By: Ashleigh Lustgarten
There’s no mistaking that Earth is plagued by environmental problems. Our home planet is struggling to cope with climate change, deforestation, overpopulation, pollution, and a host of other issues, which only get worse and worse each day. And there’s only one thing to blame for Earth’s failing health: us. Unfortunately, the modern lifestyle is anything but eco-friendly. From the constant driving to heating our homes in the winter, to non-stop plastic usage, to even just the way we shop as consumers, the average person’s ecological footprint is shameful to consider. This may not seem like a pressing issue now, however, in the future, our generation will be the ones forced to deal with the side effects of climate change. We’ll be tasked with coping with extreme weather crises, rising taxes and electric bills, home damage, and health risks.
However, the good news is, there are a myriad of ways to green up your lifestyle. Even simply riding to school with a friend or changing your diet can reap great environmental benefits, and following these guidelines can help keep our beautiful planet happier and healthier for many generations to come.
Every year, the average passenger car consumes 550 gallons of gas and emits 10,000 lbs of carbon dioxide, according to RideShare.com. With so many places to go and so many things to do, it’s not easy to avoid driving in the suburbs of Garnet Valley. And, with the human population continuing to grow every day, more and more cars will be added to the streets each year. All this carbon dioxide emitted via transportation builds up in the atmosphere, trapping heat and contributing to global warming. If carbon dioxide continues to be emitted at such a great rate, it won’t be long before the average global surface temperature is irreversibly high, oceans have risen an absurd amount, and extreme weather has become an enormous issue.
However, carpooling is a great way to mitigate the daily amount of carbon dioxide emitted. According to Rideshare.com, the U.S. could save 33 million gallons of gas each day if the average commuting vehicle carried an additional person.
“[Carpooling] helps the environment because only one car is putting emissions into the air instead of multiple,” Chloe Chin, a high school senior, comments.
So, to be an environmentally conscious citizen, try riding with your friends when you go out or offering a ride to your neighbor on the way to school. In addition, be sure to turn your car off when parked for significant amounts of time and, if possible, try to only drive when necessary (sorry, joy ride lovers!). Doing everything you can to restrict your solo-driving time, or just driving time in general, will help reduce your carbon footprint and lessen your contribution to global warming.
“I love carpooling because driving with other people makes it more fun,” Chloe Chin says.
Living greener can even be as simple as being smart about what you eat. Eating organically can help our planet, for, in comparison to conventional agricultural practices, organic farming uses less energy, conserves water, increases soil fertility, and reduces pollution. And, according to research done by the University of Colorado at Boulder, organic farming stores carbon in the soil, thus reducing the effects of global warming.
“[Organic farming] is much better for the environment from the standpoint of what pesticides and herbicides do to the rivers, oceans, and human health,” Charles Irsch claims, who is a partial owner of organic farms across the country. “I’m definitely looking for organic products [when shopping], especially in terms of produce.”
In addition, many people don’t realize that another great contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is the meat industry. According to the United Nations, raising animals for food releases more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks combined. Furthermore, not only does animal raising contribute to global warming, but it also wastes large amounts of water and pollutes our waterways. Producing a kilo of beef requires 10x a much water as it takes to produce a kilo of wheat, and animal waste and the pesticides used for spraying feed crops often get washed into streams.
“Eating a plant-based diet is much better for the environment because it’s much more efficient,” Charles Irsch, a long-term vegan, says.
However, for all those meat-lovers out there, you don’t have to go cold-turkey when it comes to changing your diet. Simply reducing the amount of meat you consume can help. Irsch recommends buying organic and plant-based products as much as possible, for doing so is healthier for our planet and healthier for your body as well.
“From a nutritional standpoint, a plant-based diet is better for you as a person in terms of disease and overall health,” Irsch says. “[In addition], pesticides and herbicides are cancerous and create respiratory issues. [Diet] is the same with exercise–if it’s good for you why wouldn’t you do it?”
Reducing plastic waste
Along with shopping in regards to food, being a conscious consumer of all types of products is a great way to help the earth. We’ve all been guilty of buying that cute top we just had to have but now sits in our closet untouched, or that cool new gadget that ended up in the trash after a month of using it, or that truckload of food that you thought you’d need for the party but went mostly untouched. Americans, in general, tend to be especially good at wasting, producing roughly 1,704 lbs of garbage per year per person, about three times the global average according to GlobalCitizen.org.
