014, and simplify your life with less plastic, less clutter, and a whole lot more fun (and money). These are just some of the many examples of more sustainable products and ideas out there – feel free to add your own. It couldn’t be easier. And hey—you might end up making the world a better place.
Why Less Plastic?
Today we produce far more plastic waste than can be recovered or recycled. As a result, plastic now pollutes the farthest reaches of the world’s waters – from the deep seabed of the Arctic, to once-pristine coasts, to the Great Lakes, riverside parks and distant islands. While this is a global problem, we can start with solutions here at home. Producers of plastics can make changes by creating smarter products that are reusable, recyclable and made with more recyclable material content. Consumers can make better choices too, like the ones below:
1. Lunch smarter.
• Keep a set of our favorite reusable bamboo utensils by To-Go Ware in your desk, and start refusing disposable plastic forks at your favorite lunch spot. Available in kid-sizes too!
• Quit throwing your food leftovers in plastic containers —instead save money and cut your empty calories by packing your lunch in To-Go Ware’s stainless steel food carriers. The lid doubles as a plate, and lunchtime might start feeling like a sophisticated picnic.
2. Take advantage of the sharing craze.
• The sharing economy is here to stay—this is your year to master the art of Freecycle Network, Craigslist, and San Francisco-only (for now) Yerdle. Did you know about 80% of the items in our homes are used less than once a month? Reduce your clutter—and dare we say, upgrade!—with a click of a button or a short trip to a sharing-site. While you’re at it, see if you can share fresh local eggs, travel experiences, bikes, car rides, or errands.
3. Ditch single-use bags, shop like a pro.
• “Bring your own bag” is becoming the norm, especially since several U.S. cities and states passing bans on single-use plastic bags. Hundreds of millions of these bad actors end up in our oceans and waterways, harming marine life and costing U.S. cities and taxpayers money.
• Start refusing single-use bags, and rock these stylish, sturdy, and washable replacements from ChicoBag. All the colors of the rainbow, and bags for your produce to boot!
4. Change the way you gift (and wrap!).
• Gifts might be the last thing on your mind after the mad holiday rush, but a new year full of birthdays, weddings, and showers starts now. Help loved ones celebrate the year with more eco-friendly gifts and experiences! Check NRDC’s list of ideas, from donations to wildlife protection, to an once-in-a-lifetime visit to swim with gray whales in an untouched Baja lagoon. You could also give tickets to shows, or even the gift of your time (like cooking a meal or helping with a household project).
• For more tangible gifts, start experimenting with reusable wrap—a gift in itself. San Francisco-based Chewing the Cud is our favorite. Explore their “give-wraps” and upcycled “give-bags” for a special present that keeps on giving. You can also wrap gifts in any kind of paper – newspaper comics, pages from last year’s wall calendar, or old maps – be creative!
5. Jump on the steel straw bandwagon.
• Oprah loves them, and so do we. Pick up a 4-pack of stainless steel straws, and refuse their inferior plastic relatives forevermore. Keep one in your desk and work bag, or buy a set for the house. Cocktail hour, anyone?
6. Love your water (minus BPA and plastic).
• Water is essential, and most of us don’t get enough of it. Plastic bottles aren’t just harming our oceans and waterways—many also contain a chemical called BPA which is linked to reproductive and developmental harm. Have a healthier year by ditching unnecessary plastic bottles and getting your daily dose of H2O from a BPA-free bottle company. Klean Kanteen (shout out to their Plastic Sucks! edition) and EarthLust make sustainability look beautiful with their tough-as-nails bottles and colorful designs.
7. Get to know bamboo.
• Products made from sustainably-sourced bamboo can be a great alternative to plastic throw-aways (see reusable utensil sets above) and wood products made from old-growth forests. Lots are even downright stylish. Case in point, the Portlanders behind the handcrafted beauties at Bambu. Purchase whale-stamped coasters, decorative fish, or seashell trays made from bamboo—proceeds go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
8. Join the Instagram #Litterati movement for a cause.
• Jeff Kirschner is our person-of-the-year for starting a green revolution…on Instagram. His organization Litterati asks users to snap photos of litter, upload and tag #Litterati on Instagram, and recycle or throw away the trash. Set aside a few minutes of your social media surfing and help clean your community by filling Litterati’s Digital Landfill. They’ve logged 30,000 pieces of litter (mostly plastic) and counting! Litterati on Instagram
9. The 4th “R”: Refuse!
• Reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse, refuse, refuse! 2014 is the year of “No, thank you.” You don’t need that 11th set of throw-away chop sticks with your take-out dinner, or that giant roll of unwanted mail and catalogs. Read Consumerist’s tips for opting out of unwanted mail, sign up for Catalog Choice, and practice the 4th “R” at your local restaurants, grocery stores, and malls.
10. Set a No-Buy goal, and stick to it.
• Whether you’re looking to save money, get healthy, or reduce your plastic footprint, there is always a way to live the “less is more” mantra. Most of the environmental impacts associated with nearly every product happen in the materials acquisition and manufacturing stage, so deciding not to buy a product means you’re helping avoid the impacts of producing that item in the first place. NRDC challenges you to set a No-Buy goal for a particular area of your life, and stick to it. Any timeframe – a week, a month or one year! – and any realm of your life will do. No to-go morning lattes for 6 months. No new clothes until you donate everything you haven’t worn for a year. No soda or endangered seafood for a month, no driving (unless it’s your bike) for a week. Or simply less plastic and more reusable products in your life. Large or small—choose a goal, and get it done. Join us, you can do it.
Guest Blog Written by Haley Bowling, NRDC Oceans Program Assistant
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