One product is particularly concerning when it comes to shopping: plastic. When you buy a plastic product, once it hits the landfill it doesn’t go away. According to Iberdrola.com, plastic can take up to 500 years to disappear and the plastic island floating in the Pacific ocean now measures 1.6 million square kilometers. Therefore, being good to our earth could simply mean buying–and wasting–less plastic.
Hallie Milligan, a high school senior at Garnet Valley, after participating in various ocean clean-ups and witnessing first-hand the effects of plastic waste, decided to go plastic-free.
“I started using only reusable ziplock bags, Tupperware containers, and water bottles [and] switching to soap bars that came in cardboard boxes. I also stopped using plastic bags [at stores] and stopped buying school lunches,” Milligan recounts.
Some may view going completely plastic-free to be a bit much, however, doing practices such as these is key to reducing waste. Try making an effort to carry your own reusable grocery bags to the store, investing in a reusable water bottle, or taking your own containers to restaurants (instead of using their provided ones for leftovers). You can also buy products in bulk to avoid packaging plastic or avoid using single-use straws and utensils.
“Even though it’s small, you’re still helping out a little bit,” Milligan explains.
Of course, when you can’t avoid plastic, recycling is always an option. Every recycling company is different, but as a general rule of thumb, always clean out and dry your containers before tossing them in the bin, since contaminated items can result in the whole bin being spoiled.
There are other ways to recycle as well. When it comes to big events like prom when dresses are often bought but never worn again, some sites like Rent the Runway allow you to borrow gowns in order to avoid wasting them. Altogether, although recycling is essential, it’s often best to just avoid using plastic and single-use items in general.
“Going plastic-free taught me how much of an impact you can have,” Milligan says. “It’s kinda hard, but I would recommend trying it because you feel so good about yourself while doing it.”
Finally, in addition to reducing plastic waste, reducing almost all other types of waste can be done via composting. Composting is done by tossing food scraps, among other items, in a composting bin instead of throwing it in the trash can. Then, the compost can be used in your garden, acting as a nutrient-dense conditioner that will help plants grow while avoiding the usage of chemical fertilizers.
Composting is key because it dramatically reduces the amount of waste you produce. The Environmental Protection Agency claims that 94% of food waste is either combusted or sent to landfills, which releases methane, a contributor to climate change. Therefore, composting will not only spare our overflowing landfills, but it will help slow global warming.
As for how to compost, a variety of materials can be added to the bin. Experts say the best compost contains an equal balance of “green” materials and “brown” materials. Green materials are rich in nitrogen and include items like fruit and vegetable scraps, lawn clippings, and other live plants. Brown materials are rich in carbon and can include egg and nutshells, leaves, wood-based waste, stale bread, and even cardboard.
“Composting is tricky,” Mr. Kazanjian, an AP environmental science teacher says. “You have to educate yourself on it and be smart about it. You can’t compost everything. [My wife and I] compost perishables and use it for potting soil.”
With a green thumb, soon your meal leftovers can become fuel for your flowers. If you don’t have a garden, there are also services that collect compost, however, they tend to be very pricey. In addition, if you do decide to begin composting, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s only so much you can effectively compost and use.
“Where you can, reduce your consumption,” Kazanjian advises. “Instead of going to the store and buying blindly, come up with a list of meals for the week to greatly reduce how much you buy.”
By simply reducing how much you consume, for perishable and plastic items alike, you can cut the amount of waste you produce tremendously.
“[These are] everyday items that you can take control of,” Kazanjian says. “[Reducing consumption] is not tricky like buying an electric car or avoiding using lights. It takes self-awareness but you can look at yourself and say I can do this.”
There are so many different ways to live a more sustainable life. You can combat climate change by carpooling with friends. You can switch up your diet, limiting the meat and packing in organic fruits and veggies. You can reduce your personal waste production by avoiding plastic and composting food scraps. Through all these practices, we can become one step closer to protecting our home, prolonging Earth’s well-being for the benefit of future generations. With luck, Earth will remain the beautiful safe haven for all the wonders of the natural world for many years to come.